The worlds most popular war game must be Risk (1959). Considered a complex strategy game by some, and a simple dice game by others, it is without question a successful game franchise. The game War! attempts to recreate an experience that is accessible and enjoyable by fans of Risk, while at the same time trying to fix a few of the classic game’s flaws, namely: A) It usually comes down to the will of the dice and B) It really doesn’t end.

At a glance:

2-4 players

30 minutes

Complexity: Medium

Components used:

All 36 tiles (fewer in 2- or 3-player game)

All 54 cards (fewer in 2- or 3-player game)

All cubes (20 in one colour pr player)

Two dice

Setup:

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Map created and starting positions selected, ready to begin!

Sort the tiles to get 3 of each symbol face up, and the rest face down. Shuffle them around the table, and use them to build a more or less random world map. Make sure the green (symbol) tiles are evenly distributed throughout the world, and try to create several continents/regions that all have at least two entry points.

 

Sort the cards by background into three decks, shuffle each deck and place them face down on top of each other. The brown deck (values 4,5,6) in the bottom, then the pink (1,2,3) and finally the green (1,1,2) on top. Take the top four cards and place them face up next to the board.

For a 2-player game, remove two symbols, including cards and tiles, and also 6 brown tiles. For 3 players, remove one symbol and 3 brown tiles.

Give each player their set of units (cubes), and keep the dice ready.

The youngest player now starts selecting one brown tile as starting position, by placing one of her units on it. The other players continue in turn, placing one unit at a time. When placing subsequent units, they can not be placed on tiles directly adjacent to a tile you have already chosen. Continue until all players have placed 4 units. Then continue for two more rounds, now placing units as reinforcements on tiles you have already chosen.

Now you are ready to start playing.

Play:

Each turn has three phases.

1: Play cards (not first round)

Play up to two cards to bring in reinforcements. Place a number of units equal to the value (number) on the cards onto the board. The units must be placed on one or more tiles that you already control, and that have the same symbol as the card(s) you played. You can not place more new units onto a tile than you already have there.

Play up to one card as your combat card for this round. This card will give you an attack bonus if you perform attacks into a tile with the same symbol this round. It will also give you a defence bonus that lasts until your next turn if any other player attacks you in a tile with the same symbol.

2: Move and attack

You can perform up to two moves each turn. One move means moving one or more units from one single tile onto adjacent tiles. You can move different units in different directions.

Moving units into a tile with units of a different colour is an attack. You and the defender each roll one die. Each adds to the die roll the number of units involved in the fight, and also any attack or defence bonuses as given by the cards played. The highest total wins, roll again if there is a draw. The losing player removes one unit from the board. The attacker may now choose to continue the attack until one side has been eliminated.

3: End turn and draw cards

Take two of the face up cards and place them in your hand. You must always take one card of the lowest value available, but the other card you can choose freely. Turn up two new cards from the deck. Play passes to the player to the left.

Winner:

The game ends once the deck is depleted and all cards have been taken from the table. Then each player gets one final turn before scores are counted.

Each player first scores 1 point for each and every tile they own.

Then they score extra points for controlling several different symbols on the board. The first symbol you control gives you 1 extra point. The second type of symbol you control gives you an additional 2  points. The third symbol gives you an additional 3 points. The fourth symbol gives you an additional 4 points (now for 10 extra points in total), and so forth.

Then they score an extra 5 points for each set of three of the same symbol that they control.

The player with the highest score wins the game.

Optional rules:

Going first can be a substantial advantage in this game, which is why we suggest the classic rule that the youngest player starts. To balance this out, you can give the other players some help in the form of starting cards. Try giving player 2 a random 1-card, player 3 a random 2-card and player 4 one of each. The cards should be dealt before choosing starting positions.

Board/Map design:

One of the fun things about this game is to create good world maps before you start. This is also what keeps the game interesting, as the layout of the map will have a great impact on the flow of the game and the strategy you choose. There are several things to consider:

  • How compact do you want the map to be? You can make a tight hexagonal grid which is only one big “island”, with no “oceans” in between, or a more spacious world with separate “continents” and narrow pathways.
  • How do you group the symbols? Do you try to spread the equal symbols out across the board, or group them together? The map shown above has equal symbols spread out, which makes it difficult to secure sets of 3, but perhaps easier to conquer 6 different symbols for the maximum bonus.

Here is an example board with symbols grouped together. Also notice the small shifts in the hexagonal pattern that creates small holes, let’s call them “lakes”. On the right is roughly the same board trimmed down for a 2-player game.

 

A compact “island” board could look like this setup from The Sutlers of Kansas (don’t mind the cards and cubes on this one). With all starting positions on the edge of the board, this would create a “land grab” scenario with quite a different experience.

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