Age of War is possibly the smallest game I’ve played this year. So small, in fact, that I’m going to try and review it in a single breath. No cheating, I promise. Here we go:
Age of War is the latest from Reiner Knizia, and the first thing you notice about it is that it’s a mere seven dice and [count them later, can’t stop writing] cards. So it’s a small game, but perhaps it has a big heart. I don’t know what I’m saying I can’t concentrate. It’s pretty fun. I had fun with friends. I think it gets too
Ohmygoodness. Guess I’ll have to do a real review after all.
Okay, so as I was saying, Age of War is seven dice and fourteen cards. Just in terms of components, it’s the slimmest game I’ve ever seen from Fantasy Flight, and the rules aren’t much meatier.
You’re a daimyo trying to become shogun over all of feudal Japan’s warring clans. That’s my assumption, anyway, so let’s roll with it (haha). You do this by chucking a handful of dice — which show daimyos, archers, cavalry, and different denominations of infantry — whereupon you’re presented with a choice: you can either set aside one of the dice and roll again, or choose a castle to conquer, filling up one of the castle’s battle lines with one or more of the dice you rolled. Then you roll again, hopefully filling up another battle line. Miss and you lose a die and reroll, succeed and you fill a battle line and then roll again to conquer more battle lines. It’s such straightforward fare that I’m struggling to find new ways of saying “set aside a die and then roll again to fill up a castle’s battle line,” because that’s what you’ll be doing. Many times. Dozens, perhaps.
Let’s say you conquer a castle. Good for you! It’s under your control for the foreseeable future. However, other players now have the option of attacking your castle instead of one of the castles in the center of the table. This is slightly more difficult than capturing an unowned castle, but even so, capturing an enemy castle not only steals points from your opponents, but also prevents them from collecting a matching “clan” of castles. See, once you assemble one of those matching sets, you flip those castles over and now they’re immune to enemy capture and worth extra points.
It’s simple. It’s also basically Knizia’s Risk Express from a few years back. It is Risk Express, shogun-ified.
But Risk Express is out of print and Age of War is, well, surprisingly fun. Like many of Reiner Knizia’s games, the rules are so deceptively simple that they’re almost insulting at first glance. “Oh, that’s it?” you might say. “Doesn’t this Knizia person realize that I’m a board gaming master?”
Two points spring to mind. First, no, Reiner Knizia doesn’t know you from the back of his own elbow, which he’s never seen thanks to an old German morality tale in which the scissor-man promises to snip off your elbows if you look at them in the mirror. And second, as he has done in the past, Knizia has made a game with a brain-dead simple ruleset that nonetheless allows for lots of fun, discussion, and laughter. You’ll roll dice and fail to capture Edo again, and people will laugh at you; on your spouse’s turn, she’ll try taking Kumamoto again for some reason, and of course she’ll fail, prompting even more laughter. Someone will steal someone else’s castle before they can complete a set, and people will laugh and the aggrieved party will say a swear. And in case you’re a grump, laughter is good. Swearing can be too.
Which isn’t to say Age of War ever becomes deep, as some of Knizia’s other games manage despite their slender rules (for instance, Blue Moon). At the end of the day, you’re still rolling dice and running some very, very basic probability math in the back of your mind, and occasionally defying the odds to snatch a castle away from someone. And although it never becomes a long game, sometimes it overstays its welcome when there’s one impossible castle in the center of the table that player after player fails to capture.
Other than those nitpicks, it’s a fun filler game, one that I wasn’t expecting to like but ended up enjoying enough to hold onto anyway.