(Disclaimer: For the purposes of this review Board Game Gumbo was provided a pre-production copy of the game. Certain components may change from the time of this review to retail distribution.)
‘We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century, this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man’s, but yet as mortal as his own. As human beings busied themselves about their various concerns, they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacence people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small, spinning fragment of solar driftwood which by chance, or design, man has inherited out of the dark mystery of time and space. Yet across an immense ethereal gulf, minds that are to our minds, as ours are to the beasts of the jungle, intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.’ -The Mercury Theatre on the Air, “The War of the Worlds” H.G. Wells
I may be handicapping myself by starting with a quote from one of the most acclaimed authors of all time, but I just couldn’t help myself. For many years science fiction has been a passion of mine, so this particular game hits very close to home for me. War of the Worlds first saw print in 1898, with the radio broadcast, that is perhaps even more famous than the novel itself, taking place in 1938. On Kickstarter now is a continuation of that story in War of the Worlds: The New Wave by Grey Fox Games, designed by Denis Plastinin. Several years after the events described in the book, the alien civilization whose invasion ultimately failed on Earth have returned. Aboard a massive spaceship they land in the northern reaches of the United Kingdom, with intentions on wiping out the whole of the human race.
War of the Worlds: The New Wave is a 2-player light deck building game with asymmetrical factions; the aliens are attempting to exterminate human civilians while the humans are desperately trying to do enough damage to the seemingly unstoppable aliens. Both sides start with a deck of 10 cards along with a supply deck of 25 cards, 5 of which are drawn face up and available for purchase. The Aliens have the first turn, and through play of cards can move their units, attack human units and buildings, or produce energy to buy upgrades. The humans do mostly the same on their turn, but there are several slight differences between the factions. Turns alternate until one player reaches their objective and is declared the winner. Will the Humans be able to turn back the wave of Aliens pouring from their spaceship or will the human race face extinction?
Some of my favorite games feature asymmetrical play, and in this game it is done well. The Aliens tend to have a harder time generating energy to purchase their upgrades than the Humans do, but in exchange they begin the game with two units on the board (one Tripod and one UFO). The Aliens can also destroy anything the Humans put out on the board; civilians, Army and Navy units, and buildings are all destructible for the Human side. Conversely, the Aliens operate as a collective, so their buildings and units are never destroyed once they are on the board; they simply accumulate damage done to them until the Human player reaches a total of 30 damage (with a handy counter of the board to track damage).
Human buildings must also be placed in a location where a civilian currently is while the Aliens can build adjacent to where they already have a building without having to have a unit there. The UFOs of the Aliens are also an advantage for them because they cannot take damage from Human units; they also have significant mobility and can travel on both land and sea area. The Humans, meanwhile, have the advantage of being able to deal damage to Alien buildings in pursuit of their ultimate objective, so no building is safe to be left unguarded; even the giant Alien spaceship can be attacked by Human units willing to brave the Alien back lines.
The rules for War of the Worlds: The New Wave are fairly straightforward and simple enough that you can grasp the game in a single play. In fact, among 2-player games I find it to have one of the smallest learning curves I’ve experienced. This, in no way, detracts from the strategy of the game, which is fairly in-depth. It simply means that on your first playthrough you won’t feel completely lost in the rules and mechanics of the game. After your first play you’ll have seen most or all of the cards available in the game, making further plays all about utilizing the best strategy instead of how well you know the game. The game also plays fairly quickly; although the box says 30-60 minutes I have played over half a dozen times and never even come close to reaching a full hour. Ultimately how long it takes to play a game depends largely on who you play with, and I’ve been told I play games fairly quickly, so take that into consideration. I also only have experience with the base game, so the expansion may add some time to gameplay sessions.
A lot of what Grey Fox has done with this game is very clever. Although in essence a simple deck building game, they have included mechanics that largely eliminate the problems most deckbuilding games have. For instance, almost every card in War of the Worlds: The New Wave is destructible. Every card in the game has at least 2 uses; both uses may be for the same thing (a card may be used for 1 Energy or 2 Energy), but in using it for the more powerful ability, the card is removed from the game instead of going to your discard pile at the end of your turn. With this mechanic you can quickly rid yourself of your starting cards, if you choose to, or really any card you gain during the course of the game. This is a very interesting mechanic that I think a lot of deckbuilders need to start including.
The cards you begin the game with are not necessarily bad, and there are very good reasons not to get rid of them immediately. However, it is nice to know that the option is available; not only does it give you greater control over what your deck does in the game, but it also adds an interesting strategic element of when to get rid of those cards. Additionally, building and unit cards bought from the supply are immediately placed onto the board. No more waiting to draw those cards to get a use from them; building cards are removed from the game after purchase, but unit cards do go into your discard pile to facilitate movement and attacking with those units later. The supply deck also has an interesting mechanic where you can choose one of the 5 cards face up and remove it to the bottom of the deck in order to draw another, thereby making it easier to cycle through your supply deck and see the cards you want to see.
If I have one complaint with the game, it would be that the rulebook needs a thorough once over. As I understand it the rulebook we were provided was intended to get looked at by Grey Fox before distribution, so I hope this becomes a non-issue. However, as the game stands now there are a lot of fairly significant rules that are hidden in single sentences, and that really need more prominent placement. The idea that every Human building can be destroyed, that Alien UFOs can’t be attacked, rules about using multiple Unit cards and the blocking of movement by opposing units; all of these rules have substantial impact on gameplay and yet are not displayed very well in the rulebook.
As of the writing of this article there is just about a week left in the Kickstarter campaign for War of the Worlds: The New Wave. For $39 you can get the base game, for $44 you can get the base game with the expansion, and for $59 you can get the base game, the expansion and a neoprene mat. That seems like really good value to me for what you get (even the mat is fairly cheap, considering some others I own cost $50-60). The miniatures provided with our copy of the game are all of excellent quality, both sturdy and well detailed.
I can’t find many reasons not to recommend this game, unless you simply don’t enjoy 2-player games. The theme is excellent and well represented through card art and mechanics, the gameplay and production are both top notch, and to top it all off it’s at a very reasonable price. It may not send you running out into the streets afraid the world is going to end, but you really need to be paying attention to War of the Worlds: The New Wave, on Kickstarter now from Grey Fox Games.
— Bradly @bradlybillingsl
More from the Krewe de Gumbo:
BJ says: I haven’t gotten as many plays of War of the Worlds: The New Wave yet as Bradly has, and in all of my plays I have taken on the tragic role of the humans. (And yes, like Will Smith, I did vanquish the aliens in one memorable and mercifully quick game when I established a no-go-zone in the middle of the Isle and defended the ensuing onslaught.) But despite not fully exploring both factions, I have really, really enjoyed my plays. In particular, I like how there does not seem to be a set strategy; the best strategy seems to be an elegant dance of feints and counter feints, of strategizing and reacting to what the other player is doing — but knowing just the right time to apply pressure on a vulnerable area of the map or ditch your starting cards for that next upgrade in weaponry. I have also been impressed with the unique, fresh twists on the deck building mechanic. Every time I think we’ve seen the best of that genre, along comes another entry moving the bar upwards. Last year, I enjoyed Martin Wallace’s take on this very type of game in Lincoln, but frankly, War of the Worlds just does it better. War of the Worlds: The New Wave is my geaux-to two-player game of choice right now and I heartily recommend it.