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Subject: Gaming on a Budget: Gears of War rss

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Phil Christiansen
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He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
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Welcome to the tenth installment of Gaming on a Budget, my series of reviews specifically tailored to people with a limited budget for games. I wanted to save something special for number ten, so I decided on a game I was hugely excited about before I had it. And now, I alternatingly love it and hate it depending on how the game is going for me at the moment. So strap on your combat boots, fire up your lancer chainsaw, and prepare for Gears of War.

My usual policy is to not get too crazy into explaining the rules for a game. After all, you can easily just read the rulebook online or one of the reviews that does cover them in detail. But this game is pretty unusual on a lot of the rules and gameplay mechanics so I’m going to have to go into them a bit. There are kind of a lot of rules though, so bear with me here.



In GoW, pretty much everything that happens is driven by cards. There is an AI deck that runs the locusts (the monsters for non-GoW people), cards for the various weapons, cards for scenario setup and the various stages therein, and cards that present players with the actions available to them. There are also character cards for the players, and locust cards for the enemies. Seriously, there are a lot of cards here. There are of course the usual assortment of tokens and dice and such too, but you will spend most of your time on the cards.



The most pivotal of all are the player cards, with each one having its own set of functions/actions and with most having more than one marked by bullets. Let’s say it lets you move 1 space as the first action, and attack once as the second action. During your turn, after you draw your two cards, you can play one card from your hand. If you played that card you could do both things in order, or pass on either thing and just do the one. Or, you could discard the card to either move 2 or attack once. You could also discard it during a locust phase or other players turn for one of three alternate uses marked by a symbol on the top left of the card. Sound like a lot? Well, it is. With all that versatility taking down the swarm should be a cakewalk right? Well, no, GoW is an extremely hard game due to one little bitty detail. The cards are also your hitpoints.



Yeah, you read that right. The cards that you can play for innumerable abilities/actions/picking stuff up/helping a fallen comrade also represent your HP. Spend too many and you will fall easy prey to the first locust to decide to jump you. This leaves you with some very dicey and critical choices. You are being attacked, should you try a counterattack and hope you can kill it before it attacks you? Well, that will cost you a card/hp to try. Or maybe use a card for a +2 dice defense bonus, but then you are guaranteeing a lost hp in the hopes of not losing more.



The choices go on and on like this, and for the vast majority of the game you are teetering on the edge of a razorblade, even if it may not seem like it. After a round in which my fellow gears and I had managed to finish off the last locust on the map, I drew an AI card that due to our present circumstances and positioning spawned -6 new locust- all around us. Needless to say we were just short of crestfallen.



Gears of War also makes use of an interesting system to determine line of sight. If you are not in cover and are firing at an enemy outside cover you simply see if a clear line of sight can be drawn from area to area, as your character is in no specific part of the room. However, if cover is involved (which it usually is) then you will draw a line from a sort of diamond symbol on the thing providing the cover to either a spot on the area for an enemy not in cover or to another diamond for an enemy in cover. This is done with a handy dandy straight line stick, like the one from games like Star Wars: X-wing Miniatures. Now, enough rules, let’s see some pros and cons.




Pros:

1The tension is amazing in this game. Every last little thing has the potential to get you and your teammates killed. I’m not exaggerating on this, a bad choice and a bad roll or two and you are done. Game over, maybe try Parcheesi?

2The artwork is very appropriate to the source material, and could best be described as ‘grim and gritty’ with lots of black and grey and brown. You like color? Well, there is plenty of red to be found too…

3The miniatures are awesome, with a good variety of monster types and lots of little details on the player pieces. They even made all the player miniatures in red instead of grey for instant recognition.

4The map setup is random for each scenario. This means that while the same tiles are involved for the same scenario, you will arrange them differently which can really alter the course of the game. An objective that was right near you last time could be four tiles away this time. This leads to a lot of replay ability in the game, especially if you plan on picking up the little $8 mission packs they will be releasing periodically (one is already out at the time of this writing).

5Each character has unique and interesting abilities, but they all balance out pretty well so no character really comes off as the best. Marcus Fenix has a hand size of 7 instead of 6 for example, Damian Baird can pick up equipment and activate room functions without discarding cards, and so on.

