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Subject: Clockwork Wars Came Out of Left Field and Blew Me Away rss

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Raf Cordero
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Euro. Ameritrash. Mechanical. Thematic. While these words make it easy to quickly lump games into various categories or screen out a game you don’t think you’d like, they’re slowly losing their relevance and importance in this hobby as more and more games blur the lines and take the best from all worlds. So it is with Clockwork Wars, a criminally under the radar release from Eagle Gryphon Games. It’s a game where some of the abilities and mechanics are so eruptive they scream for a rich story (more on Cataclysm later) yet so mechanically tight that it can be played with wooden cylinders on art-less tiles and lose none of its tension.

In Clockwork Wars, players take on one of 3 human-animal hybrid factions or the race of Pureblooded humans in an all-out civil war. A modular, and potentially randomized, board is built out of hexes that each provide different bonuses to the player who controls them. While forests and lakes will provide victory points during the scoring rounds, other hexes like spires or citadels provide valuable tech research points or even the ability to reinforce battles. These hexes are double-sided, allowing players the choice to play on a board with excellent gritty art or abstracted colors that simply show the function of the hex. While the story and setting of Clockwork Wars are excellent, the game never relies on it to smooth out rough edges or fill in gaps; a problem that is unfortunately all too common in this hobby. Right out of the gate players are treated to a simple to understand rule set that can get you playing quickly. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that you can learn, teach, and play through your first game of Clockwork Wars in about 2 hours and, most importantly, not feel like it’s a “learning game” or that the game “doesn’t count”. The learning process mirrors the game: fast, visceral, and exciting.


Set up and ready to go.
The tiles are "art" side up.


While the factions are asymmetric, something I love, they’re only different in the way in which their unique units work. This allows you to get going quickly and not need to waste valuable time early in the game trying to figure out what your faction is supposed to do. You do what everyone is supposed to do which is expand your territory, develop powerful technologies, and destroy your enemies. Your unique units will tweak how you go about that, but you won’t feel like you aren’t sure what you need to do or how you do it. And while your initial impression may feel like the factions aren’t different enough, I can assure you that each unique unit’s presence will be immediately felt when they appear on the board. From the powerful one-shot Crushers of the Rhinochs that destroy 3 enemy soldiers immediately upon their appearance to the cunning Engineers of the Troglodytes that give you a powerful boost in the race for Discoveries and Generals, you will feel like you are dominating one aspect of the game while slipping behind in another.


A peek behind the screen. Deployment orders and resources
are kept secret.


Unfortunately, your unique units can be killed and once gone there is no way to get them back. My one complaint about the game is that there is no way to bring them back or repurchase them, so once they’re gone your faction loses what makes it special. It’s a minor complaint however, as the game still feels asymmetric to a level I’ve only ever felt in Cthulhu Wars. It’s those Discoveries I’ve mentioned, and to a lesser extent the Espionage cards, that really give the game it’s assymetric feel. Discoveries come in three flavors (Science, Sorcery, Religion) and three ages. Early Age discoveries can be purchased during any point in the game, but the incredibly powerful Late Age discoveries have to sit there teasing and beckoning you until the last 3 rounds of the game. You only play with a subset each time, so every game will feel different. And when I say incredibly powerful, I mean that they can be devastating. The Cataclysm ability I mentioned earlier allows you to consume an entire hex, removing it and any army parked on it from the game completely. Once a turn, you can poke a hole in the very map of the board choosing to eliminate Research Hexes, Cities, or even the victory point generating Resource Hexes from the board. When it happens to you, it feels like your opponent is breaking the game which is why it’s a brilliant feature that in Clockwork Wars you can tear across the board and rip your opponent’s discoveries right out of their grubby hands. Oh yes; once purchased, Discoveries live on the board which means you can take advantage of your opponent’s careful research by conquering their land and taking that power for yourself. Your valuable technologies are only worth something to you if you can defend them.

Which brings me to the end. I’ve saved deployment and combat for last because it’s my favorite part of Clockwork Wars. Many games want a game round to occur simultaneously in the abstract time of the game, yet the rules still have opponents taking turns. This provides for numerous mechanics that have to account for that, with hex activation in Twilight Imperium or unit activation orders in X-Wing being two primary examples. There is nothing wrong with those systems, but Clockwork Wars has chosen to embrace true simultaneous play by having players write their deployment orders on a pad of paper and resolve them at the same time. Once deployed, workers can’t move, so the tempo of Clockwork Wars is one of ever growing conflict seen through a strobe light. The tension is huge as you have to guess when, where, and which of your opponents is going to break an uneasy truce before it happens because once they drop a stack of discs on your important city it’s too late to reinforce it. Since hexes only score 3 times during the game, and there may only be about 19 points available to score in any given scoring round, it’s vitally important that you don’t waste resources defending an uncontested space. Every rounds comes with an incredibly meaningful and impactful moment of realization. Predicting what your opponent is going to do feels incredible; guessing wrong hurts.


