Stop poking me! Ow! I mean it! That hurts!
There are precious few folks out there who didn’t play at least one of the following three games growing up: Monopoly , Clue , and Risk . Indeed, to many, Risk was their first taste of wargaming – albeit of a very limited, non-realistic type. The problem with Risk, though, is that it takes a long time to play, is subject to all sorts of annoying ‘fortress’ strategies that draw a long game out even longer, and takes up a lot of real estate on the table. But what if you could get the flavour of Risk in a card game? Now that would be something worth trying out! Enter Warriors , Face 2 Face Games’ latest release (along with its first expansion, Dragon Hordes , which is not part of this review). Originally planned as Risk: The Card Game, it gained a new lease on life when F2F picked up what Hasbro chose to pass on. But is it any fun? Does it capture the essence of Risk? Read on…
As is standard for most Face 2 Face games these days, the production of Warriors is in China. As such, the quality of the game is very good, but not quite at the European standard. With each new release, the cards get a little nicer, the box a little less chunky – give the Chines industry about another year and I’d wager that few will be able to tell the difference between games produced in Asia and those from the traditional European printing houses.
The game comes in a small, square box of about the same size as some of the small German games (like Winning Moves’ Nuggets or the Kosmos smallbox line ( Spy et al). The box finish is linen and aside from the cardboard being a little thicker and stiffer than the German standard, it’s top-notch production. Packed inside the box are 110 cards of varying types (several fantasy races as well as some special cards) a set of five dice, and rulebooks in multiple languages.
The cards are very nice – the same quality as those in Face 2 Face’s version of Sleuth . There’s the occasional card with a little bending on the edge from a slightly imperfect punching process, but generally the cards are linen finished and very nice. The dice are plastic and perfectly serviceable – three red dice for the attacker and two black dice for the defender – just like classic Risk.
Gameplay is a mixture of the new and the old. To start, each player gets dealt a set of 11 cards that they place face-up onto the table – these are the cards that form the starting sizes of the various armies. The cards of like types of races are placed together such that they are all visible – and in this first round, any Attack cards (see below) are discarded and replaced with other cards.
There are six races (or Nations) in the game: Undead, Trolls, Dwarves, Elves, Goblins and Barbarians. However, there are unequal numbers of each race in the deck – there are more Barbarians than Trolls, and more Trolls than Undead, etc. These relative abundances have impact on the game’s scoring, which I’ll cover in greater detail below.
There are also Wizard and Catapult cards, which have defensive and offensive benefits. Wizard cards get added to whichever nation the player owning them wishes – all to one Nation, split apart, whatever. Any nation with a Wizard in it can’t be attacked, which can be quite useful. Catapults are different – they’re set aside as single use special attacks that a player can choose to carry out during a regular attack. Again, I’ll explain in greater detail below.
Once each player has their initial setup on the table, they get dealt a new set of 7 cards. They get to choose which 4 to keep – the rest are discarded. Once all players have chosen, the cards get added to the table – creature cards with their respective nations, catapults with the other catapults, wizards as the player wishes, and Attack cards in front of their nations.
At this point, each player will have a series of groups of cards in front of them, each split into a single nation type (along with any wizards added to said nation), as well as some catapults (maybe). Each nation’s force is somewhat different, since there are three types of units in each of the nations: Infantry, Archers and Cavalry. Infantry are the ‘backbone’ of the army and are the total number of units available to attack with, while the other two units provide different offensive bonuses. In battle, the player with the most Archers on their side gets to add +1 to their highest die roll, which can come in handy. And if an attacking force has any Cavalry units, they get to make additional attacks instead of just one, which is the usual game rule. So how do you attack? Well…
Attack cards are how you attack in the game – each player can only attack as many times as the number of Attack cards he/she has been dealt. There are two kinds of Attack cards: Battle Cards and Mercenary Cards. Normally, each nation has a single ‘opponent’ nation that it can gun for (shown on the cards with a little graphical aid at the bottom of each card) in addition to its own kind – and those are the only nations that can be attacked using a Battle Card. Mercenary Cards let you bring in forces from other nations (in other words, not just the nation you choose to attack with), and let you attack any other nation, not just that nation’s regular opponents.
Each Attack Card has a number on it, and the attacks are resolved in order from lowest to highest. To attack, a player chooses a nation and then, depending on the type of Attack Card used, gets to either add extra forces in from other nations (Mercenary Cards) or count the extra symbols on the card (Battle Card) as part of the army with which he’s fighting.
The battle resolution rules are pure Risk: The attacker can roll with a maximum of 3 dice, but no more than the number of Infantry in the attack, while the defender can roll up to 2 dice, provided they have at least 2 Infantry units left. Note that the defender always gets to roll at least 1 die, even if they’re out of Infantry. Highest rolls are compared against each other, second-highest against each other, and casualties are incurred depending on how the dice went. Each hit removes one creature card from play, and these cards get put into the Victory Pile of the player who nailed them. The Victory Piles are how the points are calculated at the end of the game, which means that the more guys you kill, the better your chances of winning.
Now that the battle’s over, the attacker’s turn is over – unless, as mentioned above, there was a Cavalry unit involved in the battle. In that case, the player can leave 1 Infantry unit behind (as a garrison) and then choose another legal nation to attack. The player can keep doing this as long as he’s got the Cavalry unit and Infantry unit(s) to do it. Once he decides he’s finished, his turn is over.
