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This War Of Mine Board Game Captures The Spirit Of The Original

by Mike Futter on May 22, 2016 at 06:50 AM

I recently had the chance to play a prototype version of Awaken Realms' tabletop version of 11-bit's This War of Mine. At the outset, I wasn't sure how it would fare in the conversion to plastic miniatures and cardboard tokens. Thankfully, the soul of the original video game lives on in this new medium.

This War of Mine, which was released first on PC in 2014 before making its way to tablet and consoles, focuses on the civilians trapped in warzones. They are forced to make due with whatever supplies they can scavenge or trade for, barely scrounging enough food, water, and warmth. As you can read in our review, we quite like the game.

The video game sets that up nicely, as players rummage through rubble and broken furniture and go on night raids. Health, fatigue, and hunger must all be managed and balanced. But underneath it all is a constant reminder via text passages that there are other refugees in need of help or in between you and vital resources.

The board game features a number of miniatures representing characters with different skills and needs. You'll start with random characters, which kicks off each game with different strengths and weaknesses. Just like in the video game, the shelter map includes locked doors, bars, and rubble closing off rooms. Unfortunately, this is fixed and the layout will be the same each time you play (unless you Kickstart the game and get yourself another map). This is forgiveable given that everything else included serves to not only randomize the challenges you'll encounter, but the crucial flavor text that elevates This War of Mine from theme to narrative experience.

The game will ship with a "book of scripts" that add a dimension of story-telling. Cards will refer you to one of the more than 1,000 passages in the book, or you'll be able to plug the number into a mobile app that will also features ambient music.

You'll start each game with some basic supplies and four healthy, well-fed characters. At the start of your first turn (and at other points during play), there will be a knock at the door with a potential new member of your group. You can take that person in or turn them away. It's another mouth to feed, but also likely some supplies and another body to get work done during the day.

As your characters get tired from standing guard or sleeping on the floor, become ill or hungry, or suffer wounds on scavenging runs, you'll start accumulating strikes. While every conscious character can operating during the morning phase of the day, more strikes means a higher liklihood that they'll be out of action in the noon and afternoon phase.

You'll need to feed each character and make sure everyone has something to drink. Failure to do so means hunger and less productivity the following day. Sleeping in a bed can wipe away all exhaustion, but you can get by for a little while on the floor. 

Each day, there's a chance a visitor will show up. It could be a trader, a gossip, or someone in need of assistance. Each character has an empathy level, and if you do something difficult like turn away someone in need or kill on a scavenging mission, you'll need to roll. This is essentially a flavorful skill check that, if failed, increases that character's misery. It's rare (and refreshing) to see mental health factored into a game in such a compelling way. 

In the evening, you can send a party of up to three to explore one of three locations. Depending on where that location sits on the board determines how much time you have to scavenge. This is dictated by putting a number of exploration cards in a pile. The bigger the deck, the longer you have.

Along the way, you'll make noise and have to check to see if you're heard. If so, you'll encounter a resident and, possibly, have to engage in combat. This is handled through die rolls, and may force you into a retreat empty-handed. Should you manage to finish out the deck or gather enough supplies that you want to head home, that location may disappear for good with another entering play.

Scavenging has a heavy risk-versus-reward feel, and with each turn you'll have to decide whether to push your luck. At home, the rest of your party will have to deal with a night raid. One draw pitted me against hungry teenagers. A better roll of the 10-sided "fate die" would have scared them off. Unfortunately, they stole my food supplies and wounded my guards.

One of the most interesting things about how This War of Mine plays is that characters aren't assigned to players. Instead, the leader role rotates around the table. In this regard, it's a truly cooperative game, however you could end up with someone making bad decisions for the group on their turn, thereby dooming the party.

The prototype version I played featured high-quality chits and wonderfully detailed miniatures. The rules still have some roughness around the edges (mostly in the wording), but that will likely get smoothed out through additional play-testing on the road to the game's projected February 2017 release. They'll need to be if Awaken Realms hopes to achieve its goal of letting the components, and not the manual, drive the gameplay.

This isn't an easy game. Along the way, you'll have hard choices to make, and you'll likely say goodbye to one or more members of your party. With each turn, the event deck adds new challenges, but you'll get one step closer to the game-ending "Cease Fire" card. This War of Mine isn't about winning. It's about surviving.

If you're interested, the Kickstarter campaign is still running. Developer Awaken Realms has raised more than £277,000 ($400,000) against a goal of £40,000 ($57,681). A number of stretch goals, including more characters and expansions have been added to each backer pledge. You can learn more on the Kickstarter page.