The stand out game from this year UK Games Expo was Lords of War, an interesting little card game from new company Black Box Games. At the Expo only the first set of cards where available and I said I would resist a review until there was more to explore in the game. Well now the second boxed set is available and I’m happy to say it hasn’t disappointed.
Lords of War is a tactical, card based war game for two players. Played out on a paper grid, Lords of War has each player choose a deck of cards themed around a colourful fantasy trope and play out cards turn by turn onto the grid. Each card has a defence value and a number of attacks, with each attack represented by an arrow pointing at the grid space they hit and the attack’s strength. If the attack strength pointing at an opposing card beats its defence then the card is killed and the killer takes the card. Attacks from multiple cards stack so it’s important to build combinations of cards to provide the killer assault. Kill 20 cards and you win the game. It’s a very simple game, play a card, add up the numbers, remove casualties. Of course there’s more to it than that. Support units get greater options on where they can be placed and artillery give you the option of attacking units from afar. There are also your general and heroes and these cards are significantly stronger than the majority of your deck but you only need to kill four of the oppositions heroes to win.
|Positioning your cards is key to victory.|
By looking at Lords of Ward you would assume it’s a rip off of Summoner Wars but the similarities are only in form. The game actually plays and feels more like Neuroshima Hex, a Polyhedron Collider favourite, but without all that awkward calculating of initiative and bonuses. Every turn is a tactical puzzle as you try to find the best position for the troops at your disposal to gain the important attack strength you need whilst not exposing yourself to an enemy attack. There’s also an opportunity for longer term strategy; if one of your played cards is completely un-engaged you can take it back into your hand. The game starts to become a struggle to control the battlefield rather than just a tit for tat skirmish that characterise early games.
One of the key rules in Lords of War is that units always have to engage an enemy and that means making sure that one of the attack arrows always points to an enemy card (unless they are the afore-mentioned support unit). This simple rule forces you to be aggressive and removes the option of simply sitting on your backside and building up a defence. This rule also means that Lords of War moves at a staggeringly fast pace. Aiming to kill 20 units seems like an uphill struggle at first but it’s not long before you’ve depleted half your deck and a game typically takes only 30 minutes.
|It may look like other games but Lords of War is fast and deadly.|
There are currently four factions available, purchasable in two by two sets, Dwarves vs Orcs and Elves vs Lizardmen. The cards are clear to understand but most importantly the artwork is amazing and the style very distinctive. Although four factions exist, and I'm sure more factions are on the way, Lord of War’s only detractor is that there's little to differentiate the armies. Each faction isn’t identical but the differences between the armies are subtle. It makes the game more balanced and instantly accessible but removes some of the asymmetry that can make some tactical games an instant draw.