Post 2 – Gears of War

GoW2
This time it’s the Gears of War board game. First of all it is a real time shooter on a board game which itself is difficult to even imagine how it would work, at least it was for me.

It is a cooperative game best suitable for four players. You play as one of the characters from the video game Gears of War and you help each other win the levels by planning strategies and/or reviving players that are wounded.

The board is a sort of jig saw puzzle with each piece consisting of rooms that can be placed so that they form different levels to go with different missions.

Every player have six action cards that both determine what they can do during their turn and these cards also serve as their health. Each turn, the player can choose any of these cards to use as their action. The card is then discarded. When the action is done, which could be either move, attack or both, that player draws an AI card. These cards determines what the enemies do such as moving and/or attacking. The next turn the players start their new turn by drawing up to two action/health cards. They can have a maximum of six cards in their hand. When getting hurt by an enemy the player discards the same amount of action cards as the attack points generated by the battle.

Example: Player A is attacked by an enemy. The outcome is then determined by rolling attack dice and defense dice. The amount of dice rolled are determined by the character cards of both the player and the enemy. One defense point cancels one attack point. The excess (if any) of attack points is the damage dealt to the defending party, in this example player A.

At certain places on the board you can pick up items, such as grenades or weapons. Enemies can also drop items when they are killed, they have special markers for when they are dead that either contain items or not. If a player is within the tile where the item is located they can pick it up.

You win the game by completing the mission and lose the game if all players are dead.

For player and enemy representation there are very detailed plastic figures of the characters and enemies in the game. The player figures are red and the enemies are grey. This means you could paint them yourself if you want, like in the Warhammer game series.

The best side of the game

Gears of War is a real time third person shooter game and I did not know how that would play in a board game context. It does how ever really feel like an action packed shooter game because of the AI cards. After each player action these cards are drawn, which means that the enemies move toward you and try to attack you all the time. It does feel like the enemies are constantly moving. The AI cards can also make more enemies spawn from their little spawning holes located around the board, unless you have managed to seal the holes with a grenade. You do not have to play many rounds until you feel swarmed by enemies and this creates a lot of tension. This feature of the game make you feel very powerful if you, for example, trow a grenade into a room and kill four or five enemies in one blow. That creates tension relief as well, but only for a short time because the next AI card could spawn four new enemies. Those would spawn in another location to give you some room for breathing, fortunately. This is the best side of the game because this kind of feeling is what you would expect from a real time shooter game.

The worst part of the game

All though the rules were very thoroughly describing how to set up the game and how to read the cards and how the weapons worked there were a lot of things that felt left out for interpretation. One example was when one stage of a mission was completed there were some confusion regarding what to do with the enemies that were left, should they be removed so that other of the same class of enemies could spawn at stage two of the mission or should they stay? In this case the map was directly linked between stage one and two and this made it feel a little strange that they should disappear. On the other hand, there were not that many figures left to be spawned for stage two and it would have been very strange if there would not spawn any new enemies for stage two, or that instead there would spawn enemies that were not included in the specific mission. This rather simple rule turned out to be quite difficult to find because it took something like ten to fifteen minutes to find it. It turned out that you remove left over enemies and that does make the most sense, since there were not enough enemy figures to both keep the left over ones and spawn new ones. Confused states like this because of unclear rules make it feel like they have not play tested the game sufficient to be clear on certain rules. This one should have been clearly marked under the chapter “locust spawning” or “completing a mission objective”. Unclear rules removes quite a lot of the smoothness of any game and this is therefore the worst side of the game.

The core system

The system I define being the core system is a three component system of action cards, AI cards and the weapon system. The weapon system is also a system by itself, however it is necessary for completing certain missions such as the very first mission for example. This mission is basically to seal the emergence hole in the end side of the level. To do that you need to throw a grenade in it and while doing so you also need one of the attack dice to have the special symbol face up. This means that in order to win this and perhaps other missions as well, the weapon system is important.

So the core system works like this: Action cards are drawn, the player chooses to play one of them to move and/or attack. Then they draw an AI card and the enemies move and/or attack back, this is not very complicated but this is how the enemies and players progress.

The weapon system works like this: Each player start out with one rifle, one pistol and a grenade slot. To the rifle and pistol they have two or three ammunition tokens and two or three grenade tokens. To attack an enemy with either the rifle or the gun with a standard attack you do not need to use the ammunition tokens. A standard attack can be done as many times as you want. You simply throw as many attack dice required to do the attack. But if you use the tokens while attacking you can roll more attack dice and do a more powerful attack. If one of the dice show the special attack symbol there is an additional attack bonus. The grenades can only be used by discarding the grenade tokens but the attack is affecting all of the enemies in a room. Discard a grenade token, roll the number of dice specified on the grenade card and after that, roll the number of defense dice specified on the enemy cards to determine the damage for each of the enemies in the room. With the special attack symbol you seal an eventual emergence hole (enemy spawn point).

The weapon system is perhaps the system that differentiate the board game from the video game the most because in the video game it is more skill based than an act of chance because in the video game you can aim, and in the board game you roll dice.

The most interesting system

For me, the most interesting system is the AI card system because it is the main system that makes this game actually feel like a real time shooter. It does not feel turn based even though it is since the enemies move in between the players and come very close. It makes them very aggressive and you are pretty tense during the whole game play because you know that the enemies will come closer or increase in numbers, you just don’t know which ones will attack you first or from where they will come.

