General Patton once said, “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.” That may be all well and true, but having bigger tanks than the enemy and more of them sure never hurt any army that I know of!
How it Plays
World of Tanks: Rush is based on the popular, massively multi-player online role-playing game of the same name. Both use the same terminology, many of the same artists, and the objectives are the same – build a powerful stable of steel beasts with which to crush and destroy your opponents while protecting your own bases. But they play completely different; so if you’ve played the online version, it won’t help you here, anymore than owning a productive operation on Farmville will get you through Agricola.
This World of Tanks is a deck-building game with concepts similar to Dominion and Ascension, but quicker and with more interaction. If you’ve dabbled a lot in the genre, many concepts and terms will be familiar. Your starting deck consists of six cards – four Engineers (basic resource cards), a Mechanic (which allows you to trash it for another low-cost card), and Volunteers (giving you extra buys). You also begin the game with three bases to protect. With this meager compliment, you’ll acquire other cards, eventually amassing a strong division of tanks, armored vehicles, and supporting units in order to assault the enemy’s bases and other forces, thus earning points.
On a turn, you’ll have a hand of three cards. Again, in the first few turns, these are likely to be fairly cheap and weak. Don’t worry, it will get stronger. There will also be a “Reserve” of four vehicle/support cards from the draw deck, available in a center pool. You can use a card in your hand for one, and only one, of three things – to buy, to attack, or for its special ability.
Since these three actions involve frequent card references, it will be helpful to first describe a card’s anatomy. Every vehicle has a national affiliation, identified by general color and a particular roundel in the upper left as American, German, French, or Russian. Vehicles are either tanks or another type of supporting unit like artillery, armored personnel carriers, or even non-motorized non-vehicles such as airborne troops, mortars, or planes. Each card is titled at the top, with an icon in the upper right designating what kind of unit it is – from three stripes for heavy tanks to circles for auxiliary units. Along with its designation, it lists attack and defense values, from either ‘0’ to ‘2.’ The card’s cost is listed on a coin at bottom left, while the amount of resources it provides towards purchases is printed on a fuel can at lower right. Finally, many vehicles – but not all – will have one or two icons at the bottom center. This indicates a special ability you may trigger when played for that purpose.
The buy action is similar to most deck-builders, and is limited to one card from the Reserve per turn. You play one or more cards for their resource value that add up to, or exceed, the cost of the vehicle you wish to purchase. Some vehicles cost zero resources, but you still must have a card of at least ‘0’ value in order to “procure” it – you simply can’t pick up a card for “nothing.” All cards involved in the transaction go to your depot (discard pile). After buying a vehicle, you will shift those behind it in the Reserve away from the deck and fill the empty slot closest to it with a new one.
Alternately, you may use a vehicle for its special ability. Simply play the card to resolve its effect, according to the icon indicated. One symbol forces opponents to discard a card from their hands. Another gives you unlimited buys (though in reality with the low hand count, you’re generally only getting one more). There’s a deck-culling action, a trash-for-another-card mechanic, and symbols to let you draw more cards from your garage (deck). After playing a vehicle for its benefit, three things can happen. If it is a trash ability, you remove it from the game, gaining a card from the Reserve for the specified cost. If the vehicle has ‘0’ armor, i.e., no defense, then you simply discard it. However, if that unit has an armor value of ‘1’ or ‘2,’ it will actually remain in play to protect one of your bases.
Finally, you can launch one assault per turn, using one or more vehicles for their attack values. This assault has two important distinctions. First, one assault is essentially defined as any of your attacks against one or more opponents on the same turn. Therefore, you can attack two enemy vehicles at two separate bases, belonging to two separate players. However, all cards used in a turn’s assault must be of the same nationality.
Vehicles take out vehicles at the same ratio. Any card with attack value of ‘1’ can destroy an enemy unit with armor value of ‘1.’ To hit an opponent’s tank with ‘2’ armor would require two vehicles with an attack of ‘1,’ or one card with ‘2’ points. Bases, on the other hand, require two vehicles to successfully capture, regardless of their attack values. Except, that is, in the case of a heavy tank, which may roll into an opposing camp all by itself, provided there is no unit already protecting that base. All victorious and destroyed vehicles in any assault return to their respective owners’ discard piles. For each vehicle you eliminate in an assault, you earn a medal of the nationality which you employed in the attack. If you successfully take out two vehicles in the same assault, you get a double-medal. Medals go into your deck and are worth points at the end of the game. At least they provide a resource, however, towards future buys. Captured bases do not. These also go into your deck and are worth 3 points at the end of the game, but basically clog it up until then.
