Trying Out: War Chest

The Guild gathered once again for our annual meetup. This year, the hit game was apparently a little obscure gem War Chest.

Note: I’ve only played the game with 4 people. It needs either two or four and I haven’t had a chance to test the two-player version at all, so any rules I reference are for the four players.

It’s pretty new, so it’s understandable that it might not be very well known as of right now, but I do have a reason to believe this might change.

War Chest is an strategy game. Part of the flavor is that this is a game some king or a noble man might have given their son back in the day in order to help them understand the complexities of war. As an explanation, this works for me.

Image credit: Lauri Maijala

It is an abstract game, and they aren’t all the rage these days. Most players will gravitate towards certain licensed themes or otherwise strong graphics. Neither is available here. Nor is there a lot of randomness. There is some, but just enough to make it more interesting, rather than chaotic.

My explanation might not convey it, but it is remarkably simply game, after you get a hang of it. At least from the gameplay point of view. Strategy… well, that’s different.

There’s 16 different units, 12 of which are going to be available in each game. These 12 are chosen randomly and then drafted to the four players, so that each has a set of three different units.

Units have pretty much the same functionality, but they also all have special ability, which in some cases completely replaces one of the usual abilities. For example, archers are unable to attack the units right next to them.

Some of these abilities are great flavor wins. For example, royal guard is very hard to kill, because they basically always have access to their reserves, unlike the other units. Others really feel like how you would imagine they would work on a battlefield in respect to each other.

For a fairly simple game with not many components, it is quite expensive, but the game is very good and the components are high quality. The plastic pieces might be simple, but they feel good and the art is good. You can immediately tell each unit apart.

I haven’t played very many games, but the ones I have, have been quite intensive and you have many level-up moments, where you just go “oh, that’s the way I should be using this unit”.

The game does have a random component, but it’s actually done in a very interesting way. By keeping your eye on what’s going on, you can know – to an extent – what options your opponent has. You can only be sure in very specific situations, but often you will have a clue, if you understand how everything works.

I also like the attrition aspect of the game. Even though you don’t really have a deck as such (it’s a stack of chips), there is a deckbuilding component, which is quite similar to Dominion. This helps you plan out your moves and you can emphasize different parts of your deck at different points of the game.

However, if your unit is damaged or killed, it will make that specific unit harder to use in the future. Also, if you grow your unit to a larger size, it will also be slower, because you are taking those chips that allow actions out of your “deck”.

The biggest problem for me, and it’s not necessarily that big of a problem, is that the balancing in the different units is pretty bad. Some are just much more powerful than the others, but of course the drafting process helps with this. This might have been even better, but apparently we were doing the draft wrong.

I wasn’t the only one in our meet-up who really liked the game and even on the way home we were discussing the options for buying one. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be readily available, but in the age of the Internet, finding one shouldn’t be too problematic. They have some in the AEG-store, for example, but getting a quote on the shipping wasn’t easy, so I didn’t bother. (Shipping to Finland from the US can be expensive.)

I highly recommend this for anyone interested in abstract games, where not all the information is readily available, but much of it is.

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