Up to your waist in water!
Up to your eyes in slush!
Using the kind of language,
That makes the sergeant blush;
Who wouldn’t join the army?
That’s what we all inquire.
Don’t we pity the poor civilians,
Sitting around the fire!
Oh! Oh! Oh! It’s a lovely war,
Who wouldn’t be a Rivet, eh?
Oh! It’s a shame to take the pay.
As soon as ‘reveille’ has gone,
We feel just as heavy as lead.
But we never get up till the sergeant brings
Our breakfast up to bed!
How it Plays
Rivet Wars is a tactical miniatures board game, with a focus on the miniatures. You command an army – recruiting, deploying and sending troops on suicide missions attacks out of their trenches and across No-Man’s Land to break the enemy’s line and capture strategic objectives. All while sipping bubbly and nibbling on cucumber sandwiches at a château safely behind the front, of course.
This fight rages in the land of Rivet, currently torn asunder by a collection of independent allied states opposing the hegemonic Blightun Empire, among other principalities (likely to be introduced in later releases). The story, and many of the place names, are eerily reminiscent of our own world’s Europe engulfed in World War I a hundred years ago. The forces engaged in this stalemated conflict look like soldiers from that Great War, but employ steam powered, diesel, and clockwork arsenals of rocket cycles, mono-wheel dragoons, and monstrous mechanized weapons resembling quadrupeds and ostriches.
Again, this is a miniatures game, so you will be moving little figurines representing various soldiers and vehicles around a grid-based board while rolling dice to resolve combat based on range, unit type, and a target’s armor rating. However, this isn’t your grognard’s miniature game, with the need for rulers, facing rules, line-of-fire, oversight, or endless tables and charts full of modifiers. It is extremely streamlined and stripped of the cumbersome minutia generally associated with the genre.
Eastern Front, the base game, includes 19 figures each for the Allies and the Blight, comprising 8 different units per side. Each type comes with a corresponding reference card listing its unit category, purchase cost, movement allowance, armor rating, health, attack range, and attack rating, plus any special traits and/or powers if applicable. Two other decks of cards provide secret missions which commanders may fulfill for victory points and special actions which provide some nifty rules-breaking abilities during play. A collection of cardboard terrain tiles round out the components such as barbed wire, tank traps, mines, bunkers, and strategic objectives, as well as various other tokens to track damage, points, and gas attacks.
The rule book includes 10 scenarios (and you can find more online, both official and fan-made). These explain how to construct the battlefield for each setting, which utilize anywhere from 6 to 9 of the double-sided grid boards. They also specify how many deployment points and rivets you receive each turn, in addition to cards, victory objectives, and other rules specific to that scenario. After choosing one and setting it up, you’re ready to get in the fight!
Generals alternate turns conducting five operational phases. First is the card phase, where you draw one action and up to two secret mission cards, as long as you do not exceed your hand limit (3 and 2 respectively). Next is Deployment, where commanders mobilize new units. The two currencies in Rivet Wars are deployment points and rivets. Some units only cost deployment points, while others also require rivets. Deployment points cannot be saved, but rivets may accumulate. After levying new units, you must place them to grids within your territory’s activation zone (also defined by the individual scenario).
Third phase is Combat, where field commanders get down to brass tacks – or rivets… Of all the phases, this is the only one that can be mildly fiddly. Checking a target’s range is easy enough – just remember that you may only trace line-of-fire diagonally one time. Determining the number of dice you roll against a target is also fairly simple. From that point, it’s just a matter of figuring out what type of attack your unit employs, how often it may fire and at whom, and whether or not any special buffs and/or abilities affect the assault. Two “unit” types per faction are also actually plugs which don’t march around the field on their own, but rather customize a tank unit’s powers. Finally, if multiple enemy units occupy a targeted grid, you must attack them in a strict order – so pay close attention to your assaulting troop’s attack rating.
Once you’ve determined the manner and ferocity of your attack, then it’s simply a matter of resolving hits. For each roll against an opposing unit, you score a hit if any result is a 5+. If you toss more than one success, you still only score one hit against that unit. No worries. Most types – at least in the base game – can only sustain the one hit, anyway. A few units are more robust and can withstand more damage, and this you track with nifty little tokens that slot into grooves at the mini’s base, in order to identify its health.
When the firing subsides, you can then advance units, reinforce key sectors, or beat a hasty retreat from others during the Movement Phase. Each unit’s range is clearly identified by a number of grids they may traverse – holding to the same one diagonal per move rule. Also, some terrain restricts movement to certain units.
After maneuvering everyone one you can or wish to, you end your turn with the Wrap-Up Phase. If, during your turn, you captured a strategic objective, held one that you previously seized, completed the parameters on a secret mission card, or destroyed an advanced enemy unit (again, denoted as such by its card), then you earn your victory points here, keeping track of them on a separate board. As soon as one faction reaches the scenario’s victory threshold, and each side has had an equal number of turns, the general with the most points wins.
