Monday, January 13, 2014

Warage: A Pair of First Impressions

warage boxI'm posting this first impressions today because the Kickstarter for Warage has only 11 hours to go. I'm not saying you must go sponsor this... but if you're interested after reading what we wrote, here's your chance.

By: Dale Yu (DY) and Mark Jackson (MJ)
  • Designers: Luca Grasso, Pietro Puglisi
  • Publisher: Gryphon Games, District Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 30-60 minutes
  • Times Played: 3 (DY), 2 (MJ)
DY: Warage is a non-collectible card game that is being brought to the US from Italy. Released earlier in 2013 by District Games, Warage is a turn-based card game, reminiscent in style of deckbuilders (Magic: The Gathering, etc) without the collectible nature.

Both Mark and I were given preview sets to try the game out. Everything you need to play comes in the box. You get 4 prebuilt decks of 50 cards (each player in the game needs a deck) as well as 107 additional cards that you can use to further modify/tweak your decks.

The game itself is really a one-on-one battle. Each player starts with 100 hit points, and the winner is the last one standing. Each player chooses a race (human, elf, orc, angel) which determines the starting HP level as well as any seasonal effects. The player also chooses a class (warrior, paladin, mage) to determine their basic attributes: regular attack, magic attack and defense – hereafter referred to as A/M/D. All of the other cards in the deck are filled with equipment, spells, reactions, helper creatures, etc. that will be played from your hand in the course of the game. The game starts with your race and class card on the table, and you will play other cards around them.

You start the game with a 5-card hand. and a season card is flipped up (depending on the season, certain races might get a bonus or malus to their dice rolls). There are six phases to each round:

1) Opening phase – first, resolve any “opening phase” effects on cards that have already been played to the table. After this, each player may draw two cards from their deck. If they want, BEFORE they look at the card, they may decide to convert the card into hit points (HPs). You are limited to doing this only five times each game. If you do not convert your card draw(s) to HP, they are added to your hand.

2) First Equipment phase – You are able to play cards from your hand to the table. Equipment cards (red) and magic cards (blue) each take up a number of equipment/magic slots. Your characters carrying capacity for each is denoted on your class card. These cards are initially played in a row underneath your character area (race/class cards). Each card has a value in the upper left corner; when you play the card, you must pay the cost of that card in HPs. That’s right – in order to play stuff, you weaken yourself.

There are a number of different card types:
  • Equipment – weapons, armor, helmets, etc. Each of these things modifies your A/M/D in some way
  • Amulets – special equipment that tend to have stronger actions that equipment. You may only play one Amulet a turn.
  • Spells – Magical skills that your character can use once each turn. These cards have “sleeping sickness” and cannot be used until the first opening phase of the next turn
  • Helpers – these are NPCs which have their own A/M/D attributes. They usually affect your personal A/M/D in some way or have some special ability.
  • Flash – these are reaction cards that can be used to reply or respond to cards played by your opponent
You also have the option at this time to sell back cards that you no longer need. You can take cards from your play area and discard them. Each time you do so, you recover hit points (a smaller number found just to the right of the cost).

In this first phase, you also choose which cards to equip for the rest of the round. There are a number of rules to follow here. You may not exceed your number of equipment or magic spots as determined by your class card. You may also not exceed your number of hands (two). You also cannot wear more than one helmet or armor. You can only use (attack) with equipped cards, but non-equipped cards still affect your character’s attributes.

3) Regular Fighting phase – each player in order can declare an attack on a particular target – either your opponent or one of his helpers. This attack uses your A score. Your Attack score base value is found on your class card. It can be modified by any of your cards in play (both positively and negatively). You also get to roll d6 (the number of which can be modified by the current season and how your race is affected by that season). You sum up your total attack number and then compare it to your target’s D number – which itself is modified in the same manner as your attack number.

If your attack score is greater than your target’s defense score, damage is dealt. Helpers are simply discarded with any damage. If the target was your opponent, he would lose HP equal to the difference between your attack and his defense. If your attack score is lower than your target’s defense, nothing happens and your attack fizzles.

4) Magic Fighting phase – In this phase, you use your magic attacks. Your Magic value is now what is calculated to go against the target’s Defense value (in a similar manner to the last phase). If your M > opponent’s D, then damage is done and HP is lost. If M < D, nothing happens. One important difference here is that each active/equipped spell card can be used – and this means that you might be able to have multiple attacks in this phase whereas you are limited to only a single attack in the regular fighting phase.

5) Second equipment phase – Similar to the first equipment phase in that you can once again play cards from your hand to your area. You do not worry about equipping cards at this time as you will not use them until after the first equipment phase in the next round.

6) Closing phase – resolve any actions on cards that are triggered in the “closing phase”. Additionally, if any player rolled a “6” at any point during the entire round, flip a new season card up from the deck.

This pattern continues until either one player is eliminated (at which point the remaining player is the winner) OR one player has infinite HPs (and therefore wins the game). I’ll admit that I have yet to figure out how someone would get to infinite HPs, but it’s in the rules, so I repeat it here.

Thoughts on the game:
DY: There are a number of things that I like about Warage...

The concept of weakening yourself to play cards – This is neat and I haven’t seen it before. It really makes you think about what cards you need/want to play, and it limits you from simply dumping your whole hand out onto the table. If you get too aggressive playing cards, you leave yourself prone to defeat from a well timed attack. However, if you have the right cards in your deck, you may make yourself invulnerable from attacks.

I also like the season change mechanic and the way it changes your tactics. Getting (or losing) d6s in your roll can certainly make you think twice. At least one of the four pre-built decks tries to control the seasons, and it adds some spice to the game.

