One of the highlights of the UK Games Expo this year was an ace little card game from a brand new start-up called Black Box Games. Anyone who attended the show will undoubtedly recall their imposing stand and team of ridiculously helpful folks who would pull anyone passing in for a quick introduction to their new game, Lords of War. At the time only one set was available, Orcs vs Dwarves, but following the release of the follow-up box (Elves vs Lizardmen) and the announcement that they’re now getting into distribution channels, it’s high time we had a proper look at the game here on The Little Metal Dog Show.
Even before cracking open the pack, you may notice certain similarities to another card based strategy title, Summoner Wars from Plaid Hat Games. Sure, base sets come with two pre-built decks of opposing factions and the whole thing is played out on a paper playmat, but this is no bandwagon-jumping rush release. Lords of War has been in development for years and you’ll notice quickly that this is a very different beast.
Strictly for two players, your aim is to fulfil one of two winning conditions – either wipe out your opponent’s five Commander characters or kill off twenty of their troops. First to do this claims the victory, and while it may initially come across as something of a challenge to achieve either of these objectives, once you’re on the battlefield things do move at a fair old pace. Beginning by placing your opening cards on pre-selected spaces on the included playing field, the two opponents play out their turns in a very specific order.
First up, you must play a card to the field from your hand of six. Each of the cards will show how they can get involved in combat, either with a bunch of arrows pointing in some or all of the eight surrounding directions (used in hand to hand fighting) or a symbol showing which spaces will be affected by the unit’s ranged attack. As usual, things are better illustrated in picture form…
Lords of War has one VERY important rule to follow when it comes to placing your card (called Deployment in the game) – whatever you choose to put down MUST have one of its attack arrows adjacent to an enemy unit. Once you’ve made your decision, you resolve the attack by removing any cards in play that have a lower defence number than what you’ve just played. For example, say an arrow marked as a 4 is pointing at an enemy with a defence of 3 – that opposition unit will be removed. However, if you’ve played your card in a spot that happens to be targeted with, say, a catapult that’ll do 5 damage, your unit is knocked out too.
Combos are also something to keep an eye on – multiple cards attacking a single unit, particularly useful when you’re trying to take down some of the more impressive cards in Lords of War. Consider the fact that some of the stronger generals have defensive values of 6 or 7, mastering the strategies behind getting more than one unit to beat down on more powerful enemies is essential.
Once you’re done, you draw back up to six cards and play continues until one of the two winning conditions is met. As you can probably tell, with the rules ensuring that you’re always on the attack, this is a game with a lot of back-and-forth activity. Aggressive play isn’t just enraged in Lords of War, it’s bloody essential, so it may not be a game for those who prefer to play passive, thoughtful affairs. However, if you’re in the market for a quick blast, a half-hour of beating the hell out of your opponent, it comes well recommended.
Lords of War may initially strike you as a very straightforward game, and while I agree that the rules are a piece of cake to understand, getting to grips with them is merely scratching the surface. Each card you play, each decision you make is vital – a wild placement of a unit could end up costing you dearly and see you struggle to make a comeback, or perhaps even lead to you losing entirely in the space of a few turns – quite surprising considering the size of the box. It demands a lot more thought than some games ten times the size and four times the price, but one thing you won’t need to consider is whether to grab a copy or not – your answer should be a simple yes.
Lords of War was designed by Nick Street and Martin Vaux and is published by Black Box Games. The original set, Orcs vs Dwarves, was released in 2012 with the latest pack – Elves vs Lizardmen – coming out in July 2013. Two players can face of against each other, but there are also rules for games for between three and six players available from the Lords of War site. Pick it up direct from there of your local game store, where a set will cost you around £12.