GAME REVIEW: Cry Havoc

This was arguably the hottest game at Gen Con this year.  It sold out in just about an hour I think.  I was lucky enough to snatch one up.  It finally got a retail release at the end of September.  I didn’t get this review up as soon as I would have liked, but I needed to play this a few times in order for me to wrap my head around it.

When I first heard about it, I didn’t think much of it to be honest.  The box cover didn’t really stand out to me.  It looked kind of generic.  Like every other Sci-Fi Action game cover.  But when Tom Vasel over at the Dice Tower said it was by far the best game of the year, it definitely turned my head.  Then I started reading up on how the game plays, and it sounded intriguing.  Like an asymmetrical Blood Rage, war/area control game.  While those types of games aren’t my favorite (still love medium weight Eurogames with no combat), it sounded like that there was a lot of stuff that I would love about the game.

How is it?  Does it live up to the enormous hype surrounding it?  Let’s find out!

CRY HAVOC (2016) Designed by Grant Rodiek, Michal Oracz & Michal Walczak ; Published by Portal Games – For 2-4 players and in all 4 games I’ve played, it has taken about 2 hours. 

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There’s a lot to this game, so I’m not going to run through every little minor detail of gameplay.  There are many other videos and reviews that do a much better job than me.  If you’re interested in that, check out the many playthrough videos on Board Game Geek.  I will give a broad overview of the gameplay though.

This is a Sci-fi, area control game in which players discover a new planet in deep space.  It’s seemingly untouched….. except for the Trogs (big freakin’ monsters) that inhabit the planet, protecting its precious crystals.

Each player controls a different race.  There are 4 different kinds, and all play radically different.

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The Humans can take control of different regions without actually moving units.

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The Machines focus primarily on offense, destroying everything in their path.

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The Pilgrims are kind of magical alien creatures who benefit from harvesting the planet’s crystals.

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And finally, one of the other players control The Trogs, the planet’s natives.  They multiply very quickly, swarming on territories and their enemies, rapidly and ferociously.

The game is played to a maximum of 5 rounds, but could end in 4 and possibly even 3 rounds depending on how high players are scoring during the game.

The goal is to earn the most victory points.  The main way to get victory points is by taking control of regions that contain crystals during rounds in which scoring is enabled.  Players can also score victory points by capturing prisoners, killing enemy units and by using certain skill cards.

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Before the game, place out trog war party tokens and exploration tokens on the board in their designated areas.  Players will start with 4 (out of their 8) tactics cards in hand, plus 4 of their units in their headquarters (except for the Trogs who start out with 2).

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Players will also have 3 different supplies of buildings (or 5 if their the machines) they can place during the game.  Also each player starts with 3 unique skill cards they can use once per round.

Each round is divided into 6 phases:

  • Events
  • Draw Cards
  • Actions
  • Battle Resolution
  • Prisoners
  • Scoring (if enabled)

 

1.EVENTS – The top most event token on the score track is revealed, and resolved.  This could either be bad or good (like gaining or losing units, etc.)

2. DRAW CARDS – Each player draws 4 cards from their personal tactic deck.  If their hand is more than 7 at this time, they must discard until they are at 7.

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3. ACTIONS – In turn order, determined by the initiative track, players will take one action at a time.  They will do this 3 times per round, which means they will perform 3 actions total during each round.

The actions are: Move, Recruit, Build and/or activate structures, Draw Tactics cards, and enable scoring.

Players will perform these actions (except the draw cards action) by playing tactic cards from their hand.

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Each card has symbols in the upper right corner.  The arrows are movement, the symbol below that means recruit, and the wrenches are for building.  Players will announce which action they are taking, and then play cards down.  For whichever action you choose, you count up the corresponding symbols, and that’s how much of that action you can do.

Movement example: If you lay down 3 cards and there are 5 arrows between them, you get 5 movement points.  You can move one unit multiple times and divide movement points to different units.  If you move into a place with an exploration token, reveal the token and resolve it.  If you move into a place with a trog war party token, reveal and resolve, placing however many trogs it tells you to place.

