Monday, August 24, 2009

Review -- ART OF WAR


Sometimes the most interesting games are those which the creator self produces. In such cases it may not be the game is one of the most notable in terms of play, but there is such dedication to seeing the game produced in such instances you have to appreciate it on that level alone.
Art of War is one of those games.
Creator Nils Zilch has to be credited with the way he uses bits and pieces I am sure he picks up at the local craft store. That isn't to say the pieces aren't functional, because they work well, but it tells you the effort that has to go into creating each game.
The board itself has been marked using a wood burning set, and has a sort of country-creation charm to it.
The overall effect of the board and pieces is of a game you might find at an artisan's fair. That gives it a neat appeal.
By the name you have probably gathered this is a war game. That it is, and one which is basically a pure strategy game to boot, in that the lone die in the game has a limited impact. Instead players must use strategy to create victory.
Of course when it comes to 'battling', attempting to capture a territory, the die does come into play.
Zilch has thrown another wrinkle into things though in terms of dealing with the luck of the die. There is a karma chip in the game. One player randomly starts the game in control of the chip. At any time you may pass the chip to an opponent to change the result of a die roll. So each time a die is rolled, the chip can move around the table to influence the result.
One great aspect of the game is that it is scalable, allowing for two, three, four or six players. Not a lot of strategy games have that flexibility.
There are three actual types of pieces. Each player has a single monarch pieces. If that piece is captured during a game, you lose.
There are 25 civilian pieces per player. Civilian pieces are what allow a player to generate more pieces on the board. Each civilian piece in play is worth one point in terms of producing new pieces. If a player chooses to use his turn to build up his forces he simply adds up the number of civilian pieces, and then can in essence purchase more pieces, at a cost of one for civilians and two for military pieces.
Each player has 32 military pieces available to them, and as you might expect as they move around the board, they are the units which do battle.
From there the game is a pretty straight forward territorial battle, with players expanding their territory by capture.
Once you are in control of a hexagon on the board, you must maintain a presence there, so you cannot simply abandon the area.
The game also comes with eight 'General' cards. Each General has a specific special ability which of course impacts some aspect of game play. Players randomly select a card which is kept hidden until such time a player opts to use the special ability, at which time the card is revealed, and that General's ability can be further utilized.
The General cards are a simple way of adding a bit of a 'wild card' aspect to the game, and to keeping things fresh. With eight choices, the game play can be quite different from game-to-game based on the cards.
The battles come down to a fairly basic mechanic of who has the greatest number, with some impact by the dice. That aspect of the game isn't particularly deep, or exciting.
Where the game has its greatest merit is in the continual choice each turn of whether you move forces to expand territory and do battle, or do you produce new forces, which is essentially building your resource base for future expansion.
Mix in the general cards which are a nice twist, and the karma chip for a little luck control, and game play is at least interesting enough to warrant some games. Add the aesthetics of the self-produced game, and Art of War has its charms.
Check the game out at


-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 5, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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