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THE WAR OF THE WORLDS from DVG With the last DVG game I reviewed, I spoke of how they had stepped into the multi-player world o...







With the last DVG game I reviewed, I spoke of how they had stepped into the multi-player world of light Euro-style games, but for me a little too light.  With this latest product, The War of The Worlds, we're back on the familiar ground of solo gaming, but still with a Euro-game feel.  

From my early childhood copy of H.G.Wells' novel, through the L.P. [yes I am that old!] of Jeff Wayne's soundtrack with Richard Burton as the narrator and the less than faithful films that have been made, the story has been part of my DNA.  So, it was great to have received this from DVG for my latest review, but I was a little apprehensive about how this seminal story had been handled as a game.

Two previous games had focused on the geography of the novel keeping setting in the limited environs of London and the south-east of England as a more or less conventional hex-based war game.  DVG have gone for a broad-brush strategy approach featuring the whole of the UK [and. as you'll see, potentially further!].

I've no hesitation in saying that from  the moment of lifting the game out of its, as always, safe and secure packaging I was hooked.  My first delight was the box graphics that promised a wholly appropriate Victorian feel to the game. London where some of the most violent moments in the novel take place  is immediately evoked by the central image of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, with people in panic-stricken flight from the Martian machines.

This authentic feel was instantly reinforced on unfolding the superbly presented game board [which my camera work does not do anything like justice to].
In particular, the picture does not bring out the rich wood-effect of the deep surrounding edge to the board with its stylish cogs and gears that have an almost 3D quality.  The five roundels along the top [four of which are also displayed on the box lid] will be used to hold the different waves of Martian machines [Tripods] and the magnifying glass in the bottom right corner serves as an enlargement of the capital city London to make game play easier when that area is inevitably invaded.  

This sort of attention to small details is admirable.  It's great to see these functional needs turned into further ways to reinforce the game's artistic appeal and reinforce the visuals of the original story. This emphasised on inspecting the four superb glossy counter sheets.  The Martian machines [the Tripods] are done in bold primary colours, while most of the rest are in a faded shade.  Favourite for me among so many are the individual counters for figures who featured in Wells' narrative: the Narrator, who tells the first-person account, and his wife, the curate he meets in the ruined building, the artillery man and so on.  Best touch of all is using both on the box cover and the counter an image of Wells himself for the Narrator!

Above I've gathered the counters for most of the individuals who can appear in the game through some of the random Event cards - more about the cards later.

The Thunder-Child battles the Martian machines.

The all-embracing conception of the art complements the theme perfectly.  Though Wells focuses the events in his novel on a small portion of southern England, we can see it as a microcosm for the whole world.  It certainly allows for this core game [The War of The Worlds: England] to span the whole of the United Kingdom and enterprisingly beyond to other editions subtitled East Coast America, France and Japan!  An option, called League of Terran Nations, is offered at the end of the rule book, which allows you to play multiple nations simultaneously.  Though I know that I'll never aspire to this challenge, it is a nice extra.  

The rule book is typically attractive and admirably laid out with plenty of illustrations and examples supported by a first class play aid [see below]. 

Three pages of component exposition and roughly one page of set-up brings you to a step-by-step explanation of each Phase of a turn.  Unlike most of DVG's solitaire games that demand substantial pre-planning that is very much a part of the game experience, TWoTWs has the simplest of set-ups that reflects the moderately low complexity of the game and its predominantly strategic level.

Three Handling machine counters begin the game on the map; one in Scotland, one in Wales and one in Leicester.  Leicester?  Very strangely the substantial Zones [that cover several counties] in England are named after various cities.  Next, Wave 1 of the Tripods is randomly placed according to a die roll [and that Zone's Production marker is replaced by a Devastation marker] - none of the possible locations are anywhere near where Wells' chose for them to land in his novel.  In fact the most likely arrival spot is Scotland.  Again, game mechanics designed to give you, the Human player, a chance of victory overcome the facts of the source novel.  The final item to roll for is the placement of the first Cylinder which will ultimately produce a subsequent Wave of Tripods.   

Once everything is set up, it's down to acquiring the rules to begin play.  Most of the stages in the play sequence are brief to read and equally brief to execute.  The A.I. for the Martian side is governed by die rolls and card draws and many of your own actions will be executed by rolling the same special dice that contain three green faces, two yellow ones and a single red one.

