Posted by Raine Hutchens on Aug 8, 2011

Gears of War: The Board Game [GenCon 2011]

This past weekend at GenCon 2011 I got to demo the new Gears of War board game from Fantasy Flight. In a nutshell, I went into the demo thinking, “Okay, this can’t possibly be something that will translate well, but I will give it a shot.” After demoing the game and playing with some lively fellows, I have to say I was very surprised, in a very good way.

Sitting down at the table, I saw before me a bunch of cards, figures, tokens, and panels. The Fantasy Flight demo instructor explained what each piece of the game was, and our demo was underway. The game setup was fairly simple: each player was assigned a Cog – Marcus, Dom, Baird, or Cole – and began the game as such. Each Cog has their own special ability, for instance, Dom’s ability lets him take an extra space of movement once an action moves a player, and he can attack up to three enemies in his line of sight. The abilities are laid out on a Cog character card, which also displays which set of weapons the character is carrying. Once the players are chosen, the board is set.

The board is laid out and determined by location cards. Once a location card is chosen, it depicts how the map is set up. Each location card has a different map layout, and they can change depending on a number of conditions. Once we laid out our map, the mission began. For the mission we were demoing, it went through three phases. The mission cards dictated where we were, what was happening, and what we needed to do in order to complete said mission. For this demo, we needed to make it to the exit and seal an emergence hole with a grenade. Once that was done, we could proceed to phase two.

Now that the board was set and we had our mission objectives, it was up to Marcus to make the first move. On your turn, you’re allowed one action, unless dictated otherwise. Each player has a set number of cards they can have in their hand, which are drawn from a Cog deck. This hand also acts as their character’s health. The lower the amount of cards, the less health the Cog has. For Marcus, he had seven, where everyone else had six. Of these cards, some can dictate movement, others attacks, and some actions. Choosing to move, Marcus made his call.

During this decision, the card had an ability: we could sacrifice one of the cards in our hand with a certain symbol, and follow Marcus into the zone in which he moved. This would allow us to travel as a team, and not leave anyone behind to deal with enemies. Also, we would be that much closer to our mission objective. Each of us  chose to move, and we traveled as a team. Once Marcus’ Cog step was finished (the beginning of your turn is called the ‘Cog Step’), the enemy step began. During this step, a card is drawn from the A.I. deck which dictates what the enemies would do. This means that the game can actually be played solo, though it’s much more fun as a multiplayer game.

For this card, this meant that all Boomers moved in for an attack. By the way, while you’re choosing the location and setup of the board, it will tell you which types of enemies are in play, and how many. For this demo there were three Boomers, and one by one, they moved in for an attack. This is where the game got heated. Cole has a special ability that will let him interrupt enemy movement and toss a grenade. During play, he did this without hesitation. This begun a step of combat in which damage would be calculated.

Cole submitted a grenade token, and looked carefully to where he could toss the grenade. His character card stated that he had two grenades, and he had a card for the grenade itself, dictating the weapon’s range, and damage. The grenade has a range of two spaces, which put it right in the room with the Boomers. For this attack, Cole rolled four attack dice, each with hit markers and blanks on its sides. After the roll, he racked up five points of damage. It was then time for the Boomers to make their defense rolls. This was dictated by the number on their enemy cards, which stated how many defense dice they could roll. The dice weren’t in their favor, and they went down screaming. The battle was quick, though it was intense, and Cole managed to save us all from certain demise.

We were cheering, and felt especially proud of ourselves. Since the enemies were disposed of, it was up to Baird to make his move. He moved forward, and again, we all followed. This already put us in the room with the emergence hole that we needed to close. After the movement, he decided to lob his one grenade at the hole in hopes to shut it. In order to shut this hole, when Baird rolls for damage, he needs to roll at least one Crimson Omen to get the hole closed. The reason for this is laid out on the grenade’s card in a special text. It simply states that if a Crimson Omen is rolled when calculating damage for the grenade, it immediately closes any emergence hole in the same area. Taking the dice into his hands, Baird tested the waters. As we watched each die roll to a stop, another cheer rang out. A Crimson Omen revealed itself, closing the emergence hole. This completed the phase one objective, sending us into phase two.

Entering phase two, the mission card flipped and gave us some story. Basically, more Locust showed up, and now it was time to wipe them out. We battled, moving about the map and attacking enemies, all while working together as a team. Each weapon card laid out damage, special abilities, and more, never leaving any of us lost. Before I knew it, our demo time was up and it was time to move on.

Having sat down and played the Gears of War board game, I have to say I underestimated it. Fantasy Flight came together with Epic to create a perfect new way to enjoy Gears, and provide a new experience to fans and new players alike. The main selling point for me was that the game actually got people together as a team, right next to each other. Your fellow Cogs were right beside you, fighting, moving, and picking you up when you fall. We battled on, killing Grub after Grub, Drone after Drone. My final verdict was that I need more time with this awesome game. If you are a fan, or if you’re just looking for something new that is great fun, I definitely think the game is worth it. You can find out more about it by visiting the Fantasy Flight official game page. I am here to tell you, this game is real, and it’s something you need to get your hands on.

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