GHoooSTS
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Set up and ready to play the final mission of a campaign.


Summary:

A very good hybrid of dice-chucker, team-builder, and dungeon crawler wrapped up as a wargame with some presentation hiccups.

thumbsupThe Goodthumbsup
+ Nice colour and design on the chits and cards, easy to sort
+ Aesthetically pleasing and fitting with theme
+ Multi-genre hybrid gameplay is quick and enjoyable
+ Planning your loadouts is a fun game unto itself
+ Plenty of viable options for approaching missions
+ Great spontaneous narratives
+ Easy to get out and put away, campaigns don't need the game to be left out

Ambiguous
+/- High randomness
+/- Mid-length missions are the sweet spot for one-off play
+/- 'Multiplayer' aspect not very developed

thumbsdownThe Bad:thumbsdown
- Mounted board is an oversized mess that doesn't facilitate play very well
- Rulebook can be confusing, and has no index
- Massive footprint
- Every mission plays similarly
- Not enough D10s for all the weapons in the box, a very minor but annoying issue
- Campaign system is shallow

Introduction:

I'm relatively new to solo gaming, having picked up the habit when I got a copy of Space Hulk: Death Angel (SH: DA) in a trade without knowing what it was. My second solo game was DVG's superb Thunderbolt Apache Leader (TAL), which is still one of my favourite games of all-time. I don't remember where I first heard of Warfighter: The Special Forces Tactical Card Game (WF), but I recently had an opportunity to play it at meetup and was quite engaged. It feels like a bit of a hybrid of SH: DA and TAL, so it was right up my alley.

A few months later and I've played the original box extensively, going through all three Campaigns available as well as many one-off games. I guess that tips the review's hand a bit--I obviously like the game enough to sink many hours into it. I'm a bit late to the party as the game's been out for a while, but this just means I can provide a review of the comparatively new second edition release.

Components Overview:

WF's box has quite a bit in there--a giant mounted game board, piles of cards, and a procession of chits representing everything from suppression fire to pistol magazines. There's a good amount of stuff in the box but it don't take long to punch the chits and organize the cards, so you can get to playing theoretically.

The game has a great deal of colour and visual 'pop'--text is bold, the art direction is consistent, and in general it's eye-catching. The cards use real-life photographs of soldiers doing soldier stuff, which isn't objectionable but looks a lot less dramatic than what your soldiers in-game are doing most of the time. But then I'm sure it's not easy to find clear photos of a soldier blowing a breaching charge while he's being fired at by a dozen militants. My cards have been shuffled a lot and are holding up with no sleeves, and they never had an issue with sticking together.

Both cards and chits are colour-coded to some degree to help with sorting, and chits look different enough to keep you from losing a wound in a pile of 5.56mm magazines. The visual presentation on the cards and the chits themselves is top-notch, especially if you're used to some of the more dry presentation of information-loaded chits in traditional wargames.


Good colour and clear text on the cards and chits helps keep everything separate, especially handy in a more complex game like this.


The design mounted on the board, on the other hand, is less appealing and in many cases a bit baffling. It's huge but it has a lot of empty space... just not in the way you'd like. It has some helpful player aids printed on them, but they take up a lot of the space when they could have been a lot more unobtrusive and even more conveniently placed. It also has no obvious place for things you need like active support abilities. The board is a bit of a mess and the worst part of the package in my view.

The rulebook is another bit of rocky road. I'd read complaints about this in other reviews and I know this is consistent with DVG's style of rulebook--they tend to be presented in an oddly chronological way. Sometimes. Sort of. I'd almost describe it as a stream of consciousness. We start things off with an overview of components, then some discussion of what things on cards mean--some of the keywords, some iconography, and the like. And then we jump into setup, the soldier turn, and then the hostile turn. Granted, this is the order things happen in the game. But it leaves some things half-explained, and there's no easy way to find a rule for quick reference. Are the rules for Stealth attacks listed under the soldier turn? Or in the keyword listing in the back? Maybe it's with the rules on attack roll outcomes? Until you memorize these minutiae, you might spend a fair bit of time flipping back and fourth through the book... which sinfully contains no index.