6Combat is crazy fun, which is a plus for a fighting game like this. Playing one of those cards that gives you a pile of attacks and just pumping a pile of rounds into a group of enemies is seriously satisfying on many levels. Or using the chainsaw on the Lancer rifle and having that omen roll show up leading to an autokill.

Cons:

1Did I mention the cards are your hitpoints? While this can be awesome, it can also lead to a lot of moments where you wish you didn’t have to play a card on your turn since you desperately need the hp. It isn’t always fun to wish you could do nothing on your turn.

2To help a player who is bleeding out you have to be in the same area and discard a card. When you do that they stand back up, but don’t draw a card. This often leads to a character with 0hp just being casually knocked back over on the following AI phase.

3The random placement of the map tiles can lead to some scenarios being a bit easier than they should be. Sometimes you can just walk a couple spaces and activate the objective. It's far from common, but it happens.

4Ammo is rare and depleted quickly. And while you can use most weapons without spending an ammo token as long as they still have one, the damage for a regular attack only has a so-so chance of wounding a locust and very little chance of actually killing it.



Gears of War does manage to do a pretty good job of being ‘players against the game’ through the use of the AI deck. And while the enemies don’t always act in the most efficient ways, 9 times out of 10 it is a pretty dangerous way none the less. I have yet to have an occasion where the locust just run around in circles or fall down (not actually an option) or some other such craziness. I do kind of wish an AI deck was built with more cards however, since you use 4 per locust type (usually 3 types) plus 6 or so general AI cards for an average of 18 or so cards. Since the missions can be pretty long you will often see the same card over and over.



The game also does a very good job of balancing out the starting weapons and random weapon drops and the like. Each weapon has something cool about it without being overpowered or clearly ‘ultimate’ compared to others. The Lancer and the Hammerburst are the same in terms of base damage dice, but one has a chainsaw for close range and the other has a better omen effect for anything but point blank range. The one complaint I have though is that you seem to rarely use the random weapon draw deck, instead mostly getting the occasional drop from a locust which is always the same weapon from the same locust type.



In my experience the difficulty also seems to trend upwards just a little with an increase in player numbers. Now this could just be me, but with four people there will be four locust activations before you get another turn. Still, it is a great deal of fun either way. And since there isn’t a ton of stuff you do on your turn even with four players it doesn’t usually take that long for the turn to come back around to you. However, beware this game for the Analysis Paralysis prone as it is very easy to ponder your move for ages on end. The game can easily rest on your decision after all.



This may be a minor point to most people, but I was overjoyed that all of the components fit neatly back into the box without any modifications or removal of the insert. Anyone who has purchased a game with the Fantasy Flight logo on it can tell you that is rarely the case, and I hate having to alter a box or its contents. It is a fairly large box however, not sure the exact measurements but on my shelf only Wrath of Ashardalon and the Carcassonne and Alhambra big boxes dwarf it. About the same size as the Descent 2 box.



The rulebook for this one is amazing. When I saw the page count I let out a groan, but after reading through it I realized it is that long because they include examples for pretty much everything. This meant that every time I finished a section I really felt I ‘got’ what was described in it. Even moderately experienced gamers will pick this one up fairly quickly, which is impressive given how quirky it can be.



One thing to be aware of is that this game can consume a fairly sizeable chunk of time to complete an entire mission. And I don’t know if you would call it a plus or minus, but I would get so absorbed I wouldn’t notice the time passing. This can be a problem if you have something to do at a specific time, or work in the morning, or some such. But honestly, I consider hours passing in a blink to be one of the hallmarks of a great game. But you can decide that one for yourself.



The final really important thing to note is that the theme is a dark and bloody one. This may not be the game to show your parents, or significant other (though my girlfriend happens to love it), and DEFINITELY not your/someone else’s kids. You will get a grim dose of reality in the form of getting blown into tiny bits repeatedly here. So if you are one of those people who likes bright and peaceful and pleasant gaming, may I suggest Carcassonne? But after a few games of Carc or similar, I for one often feel that urge to maim and mangle and destroy a handful/giant pile of deserving enemies. Especially with my girl beside me.

