Two Minds about Warfighter
Every so often — very rarely — Dan is wrong about a game. I know, it came as a surprise to him too. Which is why today we’re featuring a conversation between Dan and guest contributor Brock Poulsen. The topic: Warfighter by Dan Verssen Games. One for, one against. There can only be one with the correct opinion. Two men enter, one man is wrong.
You get the idea.
Dan: Today, Brock and I are talking about Warfighter: The Tactical Special Forces Card Game, which pretty much explains itself in terms of subject matter. A big part of the reason I was excited to give it a shot (that’s a pun) was thanks to its resemblance to a game I played way back on the Dreamcast, a then-little known title by the name of Rainbow Six. You pick a squad, pick a loadout, and then deploy into hostile territory to call out tango down as many times as possible.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, how about we have Brock explain just a little bit about how it works?
Brock: Sure thing. Warfighter takes you and up to five friends on a mission into enemy territory, with goals ranging from eliminating a cartel boss to stopping an arms convoy. You’re going to feel like a bunch of dang Expendables, sans steroids. From a very high level, players will first choose a setting, then a mission and an objective within that setting; the base game offers you the choice of either the jungle or desert.
Dan: Right, and one of the things that’s most immediately appealing about the game is that each setting broadly feels like its own thing.
Brock: Each setting has its own locations — which are shuffled into the action deck that players will draw from — as well as its own missions, objectives, and enemies. These also stand in, to an extent, for difficulty levels. You’ll have a tougher time against the heavily armed military baddies than against the jungle insurgents.
Before shipping out, each player will choose from among several types of soldiers, and outfit them with weapons and equipment (hopefully) appropriate to the mission. As players advance through the locations, progressing toward the objective, they’ll deal with enemies of various types that all sort of look like generic video game bad guys.
Dan: Boy, do they ever. The visuals are never something you’d mistake for high-quality art, but the baddies look like they were taken out of one of those recruiting tools that America’s Army snuck onto my high school computers.
Writing as somebody who wasn’t particularly invested in what happened once the boots hit the ground — and we’ll be talking about that later — I’ve got to say that the setup was probably my most-enjoyed portion of the game. Picking squaddies, deciding who gets a shotgun or who’ll sit in the rear with the sniper rifle, maybe taking some extra magazines… it matters. A lot.
Brock: It really does. Bring some grenades and extra magazines.
Dan: That last time we played, we lost largely because we didn’t bring enough ammo. When shooting at a bad guy, you can roll extra dice to have a better chance at landing a hit, but you’re also increasing the risk of a poor roll running out a magazine. It’s a clever dichotomy: hose down the foliage with lead or conserve and let the tangos retaliate? Unfortunately for us, we made it rain bullets one time too many. Clickclickclick, mission over. Which is one of the reasons Warfighter is the sort of game I could see playing multiple times even on the same setup, tweaking your loadout until you get it just right, breezing through to the end goal.
But since you’re the guy who enjoyed the game more, what do you feel makes it work? What’s the appeal?
Brock: One of the things I really appreciate about Warfighter — and this isn’t something I often think about a game — is the rulebook. The game is packed with minutae, stuffed with little rules and scads of tokens, yet after one read of the rulebook I felt confident in my grasp on the system.
Much of this is due to the straightforward nature of the game. It’s somewhat single-minded; you have the option of shooting bad guys with your gun. If you brought a second gun or some explosives, you certainly have those options as well, but painting in broad strokes your choice is violence.
But to paraphrase Mr. Universe, Warfighter brings the very best violence. The combat system is quite clever: you declare your weapon and firing mode, and roll a small handful of dice. With one die you’re trying to break through the enemy’s cover, while with the other you’re trying to match your weapon’s kill number. Hit both and it’s a kill; hit one or the other and you’ve suppressed the enemy; and as you may have guessed, missing both is a miss. It’s enjoyable the way the game allows you to achieve degrees of success, even if you’re not mowing down the jungle Jesse Ventura style.