I'm accustomed to this to some degree having played lots of DVG games but I make no excuses for these things. For an example on how to produce a rulebook, look no further than the excellent Conflict of Heroes series. They even have indexes!

Something I'll touch on briefly is the dice. WF originally had 'bullet dice'--D6s and D10s that look like ammunition. My experience is they are a poorly-implemented gimmick and I wish they worked better because they looks cool. My second edition of WF came with a traditional D6 and three D10s. All good, except that a lot of explosive attacks you will be using require 4D10. So you either need to add a die from your collection or do some re-rolling. Neither is the end of the world, but it just struck me as a bit sloppy not to include enough dice for all the attacks in the base game.


Obviously, one of these things is not like the other.


Another common and justified gripe with WF is the footprint. This game can take a huge amount of space and chit management for the larger missions. Any mission over 80 resource points and don't expect to have free space on the table between your soldier's loadouts, the game board, and your hand of cards for each soldier. I personally would have liked to see the equipment on smaller cards, but then my eyesight is still good, so this might not be to everyone's liking. There have been some sweet solutions offered to this problem at various times on BGG, with my favourite here.

So the physical components are a mixed bag but the things that matter most--the cards and chits--are both excellent. Once you've gone through the rulebook a few times and set up a game, how do things hold together?

Gameplay

I won't describe WF's rules here. There are lots of ways you can find that stuff out, an excellent YouTube video I'd recommend (they will help you learn to play a great deal where the rulebook might not). Instead, I'll just discuss my overall feelings on the experience.

As I said initially, I see WF as a "hybrid of dice-chucker, team-builder, and dungeon crawler wrapped up as a wargame". It takes a lot of good and fun ideas from varied games and mashes them up with a Special Forces aesthetic. So let's unpack each of those elements.

First and overbearingly, WF has a LOT of dice rolling. I cannot overemphasize how much you will use dice here. And unlike a lot of games where the dice are used for all kinds of stuff, in WF outside rare exceptions (Medic rolls) you're always rolling a D6 and D10s to determine if you managed to shoot a bad guy in some crucial anatomy, or at least make him worried enough about it to hide and not shoot at your soldiers. This means there's a lot of randomness in WF--especially when you use the single-die weapons like the M14 Sniper Rifle. You can improve your chances with cards, gear and skills, but at the end of the day if you don't like rolling buckets of dice or can't handle a carefully-laid plan coming undone by an unlucky '1', this is not the game for you.

Secondly, this is a game about laboriously preparing to dive into a mission. Pouring over a roster of soldiers, skills and equipment, and trying to combine them in the right way. This pre-mission phase has a lot in common with the aforementioned TAL or Hornet Leader (HL), where you review your pilots, available resource points, and munitions obsessively before each sortie. For people like myself afflicted with the fetish for organizing things and building game engines, this phase is great.

In the base WF box the options are initially overwhelming, but you quickly realize they're actually a bit limited after outfitting a team or two. There's no real machineguns, no missile launchers (conspicuously missing since you get the ammo chits!), and only one handgun. And while your loadouts aren't limited by the number of actual cards you own, it would have been nice to get a few more copies of stuff like the basic M4 Carbine or ACOG Sights so there's less bookkeeping.

There's also reasonable diversity in loadouts you can choose, but I'd suspect most players will quickly find out what works and what doesn't. That said, I've been impressed by WF's squad building in that I have yet to take a piece of equipment and just be thoroughly disappointed by it. Everything is actually pretty playable. So the pre-mission stuff is a bit of a game unto itself, and it's an entertaining one. When outfitting my troops, I rarely feel like I'm in a menial management simulator.

Also a significant plus is that there have been times I wish I had a piece of equipment I left at home, but never felt like I lost a game purely because of gear choices. The variation in viable loadouts is about as good as you can ask for with the choices available in the box.

I also feel WF takes significant cues from dungeon crawling games. All that's missing is loot drops. In recent years there's been a glut of simplified dungeon plunges, and in WF, I get the feel of diving into a modern dungeon where the chambers filled with bones and goblins are favelas infested with drug runners trying to keep me from their nefarious narcotic labs. You move through areas clearing them of enemies who randomly spawn. Every now and then, a trap gets sprung on your wary party of a Delta Force adventurers in the form of an IED. I believe there is a fantasy version of this game in the works, and I don't think much will need to change.


