Do you remember the game Crossbows & Catapults?
Coming to Kickstarter in June is a game called Walls of Scydonia. A peaceful realm with guilds, Gods and inhabitants that thought they were Gods and decided to prove it by destroying the other prominent rulers. I’m not going to dive deep into the lore and history of Scydonia because, like the game, this build up is not as fun as the action sequence. The fun comes from the dexterity part of the game, where you'll be flicking objects at an opponent's kingdom, in essence to reduce their guild towers to rubble. Although this concept may sound shallow and reminiscent of Crossbows & Catapults, there are some major differences to make this game stand out. Most notably, the components.
This version of the game that I have played is of a prototype, printed by the designer on his 3D printer. Apart from the fact that it is wonderfully colorful, exceptionally detailed and extremely large, everything has a designated place in its box. This was the first thing that struck me as I opened the box. The organisation and structuring of the insert. All of this already will put a vast majority of game publishers to shame, so a great first impression and preview of the dedication of the designer. And yes, this is a big box game which you can only find in a Kickstarter project. Not everything in the box will be used in every game, in the essence that there are three levels of game mode. From the apprentice to the journey man, and finally for the tactical gamer in you, and master mode. That is when you use EVERYTHING.
At its core, every mode is basically the same. Each of the modes removes certain rules and elements, right down to the apprentice mode that will probably be the closest that resembles Crossbows & Catapults. But basically it boils down to this. Players will roll out a hex mat on their side of the table (or floor) and place their 4 guild towers on spaces they deem the best. Then collect a selection of wall (tetris like) pieces, the number of wall chunks will vary depending on the mode played, as will the number of support pieces that come from the four guilds connected to your towers. Each beautifully rendered and painted support piece has a different form and weight depending on the guild. A pile of logs for the lumberjacks or ornate windows for the glazers. Players also get four wooden dice which are used as ammo for the catapult. And then there is the one amazingly sexy catapult (more about how sexy it is later). Other pieces that you may need to get ready are the tower upgrade, the supershots, action tokens, coins, city cards and strategy cards. As you can see, there is a bit of slow set up as you gather the bits from the box, but that is it. Once out, the action sequence starts.
Every game runs for 10 rounds and there is a D10 to remind you which you are on. Every round is broken into four phases, and that is relevant for each of the three game modes. Each is very simple and easy to understand, as they tie in with their names.
The object of the game being that sometime in the 10 rounds, one player would have destroyed all four of their opponents towers, making them the victor. The game has a mechanic to make the finale interesting and increase the chance of a definite winner. At round 8 and onwards there is a meteor storm, where players will then take potshots for free at the beginning of an attack phase with the supershot that looks like a rock. This is not an easy potshot, as you have to balance this uneven rock on the back of your hand and fire at the other players mat from over your own. Some slight skill is required, but this is a fun part of the game as it helps intensify the tension in the game and hopefully prevent a dull draw between players (there are tiebreakers).
The Apprentice mode is basically a build and reconstruct your walls before attacking and then removing destroyed pieces from the board. There are no cards or currency involved in this mode. More a survival of the best shot-ist. Where the journeyman mode introduces a few action points and currency to allow players to buy new bits of wall or upgrade their towers. As you can tell, the master mode will allow you to also include the cards, giving you all kinds of superpowers. So there's a bit of everything for everyone here. An inexperienced player can have fun bashing it out, whereas gamers can game it and introduce strategies with the cards of the same name.
Now, let me talk about some of the little details of the game before I blurt about how fun it is to destroy your enemies heart encapsulated constructions. If you are playing the master mode, this gives you access to the city cards. There are 16 in the proto that I have, each with a unique power for you, usable once per round. La-Rys gives you 6 wall pieces for free whereas Belyhn lets you use an action token from your opponent. All very powerful and disruptive to the other player. Each is linked to a guild, giving you the additional power of that guild. The strategy cards are the little “take that'' element to the game. Collected at random from round to round, or discarded as a currency to gain you a coin or a two for one swap on another card. These can allow an extra attack or some kind of movement in your kingdom. And there is a card that blocks the action of a previously played card, this is the reason that I say they are “take that”. But the fact that there is more variety, makes it not so annoying when someone plays a nasty card on you. They make you go “that’s cool”. These cards are well laid out, with some sweet artwork and icons that are easy to understand from their descriptions in the rule book. But I feel that the icons could be enlarged a little to make them not so eye squintingly hard to see.