However, do read the rules carefully, especially as the sequence of Phases is quite unusual and contains small elements that may trip you up.  The sequence is as follows:

First up is the Production Phase where you gain points mainly to buy and place on the board the units and other items essential to winning the game.  A very simple action, but as always deciding what to purchase with your limited resources is the  problem.  Typical items are Infantry, Cavalry and Guns, but also rather oddly Harbours [which are randomly selected when purchased]. Imagine the scenario: I want to escape from Liverpool, oh sorry, sir, that Harbour hasn't been one of the lucky ones to be bought yet!   Like some other aspects of this game, a clever mechanic, but wholly unrealistic! 

The Battle Phase follows next.  Here there is a more to take in. The key point to have in the front of your mind is that this Phase only occurs when you have a Wave counter in the same main mapboard Zone as a Field Gun or Siege Gun.  This tripped me up initially. finding it strange not to have a Battle because you only have infantry or cavalry units.  It was equally strange to discover the roles these units play: Infantry are used for dice rolls to gain the all-important Earthworks that protect and conceal your guns, while Cavalry provide similar dice rolls to gain Battle Plans.  The latter as expected give you various advantages in the upcoming battle.

Should the Battle Phase thus occur units are shifted to a small tactical board.  It would have been an added richness if this had also been mounted, but the glossy thin cardstock is adequate.  The placing of the Tripods and their actions during the battle are governed by the draw of battle cards.  Inevitably there is a strong element of chance here, but not only is it essential to a solitaire game to have some sort of A.I., but it adds greatly to the tension of the game and the cat and mouse feel.
The right hand board is for use in the Battle Phase
The Tripods are randomly placed, according to card draw, in the top row.  You choose where to place any Human characters and units in the bottom row of hexes and your guns and any accompanying earthworks are placed in any of the hexes in the row above [marked with artillery symbols].  There are some strange peculiarities here that remind me that this is more a Euro-game than a war game. 

Why will the Tripods only fire at guns and only those that have been revealed by having all their earthworks stripped away?  Why do all the Human units cluster in the hexes on the bottom row and cannot move?  This is especially strange as all Human units in a hex that a Tripod enters are captured and gain the Martian side a victory point.  So, they just sit there hoping that the cards that move the Tripods send them on past without entering their hex.  It adds a great deal of tension, but there's little skill on your part whether your units live or die.  

A rare moment when the tripods were heavily outumbered

There are some inconsistencies too; for example, we are told that any guns in the bottom row hex are destroyed if a Tripod enters the hex, but guns set up on the row above.  Is this a hangover from an earlier rule that didn't get caught in proof-reading?  I've assumed that the rule is simply applied to the hex row the guns are set up in.  Also the rules occasionally omit or at best leave the player to make an assumption.  Typical of this is the instruction that the end of a battle comes when there are either no Human units on the board or no Tripod units.  What isn't made clear is that ultimately the Tripods will be forced by the movement instructions to exit the bottom edge of the board. 

I mention such points, as they have led to a range of uncertainties and questions.  Nothing major, but these small points do add up and an especial warning if, like me, you often look online to BBG [Boardgamegeek] for useful playthrough/how to play videos.  Though only 3 months old the video provided by Kevin and Dan Verssen contains many significant differences in the rules from what's there in the published game!

Having survived [or not] any Battles, you move straight on to the Devastation Phase where - surprise, surprise - a die roll is made in every Zone where there's a Wave marker.  This quickly and very abstractly will determine a variety of losses, including some or all of the following:  1 or 2 Human VPs, 1 Human unit and upto 5 Workforce, as well as creating a number of Refugees. The next Phase, Human Action, will pass just as quickly.  All Human units/Characters can move one Zone and Infantry instead of moving can roll either to see if they destroy a Tripod that hasn't yet emerged from a Cylinder or to place a Powder Keg.

The Escape Phase promises exactly what it says.  Any Refugees currently in a Zone with a Harbour roll to attempt to escape.  The first roll determines whether they are successful in fleeing with a two thirds chance of success.  Otherwise they stay put in the Zone, but if you think that having successfully fled the danger's over, it's not!  All it means is that you've successfully boarded a freighter to take you to safety.Now you roll again - 50% chance of making a clean get away, but if not you'll have to fight your way to safety against either one or two Tripods on the Naval Board.  

