Full disclosure: A preview copy of this game was provided by Pangea Games. As this is a preview, I will mostly keep my comments limited to gameplay, though the art is too great for me not to comment on.
Anyways, War Co. is an expandable card game (kind of like Netrunnerish) in that you can do the whole deckbuilding aspect where you get cards and make your own deck to play (sort of like Yu-Gi-Oh or Pokemon), but you can also get decks that are already pre-made and just play with those. This game in particular is set in a far, far future where only one weapons manufacturer remains, which, thankfully, becomes relevant because a major war (the first in 300 years!) has just broken out. Can you crush your opponents with your technological superiority? Or when the dust clears, will you have nothing left?
- Player Count Differences
- Pros, Mehs, Cons
This IS a game where you could ostensibly build your own deck, so … if you want to do that, read below:
Deck Construction Rules
You can build your own deck if you have enough cards. There are currently six decks (Bruiser, Conspirator, Guerilla, Militant, Trickster, and Wildcard), so you can mix and match from that to develop your own personal style, if you’d like, or you can play with the vanilla decks. The only rules are that your deck must have exactly 50 cards, and you can have no more than two of the same card.
That’s it! Very straightforward.
Setup is pretty simple even if you’re not doing the deckbuilding aspect. If you’re not doing that, you’ll each have a deck, and you’ll also want some Energy counters. Give each player 10. Thankfully, I have these nice yellow ones:
I also have some blue ones for general in-game counting (keeping track of a card that lasts X rounds, for example):
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to begin. Please note that for every additional player you have above two, every player must discard five cards from their deck to start. Note that this means if you play with 12 people, everyone loses simultaneously. Note that you haven’t drawn any cards yet, so you just have two (or more) decks:
Gameplay is also pretty straightforward. Basically, you want to run out of cards last. If you run out of cards in your deck and your hand, you lose. The last person to lose doesn’t lose, they win! That’s … that’s usually how winning works.
Your turn will always work like this:
- Draw Cards. Take cards from your deck until your hand has at least four and at most seven cards. You may draw cards one at a time.
- Place Cards. (OPTIONAL) You may play any number of cards face-up or face-down to your “field”, depending on your available Energy and slots. More on that soon.
- Attack. (OPTIONAL) You may use one of your machine cards to attack one “target”. More on that soon as well.
- Discard. You must discard a card from your hand to your “scrapyard”. You may discard one of your Technologies from the field in front of you instead. You may not discard Machines.
After each player has taken a turn, the round “ends”. If you are the first player and the first round just ended, you draw a card. Some cards will reference being in play for X rounds; as a quick clarification, those rounds are considered to be a full cycle of all players’ turns, rather than just the end of the last player’s turn (sorry if that’s confusing: effectively, I mean that if player 3 plays a card that lasts one round, it lasts until their next turn).
That’s what you’ll do every turn. Now, drawing and discarding are pretty straightforward, but placing cards and attacking require a bit more nuance to understand fully. Let’s talk about each.
So, on your turn, as mentioned, you can play any number of cards from your hand to the field, with a few restrictions. Before we get into those restrictions, let’s look at what cards are composed of:
On top, you’ll notice the card has a name, a type (below the name, either Machine or Technology), and a subtype (the adjective before Machine or Technology). If it’s a machine, it’ll also have a strength in the top-right corner (next to a bomb symbol). Eitehr way, they will also have an energy cost between 1 and 5 next to the lightning bolt in the top-right.
With me so far? Good.
So here’s the deal. All players get 10 energy, total, for all their face-up cards in play. Use the yellow counters to keep track of your energy usage on each card. If you were to suddenly go over that energy limit, you immediately discard the last card you played. This means, obviously, that you should not play cards that you do not have the energy to put in play. However, you can play cards face-down, in which case they do not use energy until they are turned face-up. If a card is turned face-up and you do not have the energy to play it, it is immediately discarded. Sorry.
As I mentioned, there are two types of cards — Machine cards and Technology cards. You can have up to three Machine cards in play at any given time, and up to two Technology cards. Some cards, when played, add additional slots for you or junk up your opponent’s slots, so they can’t play cards there.
Additionally, some cards, like your smaller friends in real life, can be improved by stacking them. These cards have the word “stackable” on them, and on your turn you can combine them into one machine a la a two-part Voltron, which is pretty awesome. Before you can stack them, you must play both machines (basically meaning that you have to have had two open slots) and you can’t have used a machine’s “If not stacked” effect. If you stack them, their new strength is the sum of their component strengths, and their new energy cost is the sum of their energy costs plus two.
