What's Eric Playing? #120: Windup War Review

What's Eric Playing? #120: Windup War Review

Base price: $20.
2 – 6 players.
Play time: 15 – 30 minutes.
BGG Link
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 4

Full disclosure: A review copy of Windup War was provided by Bellwether Games.

It’s never a bad time of year to review Kickstarter games, and it seems like a lot of games are going to be hitting the shelves / your doorstep / the table / whatever else games hit between now and Gen Con / Essen. One such recent Kickstarter release is Windup War, the latest game from Bellwether Studios (of Coldwater Crown fame) and Katie Khau / Jess Chu, who I would be doing a cross-promotional disservice if I didn’t mention were recently interviewed by the good folks over at Punchboard Media.

Anyways. In Windup War, it’s much like Toy Story: the toys have a bit of a side-hobby when they’re not being used, but it’s military combat operations against each other. Or at least a lot of aggressive posturing. The only problem is, once they’re wound up, it’s a bit hard for them to change their plans. Will you be able to survive the Windup War?

CONTENTS

SETUP

So, you’ll want to pick a Faction:

They’re all identical, save for cosmetic differences, so don’t worry too much about which one you pick; just go with whichever theme really speaks to you. I always pick Dinosoldiers, for instance.

Get your cards out of the boxes, and then set the health card aside:

Honestly, once you get your cards out of the boxes, that’s pretty much everything you want to do in Setup before I explain how the game works, so… you’re done with Setup?

GAMEPLAY

The core of Windup War is a pretty simple action programming light combat game, so if you already know what that is you’re good. If you don’t, well, I haven’t reviewed any action programming games, so … might as well explain it, here. I should also tag this with “Action Programming Games” while I’m thinking about it.

Anyways. Essentially, you’ll queue up five cards on a turn and resolve them in order to attack, defend, charge, or bomb. Whether or not you can actually perform those actions is dependent on your individual unit.

You’ll have your choice of three of six units:

Each unit has a few things immediately obvious:

  • Health value: That’s how many hits the unit can take before it’s out of commission.
  • Usable colors: The various banners indicate which card colors the unit can use. If it tries to use a card that doesn’t match its color, it risks breaking.

For your first game, just pick three units. You may want to focus defensive, go for more an offensive rush, or something in the middle. Honestly, the game plays fast enough that it doesn’t super matter for the first game you play.

Choose one of those units to go first, and place them on your Health card. Add the other units below, like so:

That indicates which units are going to take the field in what order. All player should be able to see this. Once everyone’s done that, you should be ready to start the game.

Now, on your turn, you’ll want to wind up some of your Action Cards:

Any unit can use a black card, but the other cards should only be used by units that match their color. Generally, the cards work like this:

  • Charge!: This is a way to score points. If you have cards in your discard pile and no other player used a Charge! this turn, add a card from your discard pile face-down to the center. This card counts as one point, but you can never get it back. If you ever get four points, you immediately win! If another player or players use Charge! on the same turn as you, they cancel and nothing happens.
  • Set / Detonate Bomb: These cards are played as a pair. Set Bomb does nothing, but Detonate Bomb will deal two damage to all other players if Set Bomb is in your discard pile when it gets played. Good luck getting it used, though.
  • Alpha Strike!: Alpha Strike deals one damage to all players. Yes, that includes you.
  • Flame Strike (Left, Right): Flame Strike hits the players one and two away from you in the given direction. Distance works just like BANG! The Dice Game, in that eliminated players no longer take up distance, either.
  • Attack (1, 2) (Left, Right, Left and Right): This attacks the player or players either one or two spaces away from you to your left, right, or on both sides. Just a standard attack; deals one damage.
  • Double Attack Right: This attacks the player on your right twice. Ow, oof, their bones.
  • Block All Attacks: This blocks all attacks from dealing damage to you this turn. It’s also a great way to irritate the player that just successfully played Detonate Bomb, so, two things.
  • Retaliate Attacks: This is sort of like Block All Attacks; you still take the damage, but if anyone did any amount of damage to you, you deal one damage to them.
  • Block and Retaliate All Attacks: This does both things. You take no damage but you return what was so kindly given to you.
  • Full Reload: This card should be played a fair number of times. It forces you to take all face-up cards in your play area (and your discard pile) back into your hand. This is how you get actions back once you’ve played them.

You’ll play five Action Cards face-down, and then execute them in order. You cannot change or modify cards once you’ve started playing the round. All actions occur simultaneously, so even if you take your last hit right as you detonate the bomb, it goes off.

If you should run out of health, that toy needs repaired and is set aside. It’s the next toy’s turn. However, this might cause some problems, especially because you cannot change your Action card order once it’s been set.

If you try to play a card whose color doesn’t match your unit’s usable colors, one of two things can happen:

  • If you are attacked this turn, that card becomes a Block All Attacks for this turn only.
  • If you are not attacked this turn, that card breaks! Remove it from play and set it upside-down below your Health card.

If you have three broken cards under your Health card at the end of a round, you immediately lose the game! Try not to do that. Or, at least, try to win before the end of the round, I suppose.

GAME END

The game ends when all players except for one have forfeited or been eliminated, or when one player scores three points (four points in a two- or three-player game).

If all remaining players win or lose simultaneously, there’s no winner, so, play again. It’s a short game.

PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES

Honestly, at more players it’s more chaotic, but it does make it a bit easier to just hunker down and tank it out if you play with the right people. You especially get more players using the Bomb or Alpha Strike strategies to deal a lot of damage. At two players, for instance, using the Set / Detonate Bomb combo seems a bit silly, but at six players that’s a very good way to deal a TON of damage. Of course, as soon as you’ve done that you have a permanent target on your back…

I don’t have a strong preference on player count, though I probably won’t play it above 4 for more practical reasons. I generally break out party games at that point.

STRATEGY

  • There are many different successful strategies. Part of the game is finding a synergy that works well for you and isn’t what your opponents expected, so I’d recommend experimenting and exploring, especially since it’s such a fast game.
  • If you’re going Orange, I suppose you can open with Alpha Strike. It’ll be the only thing you get to do with that unit (since you damage yourself), but maybe it’s worth it?
  • I generally lean towards tankier strategies. Try to trick people into attacking you when you Block + Retaliate or just Retaliate so that they hurt themselves. You might be more offensive! Go for it.
  • Pink isn’t generally super offensively useful, but it has two great cards. One hits the two players on either side of you, and the other double attacks the player on your right. Both are handy, but watch out for a Pink unit raging against you.
  • Purple is pretty useful if you want to Charge. Since everyone can use Black cards, everyone has access to one Charge, but Purple has one all their own. It’s not bad, especially if other players are blocking you.
  • I find a Trick Reload strategy works pretty well. Generally if I’m trying to tank + Charge! my way to win, I usually play Block All -> Charge! -> Full Reload -> Other Unit’s Color Card -> Block All. This means if I get attacked, I generally only take one damage per round (unless I’m unlucky), I usually get a Charge off, and I always have one or two cards in my discard pile (if I’m lucky). This means I can Charge every turn, which is pretty good.
  • Don’t forget that Reloading leaves you vulnerable, as does Charging. Both mean you can get wrecked on a Bomb or something, so be mindful.
  • Generally players that use Detonate Bomb will play it as their first action. I can’t blame them; if you set it up, you want to detonate it before you get taken out, and I respect that. But it’s not a bad idea to Block All Attacks as your first action if you remember people setting a bomb.
  • You can play riskily, but be careful. It’s not a terrible idea to play a card of a different unit’s color and try to get lucky and get attacked so it becomes a Block All Attacks. It’s just the consequences for repeated failure are very high. 
  • Don’t forget how distance works if you get down to two players. If you attack a player two away from you, that’s … you. You’d just hit yourself. Be mindful of that.
  • If your unit doesn’t have much health left, consider queuing up actions that the next unit can do. It’s a bit unceremonious, but, this is war.
  • Also generally pick units such that each unit shares a color. This means you can easily chain actions without risking a breakage. I usually make my first action or two the not-shared color, and the last three the shared color (unless it’s taken a lot of damage, then I only use Black + the Shared color).

PROS, MEHS, AND CONS

PROS

  • The insert is pretty sharp. The boxes all fit in very nicely and it’s easy to see them, as you can see.
  • Very easy to learn. It’s a very fast way to teach action programming, which I appreciate. It’s lightweight and that works out very well. I could see families playing this without much trouble.
  • The art and theme are both great. Windup toy fight club, essentially. What’s not to like? Plus, there’s something in the box for everyone. The colors of the boxes, even, are very bold and pleasing to look at. Even the box itself looks kind of like a toy chest! The whole thing works.
  • The faction boxes are pretty well designed, too. I was confused as to how I got the cards out, only to find a hole on the bottom of the insert that would let me push the cards out. It was a nice touch.
  • Plays pretty fast. Given the number of players it supports, it’s a short game. I appreciate that.
  • Seems like an easy game to travel with. The faction packs are essentially pack-of-gum sized. Could very easily throw two or three in a bag or purse or fanny pack or whatever.
  • I’d normally complain about tiny, weird-shaped cards, but there’s no shuffling, so whatever. Hooray!

MEHS

  • I would like to see more variety in the factions. It’d be nice to see the factions actually having some differences beyond purely cosmetic, such as different color combinations. I can understand why this was done from a game design perspective for the base game, but perhaps expansions will add new, more varied factions.

CONS

  • There can be a lot going on. It’s a bit hectic for me, but that’s why I tend to play it at lower player counts. All the movement / combat / noise makes it a bit hard to strategize, which will likely be more fun for certain players than others.
  • Players need to have a decent idea how to play before they start. If you don’t understand action programming and how you need to reset / reload your cards, you may end up unable to play anything except for cards that don’t match your unit’s color and might get eliminated from the game by your own mistake. That’s a bummer, but just something you should be aware of. Take some extra time to explain how the rounds work to players before you start.

OVERALL: 7.25 / 10

Overall, Windup War is solid! I think it’ll be a hit with families who are looking for something light and fast to play, and it might be good as a warmup game if you want to fight it out a bit or introduce people to action programming as a mechanic (honestly, it’s a mechanic that stresses me out a lot). This is a good game to use for that, as well — it feels well-designed, things are nicely balanced against each other, and the art and theme were both integrated well into the game. Bold colors really, really work for this and the whole package feels cohesive, like nothing was missed. I’d generally like to see a bit more variety in the factions, but I think that’s a difficult direction to go down, lest you get into weird matchups / tiering / how to balance everything against everything else, like Santorini‘s God Powers. I’d be excited to see an expansion and what that might add to the game, though!

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