Quality: High. Absolutely gorgeous miniatures. Thick tiles and tokens, with pictures of the locust printed on their wound tokens. This won’t surprise FFG fans at all, but a box big enough to hold it all will. The only things keeping it from a very high are the lack of painted miniatures and the fact that it can be hard to tell a couple of the character miniatures apart. Marcus and Baird, I’m looking at you.

Learning Curve: Low-Moderate. For semi-experienced gamers and above this one will be quick and simple to learn, either from the well written rulebook or being taught by someone who knows the rules. I read the book and taught my girlfriend in a combined time of maybe 30-40 minutes which includes setup.

Strategy/Depth: Very High. As I have mentioned before life and death hinge on almost every decision you and your team make. And more to my joy, I have found that even poor luck usually won’t alter your fate too much if you play the right cards. A skilled player can overcome bad dice with relative ease.

Theme: Very High. This game practically oozes theme, play a mission like ‘China Shop’ and tell me you don’t manage to feel immersed and involved in the atmosphere. They even oversized the mini for the monster chasing you through the level. The colors and artwork are just icing on a tasty tasty cake of awesome.

Gameplay: High. The use of clever and as far as I know original mechanics for most/all aspects of the game provides a unique and exciting experience. I can’t decide if I love or hate the cards are hp thing, but I suspect it will polarize a lot of people.

Replay: Very High. If anyone from CoolStuffInc is reading this, please oh please get mission pack 1 to me asap, I neeeeds it. Err, sorry, I meant to say with the random map tile placement and differing drops and draws replaying a mission can be just as fun the third time through as the first. Though you will probably be just as antsy as I am for that next mission pack.

A sudden rumble in the ground followed by an explosion of earth into the air precede the formation of a new emergence hole. As you approach its edge and peer down into it you see…



Overall Score: 9/10
Budget Rank: Buy it.

At $45 plus or minus you will find a whole lot to love in this one. A high tension thrill ride of a game, with all the bells and whistles and interesting mechanics you will need to keep pulling this one down over and over. Just make sure you have gaming buddies who are also ok with the theme and gameplay, as it is not nearly as fun alone in my opinion. Others may disagree on that though. OH S%$& they have us surrounded! Cover fire team, Baird blow that hole to bits before we're all…..

(Geeklist for GoaB can be found here)
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Mr G
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Excellent review of a cracking game. Well done.
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Lang Bedang
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BeansHarpoon wrote:
This goes for about $50 used on Amozon before S&H. How is this a budget game?


The concept seems to be about saving for games that are worth it, rather than tossing hundreds of dollars at games every week without any thought or care.

Plus, OLGS in Canada sell for $52, so this is just a good example of how Amazon isn't always a good deal.
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Barry Kendall
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I'd rate it as a "budget game" in terms of hours-of-play-value per dollar spent. GoW is a good value for my gaming tastes and time.
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Sebastian Beck
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Fantastic review. Gears of war is one of the best cooperative games with a lot of tension to it.

Listen up FFG: We really need more Mission Packs or even a big box expansion!!!

Gears of war is awesome!
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Ryan McRyballs
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Great review. Well presented and detailed. You sound like you enjoy the game as much as I do.

You are all welcome to try the fun variant I just created for this game called Mutators: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/912903/mutators
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Phil Christiansen
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He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
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lajaro wrote:
BeansHarpoon wrote:
This goes for about $50 used on Amozon before S&H. How is this a budget game?


The concept seems to be about saving for games that are worth it, rather than tossing hundreds of dollars at games every week without any thought or care.

Plus, OLGS in Canada sell for $52, so this is just a good example of how Amazon isn't always a good deal.


Exactly so, I don't feel that people with less money should have cheaper games, simply that they should pick the best ones to spend money on. Thats why I give two final scores, a rating for the game and a budget rank to show if I consider it worth the money.

ryballs wrote:
Great review. Well presented and detailed. You sound like you enjoy the game as much as I do.

