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.
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.
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.