When I received War on Terror to review I was rather pleased. I could tell by the way it was described on their website that the sarcastic satirical nature of the game would suit me and my friends. We were veterans of Nuclear War and its sequel Nuclear Escalation, and a myriad of similar games, as well as everything from Stratego to Avalon Hill behemoths that took days to play. So naturally I assembled a couple of the usual suspects (both lawyers now), a newbie in the form of my wife, and me.
The game sees all the players start as “empires” who try to spread themselves out across the map in a similar way to games such as Risk. There are three types of cities you can purchase for development (village, town & city). To win the game as an empire you need liberation points which are gained by controlling continents with development as well as building cities.
The engine of the game is oil revenue. An oil counter is revealed each time you conquer a country. If your empire is eliminated or goes broke you can become a terrorist (which you can do at any point during the game).
Terrorists units are moved around the board, controlled by whoever wishes to do so on their turn, and wreak havoc (or try to). Cities also give empires points in this goal while terrorists have no such edge. Terrorists are rather underpowered in the game and are more of a nuisance with players that are experienced in strategic war games.
Over the course of New Year’s weekend we played War on Terror three times. The first game was the learning curve, and there is quite a bit of learning despite its simple appearance. By the third game on Saturday night one would expect things to be going smoothly with no arguments over rules or debates over what was “meant” by a specific rule.
Alas the game, for all its charm, has some rather important ambiguities that need to be addressed in either an addendum or the next version. I won't bore you with the details here (none will make sense unless you have played the game), but instead I will be sending a critique to the developers culled from our copious notes.
Now there are some great things about this game ranging from the “Kyoto” card that forces an empire to pay for large amounts for each town or city. There was some amusement at the fact you “buy” terrorists from the world bank. It's witty, amusing and cynical…all aspects that my friends and I love in a beer & pretzels game. The trouble is that the game falls between a beer & pretzel game and a “serious” board game. It's too complicated for one and not enough for the other.
With a few tweaks War on Terror could be a great game for you and your mates to play on a Saturday over a few drinks. Right now it’s merely a decent game that causes debate and arguments between gamers of any experience. Great concept, design and humour — now it's time to get the game mechanics right.