My first 'spawn' of the game produced a ton of enemies, and already the game board is a little overwhelmed.


But this hybrid of genres works. The gameplay is pretty quick once you understand the sequence of play, and you do get the feeling of directing your troops through hostile environments. Laying low to avoid reinforcements, throwing a smoke grenade when enemy fire is going to be intense, and pinning down that sniper in the apartment complex so your guy with the MP5 can run in the back door and off him silently from an unexpected angle. If your imagination is functional at all it's hard not to see small narratives unfolding constantly throughout the game.

Is the gameplay perfect? No. My biggest one being the repetitiveness. At the end of the day, you're always just slaughtering faceless mooks on the way to a destination. Once you know what strategies you like, everything can start to feel the same. But even so, in the base game alone there's some good variety in enemy types and feasible loadouts, so the core box can keep you busy for a while.

Another issue is randomness. Given the amount of rolling dice, there's no getting around that the amount of 'strategy' is also influenced heavily by luck. The biggest offender here is the 'Defeat Cover' rolls using the single D6; sometimes you just won't be able to kill a guy despite pouring copious amounts of actions into it because your chances to influence Defeat Cover rolls are comparatively limited, and there's only a few weapons that offer advantages there--and most are one-time use.


This can be a frustratingly common occurrence.


Also on the subject of randomness, I played some very short games (around 30 resource points) where the outcome felt almost entirely random due to the shortage of points to buy equipment and skills to mitigate said randomness. A standout example was a mission where I had no location cards for several turns. With time almost out and my troops stuck in the starting position, I finally drew a location and had to play it as my last action. It spawned a suicide bomber who, with the help of an IED, spent a turn walking up to my troops, survived their attacks, and then exploded, more or less sealing my fate without me having made any meaningful choices. In general, the shorter the game, the less I felt I could plan properly and higher the variance.

Longer games, on the other hand, are a subject of taste. I personally enjoy the final missions of campaigns, but they take a long time. My last excursion into the Middle East took about three and a half hours. I wouldn't want to do that regularly. I think WF's sweet spot is the middle-length missions, usually around 60 resource points.


A few hours later and I'm at the end point of a mission.


Miscellaneous Thoughts

WF describes itself as a one to six player game, although I'd imagine most people buy it to play solo. My introduction to it was a five-player game, with each player controlling one player soldier, and it worked well enough to convince me to buy the game. But there's no particular rules or mechanisms that promote a multiplayer experience here. I have played it with another friend, but it doesn't end up being that different from playing solo as you can make all the choices by committee. Truthfully, unless I had an interested friend or somebody who I knew would love the theme, I couldn't see a reason to pick playing WF over designated multiplayer games.

Another issue a lot of wargames have is portability. WF's footprint is an issue, but conversely, everything included in the box packs away pretty nicely with one of DVG's chit tray (not included). With card backings that allow easy differentiation between player soldiers, enemies, and so on, it's also easy to keep the cards divided up to facilitate quick setup. I actually timed how long it takes me to get everything out and into position to play a game, and it was under four minutes, with cleanup for a massive game taking under six. That's not bad at all. For campaign games, WF is pretty friendly to being packed back up and taken out instead of being left set up. I use this campaign tracking sheet and I can comfortably put the whole affair away between games.


Everything pretty neatly tucks into the existing insert, and is easily kept sorted.


The last topic I'd like to cover is WF's campaign system. This feels a bit tacked on at the end of the rulebook, and isn't the core of the game. But I love campaigns, and after many rewarding TAL and HL campaigns, I was hoping for WF to deliver something similar. Unfortunately, the campaigns in WF aren't as enjoyable. I find your starting options are very limited, so there's few viable strategies. The long-term strategy I found worked best was to take cheap player soldiers in quantity as early as possible to maximize both the benefits of lots of action cards and the skills your troops get between games. But it limits experimentation, and with the campaign stipulating a single loss ends the whole adventure, there's a strong incentive to avoid messing around with experimental starting rosters.