Not So Quiet on the Eastern Front?
Miniatures gaming can be intimidating. They’re often complexly cluttered with dreadfully detailed rules or mechanics. There is a heavy emphasis on painting for which many of us have neither the time nor the aptitude. They usually require large areas, fancy terrain to make it look really cool, and a ruler. Really? A ruler? Aside from that, most miniatures games are difficult to jump in the middle of. If a rule set that intrigues you has been around for many years, your collection has a ton of catching up to do in order to be competitive and/or diverse, which becomes expensive. And most of the popular systems seem to have pretty entrenched cultures and groups that, while not necessarily unfriendly, can still be hard to approach. Still, there are many veteran hobby gamers who are interested in miniature gaming, but struggle to find an entry point, don’t know how to begin, or simply don’t have the time to invest. Well, what if there was a miniatures game that really played like a board game?
Don’t get me wrong. Rivet Wars is a bona fide miniature gaming pool with as deep an end to dive into as any other. There are half a dozen expansions, sets, and add-ons already – and sure to be plenty more. You could spend scores of sleepless nights painting all the minis – indeed they verily beg for the brush. And if you’ve the income and inclination, you could sink a small gold mine into the whole whiz-bang before realizing what’s just happened.
Despite those common elements, Rivet Wars is a board game experience that actually encapsulates the feel of a miniatures game. To be fair, this is not the only game that accomplishes that. It just so happens to do it extremely well. And unlike some other strongly board gaming oriented miniatures systems, this theme is not about Star Wars, strange fantasy, or zombies. So it has a little broader appeal. Plus you can still really concentrate on painting, if you’re talents and time lean that way.
Rivet Wars is fast, furious, and straight-forward. Therefore ironically, many veteran dyed-in-the-wool miniature gamers are not likely going to gravitate to this system, let alone devote the same amount of resources to it as their favorite hardcore designs (although again, devout painters will eat these minis up). Rather it will be right in the wheelhouse of board gamers who would like miniature gaming, if it weren’t for all the complexity, investment, and inside culture. However, if you do have an OCD, collect-‘em-all appetite you’ll find plenty here to feed it. There potentially may be much more in the system to come.
Three primary elements set Rivet Wars apart from hardcore miniature games and create its board gaming nature. One, the battlefield is relatively smaller and unrestricted – and made of cardboard. While the vast range of miniatures systems can provide for varying space and free reign, it’s the boards that sort of give things away here. The playing surface is constructed from tiles, each representing 3×3 grids. Grids comprise 4 squares apiece (2×2), so that one tile contains a total of 36 individual squares. Squares are relevant for placement and attack order. Small units occupy one square; medium-sized minis take up two; while the larger mechanized troops require an entire grid. However, movement and range are measured grid to grid, not square to square. So a lonely infantryman may move from a back square of one grid to the front square of an adjacent grid. Likewise it may fire in the same manner. You can even rearrange units within the same square, as appropriate, to account for the strict grid order attack rule. Movement and attacking aren’t an exact science in Rivet Wars. So even without the tiles, this looser spatial element is more attuned to board gaming than it is to miniatures.
Also, there are not many obstructions or other terrain features. There are no buildings. Nothing blocks line-of-site. Elevation isn’t a factor. There are a few tokens to represent barbed wire, tank traps, and mines, but these only restrict some movement and even then can be dealt with relatively easily. The most notable terrain features are duckboards – essentially trenches – which impact a few things. One, only infantry units may occupy them, effectively blocking movement to other types. They provide a defense bonus to those units. And any troop with the Runner ability (generally your grunts) gains a +1 movement allowance. Such Spartan encumbrances are rare in miniature gaming.
Second, the card play is more accustomed to what one would expect in standard board game designs. The system isn’t card-driven, but the moderate amount included adds an element not common to mainstream miniatures games. Thankfully, the inclusion here is a positive one. The secret missions may prove hit-and-miss for many players. I like the fact they add some mystery to the fight, and help spice up the mainly endless ebb and flow of combat (more on that below). However, some are easier to fulfill than others and highly dependent upon circumstances. And while you hold two at a time, you must complete one before drawing another. So you can get stuck with a couple and it’s all quite random. Action cards, on the other hand, are generally all useful and mostly very fun to use. Your hand limit with those is three, so you have better odds of obtaining a good one. Plus, you’re allowed to discard one at the start of the Card Phase, if one proves useless or weak.
Finally third, combat is fast and furious – and very random. Now to be totally honest, I don’t know enough about other designs to compare. The few I am familiar with have more in-depth fire and damage resolution mechanisms. Rivet Wars is way simple. Easier even than Star Wars X-Wing, which most consider an accessible miniatures game. In Rivet Wars, you just roll the number of dice your unit allows against its target’s armor rating. If you roll one 5 or 6, you score a hit. Most units are knocked out with that one success. But as fast as units drop like flies, you can deploy replacements just as quickly to plug the holes in your lines.
