GAME REVIEW: The Grizzled

I saw this game when I went to Gen Con.  It was such a small game that I guess I didn’t pay much attention to it next to all the other huge releases that came out then.  Since Gen Con though, there has been a lot of buzz surround the game….  enough for me to check it out.

The Grizzled is a French game given American distribution by Cool Mini or Not.  It’s a co-operative card game for 2-5 players, and plays in about 30 minutes (or maybe a bit longer if players are taking their time making decisions, which could most definitely happen in this game).  It says on the box that it’s for ages 14 and up.  That’s pretty high.  While the theme could be considered intense, I would say at least 12 and up, but I know a few 10 year olds that could handle this too.

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In the game, each player will take on the role of a French solider in the trenches during WWI.  Instead of being a straight forward war game, the designers decided to take a more cerebral approach.  Players will be facing more of an internal struggle, working together to overcome the fears, trial and tribulations of war.

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Players will choose a character card, each with a different symbol on it. Players will also get 3 support tokens each.  At the beginning of the game, 25 cards are placed face down on the Peace card, which is called the trials pile.  The other remaining 34 cards are placed face down on top of the Monument card, this is called the morale reserve.  At the beginning of a round, players will take a specific amount of cards from the trials deck, and attempt to play all of the cards in their hands.

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The object is to empty the trials pile, AND play all of the cards in your hand, revealing the Peace card.  If you do this, you win the game.  But be careful, because during the game, depending on how you play, cards will come out of the Morale reserve and into the trials pile.  If the Morale reserve is ever emptied, revealing the Monument card, you lose.

There are 2 types of cards in this game.  Threat cards, and Hard Knocks cards.

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Threat cards are played into the main area (No Man’s Land).  Threats are represented by six things.  Night, Rain, Snow, Gas Mask, a Bullet Shell, and a Whistle.  Most threat cards have at least 2 different kinds (some have more!).  If at any time there are 3 of one kind of threat, the players lose the current mission (round), and all of the threats are shuffled back into the trials pile, in addition to the morale dropping.

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Also, be aware of trap cards.  They are threat cards with a card icon at the bottom.  This means that once you play this card, you MUST immediately flip over the top card of the trials pile (if that other card has a trap on it as well, ignore that trap).

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Hard Knocks cards are played beside your character in front of you.  These cards will impair your play in a variety of ways.  Here are a few examples of what a Hard Knocks card could be: One might not allow you to communicate with the rest of your team, it might contain a threat symbol that will add on to threats in the main play area, some may only to allow you to withdraw if your hand is empty, or mess with your support tokens, etc.  Hard Knocks cards will remain in front of you unless you get rid of them with your support tokens.  After the end of a round, if any player has 4 or more hard knocks cards, everyone loses.

Players may also have the opportunity to play a good luck charm during their turn.  They simply discard a threat in the play area that matches the one that is on their character card.  Once you do this, flip your character over.

Support tokens are used to either flip your good luck charm back over, or get rid of up to 2 hard knocks cards in front of you.  I’ll explain the support phase in a second.

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Players can also earn speech tokens by winning missions.  Speech tokens can be discarded to give a speech on a particular threat.  Let’s say you give a speech on Snow.  For each player that has a snow threat, they can discard ONE out of their hand.

Here’s how a mission will play out:

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Preparation – The mission leader will choose the intensity of the mission by determining the number of cards (minimum of 1) players will draw (in the first round, it’s always 3).

The Mission – Players choose one out of 4 actions during their turn to get rid of as many trial cards from their hand as possible.  The 4 actions are: Play a trial card, use a good luck charm, make a speech, and withdraw/play a support token.

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Support – If you have no more cards to play, cannot, or do not want to play any more cards, a player can withdraw and place a support token on their character card.  This allows players to give support tokens to their fellow comrades in arms.  They will choose either left, right, double right or double left.  After everyone has withdrawn, the support tokens are revealed and given to the players in which the direction of the support token says.  If there is a person with the most support given to them, they will get to either flip over their good luck charm to reuse, or get rid of 2 hard knocks cards in front of them.  If players tie for the most support, nothing happens.

Morale Drop – Total the number of cards remaining in all players hands, then transfer that many cards from the morale reserve to the trials pile (a minimum of 3).

That’s it.  Players will play until they either win the game by revealing the peace card, or lose the game by revealing the monument card or if a player has 4 or more hard knocks in front of them.

I love the theme!  It’s refreshing to see a WWI themed game that isn’t a straight up war game.  I love that this is just a card game.  But don’t let that fool you….. this is dripping with theme.  It certainly helps that the artwork has that old-fashioned, newspaper illustration look.  It really transports you into a different time.

How’s the gameplay?  Personally, I love it!  Now, there’s a slight learning curve with some little details here and there.  It’s not the easiest game to explain to people.  One group I played with was really confused when they drew their cards.  They were like, “I don’t know what to play, I got all bad cards!”  I had to explain to them that ALL the cards are bad.  There isn’t anything good in that deck (except for one card).  So players really have to think hard about what to play and when.  Cause eventually, you’re going to have to play that card you don’t want to play.

This game is very difficult to beat, but not impossible.  I beat it the second time I played it, though I haven’t beat it since.  You really have to get on the same page with your teammates.  And since you can’t tell players what cards you have in your hand, it’s not that easy to do.

Because of how difficult the game is, it really makes you feel that you’re in the trenches.  It feels impossible, you start getting desperate, and eventually begin to lose all hope.  Which is how I think you’re supposed to feel given the theme.  In that regard, I think this game is a huge success.  I love trying to figure out what card to play, when exactly to use my good luck charm, or what threat to give a speech on.

The words that come to mind when describing this game are involved and engaging.  There isn’t one moment that any one playing is not paying attention to what is happening.  You are all in this together, and what a player plays will affect everyone.  I love how involving this game is.  It can get pretty intense too.

I kind of compare The Grizzled to The Game, which I reviewed a few weeks ago.  In both, you’re doing the same thing.  Trying to play all of the cards out.  But while The Game is themeless, The Grizzled has a story, and I love that!  However, my brother said he would much rather play The Game because of how straightforward it was.  Me?  I’m not sure which one I like better, but they’re both in contention for my top 10 of the year.

And that brings me to a negative.  Now, this negative isn’t for me.  I loved pretty much everything about this game.  But there were a couple of people I played this with that DID NOT like this.  They said it was too depressing and too difficult.  My friend Dan said he doesn’t like games that “feel” impossible (he didn’t like XCOM either).  And I can’t blame him for that.  Personally, I don’t mind if a game “feels” impossible, because when you actually win it, you feel like that you actually accomplished something.

The first time, I played this as a 2 player game, which is a variant on the real game.  It works and I found the game interesting.  But when I played with more players…… that’s when I think the game really shines.  It’s not a bad 2 player game, but the more people the better.  I just love the interaction with everyone, and seeing everyone coming together trying to give support to the right person, etc.

I could see some finding the theme depressing, and if you don’t like games where it seems impossible to beat during the whole game, this might not be for you.

But if you’re open to an interesting theme, and up for the challenge, you should check this out.  It’s a unique card game that I found more engaging than several big boxed games I have played this year.  Certainly a surprise for me, The Grizzled is one of the better games I’ve played this year.

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