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Air, Land, and Sea: Critters at War review— In defense of a cute lick of paint

I knew Air Land and Sea was an awesome game, but it never made its way into my collection. Why? Well, I’ve got plenty of stodgy WWII themed games that I struggle to get to the table. In my heart, I’m a eurogamer that usually finds theme secondary to mechanics, but there comes a point at which a game’s theme impact playability. So Arcane Wonders took a page out of the Root playbook and replaced their sad men, tanks, and naval ships with cutesy animals. Critters at War is a somewhat unique retheme in that it changes nothing mechanically from its predecessor, and honestly, I’m perfectly fine with that. Air Land and Sea was already an 8/10 two-player filler that just needed a facelift to push it over the edge.

In short, you’ve got the three titular theaters, each with six cards which combine to make the game’s 18 card deck. After dealing a six card hand to both players and laying out the theaters, players alternate playing a card face up to its theater for its printed value and effect or face down anywhere for 2 strength until both players play out their whole hand or one player folds. Once everyone’s done, y’all count up your strengths at the separate theaters, and whoever won 2 of the 3 gets six of the twelve points you need to win the game. Alternatively, when a player withdraws, their opponent gets fewer points, down to a pithy two if they fold only a turn or two into that round. The result is like a card driven wargame had a baby with poker: there’s a decent amount of tactics in how you play your cards, but just as much of the game exists in bluffing yourself to be stronger or weaker than you really are to keep your opponent in longer to get more points off your inevitable win or get them to withdraw when you know it’s a lost cause but you’ve got an extra round before the number of points they get off your withdrawal ticks up. Because of this marriage of cardplay and bluffing, Air, Land, and Sea does what my favorite designs tend to do: self-balance despite seemingly unbalanced card abilities.

My only critique is that the base game’s card abilities are basic and reused enough that games do wind up feeling a little samey after enough plays, but thankfully both versions have a standalone expansion which I’ve all but promised the people who’ve helped me review this I’ll get my hands on, so keep your eyes peeled for that review.

Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

Nick grew up reading fantasy novels and board game rules for fun, so he accepted he was a dork at an early age. When he's not busy researching the intricacies of a hobby he'll never pick up, Nick can be caught attempting to either cook an edible meal or befriend local crows.

90

Excellent

Air Land and Sea: Critters at War

Review Guidelines

Air, Land, and Sea: Critters at War is another wonderful two-player filler game in my ever-expanding collection of such. I'll probably never play more than a best two out of three concurrently, unlike others that I've played for hours. But not every filler game needs to double as the only game we play that night.

Nick Dubs

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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