I would hope that at some point DVG releases an expansion that focuses on adding a more involved and deep campaign system to Warfighter. I would buy it immediately.

Closing Comments

WF is badass. It's not perfect, but I don't own any perfect games. For what you get in the box there's excellent value for the money. Additionally, I think that it should appeal to a huge group of people because it represents a many-circled Venn diagram of potential audiences--military gearheads, modern warfare computer gamers, dungeon crawl fans, and so on. Oddly, I think one audience mostly likely to be left out here is traditional historical wargamers. Not much about WF parallels the traditional games of the genre emphasizing historical strategy, maneuvering, or the other standard hallmarks of wargames.

But if you're interested enough in the game to read this review, and none of the faults are fatal dealbreakers, then you might as well pick up Warfighter. It's not hugely expensive and even if you don't like it, I can't imagine it being difficult to trade to somebody who does.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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GHoooSTS wrote:
Another issue is randomness. Given the amount of rolling dice, there's no getting around that the amount of 'strategy' is also influenced heavily by luck.

Sounds like what happens in real life to me.

Even at strategic levels (this game is tactical) luck has played a major role in military campaigns throughout recorded history. Eurogamers want full control and aren't happy with uncontrolled elements, but grognards have learned to take the bitter with the sweet and soldier on. A savvy player will learn how to mitigate bad fortune and get full measure from good, whichever game they're playing. If you're micromanaging elements over which you have unbridled control, you're not playing a wargame.
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Jake
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Great review! Just picked this up and having tons of fun with it. It really has a video game shooter feel and plays in a decent time frame. Definitely pick up the expansions. They're great giving you alot more options of weapons, enemies, etc (Integrated #1-3 after my first play).
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Dean Brown
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Great review. I have all of the expansion packs, and it does make the game a lot more interesting. Plus the new Display is better than the default one.
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Vasilis
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Nice write-up. I really like the game and I think that it can be easily improved further as the foundation is solid. All DVG needs to do is update the rules and cards when the next Wave hits to correct a few things, add some new ones and maybe breath new life to some already existing components.

For example, I don't really want to get a ton of new niche weapons with wave 2. I prefer to get corrected, fixed and rebalanced versions of existiing cards that are either too good (thus get used almost everytime) or too bad (and get used only for fun).

Some soldiers need fixes, mainly costs or even new abilities to make them viable.

The Jungle deck can get some love to make it harder and usable beyond the very first 2-3 missions because it is waaay too easy.

I also find some weapons a little bit too useful compared to others and the game makes the Loadout sound like a problem when in reality the Molle card makes it a non-issue. I'd prefer Loadout limits to have more of an impact because several weapons have as an 'advantage' their Loadout cost which never gets into play. In 95% of cases, the other heavier and better weapon gets selected.

Since we know that a new Wave is coming, it would be a great chance to make rule updates along with adding new stuff. I like getting new stuff but I also want the 'older' cards to remain relevant or even get new gameplay value.
They already have experience with WWII version AND they are testing a fantasy edition of the same system AND they have tons of player feedback after all these years. It's not that difficult to pull off if you are willing to alocate playtesting time to do it IMO.

Just my 2 cents.
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Andrzej Sosnowski
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Warfighter is even better with minis.
Grab some and feel the difference
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Peter Ball
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I have been play testing WF Vietnam and there are nearly 50 event cards when you could have two events a turn. Also uses a 2D map usually 5 Rows by 6 Columns.
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Christopher
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McAaron wrote:
Warfighter is even better with minis.
Grab some and feel the difference


It's even better with Call of Duty Mega Bloks soldiers and customizable gear!
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Fall Guy
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SpoDaddy wrote:
McAaron wrote:
Warfighter is even better with minis.
Grab some and feel the difference


It's even better with Call of Duty Mega Bloks soldiers and customizable gear!


It's even better than that with customizable minfigures that cost a fraction of either of those previous choices. I am able to make EXACT loadouts for any possible combinations of weapon, equipment or soldier type(desert/jungle/night-mission, etc.)...including k-9's!

Example:


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James Newman
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Where you get those mini figs from? They are very cool
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