A Naval Battle has similarities to a Land Battle, though frankly is more enjoyable as you have to manoeuvre your freighters - and possibly a Warship or two if you can afford to buy them - from the top of the board to the bottom.  Meanwhile the Tripod is governed by the same card drawing and die rolling process as in a Land Battle to randomly move and fire on your ships.  It's enjoyable, but seems a rather prolonged process in order for you to gain usually at best one or two VPs or for the Martians to gain one or two VPs.

Rather oddly it's at the end of this Phase that you tot up how many VPs you've earned this turn, one point for every Refugee escaped and 1 point for every Production site not devastated.  As you start the game with 10 out of your 11 Production sites operable, that's a 10 VP start at the end of the first turn.  10 VPs turn into 1 Germ and 10 Germs win you the game - so, a simple bit of maths and it's  100 VPs for a win.  [Spoiler alert - avoid next paragraph, if you haven't read Wells' novel, The War of The Worlds, and you want to do so before playing the game].  

Why Germs?  Well, as a nod to the novel - the plucky British don't triumph against all odds, a deus ex machina, good old Mother Nature does the job - germs kill off the Martians!  So, let's turn VPs into germs and then if you win, hey presto, you can say the germs got them - though in game terms, it's escaping Refugees, killing Tripods and mainly having undevastated production Zones giving you VPs each turn that brings you out victorious.

So, back to our game.  Only two swift Phases left.  First the Martian Action Phase, which is far less dramatic than it sounds.  Another simple die roll for each Zone that contains a Martian Wave marker.  The possible results are as follows: the Wave moves to a different Zone [that's right roll the die to find out which one], the Wave gains an extra Tripod or part of the Flying Machine is built.  There is usually a one in six chance of the latter happening and if all four parts of the Flying Machine get built the Human player loses the game.  This single detail has so far been the most criticised aspect of the game, as a series of early bad rolls and you are toast.  In my most recent game, I was doing very nicely on 84 VPs, the Narrator's Wife had safely escaped [a nice thematic touch] with the Martians trailing on 54 VPs, when the fourth part of the Flying machine was built. Game over.

Just to prove how near I got!

The last task in this Phase is to roll for each Zone that has a Destroyed marker to see if it turns into a Red Weed Zone and add up Martian VPs. 2VPs for each destroyed Zone and 4 VPs for each Red Weed Zone.  Like the Human player, 10 VPs are turned into a Colonisation Point and 10 Colonisation points mean that the Human has lost.

The final Phase is the Assembly.  In every Zone where there is a Martian Handling machine and a Cylinder, roll the die and if the colour matches the colour of the Handling Machine, the Cylinder is replaced by the next numbered Wave marker.

The only other feature to mention is the deck of Event cards.  I really like how this is handled, as the deck is made up of Events labelled for every Phase of the turn, but the top card is only played when it matches the current Phase.  So, at least one Event card will definitely be played each turn, but the earlier the Phase that this happens the more likely it is that you will get the next card matching a later Phase in the turn and so on.  Some turns I've had a single Event card playable, at others up to four and once five!

A typical selection of the many Event cards that add greatly to the thematic element of the game.

So, final conclusions.  A fairly swift and easy game with some minor uncertainties in the rules that have largely been cleared up on BGG, but as yet no definitive Errata/FAQ published.  Components are excellent and greatly add to the flavour of the game.  A light game that depends heavily on dice rolling which brings in an equally heavy slice of luck. For me, it's not so much the luck element as the lack of major choices on the player's part that makes me want more control.  That said, there are often many micro-moments of decision that add to the already frequent tension generated by so many of the die rolls, especially as the game moves into its later stages.  DVG are obviously looking to widen their appeal and I think this game has a potential to hit the lighter end of the market, but for my own tastes I prefer their typical meatier historical war games.

Once again many thanks to DVG for supplying the review copy.

Standard Price


And my next review up will certainly cover a very heavy weight grognard's historical war game on three battles of the Crimean war!

So, look out for Bloody Steppes of the Crimea in a few weeks' time.