The Leviathan is about to wreck someone's day.
Note: The minis come unpainted in the base game, unless you purchase the prepainted option.


Clockwork Wars is an excellent game, and may end up being the best game I’ve added to my collection in a year that includes Imperial Assault, Forbidden Stars, and Pandemic: Legacy.The story is great, the mechanics are great, and even the insert is great. It accelerates quickly and never lets up and is the kind of game that will have you pulling your hair, jumping up in celebration, and yelling at your friends in the best possible way.

***
Images can be clicked on to see a larger version.
A list of my reviews that you can subscribe to can be found here!
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John Di Ponio
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I have had the game since the kickstarter shipped and sadly, I have not played it yet. I think I will now!
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Charlie Theel
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JohnnyD wrote:
I have had the game since the kickstarter shipped and sadly, I have not played it yet. I think I will now!


You won't be disappointed.
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Tom Hill
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Fantastic Review, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I liked how you didn't spend too long describing the mechanics and talked about the gameplay experience instead. I'll be subscribing for more now

I hope anyone on the fence gives this game a go, it's a very solid experience!
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Roger Reisinger
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Nice review,

I tried CW a few times and thought it was ok. My main gripe was the cards. Some seemed really powerful and some not so much, same thing with the special units.Otherwise I thought the game was well designed.

I'm hoping Scythe plays less random and builds on the aspects that I enjoyed in CW.
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Raf Cordero
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Decar wrote:
Fantastic Review, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I liked how you didn't spend too long describing the mechanics and talked about the gameplay experience instead. I'll be subscribing for more now


No problem, and thank you for the feedback. That's exactly what I'm going for in my reviews.

Lowecore wrote:

Nice review,

...
I'm hoping Scythe plays less random and builds on the aspects that I enjoyed in CW.


Thank you! I haven't played Scythe but a friend has a PnP and a number of people in my game group have played it. It is apparently much further on the Euro end of the spectrum so it may be what you're going for.
 
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Adam Kazimierczak
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I actually think Scythe may underdeliver for me because it dissuades combat so much and has that jarring "uncrossable river" gamey mechanic to separate players, but Clockwork Wars is a true euro wargame with the gloves off.

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Hassan Lopez
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Thanks so much for this detailed, well-written review, Raf! I'm so glad you highlighted "tempo" and "tension," as they were the core design aspects which I really wanted to focus on with Clockwork Wars. I want to love so many dudes-on-a-map games, but slow tempo and painful downtimes always kill them for me. I hope you get to play Clockwork Wars many more times this holiday season!
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Jacob Temple
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captainraffi wrote:

My one complaint about the game is that there is no way to bring them back or repurchase them, so once they’re gone your faction loses what makes it special.


The Sentience expansion adds a new race that can re-purchase its spider mini if destroyed. Costs you 4 research tokens though...

Nice review. Hoping this is a long burn like Hyperborea which I see more people playing now than last year. Currently, I'm the only person I know who owns a copy of CW and I'm terrible at getting people to play my games.


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Raf Cordero
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severian73 wrote:
Thanks so much for this detailed, well-written review, Raf! I'm so glad you highlighted "tempo" and "tension," as they were the core design aspects which I really wanted to focus on with Clockwork Wars. I want to love so many dudes-on-a-map games, but slow tempo and painful downtimes always kill them for me. I hope you get to play Clockwork Wars many more times this holiday season!


You did an excellent job, I'm really enjoying it. Hope to get more play time soon too. Unfortunately, I think it may be too big to put in my suitcase for Christmas...

Temple of Battle wrote:

The Sentience expansion adds a new race that can re-purchase its spider mini if destroyed. Costs you 4 research tokens though...

Nice review. Hoping this is a long burn like Hyperborea which I see more people playing now than last year. Currently, I'm the only person I know who owns a copy of CW and I'm terrible at getting people to play my games.


That's excellent thank you. I'm looking forward to trying the expansion. Good luck with getting games of it in.
___

For those who listen to podcasts, CW was one of my choices in our Holiday Gift Guide on Ding & Dent. You can listen here on our website or directly through BGG: Episode 7 - Ding & Dent's Holiday Gift Guide!. The Clockwork Wars stuff starts at 1:04:00.
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