War- what is it good for? Apparently, it is absolutely brilliant at fomenting political struggles amongst the nobility. Who wins when faced with the hideous monster that is the ravages of war? Why, the Dogs of War, of course. Dogs of War is a tactical worker placement board game by Cool Mini Or Not, for 3-5 players. Games generally last an hour to an hour and a half (depending on the amount and experience of the players). In this game, you’ll be taking on the role of one of the five eponymous Dogs of War– master commanders and tacticians under the employ of the six different noble houses at war in the steampunk-themed-renaissance-era-fantasy land of Gravos.
|The glorious field of battle…|
The game lasts just four short years (or rounds). At the start of each year, the six noble houses will be dealt onto the board, creating 3 separate battles (each comprising of two of the six noble families). In addition, each family will be dealt an Order of Battle Tile, which details the rewards given by that family each time a Dog of War commits troops to their side of the battle. Each turn is rather simple- you take a troop card from your hand (troop cards are purchased at the start of the year with the spoils of war accrued in the previous year) and place it on the side of the noble family you want to support. Then, you place one of your captains (neat little miniature busts of your Dog of War) on the reward you want to claim from the Battle Order Tile. Whenever you do this, the tide of battle shifts to reflect the strength of the troop you placed (troops have strengths of either 1, 3, 5 or 7)- ie, you move the Battle Victory Tracker (a small, red marker) that many spaces towards that noble family’s end of a track next to the battle. This results in a deliciously frustrating game of tug-of-war as troops are supplied by players to either side of each of the three battles in a year. Each round, you place a troop from your hand along with a captain. When you can’t place anymore troops or captains, you’re done for the year. Once everyone is in that situation, the year is over.
|The loyal troops at your disposal|
Once the year is over, the outcomes of the battles are decided. Whichever noble family has the Battle Victory Tracker on their side has won the battle. The noble family moves up in the political system of Gravos- the flag for their house is moved up one space on the House Victory Track. Any Dogs of War that supported the winning side gets a victory point for every captain supplied to the losing side and the Dog of War that supplied the most captains to the winning side receives a special bonus prize. What’s more, if one of the warring houses wins in a landslide (their Battle Victory Tracker is as far to their side of the track as it can go) then their house moves up an additional space on the House Victory Track and the losing house moves downa space on the House Victory Track. The reason that this is important is because throughout the course of the game, you will accrue House Influence Tokens (little flags of each of the houses). At the end of the game, each House Influence Token is worth an amount of points equal to that noble house’s position on the House Victory Track (which has a range of -1 to 7).
|The fortunes of the six noble families will change rapidly|
The result of all this is a high stakes game of intrigue where you are loyal to your own interests only. The Dogs of Wardon’t really care who ultimately wins the battle for supremacy in Gravos between these families. All they care about is cashing in their political favors once the dust settles and the new pecking order has been established. Do they do this for honor or glory? No, they do it purely for the sake of seeing which among them was the best at manipulating the events of the past four years in their favor [DISCLAIMER: The manual has a long and detailed back story for each of the Dogs of War that may discount what I just said- but you get the general idea… these aren’t particularly nice people we’re dealing with, is what I’m getting at.]
|What prize will you use a captain to claim?|
You know what? I think I’m in love with this game. It’s as if this game takes every scheming, manipulative character from Game of Thrones (who, frankly, are the only reasons I watch the show and read the books) put them through a steampunk-y/renaissance-ish paint job and then let them loose in a new world filled with prizes to be won and nobles to be manipulated. And this is exactly what you get- political intrigue, scheming and back stabbing of the highest order. Which family’s House Influence Tokens are your opponents scooping up? Where are they applying troops? Where can you best place some of your limited pool of troops to not only improve your own political standing, but ruin your opponents’?
|Each year, the six noble families will duke it out- who will you support?|
The miniatures are delightfully detailed busts of each of the Dogs of War and are different enough in color and appearance that it is easy at a glance to see which players are supporting which houses in a given year just at a glance. When it comes to fantastic miniatures, I have to say that I’d expect no less from Cool Mini Or Not (and if you don’t believe me, check out our review of another game of theirs, Arcadia Quest.) I will say this, however- that while the core mechanics of this game are terribly simple, the large amount of components (cards, tokens, miniatures and a large board) will make most people who are new to gaming either outright refuse to play or go digging for their phones as you start to explain the rules. This is not a game for beginners. Nor is this a game with a terribly large amount of player interaction. You can choose to devote your energies to screwing your opponents, but as you can’t know for sure exactly what their own machinations and aspirations are, the best you can do is make an educated guess as to where their back is located and how strongly you should thrust your dagger. For the most part, you’ll be gazing out upon your own personal, bleak political landscape- agonizing over how to best improve your situation.
|I can’t remember the last time I admired so many busts…|
But in my opinion, dear readers, these are but mere quibbles. Are you looking for a balanced, tight and well-oiled machine to test who amongst your friends would be the best at pulling the puppet strings of an entire kingdom? Then look no further. A Space Ahead heartily recommends Dogs of War for your next game night.
Want to get your hands on some lovely busts? If you live in the Bloomington area, you can find this game at The Game Preserve. If not, check it out at your local game store. Support local game stores!