After a turn, as is similar to many deck-builders, you discard any vehicles remaining in your hand, and draw 3 new cards from your garage for the next turn. If there are not enough cards in your deck, reshuffle your depot and start anew. At the end of each commander’s turn, the Reserve cycles again. Discard the furthest vehicle in the pool, shift the other 3 cards over, and fill the empty space with a new one from the draw deck. The next player is now ready to roll.
The other way to earn points is to meet the conditions on achievement cards, which are dealt out randomly at the beginning of the game, one per player plus one. These award 5 points to the player who effectively acquires the most cards/vehicles per the category stipulated. These objectives included specific circumstances such as owning the most medium tanks, capturing a majority of bases, having the most cards in your deck, or winning more French medals than anyone else.
Two scenarios trigger the end game: as soon as the first player loses all three of his/her bases, or if all nine of one nationality’s medals are depleted. Generally it’s the former which occurs first. At that point, each player up to the individual who started the game gets one final move. Then achievement cards are awarded and the tank commander with the most points is victorious.
Blitzkrieg or Off-track?
While others here at iSlaytheDragon fawn all over Dominion, I merely enjoy it from time to time. That’s because it, and most other deck-builders that I’ve played, fall a little short in one element that I really enjoy in games: direct interaction. FarmerLenny reviewed the smaller, 2-player space combat, deck-builder Star Realms which has taken the hobby by surprising storm. So I will check that one out when I can. But there’s no rush for me right now, because I found another design that has all that in spades. And an historic theme that I dig.
World of Tanks: Rush rumbles off the path that many popular deck-building games travel. If you play a lot of titles in the genre, you’ll still recognize all the core principles here. But there are some fundamental differences. Three are especially worth noting.
It is tighter. With only three cards in a hand, you don’t get a lot of actions. Especially considering a card can only go towards buying, attacking, or its special ability – not a combination of. There are also only four vehicles in the Reserve to purchase, limiting your options. Often times, one or more of those will be too expensive. Every now and then, you won’t be able to afford any of them. For the majority of those rarer cases, you may still be able to attack and/or use a special ability with other cards – although not always. Yes, wasting a turn will frustrate some people. But the Reserve is constantly cycling – and it happens to everyone in equal measure, so it doesn’t completely derail you. Chalk it up to the war theme as shortages which plague every army. In any event, randomness, which affects all deck-builders, is certainly more keenly felt in this one. It does take some getting used to, I admit.
It is streamlined. This isn’t Dominion with its endless chaining from a nauseating litany of +1 Actions and +1 Buys, and so on and so on. There are no strange or complicated card powers that require strained interpretation. Only one ability is kind of confusing. Other than that, you don’t need dozens of plays and lab experimentations to understand how various cards interact with each other. World of Tanks is straight-forward and plays smoothly. There is still card variety, strategy to steer towards, and some fun one-two punches to pull. Yet it strips away much of the chaff.
It is interactive. Combat is not a common denominator to the majority of deck-builders – at least of the direct and punishing variety. Sure, there can be competition over cards, mild attacks, and other indirect means of messing with opponents. In World of Tanks, it’s an integral part of the design. It encourages interaction because that’s how you score points. Instead of sitting there on your own side of the table constructing a deck to collect dusty points, it has an actual purpose that feels proactive – to assault the enemy! At the same, you don’t lose anything when attacked, except in the sense that your opponent is gaining points on you. But you won’t lose the game just from being a frequent target. It doesn’t hurt your deck or mess with your plans. You will lose the game if you don’t go on the offensive, however.
There are a couple of other interesting aspects to the interaction. One, there are no surprises with which an opponent can counter your attacks. If you have the strength and/or numbers to take out a vehicle or capture a base, you succeed. It’s that simple. Your target can’t play anything to block or cancel your assault. Second, these offensives can dictate the pace, and you can employ that tactic as such – either individually or collectively in league with others. Since the game ends when one player loses his/her third base, you can potentially move it along to a hastier conclusion. If you think you’ve satisfied multiple objective cards, you may consider hitting the same, weaker playing to end the game as quickly as possible. Otherwise, you’ll attack a stronger player to buy some time.
Finally, because of the achievement cards, attacking is not the only means to victory, albeit it is still important. However, those secondary objectives are worth five points. A couple of those rewards can really swing the game in a one player’s favor – even if he/she lost all three bases. That said, you can’t bank on a totally “peaceful” strategy of just trying for those achievement cards. For one, the game could end too quickly if the cards line up for lots of early assaults and/or if affairs are overly aggressive. You may not have time to buy the categories necessary in adequate amounts. If there is a tie for the most in any objective, no one is awarded that card. Besides that, these achievements come out randomly at the game’s set-up and many of them still revolve around attacking, as in earning medals or capturing bases.
