Gears of War is one of the most successful video game franchises to date, especially for the true Xbox 360 fans. But what would happen if you take the controller out of their hands and sit them down at a table, like the frowned upon Dungeons & Dragons players?
The board game, designed by Corey Konieczka of Fantasy Flight, stays true to the ideals of Gears: If you don’t work together you’re not going to make it. To that end, the game is cooperative. Players work together against the never-ending onslaught the game throws at them.
The first thing one notices when opening the box is the spectacular figures. The four COG soldiers (Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, Augustus Cole and Damon Baird) stand roughly 3cm tall, the Locusts ranging from tiny Tickers to the towering Berserker. The amount of detail is very impressive, begging to be painted. However it can be difficult to distinguish the soldiers due to their similar armour, except of course for the Cole Train swinging a bolo grenade.
The board is not a single sheet as seen in traditional games, but a collection of rooms on tiles that are arranged according to which mission is being played. These tiles have indicators for cover, height differences and line of sight, making it very easy so assess the situation at hand. Some other tokens are included to place weapon drops or indicate Locust corpses, all easy to identify.
Before play begins, the players choose one of the 5 missions included in the base game. The board is then set up accordingly. Each player chooses a COG soldier to play and is issued their character card (listing special abilities) and their initial weapon load-out. All the weapons in the board game are taken from the console games. Everything from lancers, snub pistols and longshots to hammerbursts, boomshots and bolo grenades. The missions are also based on scenarios in the console games.
Lastly, the Locust AI deck is formed. Each type of Locust (or Lambent) has a set of cards giving it instructions on the battle field. Once these are shuffled into a deck, the game is ready to begin.
Basics of Play:
This is where it gets interesting. Each player has a hand of COG Order cards, usually 6 cards. Not only do these allow you to command your soldier, they also represent your health status. When you are wounded, you’re forced to discard these cards. If you have no cards to discard, you are knocked down and start bleeding out just like the console version. Another soldier can help you up, but to do so they will need to use their COG Order cards. This simple concept makes the game extremely tough if you don’t work together, but creates a wonderfully tense atmosphere. Don’t worry, when your turn starts you can “heal up” 2 cards by drawing from a central pile. But it’s often a gamble whether you can survive until the start of your next turn.
After every turn, a Locust card is drawn. These cards give instructions to Locusts in an “if, then” format. Often this results in several enemy units moving in and attacking. Combat is resolved by rolling a handful of dice. The number of dice depends on the weapon or Locust involved. Cover also plays a big roll. A soldier in cover is harder to hit which affects the number of dice he rolls.
As complex as it sounds on paper, gameplay is very smooth and easy to understand. The game can be tough to beat but you’ll have a hell of a time trying. Many a cheer or howl has rung from our game table.
Components: 5/5. The figures are of the highest quality I’ve seen in any board game. The board tiles are solidly made and easy to understand, and the cards explain themselves well.
Gameplay: 4/5. The game flows well. Even when it’s not a player’s turn they remain interested in the action, action that comes in no short supply.
Complexity vs Depth: 3/5. Though the game is not overly complex, the feeling of depth is sometimes overwhelmed by a lack of control as the randomness of the Locust movement can quickly compromise a strategy.
Theme: 5/5. Fantasy Flight did a phenomenal job of bringing the look and feel of the console games to a board format. We were so engrossed, every time a Boomer attacked someone at the table went “BOOM!” in a low voice.
Overall: 4/5. A game every Gears fan should try, and a game I can strongly recommend to fans of Descent or the Dungeons & Dragons board games.
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