Some cards have some shortenings of phrases on them — let me reiterate what they mean for you, as well:
- WNP: “While in play”, or an effect that only lasts as long as this card is face-up in your field.
- 1x Use: This card has a one-time use effect. It doesn’t have to be used immediately, so save it for when you need it. You will only ever see this on Machine cards.
- P&D. Play and discard. Immediately take this card’s effect and then discard it to your scrapyard. Note that this does not count for your discard for the turn. You will only ever see this on Technology cards. You might wonder (reasonably) why this has an energy cost; it’s so that you can’t play these cards unless you have enough energy. For instance, a P&D costing 4 energy cannot be played if you only have 3 energy free.
- Counterattack. When you target an opponent’s machine, that machine is said to be “counterattacking”. Some machines modify their strengths when counterattacking.
- Trap. Only on machines, this effect takes place when this card is destroyed by a stronger machine. Generally, you want to play these face-down so that your opponent will be surprised, but, you are welcome to make your own choices.
That’s all you need to know about placing cards. Let’s talk about attacking, now.
So, for the first two turns of the game, neither player can attack the other. This is almost certainly to give both players the chance to set up and also to prevent an overwhelming first-player advantage, since those aren’t really fun.
When you do attack, you make one of two types of attacks:
- Indirect attacks are made against another player’s machine. If it’s face-down, flip it face-up and assign energy to it. If your opponent doesn’t have enough energy to have it in play, immediately discard it and you may attack again this turn. That’s not great, so consider yourself warned. Otherwise, compare strengths. If your strength is higher, you discard that machine and your opponent discards the top card of their deck. If your opponent’s strength is higher, discard your machine and the top card of your deck. If there is a tie, discard both machines. Nobody discards any cards.
- Direct attacks are made against a player when they have no machines in play. You attack their Life points deck directly, causing them to discard three cards.
Note that if you must discard and you are out of cards in your deck, you discard from your hand.
Some decks include Shield Technologies that can block attacks with some limit. Keep an eye out for those! Getting attacked less is pretty great.
So gameplay continues until all but one player is out of cards, as I said. Before I talk about the specific decks in my review, I figure it’s worth mentioning some additional rules:
- Antilock. This rule prevents your opponent from ruining the game for you (a la Dominion + Dominion: Intrigue + Dominion: Prosperity’s Masquerade Pin). As mentioned previously, cards can modify your energy level and / or modify how many machine slots or technology slots you can have active. If, at any point, your opponent has reduced your energy level below three or played cards that take away all three of your machine slots, you may cite the Antilock rule, discard 5 cards from the top of your deck, and discard one of their cards on the field. This won’t happen a ton (though it might if your opponent builds their own deck).
- Stalemate. If three rounds have passed without any new cards being played or any players being attacked, all players must discard every card they have on the field. A full round must pass before anyone can attack again.
- Priority. If it ever matters which cards play in which order, card effects activate in order of recency (so the most recent card played’s effect activates first).
Other than that, general game rules apply (energy levels / energy use / strength can never be negative, for instance, and if you ever have a decimal, just round to the nearest 1). Now, let’s talk about two of the decks in War Co. — the Trickster and Wildcard sets.
Meet the Decks: Trickster
It’s been said that the best offense is a good defense, and Trickster really takes that to heart. Generally, the whole point of this deck is to trick your opponent into wrecking themselves on your Machines, especially your traps. All that deception comes at a price, however, and that price is that you’re … kind of weak, in that you have three machines at 45 strength, but nothing better than that. At least you got a wholesale deal on shields, though. That being said, too much of a good thing can be … too much, especially since you can only play one shield at a time.
Here are some highlights:
7 shields. You have 7 shield cards.
That’s a bit preposterous by anyone’s metrics, but there you go. They block enough attacks that you could probably ride out half the game on just shields alone, but … maybe a strategy would be better? Either way, people might just attack someone else since your defense is pretty much impervious.
Some of your Technologies are pretty destructive, when used correctly. Double Damage isn’t quite as cool as Slippery Slope, but your opponents should be careful about giving you an opening, because Double Damage is designed to punish someone who lets you get in a direct attack. Slippery Slope, however, can wreck your opponents. If you’re playing against the Trickster deck, do not let them get this going. It’s … kind of a slippery slope, really. I guess, hence the name. It’ll force you to discard two cards (in addition to your discards) every turn. That’s … not great.
