“Welcome back to the army, soldier.” – Dominic Santiago to Marcus Fenix, Gears of War
Gears of War is a co-operative board game based on the video game series for the Xbox 360. Players are soldiers fighting against the threat of the invading locust hoards. They are outnumbered, outgunned and out of time. It is a desperate, last ditch attempt to save the world.
How to Play
Each player controls a COG soldier fighting against hordes of locust enemies. At the beginning of the game a mission is selected. Each mission includes different objectives that must be fulfilled in order to win the game. If all COG’s are bleeding out the game ends and the players have lost.
The game is played over a number of turns in which each player resolves the following actions in order:
- Heal Step – Draw up to two order cards without exceeding your hand limit. These cards represent your health, but they also include actions that you can complete, or you can use them to complete a variety of different moves.
- COG Order Step – Choose one order card to discard and perform one of the following:
- Resolve any or all actions printed on the card, but you must completely resolve the chosen action. You also can only perform actions in the order listed on the card.
- Move up to two areas (ignoring the actions listed on the card. Unless otherwise listed, you cannot perform an action and complete this step as well).
- Perform one attack by declaring who you are attacking, determining how many attack dice to roll (depends on weapon and ammo tokens used), and determining how many defense dice will be rolled for your target (taking into account any cover bonuses that target may have). You then roll all the dice and deal any wounds.
- You may also discard additional cards before or after resolving the above to perform special actions. These include, reviving a COG that is bleeding out, picking up a dropped weapon, or activating an equipment icon in the area.
- Locust Activation Step – The top card of the locust AI deck is drawn and resolved. This card will allow certain locust figures to move, attack or spawn.
This completes the active player’s turn and the round continues with the next player starting at the heal step. If a player is considered to be “bleeding out” (when a COG is dealt a wound and has zero cards to discard), they may crawl up to one space and skip the heal and order step above. They still must complete the locust activation step as normal. Locust will ignore any COG that is bleeding out.
Humanity Survives or Locust Victory
Full disclaimer. I loved the Gears of War video game series. I would play them for hours on end, both by myself and cooperatively; I got to know the story inside and out and fell in love with the characters and their journey. So, when I found out there was a board game based on the series. I just couldn’t resist.
This game captures the feel of the video games. From the theme, artwork and mechanics, it really feels as though you are working your way through the levels of the game. You feel as though you are fighting for your survival against hordes of unstoppable enemies. Resources are scarce and enemies are plentiful. It leaves you feeling tense throughout the entire experience.
Lots of flavor text helps set the scene and mood for the missions, and there is also some nice fan service. From the text on the cards, to the way the enemies move and what weapons they drop, the whole game was designed with keeping the spirit and the fun of the video game. For some, that theme may be a negative. If you weren’t a huge fan of the video game, then a lot of the little details would be lost on you, but, I still think there is enough to the game play to keep anyone, regardless of their knowledge of the source material, interested. It is a great co-operative experience with some unique mechanics regardless of the theme.
Teamwork is essential in this game. It is co-operative, but if you aren’t working together as a unit and efficiently you won’t be able to survive. Unlike some games where you can sprint through to the end, in this game you need to take your time and not rush ahead. If you do, and you get injured, you will need to wait for your teammates to come to your rescue. This may end up putting everyone in danger. Every choice you make has its risk. You will need to conserve ammo tokens as they are few and far between.
One of the interesting mechanics behind this game is that your weapons have two modes of firing. Standard and Overkill. Standard won’t use any ammo tokens, but is a weaker attack, so chances are you won’t be able to kill an enemy in one shot. Overkill uses an ammo token, but will have a better chance at successful kill. Knowing when to use what method and when will also contribute to your victory!
Being purely co-operative, means that this game doesn’t need one player to be the “bad guys”. It has a great AI deck that keeps the pressure on the heroes. The tension these cards build is amazing. There are points where the amount of enemies seems somewhat manageable, and the end is in sight. Then a swarm of locust rush in and combat can quickly get out of control.
Advantage is given to the enemies. They attack with more dice, have unlimited ammo and unlimited range. This just adds to the tension and difficulty. It makes the game harder, but without it being a total slaughter every time. Even if you lose, you can see where you could have done something different in order to have survived a bit longer. But, sometimes a bad dice roll can make your best laid plans blow up in your face, so there is that luck element to this game. When trying to close an emergence hole, we ending up using all of our grenades with not a single success roll! It forced us to make a mad dash to an equipment icon to restock. Luckily we made it and made it back relatively unscathed in order to close the hole and move the mission forward. Thematically I think it makes sense, even in the video game you don’t always hit your mark, your grenades can be overshot, and that fence you hid behind might not always be the best defensive position.
Another way that makes this game unique is how you monitor your COG’s health. How many cards you have in your hand indicates how healthy your hero is. The downside to this being that for every action you take, you need to discard one of the cards in your hand, so you need to be constantly aware of what you can and can’t do. This gives even more weight to your decisions. You do however “heal” by drawing two cards at the beginning of your turn. So you need to use this to your advantage and wisely. Some may not like this mechanic, but I found it again fit well with the theme. In the video game you are constantly facing the hordes with too little of everything, and losing health rapidly is one of those things. It also allows for the “bleeding out” aspect of the game. You can never truly die, you just need your team to survive long enough to revive you.
Turns are fairly quick as there aren’t a lot of different choices to be made, and discussion of strategy is encouraged so you are constantly participating even if it isn’t your turn. Once you get the hang of things, the straightforward objectives can be a bit simplistic, but this is where the missions and AI deck step in to make you work for your success. The game also scales well in its difficulty which makes the solo game just as fun as a game with four players. Even though there are set missions that you have to complete, the replay value is high as the maps are randomized and the decks will be drawn differently. No two missions will be exactly alike!
The components themselves are of really high quality. All the miniatures are very detailed, but I wish they would have had the heroes adopt poses that vary more than they do. At a glance to the board it is very easy to mistake one hero for another. But this is a minor complaint. The boards are modular and are pretty durable, the art on them is sparse, but I feel is enough to keep with the theme, while allowing ease of use. The rule book is well laid out and are simple to follow and understand. Along with lots of examples and diagrams for set up and different situations you may encounter really makes this game a joy to learn and teach. Cards make up most of the components, and they are of equally high quality as the rest. They feel great, shuffle well, and I don’t see them getting too scuffed up over long periods of use.
Overall this game is a ton of fun. It is a pure cooperative experience that, while straightforward to play, has layers of strategy and replay value. Although there are only a few missions, the modular board and random set up of cards will keep each play through fresh and challenging. If replaying missions doesn’t appeal to you, then you can always try your hand at horde mode, where you pit yourself against wave after wave of locusts that increase in difficulty. Everything looks great and it all ties into the theme nicely. It is exceptionally well designed. Luck plays a significant factor in outcomes, so if that isn’t what you are looking for in a board game, then this may be a pass for you. If that doesn’t bother you, it is a game that both fans and non-fans will be able to have fun with and enjoy.