Therein lays the biggest limitation to Rivet Wars. The design, at least the base game, is not so much about in-depth tactical planning or out-maneuvering as it is about mad dashes to strategic objectives in a constant see-saw of advances between factions. You march into an objective to score a victory point. The enemy advances and promptly wipes you out, recapturing the objective. However, your waves of reinforcements purchased last turn are now ready to retake the ground. It can be a recurring cycle. Scenarios can add a little spice and tweak things so that each mission is not a clone of the other with just some different terrain. One lets the Allied player air drop a few Riflemen behind enemy lines during set-up. Another changes up the Deployment Phase by rewarding deployment points or rivets based on victory points accumulated. Then there are the secret mission and actions cards, also important in adding variety.
Battles are typically very close. Depending on the scenario, victory requires only 6-10 points and you’ll be trading objectives back and forth most of the fight. With such razor thin parameters, victory and defeat are generally decided by one of two factors: player error or the dice.
In regards to the first, there is a little room for strategy; albeit not tremendously, because there isn’t enough variety of units/minis in the base set. That said, different units have varying strengths and weaknesses against different enemy troops, so you need to balance your forces to support each other effectively. You can’t simply buy all medium to heavyweight units. There’s not enough of them in the game to constitute a viable fighting force. And they can’t take strategic objectives, which is the primary means of earning points. On the flip side, if you try a mad bum rush entirely of infantry, you’ll lack the operational diversity to meet the enemy. Another tactical consideration to address is rearranging units within a grid, based on the attack order and what your opponent has within range. Hopefully, you can prevent some easy, cheap shots in that manner.
In the end, randomness will still play a significant role. The first commander unlucky enough in failing to trade objectives in the strategic tug-of-war will find it very difficult to catch up. But since games play quickly, this is not a terrible flaw, but rather part of the design’s accessibility.
Unit diversity is another limitation of the base set. With only eight unit types per faction, Rivet Wars: Eastern Front doesn’t allow for the sophisticated squad building endemic to miniature gaming. And we’ve found that the Allied faction has a bit of an advantage. Their Riflemen can quickly neutralize the Blight’s Panzerfaust, but not vice-versa. They also have a few units with the flat grid attack capability that can shoot at everything in the grid during one assault. And they have more options against the heavy mechanized units. However, the balance provided between light, medium, heavy, and hero units is definitely enough to whet one’s appetite for the system. I really appreciate how the larger tank units don’t deploy until turn 3, at the minimum, after you’ve collected enough rivets. If you spend units to deploy any heroes before then, well it just delays bringing the big guns out. That’s a fun choice to toss around.
There are several current expansions and add-ons which introduce new units and mechanisms (which I’ll cover in the future). In order to enjoy Rivet Wars fully, you’ll want one or two of them. Therefore, if you’re not interested in or able to invest beyond Eastern Front, this set probably won’t prove worthwhile. On a positive note, however, you only need a couple expansions to allay most concerns with balance and replayability; so there’s no need to break the bank in order to get tons of enjoyable table time from the system. And if you are the collecting type? Well, there’s plenty of that here, too!
The miniatures are undeniably superbly sculpted (or molded – they are plastic), fun to maneuver, and will draw a ton of attention. The images here do not do them justice. No assembly is required, so it’s nice for the novice. However, they can look absolutely stunning with some paint. Indeed, they me make wish that I was a painter. Even my first grade daughter wanted to color them! You can bet I kept a close and nervous watch on her markers for the next few days…
I’ve heard numerous comments praising Rivet Wars as a great gateway game into the miniatures genre. In fact, it’s almost a universal opinion. I disagree. Gateway games are labeled such because, as an introductory title, they hook new gamers on the hobby and lure them further in. I don’t really think Rivet Wars will largely serve that role for the miniatures category. But that’s not necessarily the design’s fault. I don’t think there is a design that can or will.
Simply put miniatures gaming is not for everyone, even more so than other genres in the hobby. I think either you are a miniatures gamer at heart, and so it doesn’t matter much which game you begin with. Or you just plain are not a miniatures gamer, so none of them will be tempting. Or maybe you find miniature gaming appealing, but quickly lose interest once you realize the commitment involved, the focus on painting, the cost, and then often dizzying complexity. There are a handful of games to suit that latter demographic and Rivet Wars does so perfectly. This design will satisfy those players, who likely will never dig deeper into the genre, but don’t need to. With an eye-catching style, superb minis, quick game play, and a smooth and simplified combat system, Rivet Wars is the miniatures game for the player who always wanted to invest in a miniatures game, but was afraid to.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Cool Mini or Not for providing a review copy of the Rivet Wars.