On the other hand, some of your Technologies can really bail you out. Energy Efficiency subtracts two from every other card you play, while it’s active. Suddenly you can have three 4-energy machines out on the field, no sweat. Well, until your opponent discards that Technology, at least. Then you’re a bit hosed. Thankfully, there are other techs that can help you out:
- Grace prevents you from having to discard any cards from your deck for any reason.
- Absorption lets you draw a random card from your scrapyard whenever you attack your opponent directly.
- Life Support can only be played when you have fewer than 10 cards, but it lets you shuffle 5 random cards back into your deck from your scrapyard, which can really turn the game around for you.
Meet the Decks: Wildcard
Wildcard is an interesting deck, mostly if you enjoy yelling “WILD CARD” (FAMILY FRIENDLY ALERT: some language) during games. It describes itself as a less strategic and more tactical deck, so it’s great for beginners who can play more reactively than proactively.
Let’s look at some highlights:
Your machines are just … strong. You’ve got 5 Machines at over 45 strength. That’s really powerful. Sure, other decks might have a strong defense, but walls don’t matter when you can just smash through them with raw strength … sometimes.
These cards are all about making your opponent drop cards like nobody’s business.
- Firerain, Hornet’s Nest, and A Little Here, A Little There all cause your opponent to discard an extra card from their hand at the end of their turns. Together, your opponent could be bleeding (honestly, at that point, hemorhaging) four cards every turn.
- Double Taxed is a huge pain. Your enemy must discard the top card of their deck every time they play a card. Try to get rid of that one as soon as possible if you’re playing against a Wildcard deck.
- Tu Quoque just forces your opponent to discard the same number of cards you discard if they attack you. Generally, it just means that you don’t get attacked for three rounds.
- Lastly, Voodoo is just … mean. You play it and discard X cards from the top of your deck. All opponents discard the same number of cards, provided they still have a card on top of their deck. If you’re in the lead, this is a great way to put your opponents … well, in the ground.
The last card worth highlighting to me is this:
I haven’t found a good use for it, yet, but I could see times where it’s useful to you but far more useful to your opponents (it’d be killer in a Trickster deck with Slippery Slope, for instance, since it would activate the effect immediately). Generally, still a cool card. I’d probably swap it for one of Trickster’s shields and add it to that.
Other than that, not much to highlight! Wildcard isn’t super cohesive in terms of a strategy, so it’s hard to highlight certain sets of cards because it’s kind of all over the place but generally pretty solid?
Player Count Differences
I haven’t tried this at more than two, so I might have a better perspective if I end up reviewing more of the decks for this, but at higher player counts I could see some interesting things emerging:
- Fewer cards make for “shorter” games, in that you will have fewer turns since you’re forced to discard cards according to player count. That’s something worth considering.
- You could be attacked far more than you attack. It seems like defensive strategies that encourage other players to attack … anyone else might be more advantageous.
- Shields seem far less effective, at least, if you’re brave. If you’re playing with five players and your only defense is a shield, you will get slammed, since the first two players get rid of the shield and the next two directly attack you, for instance. That being said, maybe you want to let someone else take the first crack at that shield and hit them instead…
- Seems like it lends itself a bit to ganging up on the weakest player. That’s just my impression; I’d have to actually try it to make sure. While I imagine that’d make the game go faster, it might be tough if it’s still a 45-60 minute game.
There are really three parts to this: General, Trickster, and Wildcard strategy. I’ll mark the strategy notes accordingly. You may also want to take a look at the strategy tips on War Co.’s website.
- (General) You kind of want to play Trap Machines face-down if you can, so that you surprise your opponent. If I know that your Trap will destroy the attacking machine, sure, it’s annoying, but I’ll just attack it with the weakest possible machine I can.
- (General) Read your opponent’s cards thoroughly. I’ve had a few games where mistakes have been made because the text on the cards is kind of small and they’ve attacked a card that will take them out (we let them undo that action because we’re not monsters) or they didn’t realize that certain Machines get +strength when attacked or something.
- (General) Remember, you cannot discard your own Machines. This means that if you could stalemate yourself if you play too many Machines and use up too much of your energy. That gives your opponent a few rounds to bulk up on Technologies, especially if you can’t attack. Be mindful of the field.