While deck-construction and card play are not geared as much toward creating chains and combos, there are some important strategic and tactical considerations, nonetheless. Generally, you want to focus on one nationality to increase the odds of drawing multiple vehicles from the same country for larger assaults. But you don’t want to just concentrate on one army, nor will you necessarily be able to, because of the four vehicle Reserve.
First off, heavy tanks are tremendously handy, so putting yourself in a position to be able to grab them when the opportunity arises is important. Indeed, when they come out early on when you can’t afford them, you’ll let your frustration be known. Therefore, you’ll need some cards just for their high resource value. A few cards have really high resources, provided they are only used towards the purchase of a vehicle of the same nationality. Essentially, as in many deck-builders, the first unofficial phase of the game involves buying cards which you’ll use to buy more cards. Although the ramp up in World of Tanks can take longer because of its tighter economy and lower hand sizes.
You also need to consider card abilities. Again, while not as prominent in this design, there are still combos to string together. Think twice before passing up any special benefits, even though a vehicle may not belong to the faction you’re focusing on. Picking up a card that allows you to trash it for another can be a way to get around the expense of some heavier vehicles. There are cards that sabotage other players. Others let you draw more cards into your hand, which can be helpful in gathering that extra resource needed for a more expensive purchase. There are several others which prove handy, as well. These just may be worth deviating from your current course to nab at the opportune time.
Playing those cards for their abilities isn’t always clear cut. That’s because most are played to defend a base in order to trigger their effect. Unfortunately, that sets up your opponents for a chance at the kill and a victory medal for their troubles. This serves as a sort of built in restrictor plate to pell-mell chaining. Surrendering a point here or there will be worth it in the long run. But playing two or three at a time to base defense will generally prove more fruitful to the enemy. And you can’t simply “replace” one garrisoned vehicle atop a base, unless all of your surviving bases are thus occupied. Planning how often to utilize special abilities is a delicate balance.
Despite the longer-than-usual ramp up phase, the game still moves quickly, again thanks to the low-hand count and streamlined nature. Downtime is negligible, though logically increases with larger player counts. It definitely beats Dominion. And once decks get humming, it’s fast-paced and packed with action.
In 2-player contests, there’s a good, Chess-like duel that moves really quickly. And since the Reserve only cycles the one time before your next turn, there is more freedom to forward plan. One pitfall to most 3-player combat games is that two players weaken each other to the third’s advantage. That is not an issue in World of Tanks, since protecting your bases is not a goal. Even if two players gang up on the third, that individual has just as much opportunity to take a base, earn a medal, or work towards the achievements. Furthermore, 4- and 5-player sessions are just as fun, if more boisterous. While individual downtime increases, the overall game length is not discriminately greater, thanks to the endgame scenarios remaining the same. One problem with the bigger table sittings is that there is no way to plan ahead because the Reserve will cycle three or four times before your next turn.
The artwork in World of Tanks is superb. Not all of the depictions of soldiers and people are always spot on – though most of them are – while everything else is detailed, colorful, historically accurate, and has an impressive sense of realism. This is another frame-worthy title, to my mind. The card layout and graphic design are also clean and understandable. All relevant information needed is neatly arranged on the card and nothing is crowded. The icon abilities are not always intuitive as to why a particular symbol represents its associated action, but the reference card adequately takes care of that necessity.
Finally, there is the theme. Understandably, not everyone likes war. World War II can be particularly over-used. In this design, it is merely window dressing, though, and it is far from a war game. Vehicles are categorized roughly by their historical designations, so there’s that. However, the rest of play is decidedly generic. And that’s without stating the obvious: you can buy and collect vehicles from different nations who were historically enemies. And nothing prevents you destroying an opponent’s American M-3 Lee with your American T-29. It’s merely a game about building the most efficient stable of tanks and other vehicles that you can. It’s pretty mercenary in that regard.
I understand that World of Tanks: Rush is not going to please every gamer. Some people simply won’t like the combat and brutal interaction. Plus the WWII theme can be an immediate turn-off for many. Also, it’s admittedly not a deep game with infinite ways to chain combos together or multiple paths to victory. That’s because this is a different kind of deck-builder. It’s purposefully not convoluted, nor is it overly-simplistic. You won’t sit twiddling your thumbs waiting for someone to chain through half their deck. It doesn’t overwhelm you with a minutia of card powers and arcane abilities. And what other players do actually impacts you. Simply put, for those who have been yearning for a streamlined, tight, tense, and interactive, fast-paced, action-packed deck-building game, rush out and grab World of Tanks now.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Asmodee Games for providing a review copy of World of Tanks: Rush.