Published by: Portal Games
Player count: 2-4 players
Playing time: 90-120 minutes
Reviewed by: Dustin Boatman (@dustin_boatman)
I LOVE area control games; it is a mechanic that has always interested me. My favorite style of area control game is by far the “dudes on a map” genre, or DoaM, for the acronym crowd. Something about mixing area control with elements of war games has always sucked me in. It is probably the competitive nature and tactical thinking, as well as the eye candy of all the plastic miniatures that these games typically have. So when I joined up with the rest of Board Game Gumbo Krewe to head up to Gen Con, I had one game in mind: Cry Havoc.
Now I knew Cry Havoc was going to be a hard one to get my hands on, so I made sure to pre-order before I left, and I am glad that I did. I heard that all of the retail copies were sold out before the doors even opened. Is this game worth the hype? Well let’s take a closer look and find out.
THE SET UP:
Cry Havoc is a card driven, asymmetrical game that brings a few interesting twists to the DoaM genre of games. Set up can take some time because you have a good bit of stuff to place out on the board, but there are helpful images printed on the board of everything you have to set up.
First, place blue exploration tokens representing things you find as you explore the planet, green Trog party tokens which represent the planet’s native species, and finally, little plastic crystals that represent the planets resource that everyone wants for various reasons. Next, the players pick a faction and collect all of that factions’ building tiles, card decks, and skill cards. Finally, each player places their starting HQ tile on the correct spaces(also printed on the board), and adds 4 starting units to their HQ. That’s it, you are ready to play.
As a side note, the set up is slightly different if you have less than four players. In a two or three player game the Trog faction isn’t played by a player, but is sort of controlled by everyone as you discover Trog units while exploring.
This is where the asymmetrical side of the game comes in, as all four factions play completely different. The human faction (yellow) is very good at being aggressive and taking control of regions. The Pilgrims faction (blue) is sort of the euro gamers of this battle, as it specializes in taking crystals from areas and either using those resources for points, or to activate certain skills. The Machines (red) are all about buildings. All of the other factions have three buildings at their disposal, but the Machines have five to choose from. Finally, there are the Trogs (green), who just want to protect their precious planet and its resources, and they are very good at swarming the map and laying traps for the invaders.
This game is definitely a competitive game, but scoring works differently than most games of its kind. The main way to get points is by scoring the areas you control, and scoring for all the crystals you have in those areas. Players also get points for doing different things in battle (more on that later), and can collect points here and there from certain skills and cards. Interestingly, there is no score for area control or crystals typically, unless someone uses one of their actions to enable scoring at the end of the round.
HOW TO PLAY:
I am not going to do a detailed section on all of the rules to the game, just a basic overview, because like most games in this genre, the rules are plenty and detailed.
The game will play out over five rounds, each round beginning with a global event token being resolved. These are usually good, like adding more crystals to the board, but can also have negative effects. After the event phase you will do kind of a cleanup phase where you see if the upcoming initiative track was changed during the last round, unexhaust player skill cards, and draw four cards into your hand.
Then the action phase begins. Each round the players can take three actions each. You will take turns in initiative order taking your actions until everyone has finished. The actions available to everyone are move, recruit, build/activate a structure, draw two cards and keep one, or enable scoring.
One of the most interesting parts about this game are the multi-purpose cards. Four of the five actions are all located on the cards in your hand. You have to decide how many cards you are willing to discard to take a single action taken from the multiple ones listed on each card. Some cards will also have text on them with the keyword “Battle” written on them. These cards can be used in battle as well as playing them for their actions during the round, so you have to choose wisely when to use a card for it’s action, or when to save it for battle. This brings a lot of tension and hard decisions to the game, because the whole time you are thinking, “I really want to take this action, but if I do, I can’t use this card for battle later,” or “I want to enable scoring so I can score points this round, but by doing that I am basically skipping one of my actions this round.”
Now let’s talk about the most interesting thing about this game, the combat.
After everyone takes their three actions, you will resolve any battle tokens you have out on the board that were placed during the actions phase. The battle tokens are in numerical order so you just go through each one resolving starting at number one, and so on.
This game comes with a separate little board that has three objectives printed on the top. The first one is for control of the region, the second for taking prisoners, and the third for attrition (murdering fools, yo). On the left of each objective there is a spot for the attacker to place miniatures and one on the right for the defender. The attacker must place his units first, so the defender has the advantage of seeing where the attacker is concentrating his forces. After the defender places his units each player takes turns playing cards. These battle cards can do anything from moving units around from one objective to a different one, add more units to objectives from your reserve or from other regions, or even mess with the order at which the objectives are resolved. The battle objectives usually resolve top to bottom. You see who wins area control first, then prisoners, then attrition. It is very important to keep track, because once you win area control, it doesn’t matter if your opponent kills all of your figures after that, you already won control.
The battle board is very well made, with all the important information written on it, as well as arrows pointing in the order at which you resolve them. You receive two points for winning the control objective, you capture a prisoner from the battle board for winning the prisoner objective which scores you points between rounds, and you immediately kill units and score one point for each unit placed on the attrition objective.
The game will go on until the fifth round, or the fifth event is resolved, whichever comes first, and then final scoring happens. Highest points is the winner.
Now to answer the burning question, is Cry Havoc worth the hype?
Well, that is a tough question to answer, and the best response I can give is somewhat. I love this game, I gave it a 9.2 on Board Game Geek, right behind my current top two games, Forbidden Stars and Chaos in the Old World. It has a lot of awesome stuff going for it, an original battle system, multipurpose card play, and asymmetrical factions, but there are a few issues I have that keeps it behind, if only slightly, the other two games listed.
First off, I am not totally convinced the factions are balanced. That is a big issue with asymmetrical games, because it is so hard to make everyone so different but yet equally close to victory. In the seven games I have played so far, three were four player games and three were three player games and in the four player games the Trogs are 3-0 and the Humans are 3-0 in the three player games. The only game that I have played that wasn’t won by one of those factions was a two player game, and that was because no one used them. The biggest thing to note here is that in every one of those victories the newest player was either playing the Trogs or the Humans, with one game after the Trog player won he laughed and said, “seriously guys I have no clue what I am doing, how did I win?”
Another thing about the game is the battle system, I love it but it is one of those things where not everyone is going to like it. One guy in the Krewe said it feels like he is playing chess, which he found underwhelming.
Finally, there is the event token mechanic. Over the course of the game you will turn over a total of five event tokens, but these events are placed on the scoring track and if a player scores enough points to pass that unresolved event, it is pushed down to be resolved with the next event. This means the game can be shortened if a player has a big lead, which means a runaway leader will end the game early and pretty much guarantee you won’t have time to catch up. I believe this was done so if a player is stomping everyone they aren’t forced to play a long drawn out game, but this can also be seen as making it that much harder to come back from behind.
Overall, Cry Havoc gets a big recommendation from me, even with the balance issues, because at the end of the day I have a blast playing. The game brings its own flavor to the genre that lets this game stand on its own and earn a spot amongst my favorite DoaM games. With more expansions in the works (I hear), I am excited to see where this game goes.