- (General) Also don’t forget that you need to discard a card at the end of your turn. It might be worth drawing a few extra cards and hoping you get a card that you don’t want so that you can throw it out, rather than having to risk one of your good cards (or a Technology you’ve played).
- (Trickster) You’re going to be playing a lot of Machines face-down. Watch your energy usage. You have so many traps and Machines that get stronger when attacked that you basically won’t play Machines face-up a solid percentage of the time. Since Machines don’t use energy when they’re face-down, you might forget that they will use energy when they’re flipped up. Don’t.
- (Trickster) The best offense is a good defense. You should hide behind Trap Machines and Shields and let Slippery Slope (or other cards) do some of your work for you, since you have weaker Machines. That being said, sometimes your Machines can take the fight to your opponent.
- (Wildcard) Adapt to survive, and don’t be afraid to change gears on short notice. You might draw a card that doesn’t work with your current strategy but might be more useful? Swing to that. You’re the wild card. You should be changing around based on what your opponent’s doing and playing reactively. You have the right cards for it.
- (Wildcard) Overwhelm your opponents with your offense. You can, with the right card combinations, have a few 50+ strength Machines on the field, which is more than the puny Trickster can even dream of (usually). Just steamroll where you can, and clear the field if possible.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Some of the best art I’ve seen. It’s pretty impressive. I love the color schemes and would love an art book for this set. It’d also be interesting if you focused your entire deck around certain colors, like an all-blue-art deck, and see what strategies you could hit from the artistic end.
- Decks seem reasonably priced and the cards seem to be nice-quality for the price. That’s always a plus.
- I like that there’s a mild deckbuilding aspect, but it’s not complicated. It does make the game a bit interesting since you can mix and match, and it seems like it’d be worth assembling a deck from a few different decks to try and maximize a certain strategic approach.
- I think the different strategies the decks afford mean that there’s something for everyone. Naturally, I’d have to try more decks to be sure, but even among Wildcard and Trickster there’s a lot going on. I think the sheer amount of varied content produced within this system is really impressive.
- Naturally expandable. I’ll be interested to see if there’s power creep or total balance maintained across expansions.
- Generally, almost every card does something unique and different. I am only filing this as a Meh because I think it’s a Pro (that’s really cool, right?), but many of the people I’ve played with find that it’s a Con, since it’s difficult for them to keep track of the various effects that are on the field at any given time. It’s a reasonable concern — if you asked me, I could not name either all the subtypes of Machines or the subtypes of Technologies, and some cards specifically affect those subtypes. If you want to try and preempt that or do some prep work, there’s descriptions and tips for cards on their website, as well.
- Hard to strategize in your first game. This is in part due to the sheer amount of text and variety of cards, but it’s difficult (if not impossible) to really have a cohesive strategy prepared in your first game unless you know what all your cards do. Similarly, it’s hard to know what to expect from your opponent. That’s not … the biggest deal, though? You just need to play more, if that’s your issue.
- Invents a lot of new terminology. I find that Kickstarter games tend to do this from time to time (Super Hack Override has also had this issue with my group) in that they add a lot of new terms to a game. This kind of increases the difficulty for a new player to learn, even if it’s substituting P&D for “Play this card and immediately discard it.” Scrapyard for discards also confused a few players.
- Some of the text is a bit hard to read. I totally understand the desire to focus on the art on the cards (I would do the same thing — imagine if the cards were full-bleed, for a second? Man, what a nice thought.), but it is a bit hard to read, especially for an opponent. This means the opponent needs to both pick up the card and read it and then remember the card’s effect in their head, which can be a bit difficult for them to keep in their memory.
Overall: ??? / 10
Overall, it seems like a pretty cool game system, but it’d be silly to rate the overall game just based on two decks. So I’ll rate the decks instead! Yay semi-arbitrary numeric systems.
Trickster: 7.5 / 10
Wildcard: 6.75 / 10
I generally prefer playing with the Trickster to playing with the Wildcard, just because I like the ability to play with the strategy Trickster affords to be more satisfying than playing with the more whimsical Wildcard, though I would contend that it’s REALLY solid for new players. The major challenge with the game is that there is a lot of text, and it’s hard to plan for new games when you barely know what your deck does. Honestly, I still feel like there are tons of strategies and synergies for me to dig through just with the two decks I have, but I’m interested in getting to know the entire system at some point. It seems like a lot of fun!