The one other thing a player can do during an attack is forego his usual attack and attack with a catapult instead. Catapults are single-use, which means that they’re used up after being used, regardless of whether they were successful or not. A Catapult attack involves the player choosing any single target card (which can be a Wizard too, which is different from the usual ‘no attacking Wizards’ rule), regardless of whether it’s part of the current battle or not. The player then rolls a single die. A 4, 5 or 6 is a hit and the target card is added to the player’s Victory Pile. Roll a 3 or less and the attack fails.
The round continues in this way until all the Attack cards have been used. Then, another 7 cards are dealt to each player and a second round is played, identical to the first. Then the third and last round of play takes place, in which the entire discard pile is shuffled in with the remaining cards and the players keep 5 of the 7 cards they are dealt. Once that round is over, the game’s over and each player counts his Victory Pile points to see who won.
Each card in a Victory Pile is worth 2 points, regardless of which nation it’s from. Then, the players with the largest armies left of each of the different nations get points for them as well – and as mentioned above, the creature abundances matter - the nations of which there are fewer cards of in the deck are worth fewer points. So while the largest Undead army is worth only 5 points, the largest Barbarian army is worth 11 points – quite a spread. Total up all of the points gained and see who has the most – your winner!
At first glance, Warriors does a pretty good job of porting the Risk game mechanics over into a card game. The battles are the same smash-mouth game I recall fondly from endless nights in high school and university, but the window dressing around said battles is completely different. In Warriors, the reinforcements are different, the ability to press on in battle is different, and, most importantly, the ability to choose where and how often to fight is different. And to me, these differences make for a less satisfying game.
While there’s no denying that Risk is a very luck-dependent game, it does have some fundamental advantages over Warriors, unfortunately. My main problem with Warriors is that you don’t have full freedom in attacking, which is completely the opposite from the free-wheeling Risk style. In Warriors, you can only attack certain races with your armies, and you can only attack if you have Attack cards that let you. Well, what if you don’t get dealt any Attack cards (which I’ve seen happen multiple times)? Then you sit and watch others take the initiative. What if you don’t get any Catapults? Then you sit and stew while the others stick Wizards onto the nations you’d love to take a chunk out of. Lots of, luck, and it seemed in the games I played that the luck didn’t even out over time, since the game tended to be over before things had a chance to balance out. 3 rounds just doesn’t give you a lot of room for error.
The other thing about attacking is that it’s tricky when you’re playing for the first couple of times to remember who can attack who. The lack of text on the cards make them wonderfully language independent, but a little hard to identify at first – is that a troll or a goblin? It gets easier with play, though, so this isn’t a major issue – just chalk it up to the learning curve.
I would have preferred for the three unit types to have more impact in battle than they do – you’re telling me that the Cavalry units sit on the sidelines until it’s time to press on? Why don’t they add a +1 modifier to the highest roll as well, which is more in keeping with what one would usually think of as a benefit of being on horseback? I can only assume that something like this was deleted during playtesting because it would make them too strong or something.
There are some things about Warriors that I do like: The ability to use Wizards to try and protect a vulnerable army is interesting, and the Archer ability is also kind of cool. I also quite like the reinforcements mechanic, which is more focussed and less random than the ‘add armies when you get sets’ mechanic from the board game. A bad deal will still mess you over, but you can say that about all sorts of card games, no?
The last thing I wish there was more treatment of in Warriors is geographic proximity. Here, you can take on any nation you want – oh, provided that you’re allowed to- regardless of which player owns them. The geographic aspect of Risk, which had such a major impact on gameplay (yes, some negative impacts as well – Fortress Australia, anyone?), is missing completely here, which I think is a shame. I can’t think of an easy way to add it in, but then that’s why I’m a game critic, not a designer – remember, those who can’t either teach or review…
I had really been hoping to play the game with the Dragon Hordes expansion before writing this review, as I think the game’s probably not complete and can’t be appreciated to its fullest extent without it. But I’ll have to wait and add an appendix on to this review once I get a chance to try the expansion out.
Ultimately, I don’t think Warriors is a game for me. I can see it going over very well with the younger set, as it’s a simple game that features lots of dice-rolling without too much strategic thought required – you get your cards and bash heads with whatever the biggest army at your disposal is. Probably tailor-made to play with your kids when you don’t have the energy to set up a game of Heroscape or Memoir ‘44 . I can see it being a fun beer and pretzels game, maybe as a starter before moving on to Axis & Allies or something – but probably only as a big multiplayer melee, for which I think the Dragon Hordes expansion is required. So lest anyone come away with the impression from my comments that I don’t think this is a good game – that’s not strictly correct. I think it’s a fine game, provided you’re the right audience for it. And I’m pretty sure that’s not me. Thankfully, F2F has released some stellar games like I’m the Boss or Sleuth that I’ll get to play instead and have a great time with.
(Out of Five)
Fun Factor: ***
Overall Rating: ***
Excellent review, Patrick -- thanks! I've had some of the same misgivings about this game and I agree with you that this game is good for the right audience (those who enjoy luck of the dice and card draw) -- I've seen kids really enjoy this game.
- Last edited Mon Oct 24, 2005 3:15 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Mon Jul 18, 2005 6:10 pm
Would not the fact that races can only attack certain races imply a geographic proximity element wherein they are limited to attacking those races simply because they are the ones next to their lands? Perhaps the different continents in risk were converted into these "races".
- Last edited Thu Jul 21, 2005 11:44 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Jul 21, 2005 11:41 am