The art on the cards is quite nice. I did not recognize any of the artist names on the card, and this game certainly showcases their artwork nicely. The cards follow the standard CCG layout with picture on one half and text on the other. There are not many icons on the cards (only symbols for the 4 seasons and a d6 icon) – everything else is good old fashioned text.

I really like the fact that you do not have to build a deck to start playing – you can play with the pre-built decks AND you have the flexibility to build your own when you are more comfortable with them. Everything is inclusive in the starter box, and this alleviates my usual fear with games like this.

My boys liked the game. They enjoyed bashing each other.  In the first game, they were a bit too excited about playing cards and weakened themselves far too much and were killed off quickly.  By the second game, they appreciated the balance between playing cards to attack/defend and keeping their HP total up.

MJ: There are some inventive pieces in this game design – using hit points (HP) both to track your life AND to pay for the placement of equipment, spells & helpers is a great idea. The balance between the two is a tough one to figure out – and probably spells the difference between winning & losing.

Like Dale, I think that the season deck (and the various cards that can manipulate it) allow for some interesting tactical choices, particularly in games with a mix of races where an early advantage could turn into a later disadvantage as the “weather” goes against you.

As well, there’s a lot of cards in the initial box – 4 ready-to-play decks plus another 100 or so cards for customization once you know the game better. With this style of game, that level of variety is greatly appreciated from the get go.

DY: That being said, there some things that I didn’t like about the game…

The rules in this first edition are frankly awful. They are disorganized, and hard to follow. It may be due to the fact that it looks like a non-English speaker translated it into English. There are multiple typos that caused misunderstanding when trying to learn the game.  It’s the sort of game that can be easily taught by someone who knows (now that I think we’ve figured it out) – but very difficult to learn from the rules. It does appear that rules are being re-written by the folks at Gryphon now, so the new set will hopefully be better. [Note from Mark: I received but haven't had a chance to look closely at a new version of the rules this morning from the publisher.]

The game is fiddly. There is constant math refiguring of your A/M/D as well as your HP total. We had to use poker chips to track hp in our first game.  In our second game, we had some small dry erase boards that we kept track of HP and A/M/D. Also not sure how you are supposed to remember which cards target which opponents. This was later fixed with notes on the dry-erase boards. It does look like the retail version of the game will include a Notebook which provides a template for keeping track of everything PLUS there is a free iOS app to do the same thing. In the equipment phase, you also need to constantly manage your equipment slots and your empty hands to make sure that you haven’t violated any of the rules. There is also a little bit of book-keeping necessary to remember which magic cards are available for play.

In our first game, I was worried about not being able to read cards across the table, so I always was asking what the cards said. However, once we had our stats on dry-erase boards, the actual text on the cards was less important as most of them had their actions summarized in the stats already.

Warage ends up being slightly too long for me for what I got out of it (but I know I’m not the target audience).  Like any game with multiple wordy cards, there is going to be some addition to the game length to simply let players read the cards and try to digest their effects, and this certainly had some effect on the length of my first few games.

As I mentioned above, I do not think that I am truly the target audience for Warage as I do love pushing my colored wooden cubes around on a board, but my two teenaged boys enjoyed beating each other up, and they have already broken the shrink wrap on the extra cards to make the starting decks better and more in lines with whatever strategies they want to pursue. They have been beating each other up all week with the game, and I’m still happy enough to sit in a game or two against them, though this would never be an all-night sort of activity for me.

MJ: I also have some concerns about the game… many echo what Dale has already said.

The rules that we received with our preview copies are, at best, sub-standard. The use of the terms “turn” to indicate a round of play (all players playing) and “round” to indicate a player’s turn is especially shortsighted. Not sure if this is a translation problem or not, but the reversal of common usage just makes the learning curve that much more steep.

I don’t think I found the game nearly as math-y as Dale did. We simply used a sheet of paper & pen to track HP as well as Attack, Defense & Magic attacks. I will say that the constant recounting without some kind of record-keeping method would be tedious.
Since there are multiple cards (spells & equipment) that target a particular opponent, it would have been nice to have provided some kind of marker to indicate which opponent is targeted. (Wiz-War has a supply of little wizard hat counters for just such occasions.)

Though Warage ran long on the first play, the second play was over much too quickly. Once I got behind on points, it felt as if my only alternative was to (a) fill up my life pool and (b) go out in a blaze of glory, dumping every playable attack card in one last attempt to knock my opponent out of the game. I know that the game is designed to be “quick & dirty” – but this felt a little abrupt for me. (Of course, not for my son, who loved beating up on his old man.)

DY: Though this is not my usual sort of game, I’ve had a decent time so far in my three games. The biggest obstacles to the game for me should be getting fixed prior to the retail release of the name – namely including a Notebook/iOS app to keep track of stats as well as a re-write of the rules. Our struggles with learning the game were due to the poor rules, and if this is cleaned up, I think folks will get a much better first impression. Once we struggled through the rules and learned the game, it’s actually pretty simple to play. I have been able to teach others how to play in a very short amount of time. This is the sort of game which would be helped significantly with a video tutorial of how to play.

MJ: I agree with Dale… if the rulebook is given a proper rewrite & editing, the inventiveness of Warage will get a chance to be properly experienced. My eldest son (age 12) is eager, much like Dale’s boys, to break the shrink on the new cards and get to deck-building.

I think the game might “work” better for me if the initial HP total was higher – especially in two player games. (It might give time for players to build up some card combos without decimating their precious life points.)

Between Dale & I, I’m much more likely to enjoy a combat/fantasy card game – and I think there’s a lot of potential here for folks who aren’t daunted by the text-heavy cards to find a game they will enjoy.

This first impression originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website... and honestly, Dale did a lion's share of the writing. I received a preview copy of the game.

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