The tower upgrades are an important part of the game. Number one, they create a more sturdy tower, as the base tower on it’s own is top heavy. Meaning a wooden die can easily topple it. Each upgrade, of which there are two, creates more weight at the bass and gives a large foot to its body, helping it stay erect. These upgrades are inserted into the tower, unseen but they are also sculpted and coloured. A nice attention to detail. The second reason the upgrade is important is when you fully upgrade a guilds tower to level three. This gives you the power of that guild to use it’s supershot item as ammo in the attack phase. The rock, anvil, window and log are bigger and heavier than the dice and make easy work of walls and level one towers. Their different shapes have an effect as they ricochet off the mat or buildings. And can be finicky when placing into the catapult. This makes for some interesting shots as a supershot might not leave the cup of the catapult in a straight line.
Keeping these towers alive in the game is a bonus as they help keep your kingdom safe. During the build phase, you’ll start with two support items from each guild. These can be used as walls or bolster your walls and towers. But losing a tower means you lose that guilds support. In the cleanup phase, if a tower is toppled or is not sitting on the mat squarely (and I mean even one edge a single millimeter in the air) it is destroyed. You remove it plus any support items belonging to that guild. These resources are a little more weighted than the wall pieces and therefore more reliable at surviving an attack. Their irregular shapes make them hard to stack or position sometimes and losing them is as a major setback as the tower itself. And the rules themself about what is considered “destroyed” are very clear. As mentioned, if it’s not sat squarely on the mat, it’s out. Plus, if wall pieces become detached from other wall pieces, they are out of there too. So you may find yourself spending some actions and coins just to build back up your defences. Whereas the support piece can only be brought back with the power of cards, making them quite valuable. This leads towards some of the strategies in the game, in regards to which towers you protect or upgrade, just for their supports or their super shots.
Luck raises its head in the form of the random card draw, but not too detrimentally. The other avenue that luck likes to walk down is dice street. This is where we get to the meat by talking about the fun and climax of the game… The Attack Phase. Apart from being rolled at the start of the game to see who plays first, they are used as ammo to destroy other buildings across the way. One face of that die has an icon of a coin. If during your attack, a die hits a tower or flys off the table, even pokes your friend in the eye and the final result is this face up coin, guess what! You get an extra coin. Bonus! It’s a one in six thing but can swing a game in the favour of one player if luck sits on their shoulder. An area where luck is at its lowest (unless you count a misplaced shot that ricochets at weird angles, destroying everything you made) is with the elegant catapult. There are rules on where you fire from and how to utilize this wonderful contraption, but at its core there is a pin that holds the angle of the shot. So you can get it to fire in a straight line or project it into space before it plummets down. And then there is a finely detailed power gauge, which is useful to note the force of your attack. You’ll pull this back and release to fire your shot. Simple and precise, as long as you hold the base in place, as the recoil on the spring is tightly wound. When the catapult “clacks” at its firing arc, this recoil will jolt your shot by a millimeter at your end, missing your intended target. But man, is it fun to use!!!! You bet.
And therein lies the pleasure of the game. Firing stuff to destroy stuff. I even activated one of my destroyed towers, through a strategy card, as ammo against my enemy. BOOM! It was pleasurable. You shouldn’t worry too much about getting hurt as if you are the player being attacked, you’ll hold the box lid (with a nice backdrop inside) behind your construction to prevent these flying pieces coming off the table and hurting people or destroying something that is not in the game. Again, the components are damn sturdy and solid. This prototype has had a lot of play before it got to me and everything still looks in top condition. Although there was one piece that needed a bit of glue before I got to play.
Walls of Scydonia is a stunningly beautiful looking game, due in part to the designers passion for this project. The different weights of all the projectiles along with the tactile feel, turn this game into something which we’ve never seen before. Elegant and fun. The precision of the catapult itself means that you get practically the results you want while you play this game. But it’s simplistic rules and climatic finale, make for a fun time at the table. Added with the various player powers and strategy cards which add gameplay, plus change the game slightly every time you play. Hopefully some stretch goals will add other mechanisms or guilds with their own special powers which will extend the diversity of the game. I say this as the longevity of the game might be too short for you. But then again, you may just be happy to knock down each other's sandcastles for some time.
Me, of course!