"To the Arts of the Victorious" - or something like that.
Had a chance to crack open this game again with my Mr. Winkie, my 10yo son. Previously, I only managed a couple of games while in exile at our beach house that was in the process of renovation and sale, so failed to post anything.
BLUF: This is a great game - get it!
This is Warhammer 40K without the S**K. If 40K was owned and run by gamers and a not a for-profit company, it would be Ars Victor: tactical, engaging, easy to learn and hard to master, and most importantly...FUN.
The components are solid and well done: the artwork has an actual style and is appealing - but not in a "serious" way. I like it, sort of teases 40K for its ludicrously self-serious [and occasionally perverse] style. The board morphs into numerous combinations and there are two factions presented: Not-Imperial Guard and Not-Eldar. The units are so well thought out that you'd have to play 50 games to figure out all the combinations. A game takes about an hour if you have some experience. Finally, if you are dissatisfied with the RAW, it is easily tweaked to give more player actions, for example.
Lots more here at BGG [CLICK] where it has a 7.3/10 rating. That is actually quite high at BoardGameGeek as ratings tend to bell-curve into 6.0 or so, even for good games.
Designer's official web page is here [CLICK].
Using the pre-generated scenarios to get started is a breeze [pictured at top right is the rules open to the scenario]. A couple minutes placing the tiles together as instructed...
...and then placing the end caps on. These border the game and have useful things like the turn sequence and victory point tracker, etc. It's all so SMART!
The sides are the classic military Red v. Blue - love it! Red is on the offense and deploys advance Units first, followed by Blue then takes the first player turn. Below, the board is ready and about to have the Advance Units placed.
As any Unit is placed on the board, a "banner" is assigned to it by a player. Each banner is Gold or Silver and has two suits each - exactly like playing cards [red/black, hearts/diamonds and spades/clubs]. The activation mechanic is that each deck has all four sets of cards numbered 2-7 for each color/suit, for 24 cards total. Players start with and maintain a hand of five random cards.
To play, each side takes a player turn where he uses one of the cards from his hand. The card value of 2-7 is the number of Activation Points available for Units when it is played. As movement is 1AP and combat is 2AP, players will only have 2-3 units they can activate. The catch is a unit cannot use AP from a card of a different color, and a unit with the same color but different suit costs an additional 1AP penalty. This makes for some hard decisions! At the end of the player turn, a replacement card is drawn.
This could be very limiting, but any unit that is attacked and not destroyed or forced to retreat can counter-attack the unit that attacked it. So units are not passive in the opposing turn. If you attack them, they will attack back if they can - easy!
It should be noted that this card system is not unusual - Bob Cordery recommends it in his Portable Wargame rules.
Below, you can see us a couple turns into the game. Our four Advance Units have shifted a bit and we've both brought on a couple more Units. As my initial hand was evenly spread with strong cards in both colors, I split the colors of my banners so I could use all my units, though not on the same turn.
Just discernable in the board center are the three objective hexes [outlined in purple, each with a unit on them]. Occupying them, destroying Units and smart use of your HQ all steal victory points from the opponent - when he runs out of VP he has lost. This neatly combines two typical military objectives - occupying territory and destroying enemy units.
Below, I am playing a Gold✶ 6 card. The Heavy Unit with matching color and symbol uses 2AP to attack the Red unit two hexes directly in front. I can use 1-2 AP to activate my Cavalry Unit just behind, but will pay a 1AP penalty as it is not the same suit. If it was silver, I couldn't active it at all.
Around the mid-game, Mr. Winkie has advanced farther and controls more of the battlespace than I do. I have a shooty army and he has a larger, weaker but balanced Force.
On Blue left flank, my cavalry are destroyed by a Red Assault Unit - the best unit Red has - and I lose the objective.
Towards the end, you can see on the right the little track for red and blue Glory [Victory Points]. When we run out, we lose. Red is at 13 and I'm at 17. It is VERY close!
After a bit of a late night, up past bedtime, Mr. Winkie and I left playing as soon as we were finished, so the below is a pic of the game's end. I just barely lost as Blue, when one of my unit's destruction pushed be to zero Glory Points. It can be seen to the bottom left that Red still has 5 Glory Points.
This was a great game. We played with our cards on the table since we were learning. My 10yo caught on quickly enough that he was able to remind me of rules occasionally, but - generally - I had to help him a bit. Probably more suited to a 12-13yo gamer with some experience, adults with some game time will find the mechanics easy to pick up. It is a classic example of mechanics that are not unusual or novel that are well put together to make for an excellent game!
One thing some players will find frustrating is only being able to activate a couple of units a turn. This is easily rectified by lowering the costs of Action Points. However, be warned that it will make the game go faster AND give the player with a better hand a significant advantage. For example, if you play a 7, you may be able to activate 4-7 units, typically [given the usual choices for banner colors/suits]. Of course, this could result in Counter-attacks that mess you up!
Personally, I am tempted to make Move OR Shoot 1AP, and Move AND Shoot 2 AP [cause, like, it has two actions...?]. Even by WWI and WWII, shooting is pretty easy and a typical activity, while movement takes training and practice. So perhaps 1AP to shoot [and take a counter attack perhaps], 2AP to move or move/shoot? It will shorten the game a bit.
Overall, I gave this game 10 Stars at BGG - I can't see anything wrong with it at this point. When I do find a mechanical issue or glitch, I am more than confident I'll be able to fix it easily - and THAT'S what an excellent game design should be like.
I can see this easily being used on an open table, grid system, and with 15mm or 28mm figures. This will make for a great crossover for your friends who haven't played with miniatures or prefer miniatures. The cards and symbols can easily be stolen and adapted for a spreadsheet or to make your own cards.
Get a copy while you can find it!