The dice also determine if the attack caused you to empty your magazine. Where other “simulation” games have you rolling multiple times against a litany of tables, Warfighter’s approach is really a clever way of cramming all this info into a single roll of dice.
Dan: I think maybe that’s the root of our divergent opinions. In the oddest way, it reminds me a lot of Warhammer Quest. And yeah, I know that sounds a bit weird, so hear me out. Both are games about moving in relatively linear fashion from point A to point B, wiping out scads of baddies, risking reinforcements if you hang around too long, and chucking entire handfuls of dice to resolve its constant barrage of combat encounters. They both revel in the chaos that comes with violence.
The thing is, Warhammer Quest has the benefit of being a game about a fantasy dungeon, so pretty much anything can happen at any point. Warfighter, on the other hand, embraces the granularity of simulation while never straying very far from the “shoot at masked baddies” concept. For instance, at one point we came up against a bunch of enemies who made it incredibly difficult to enter their territory, but they out-ranged our guys, so they got a bunch of free plinks while we slogged up towards them. You can fire at enemies to suppress them, preventing them from attacking you, but they might also suppress you back, robbing you of actions in your upcoming turn. And in this case, I spent something like four full rounds just coping with my suppression. No fighting back, no nothing. The whole thing winds up feeling capricious, like a well-considered plan is secondary to how well you roll.
Brock: The thing is, Warfighter’s approach to actions is something else to appreciate. It’s refreshing and fluid, like a Mountain Dew Baja Blast. In general, each soldier gets two actions to spend each player round, and they can be spent in any order. Couple this with the action cards and you end up with an elite cadre of soldiers, able to adapt and improvise to handle any threat that comes their way. The cards allow for free or more effective attacks, better mobility, and even the occasional devious stealth kill.
But also like Baja Blast, too much of all this can leave you sick to your stomach. The game advertises being playable by one to six players, but this seems very optimistic. To accomodate this many players, you’d need a long mission, which means more actions, more locations, and more bad guys. You can see how it begins to swell, well beyond the 30-60 minutes the game claims.
Dan: Definitely. Our last game lasted more like two and a half hours, didn’t it?
Brock: Oof, yeah, we probably spent 30 minutes just kitting out our dudes. And I still didn’t bring enough ammo!
Dan: I think what I’m getting from this is that it might be a better solo game than multiplayer game? If that’s the case, we’re approaching it from completely different directions.
Brock: We are in many respects. It’s a game to really pore over; this can often be attained more readily in a solitaire gaming session. One player in command of the entire cast of Tropic Thunder doesn’t bat an eye when one of them loses both of his actions, but it’s quite a different thing when he’s your only muscle boy.
Warfighter, like many strategy games, benefits from careful planning. The majority of my gaming is done solo, so this does fit nicely into an evening. I’d even wager it could be enjoyable with two players, each controlling part of the squad.
That being the case, I still think there are valid criticisms to be leveled at Warfighter. The comparison to fantasy themed games of similar ilk is apt, and in some ways this game feels limited by comparison.
Dan: It isn’t my intention to be too harsh on it. Our defeat at the hand of the world’s best-staffed cartel wasn’t entirely unpleasant. I can just see how it might be more satisfying from a particular gaming space. The horrors of war have always struck me as best enjoyed from a solitary place, one where you can really devolve into the nitty-gritty without worrying too much about what everyone else thinks of you. Not bogging down with multiple opinions, let alone players who might frump about getting suppressed for four consecutive turns, strikes me as a distinct upside.
So. Warfighter. It seems what we’ve arrived at is that it’s great as a solo game, maybe not so wonderful with the advertised six players.
Brock: Now that I think of it, Baja Blast was probably the worst of the gimmicky sodas.
Dan: Never tried it. Though now that I look at it online, it looks a bit like Nuka Cola. Gross. I don’t drink anything that glows in the dark.