Fantasy Flight Games has had quite a bit of success translating video games into board games. They successfully brought the world of Azeroth to the table with Warcraft: The Board Game, World of Warcraft: The Board Game, and World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game. The Terran, Zerg, and Protoss fought across the galaxy in StarCraft: The Board Game and the Brood War Expansion. Fantasy Flight created a new version of Sid Meier’s Civilization in 2010, and it was popular enough to get its own expansion. With the release of Gears of War Judgement, we though we’d look at another incarnation of video game to board game, Gears of War: The Board Game.
Gears of War: The Board Game (referred to as Gears of War during the rest of the review) is a cooperative game for one to four players and takes one to three hours to play. Players take the role of one of the COG soldiers fighting against the Locust. Six different missions covering scenes from the first two video games in the series are available. A Horde mode is covered in the rules as well.
After each player selects their COG, everyone gets their starting weapons, ammo, and grenades. Decks are created and shuffled for your Orders and random weapons picked up, as well as the orders for the Locust. After selecting the mission, take the mission cards for that mission and use them to get the corresponding Locust cards and figures. You use these cards to set up the rooms used for the missions. The game scales for one to four players by spawning different Locusts of different types depending on the number of players. Once the spawned Locusts are on the board, place the COGs at the entrance and everyone gets six Order cards, except Marcus who gets seven.
All of the figures are sculpted beautifully. The Drones, Boomers, Tickers, Berserkers, and others all look great. You aren’t going to confuse them, especially since only three different enemy types are used in each scenario. However, the COGs all look similar to each other. It would have been nice if Fantasy Flight had printed the names of each of the COGs underneath the bottom of the base, similar to Castle Ravenloft/Wrath of Ashardalon/Legend of Drizzt.
Every player’s turn consists of three steps. The first step is the heal step, where the player can draw up to two order cards up to their hand limit. The following step is the COG step, where the player discards a card to either follow one of the commands on his card, move up to two areas, or perform one attack. Usually, the commands given on the cards are the better options because they allow you to do more than one action, but there are times when you want to be able to move or attack. After that, a card from the Locust AI deck is drawn for the Locust Activation step. Usually the Locusts move, attack, or spawn during this step.
Cards have a reaction ability depending on the icon on the upper left-hand corner. The Guard ability lets a player attack one enemy before it moves or attacks during the Locust Activation step. The Dodge ability lets the player roll two additional defense dice as long as it is played before the dice are rolled. A COG can follow another COG that was in the same area by playing a card with the Follow ability. These are powerful abilities, but it shrinks the number of cards in your hand.
Attacking is a large part of the game. To attack a figure the defender must be within line of sight of the attacking figure. Then the player looks at his weapons and determines whether or not to use a regular attack or an overkill attack. Overkill attacks let you roll more attack dice, but they take away your ammo tokens for that weapon. If you remove all ammo tokens from that card, the weapon can’t be fired until more ammo is found. The number of attack dice rolled is shown on the card for that weapon, or on the Locust character card. Then the number of defense dice are determined by the card for that figure.
The board simulates the cover system of the Gears of War video games by having specific areas that provide cover for figures. Both COGs and Locusts can occupy these areas, and moving into them is free if they end their turn in that area and the space is unoccupied. An additional defense die is rolled if the defender is in cover and the attacker isn’t in the same area as the defender, and two dice if the attacker is in full cover or out of the range of the weapon.
If a Locust gets wounded but doesn’t receive enough wounds to get killed, a wounded marker gets placed underneath it. After the Locust has died, the wound marker is flipped over. Sometimes more ammo will be found, otherwise the marker is set aside. When a player is wounded, they discard the number of wounds they received. If the player ends up with no cards left in their hand they are bleeding out. If a player is bleeding out during their turn they can crawl one space, but he can’t heal and must skip his COG Order step. Another COG must discard a card during their turn to revive a COG.
There are a few issues with the board game. The combat can take a while to figure out. The line of sight can be difficult to figure out because of the size of the spaces, the elevation changes, the cover, and the range. On the surface it seems like it should be simpler than what it is.
The ammo is spread thin in the game. When attacking a Locust, you almost have to use an Overkill attack to defeat it, no matter how big or small it is. You do have some grenades you can use, but they are in short supply as well. The Locust have a large advantage in the number of attack and defense dice rolled as well. The numbers just are not in your favor.
When I heard that the cards would be your health, I thought that this was a unique idea. Unfortunately, the execution is lacking. While you get two cards at the beginning of your turn, you have to use at least one card to do anything. Just moving from one area to another means that you are going to lose health. To heal a member of your team, you have to lose health yourself. In the video game, you can hide behind cover for a while and recover health as long as you don’t get hit. I would have liked to have an option to rest in cover during my turn to take an extra card, or kept hit points separate from the actions available to you.
In the end Gears of War The Board Game feels a lot like a war of attrition. After finishing, there was just a feeling of exhaustion. While the people I played with wanted to try it again some other time, I didn’t get the same sense of excitement I had after playing other games. I feel like the game could be improved with a couple of small tweaks to the experience, and maybe an expansion can help out with that.