Games convey their merit any number of ways. A game might be beautiful or cleverly made. It might feature fantastic artwork. It may be small or grandiose, complex or simplistic, all in the name of creating an entertaining experience for those who play it. Roar of War, from Gizco International, will be up on Kickstarter soon, and and it’s a game that is trying to make something new out of some classic mechanisms. It takes some interesting twists and turns along the way, and also falls prey to some of the classic pitfalls. But, ultimately, the most critical metric that matters to us is: is it enjoyable? Did it entertain us? Well, let’s see.
First, the basics. In Roar of War, 2-4 players will command a racial army; the Humans, the Elves, the Orcs, and the Dwarves. Like classic fantasy rock-paper-scissors, these four factions are struggling against each other, with the monarchs of each vying to be the last left alive at the end of the grand melee. Each army, represented by a deck of cards, has a slightly different mechanical feel, with Humans and Orcs mostly balanced, Dwarves geared toward defense, and Elves tuned for attack.
(Kickstarter Preview Stuff – The components shown are prototypes, and are not necessarily reflective of the final product)
The structure of the game is somewhat random, somewhat luck-based, and somewhat memory-based. In that way, it reminded me a great deal of Stratego, with its player-facing armies and hidden target pieces. Similarly to that classic game from my childhood, each player will array their army against the opponent, face down. Each player forms 2 rows – the back row, the last line of defense, hosts that player’s monarch, while the front row is the vanguard, which tries to churn through the opposing forces, all the while suffering losses.
Gameplay is extremely simple. Each turn, a player will pick one of their front line characters, flip it face-up for all to see, and target another player’s front line. A comparison is made between the attacking character’s attack stat and the target’s defense stat: if the attacker has a higher number, the defender dies. If the defender is better, then the defender’s counterattack stat is compared to the attacker’s stat, and, if higher, will kill the unit which initiated the attack. Often, these counterattack values involve a die roll, so their total value isn’t always predictable.
At the end of each round, players will fill gaps in their rank with cards from their deck (players have access to their entire deck the whole game). Once a player’s front row has been eroded and their deck is empty, their rear row is finally vulnerable, and if their monarch is found and killed, they are eliminated. Last monarch standing wins.
All units sit face-down and are only shown when attacking or blocking, meaning that you will frequently be attacking characters without knowing precisely what their stats are. Of course, once a character has been shown, it is on you to remember what its stats are for the next time you plan on attacking. That can be pretty easy in a 2-player game, with only four attackable cards to keep track of, but in a 4-player game, it can be downright chaotic.
Andrew: So Roar of War is a game with a simple concept, but that certainly doesn’t relegate it to being a bad game (and it’s not a bad game). My walls are lined with small filler games which are sublimely simple, yet provide really great experiences. The problem, I believe, is that RoW can’t quite decide what it wants to be, and that’s where all of its issues center.
From RoW’s fantastic artwork and from its very name, it suggests that it is an epic, intense experience. The four decks, drawn from fantasy archetypes as old as the mountains, promise to be unique, bringing new experiences to each clash. But what we have here, ultimately, is an uncomplicated memory game.
You flip over one of your attacking cards, point at a face-down defender, and hope your number is bigger than theirs. No matter the outcome, both sides now have a little more information to go on, but as soon as the revealed unit is killed, that info is gone, and you’re back to making blind guesses.
While the game might promise epic warfare, the fact is that it actually lasts too long for what it is. In order to eliminate an opponent, you must burn through their entire deck and then find and kill their monarch. And while each turn is relatively quick, in a two player game, that means about 16 rounds and that is way too long for what RoW brings to the table. Instead of a light, fast filler or a gritty, epic game, we have something that is somehow neither.
Each deck’s unique Strategy cards (drawn each time you successfully kill a unit) should have been a chance to introduce cool faction powers that would keep the game moving, but with a few exceptions, they were just plus-this or minus-that to an attack or defense stat, and added very little, well, strategy.
Even the art, which we love (aside from the slightly over-sexied elves, including the Elf Queen, whose bra straps must have the tensile strength of braided steel), is relegated to the side of the card that spends the entire game hidden from view, only peeking out to register its displeasure with another card.
Andrew: Now, I know it must sound like I’m beating this game up, but Roar of War was a game we had really high hopes for. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t find enough points of interest to hook into. Its gameplay was both oversimplified and overstayed its welcome. Its aesthetics, arguably Roar of War’s best quality, isn’t even something upon which it seems to want to capitalize. It is a box of near-hits and barely-missed opportunities, flirting with great design without ever quite gelling.
Jess: Yeah, this one was a pass for me. It just didn’t quite live up to its own potential, but maybe that’s because the art and presentation set the bar so high. Who knows, with some tweaks, it might have done more for me, but my expectations were so high going in, I felt a little let down. At every turn, I wanted it to be more than it was.
Andrew: Precisely. Actually, I think that might be Roar of War’s biggest hurdle – it sells itself high, and delivers not a worse experience than it should, but a different one. At the end of the day, Roar of War isn’t a bad game at all – it’s got plenty going for it, and for some people it will be a truly great addition to their collection. It just didn’t really resonate with us.
All that said, we strongly encourage you to check out the Roar of War Kickstarter page and decide for yourself if this is a game that catches your interest.
(Thanks to Gizco International for providing us with our Kickstarter prototype for preview. Their generosity didn’t influence our opinions)