Alan How: Dogs of War

 

  • Designer: Paolo Mori
  • Publisher: Cool Mini or Not
  • Players: 3-5
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: 60-90 minutes

dogs of war box

This Cool Mini or Not game features a load of moulded plastic busts that represent the captains in the game and that seemed to be the CMoN link, so I was not expecting much from the game.  Three simultaneous tugs of war take place over four rounds and the winner comes from the person who has gained the most victory points. These are gained from being on the winning side when these tugs of war are resolved as well as a variety of other ways.

 

The captain pieces are the workers in this worker placement game and determine which side you intend to support in this tug of war struggle.  So my initial impression of a war game from the title was wrong as this is a worker placement game with variable strength workers.

Each match features a random mix of noble houses involving all the houses – red, yellow, white, purple, green and black against another opponent. Initially you are provided with an influence card from one of these teams, and the general idea is to advance the value of the influence cards and chits that you earn later in the game to higher points by the game end. All influence tokens start off at value -1, but could rise to 7 points by game end.  The main component of your scoring will come from influence chits, which are limited in number and remain hidden behind your screen as you gain them, so it is important to know how to increase their value.  All the matches are evaluated the same way  so that a battle tracker moves from the zero starting point (a draw if it remains there) to 15 points on either side. The final location of the battle tracker determines the winner, so it does feel like a tug of war as the marker is moved one way and another. The winning side gains one victory point for each captain on  the losing side and the noble influence marker advances one point on the influence track. Through clever play this marker could finish on 15 points, which would advance the influence marker by two points (as well as knocking the opponent back one influence space!), which is why over four rounds it is possible though unlikely to reach 7 points at the end of the game.

 

The size of the movement that you cause when you place your captain is linked to the soldier you accompany the captain. The lowly footman moves the marker one spot in the direction of the side that you play on, while the powerful war machine moves the marker 4 spaces. The cost of each soldier reflects this as there is a buying round when you can spend your limited funds to acquire soldiers cards worth one to seven movement points, but costing 1/2/3/4 money.

Painted Captains - taken from BGG, user lowwwe - per Creative commons policy

Painted Captains – taken from BGG, user lowwwe – per Creative commons policy

There are some really good ideas in the game. Each round there is a random order of battle tile that is placed on one of the houses. Each order of battle tile shows 6 spaces on which to place your captain and these can have prerequisites, such as requiring a war machine to be placed, as well as a benefit for playing on that space. This can be influence chits, money, additional soldier cards, or a tactic card. All players receive two of these cards to begin the game and these are rule breakers, such as moving the battle tracker additional spaces or changing the bonus when placing a captain.  They are all good and useful at different times of the game though only one can be played each turn.  The limitation on the spaces and the choice of where to go mean that it is better to go early in turn order, though like many games the last player to go in a round can swing the tide of battle on one side or another.

When the final captain is placed, the round ends and the person with the most captains on the winning side of a battle gains a bonus.  This is where the characters for each player affect the game. One character, Lady Macbeth, counts as having an additional captain for determining who has the most captains in play, thus breaking  ties and gain a bonus if she is only one behind.  I have played this character and can attest to the protests of other players who believe her benefits is disproportionately large, though having though the same ganged up so she lost more wars nullifying the bonus. But the bonuses are worth fighting for (tactic cards, a knight money and VP’s amongst them) so there is usually competition to gain them.

Scoretrack - taken from BGG, user The Innocent - per Creative commons policy

Scoretrack – taken from BGG, user The Innocent – per Creative commons policy

At the end of four rounds (years) of battles scores are totted up with extra points for unused money, soldiers and tactic cards added to the value of each influence card or chit. It certainly isn’t always clear who was winning from earlier assessments in the game.

dogs of war setup

What I liked about the game was that after the first round of battles you start to get the hang of some tactics. Going early/going late has advantages that feel more helpful on the late than early side, though if you want a particular spot you can ensure that you get it by going first.  Tactic cards are important as they represent the ability to vary the impact of your turns, but what really is enjoyable is the way that the match-ups take place. You could be fighting between your best two influence options or the ideal match turns up where you want to knock back a contender and other players feel the same. Of course, the opponent in this case might not resist much to avoid giving extra victory points to winning captains. The changing alliances that are not always clear who to support  mean that you pay attention to what is going on and there is plenty of tension in the moves as you make them.

 

As later rounds feature more captains for each player, your options gradually increase, which means you can react when someone else does something that you did not expect. The last round can be a bit slower as you try to work out what could happen if the remaining players carry out different options but they may not see what you did, so talking about the options for each player can be detrimental to your final score.

 

Most of all the game is fun, with a bunch of battles going on over 60-90 minutes or so. I felt no theme at all, but that doesn’t bother me. The designer, Paolo Mori, has already designed games that I enjoy, (Libertalia and Vasco de Gama) but I would not recognise his style yet as these three games all feel significantly different from one another.

 

The only detrimental aspect of the game presentation was the colour of the noble cards used to determine who faces who. These have a yellow border and are difficult to see which noble house they represent. The yellow border makes you feel that yellow is the colour of the noble house when it the design inside the border. It might be pretty but it detracts from the clarity of the game. We fixed it by using a spare influence chit to show which noble house was in each match.  

dogs of war cards

A final word has to be added about the rulebook. It is printed on glossy paper, easy to read and far too long! It stretches to 36 pages of which the last 18 are pure superfluous nonsense. There are no examples of play, (but maybe none are needed) while these last pages include a map of the area, bumpf on the characters and a history of each noble house. I have no idea why this is included, as it does not aid the game in any way.  Hey ho, but the game is still an enjoyable dollop of fun, with plenty of choices and surprisingly good.

 

Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: The game is nice. One of Paolo’s good ones. The miniatures are great but it is a game really doesn’t deserve miniatures. I like how the game mechanic is able to recreate the changes of sides in the battles and the different approach/objectives of mercenary captain’s attending the fights. As most of Paolo’s designs it is quite abstract and it is a shame because the theme is great (if you want to read ie) but almost useless in the game. Anyway a good title if you are looking for player’s interaction, strategy and diplomacy.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

 

  • I love it!
  • I like it.  Alan H, Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

 

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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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