There are a number of different actions to all the types of enemies, and for each mission there are three types of enemies. That means you take a specified amount of relevant AI cards to each mission and draw them as you progress in the game. If you draw an AI card for a type of enemy that is not currently on the board because you have just killed all of them, you simply discard it and draw another one until a possible enemy action is done. When the pile is empty, shuffle the discarded cards and draw them again.

Target audience

Because of old gender ideals I would say that this game is aimed at young boys the age of, say 12 to 18 and young adults up to 25. Because the characters you play are very macho, big, mean looking hard core male warriors with extreme weapons whose purpose is to kill ugly, dangerous, even meaner looking aggressive aliens. With this said, I don’t think that girls or young women could not enjoy this game.

Summary

The Gears of War board game offers the feeling of a real time shooter game with cards, a board and dice, and a cooperative strategic experience for a group of four people. I think that enthusiasts of the video game Gears of War series would especially enjoy this game because the different missions are similar to the missions of both the first and the second game.

It’s a turn based, real time, cooperative board game shooter game.

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One thought on “Post 2 – Gears of War

  1. Hello Oscar! Great analysis of Gears of War – the board game. I have to say that you’ve made some really good points, and I do have to agree on most of what you are saying. Before getting to the game system I would like to add that I did also feel like some of the instructions and the rules of the game where interestingly only vaguely mentioned in the game’s booklet. Some of the rules that matter were somewhat buried and you had to look for them for a while to find.

    As for the most interesting system, I do agree with you that the AI card system is pretty cool. It does serve as the role of the collective data and actions for the AI that can be found in digital games, and it simulates it quite well considering the limits of being a board game. I haven’t played the digital version of the game but I think it’s not far from the truth when I assume that the AI (Locusts) in the digital version have as an objective to follow and kill the COGs. The AI cards do represent just that in an interesting manner and is what allows the game to be played by only one player as well. The AI however, is very predictable and isn’t really that smart. By having a randomized system to control the AI not a whole lot dimension could be added to the AI’s actions. It had to be slimmed down to either “Move”, “Shoot” or “Spawn”. The AI wasn’t dependent on the positions and conditions of the COGs and how well they were doing; same thing happened whether things were going well or bad. The AI lacked strategic thinking and that lead to them becoming an unexciting counterpart. What I mean by this is that in digital games the AI pattern have certain conditions that need to be met for AIs to preform different actions that would either challenge a player that’s in a good place or take it much easier on a player that is doing poorly. Example, when Link in Legend of Zelda is low on hearts suddenly every pot he destroys contains a heart for him to heal. Other games have solved this by having a player play as the counterpart or enemy that can provide strategic thinking and challenge for the other players.

    By being randomized the AI loses some of its dynamics and drawing an AI card becomes less and less interesting as you go. Sometimes you draw cards that don’t do anything because the criteria of that card weren’t fulfilled and you’d end up drawing a new one. This happened quite a lot because of certain enemies not being present on the game field and nothing happened with that card. Drawing AI cards became tedious and annoying.

    I do agree with you when you mentioned in your text that you thought the worst part of the game was that many parts of the game were left out for interpretation. Our group did struggle in understanding the rules and knowing what to do, which was indeed frustrating. As I mentioned before, many substantial rules where hard to find in the rule book and some were very abstract.

    But I would like to add some more things that I found were bad about this game. For one, the fact that your order cards need to be spent in order to do something during your turn but at the same time have them act as health points is something that bothered me. I know this is a way of them to add strategic play and resource management into the game but I can’t help to think that in order to move or preform an action, I have to hypothetically cut myself. And when a character is bleeding out and later got revived from another character, the player that got revived gets to draw two cards (heal) on their turn. But later on that same turn it has to spend an order card to preform and action and thus leaving the player with only one health left. This makes it so easy for a Locust to get that player to bleed out again, which the chances are high of. And even though a character is bleeding out and can’t do anything on its turn it still triggers a Locust event, which seems a little too harsh considering the challenge already presented within the game.

    It does very well at simulating a real- time shooter and I heard it is very true to the game so I do agree with you on the good parts of the game. It has a lot of challenge and presents tension at times. I like the fact that the ammo in which you use to perform an overkill attack as well as seal a spawn hole is a limited resource. Ammo is very hard to obtain so you have to be careful on where you want to use it. The game presents such challenge that you kind of want to use your ammo all the time, but because the ammo is so hard to obtain you have to really consider if it’s worth it.

    Very interesting point you made when comparing what differentiates the video game version towards the board’s game version the most. Most of its systems are based on chance whilst the digital version is more based on skill. I don’t know about the video game that much but I felt like the core dynamic of the board game was “teamwork”. You had no chance until you worked together as a team. Which is interesting because the digital version might be more towards personal skill than the teams’ skill at working together.

    I heard of the game title “Gears of War” prior to playing the board game version of it, but didn’t know much about it. I knew it was a shooter and I knew it was a quite popular one at that. As I saw the box for the first time I just knew instantly I was not part of the targeted audience. It really caters to fans of the series as most of licensed things being produced. I mean, why would you buy yourself a SpongeBob toy unless you were a fan of the series or at least very familiar with the character. In order for you to buy the toy it had to be a hell of a toy that everybody was talking about. This is what I felt this game was. I knew of Gears of War and knew it was a good shooter, but I was by all means no fan. So I tried it because I knew the chances of it being good were high despite me not being a fan and I still ended up not liking it either way. The game is aimed towards, as you say, 12 + year olds who are fans of the series. Only male characters are available to play as so I assume the game’s targeted gender is male as well.

    Hope anything of what I said made sense to you and I have to say I really enjoyed reading your analysis of this game despite me not liking the game at all. Good luck with your next analysis!
    //Anita Stenholm

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