You are all welcome to try the fun variant I just created for this game called Mutators: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/912903/mutators


My girlfriend informs me she voted to approve your mutators in geekmod, so you already have our approval for them
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Ryan McRyballs
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SomewhatDamaged wrote:

My girlfriend informs me she voted to approve your mutators in geekmod, so you already have our approval for them

Thanks. I spent quite a lot of time making them.
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Good review.
However, when discussing the quality of the game, you forgot to mention two things:
The cards: Card quality is quite low. Yes, I know, same as Doom, but worse than in lots of other FFG games. Linen finish for a game relying so heavily on cards and cards that are shuffled so often would not be too much.

The miniatures: Several miniatures have to be used as proxies for other units. Also the number of miniatures, although their quality is high, is quite low. Compared to Doom there is a serious lack of miniature sculpts.
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Kent Ing
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You can pick it up a bit cheaper in Canada these days...$42.95 at my local FLGS in Toronto. It's good AND cheap.

As for proxies, yeah, that's a bummer but Heroclix "Gears of War 3" figs can sub in but that just makes the game a little more expensive.
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Phil Christiansen
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He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
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redsimon wrote:
Good review.
However, when discussing the quality of the game, you forgot to mention two things:
The cards: Card quality is quite low. Yes, I know, same as Doom, but worse than in lots of other FFG games. Linen finish for a game relying so heavily on cards and cards that are shuffled so often would not be too much.

The miniatures: Several miniatures have to be used as proxies for other units. Also the number of miniatures, although their quality is high, is quite low. Compared to Doom there is a serious lack of miniature sculpts.


I haven't noticed any wear or damage on my cards as yet. They could be better I suppose, but I haven't seen it as a problem yet. The reused miniatures is kind of iritating, but not to bad since you only use 3 types per mission anyway. Just my opinion there.
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SomewhatDamaged wrote:
redsimon wrote:
Good review.
However, when discussing the quality of the game, you forgot to mention two things:
The cards: Card quality is quite low. Yes, I know, same as Doom, but worse than in lots of other FFG games. Linen finish for a game relying so heavily on cards and cards that are shuffled so often would not be too much.

The miniatures: Several miniatures have to be used as proxies for other units. Also the number of miniatures, although their quality is high, is quite low. Compared to Doom there is a serious lack of miniature sculpts.


I haven't noticed any wear or damage on my cards as yet. They could be better I suppose, but I haven't seen it as a problem yet. The reused miniatures is kind of iritating, but not to bad since you only use 3 types per mission anyway. Just my opinion there.


The fact that only 3 Locusts appear per mission is actually a con as well. That's not because playrs don't like more types appearing, it's because the AI system can't handle more than 3 types well.

Anyway, all of that still doesn't change the fact that the miniature count is so low. The fact that we don't get a big expansion with new miniatures for already existing cards makes it even worse.
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John Rhinehart
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Great review! The pictures were pretty good and a great addition.
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jakub sethseth
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I don't mind there are only 3 types of enemy per mission. it makes every mission more different from each other
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Julian Jimenez
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Nice review.

This is a fun game. I would say it's worth saving up for. I ended up getting this one instead of one of the add&d games cause I was looking for a dungeon crawl, but couldn't decide between the 3 ad&d ones. This seemed close to the concept. Although I payed way more for it because I bought it retail. It goes for around $80 at barnes & Noble. I had a coupon and a membership though.

I find it best as a solo game though. Most new players groan at the rules even though they are quite simple once you get to know them. Set-up is a little long too. Definitely not a beer drinking game with new players.
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Rodrigo R.
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I don't agree with your Cons because when you're playing the game they melt into how the gameplay. Cons are in other areas, such as average session duration.
But given your reviews series title, it's definitely an awesome budget co-op game. It's very tactical, the quality of the components is very high, it's great fun (for the solo player or for a group) and the miniatures are highly detailed - a Warhammer player myself, it's a huge deal when you can buy a complete well-balanced game with miniatures that may cost less than $2 each.
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Jason
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Fab review! I'm just setting this one up for the first time and I'm already incredibly impressed with the care and detail that's gone into it.

Much like this review.
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m Vlad
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This is the only game I regret trading. I've got to get it back!

-edit-I´ve got it back!
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Great review for a great game!

Is there some news about expansions?
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Phil Christiansen
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He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
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Haven't heard anything, but you never know with FFG.
 
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