Board Game Review: Strife – A Game of Combinations | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Board Game Review: Strife – A Game of Combinations

In Strife, currently on Kickstarter, two players use their hand of combatants to try to defeat each other. Each combatant brings not only his power to bear, but also has a legacy that influences the next battle. Combining these powers, and using them to their greatest effect, is the key to victory in Strife.

The Basics. Each player has a hand of cards representing various combatants and numbered 0 through 9. Players have access to their entire hand and do not draw randomly. Each card has two powers – a battle power and a legacy power. The battle power takes effect during the battle involving that combatant. The legacy power takes effect when that card is the top card in the player’s discard pile – typically the following battle. There is also a location deck with 10 location cards. Play begins by shuffling the location deck and putting three locations out.

To start, players each select and simultaneously reveal one card to go to their discard. That card will provide a Legacy power for the first round. Then, starting at the outermost location, players will select and simultaneously reveal a card to engage in the battle at the location.

In the battle, cards each activate their battle power in order with the highest numbered card going first. Then each legacy power is activated in order based on the number of those cards. Those powers tend to alter the landscape a bit and often raise your strength or lower the strength of your opponent’s card. Locations, too, typically provide a bonus of two strength to specific combatants and also determine how many points the victor will receive. After factoring in all abilities, the one whose final power is the highest wins and receives the points.

At the beginning of the game, there is also a “fate stone” which is a ten sided die and assigned to one particular player. If there is a tie for anything (activation, final strength, etc.), the one with the fate stone loses the tie – unless he gives the fate stone to his opponent. Then he wins the tie. The fate stone starts at “1” but goes up one each time it is passed. When the game is over, the player holding the fate stone gets bonus victory points equal to the number showing.

Once the battle is over, another location is drawn, and the combatants go to the discard where they will provide their own legacy powers to the next round. Once all the cards have been played (or all locations used), the round is over. Players pick up their cards (except the last played – which becomes the first discard in the next round) and start again. The game ends after the third round and the player with the most points is the winner.

Different battlefields yield different victory points

The Feel. Strife is a great two player game that is sublimely easy to teach, but with interactions that lead to a variety of tactics. While there is a thread of strategy cutting through the game, the game tends to be highly tactical in practice. There is also an aspect of doublethink as you try to outwit and outguess your opponent. After all, if you can accurately predict what he will play, then you can likely pick the warrior that will foil that plan … and your opponent is thinking the same thing.

Strife takes a simple idea and builds an intriguing system around it. Even though both players start with identical cards, the game does several things to differentiate and force the players to play differently. Between an initial discard, individual powers that can swap cards, and locations worth different victory points while giving bonuses to certain cards, players will very often be playing different cards.

For example, each location provides a power bonus to a particular combatant. So it is tempting to play that one. But, if your opponent assumes you are playing that card, he can play one that works even better. If you think he’ll do that, then you can play the on that nullifies that card. And so on.

One of the really fun things about Strife is how the cards interact. The whole game is about making combos with your cards that you hope are more powerful than your opponent’s attempts. One of my favorites is the Monk. In battle, he takes the power of the opposing card. In legacy, he nullifies the opponent’s special ability. Combine that with the Assassin. In battle, the Assassin can swap places with the legacy card and in legacy it adds six points to the battle card. So, with the Monk in legacy, my opponent’s power is nullified. Then I use my assassin to bring the monk out (which will tie my opponent) and then add six from the Assassin power (bringing me into the lead). Of course, I have to contend with my opponent’s legacy card, but hopefully I still come out on top. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what is possible.

When this one works, it can work really well

In addition, the game has a great play time. It fills a great two player gap for fans of games that have complex and interesting interactions. Yet, it still plays (after a game or two) in about 30 minutes. Early games do take a bit longer as players familiarize themselves with the cards. The greatest barrier to the game, in fact, is learning all the cards and trying to figure out the combos and strategy at game start.

Still, there are a few things that don’t quite pan out for Strife. The fate stone is interesting in theory, but ends up being a lackluster press your luck tool. Viewed mechanically, it can be easily determined when to pass the stone. It starts at one. Let’s say I have the stone and there’s a tie for a one point battle. In that situation, giving the fatestone is a wash for me (I lose the one fate point, but win one battle point) and a net two point increase for my opponent. Passing it there doesn’t make sense. The only reason to do it is because you hope that there will be more ties later and you’ll be able to reap the benefit of not having the stone. Once it gets to a certain point, it just doesn’t make sense to pass the stone and things tend to solidify (though there are specific instances where it still makes sense).

The other issue is the information overload, especially for the first few games. You have access to all of your cards right from the beginning. So, at game start, there are a lot of options and a lot of considerations and combos. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds, especially for a new player. Of course, as cards are played, the options narrow and the problem decreases.But after a few games, players get more familiar (there are only ten cards, after all) and this issue is much reduced.

One final point, which is neither positive nor negative. Strife comes from V3G, the same company that published Incredibrawl. While Strife is more complicated mechanically, and more grown up thematically, core gameplay feels very similar. There is a location with a power, players play a card from hand, highest card wins. Now, Strife is a better game than Incredibrawl and I think will be a great non-tournament game for players who enjoy tournaments. But, since it runs on a similar track, it’s worth noting that your feelings about Incredibrawl are likely to inform your enjoyment about Strife.

Not a huge fan of the score tracker which is easily bumped and adjusted

Components: NA of 5. I received a prototype copy and therefore I have not seen the final components. However, the copy I received was very high quality (for a prototype) with fantastic artwork. Hopefully it comes with an alternate means of keeping score, though.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4.5 of 5. Strife has very little true “luck” in the game. No die rolls and no random draws with the exception of the order of locations. But, even then, you see the locations three battles in advance, so you know what is coming. Strategy – and especially tactics – is critical in Strife. The game is all about maximizing your combos, seeing what has been played, and trying to out think your opponent.

Mechanics: 3.5 of 5. Everything works well from battle to battle. Everything, except the fate stone. While interesting in theory, in practice it is too valuable to use after just a few passes. And in my plays, ties were infrequent enough that passing the fate stone after it got to three or four was almost always a bad decision. Aside from that, though, it’s great how the game makes you think in little two battle chunks that overlap each other. There is a major misprint in the rules, though. The rules show one icon for battle and another for legacy abilities. But it is reversed on the cards. This was very confusing at first until I realized the error. Hopefully that gets fixed in the final version.

Replayability: 3 of 5. With the exception of the precise order of the locations, everything else remains the same from game to game. Players have access to their entire hand and will, therefore, be able to play the same way every time. What gives the game more staying power is having a dedicated opponent. That way, there is plenty of doublethink and second guessing. That bluffing element keeps the game more lively.

Spite: NA of 5.  As a two player game, there is no true spite. And with both players having access to the same abilities, spite is also muted.

The ten unique combatants available to each player

Overall: 3.5 of 5. Strife isn’t a perfect game, but it is a fun one. And that’s what counts. If you are a fan of tournament games (CCGs, LCGs, X-Wing, etc.) then Strife is absolutely for you. It’s a great game that uses the same kind of combos and strategies, but does not require the same level of dedication as those other games. In fact, you could take it to a tournament and play a game of Strife between rounds. And if you’re not a tournament player, Strife is very accessible and can give you a bit of the same feel.

(A special thanks to V3G for providing a prototype copy of Strife)

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