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If there are ever any enemy tokens in a place where you move into, you must stop and place a battle token (which will be resolved during the next phase).  Moving restrictions: You can NOT move into a battle region (a region with a battle token).  Defending units can move out of a battle region, but in excess of twice the number of units belonging to the defender.

Recruit example: Count up the number of recruitment symbols you played and you can place that many units in your headquarters.

Build example:  Count up the number of wrenches and then build and/or activate as many buildings as you can.

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You can build and activate the building in the same turn.  You can NOT activate a building twice during the same turn.

For the Draw cards action, you draw 2 cards from either your deck or from one of the 4 terrain tactics deck.  You pick one and then shuffle the one you don’t want back into its respective deck.

If you pick a terrain tactic card, you can only use it’s battle tactic text in that region.  There are 2 different terrain types in each region on the board.

Finally, each player has one “Enable Scoring” card.  When you play this card, that’s the only thing it can be used for.  That means scoring will be enabled that round.  If you were the one to play it, place your enable scoring token on the board.  You will get an extra boost during the Scoring phase.

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Also, on some of the cards are different symbols by the listed actions.  Some of these mean you can draw an extra card into your hand, and some will allow you to change turn order on the initiative track.

4. BATTLE RESOLUTION – This is where the game gets a little weird.  There’s no dice during combat.  Hurray!  Not a fan of that mechanic in games.

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There is a battle board which contains 3 different battle objectives.  They are resolved from top to bottom.

Battle resolution follows these steps:

  • add one crystal to battle region
  • place units on objectives (starting with attacker, then defender)
  • play tactic cards, starting with attacker (one at a time).  Tactics cards can do a variety of things, like switch units from one objective to another, or bring in other units from other regions.
  • place the surviving units back in the region
  • retreat: the player who lost the region control objective moves to an adjacent region they control, if they can’t then they go back to their supply.
  • remove battle token

The 3 battle objectives are Region Control, Capture Prisoners, and Attrition.

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Region Control: The player with the most units (defender wins ties) places a control token on that region and gains 2 points.

Capture Prisoners: Players with the most units capture ONE enemy unit from any objective.  If a tie, no prisoners are taken.

Attrition:  Kill an enemy unit for each of your units on this objective, and gain one point per enemy killed this way.

5. PRISONERS – Players score one point for each prisoner they control.  Then players may buy any of their units back for 2 victory points each.

6. SCORING – Only if enabled.

Whoever enabled scoring will get 1 point for each region they control.  Then EVERY player scores all the crystals in regions they control.

Whew!  And that’s how the game plays out.  Obviously there is a lot more to it then that.  I didn’t really go over what each of the player’s buildings do, and I’m not going to.  That’s something the players should discover on their own.  That’s half the fun.  I will say this.  Each player’s buildings are very different.  In fact, each faction feels very different all around when playing them.

Okay…. I should start out by saying this.  My first game was a 2 player game.  The reason I decided this was okay was because I heard from many gamers and reviewers that this game scales very well.  That it plays great at all player counts.  Well, that’s where I’m going to disagree.  Because when I played this as a 2 player game….. I HATED IT!  I disliked it so much that I was all ready to sell my copy.

So here’s the deal: In a 2 or 3 player game.  There is NO Trog player.  But there are still Trog tokens.  When you have to battle with a Trog, the player to your left controls them.  This felt extremely clunky.  I mean, sloppy.  It disrupted the flow of the entire game.  I mean, you’re controlling your faction, doing your thing, and then the game completely stops and you have to control a faction that isn’t even your own?  That felt like lazy designing.  It just didn’t work for me.

Also, in my first game, I was so far behind that there was NO way I could catch up in the last round.  In fact, before the last round even began, there was clearly no way I could win.  That kind of thing makes me not even want to finish playing the game.  But I did.  I thought it had some interesting ideas, but I just felt it to be so clunky in a 2 player game.

BUT….. I decided that it would be a good idea NOT to review it yet until I play it a few more times and as a 4 player game.  I have now played it 3 more times as a 4 player game.

THAT’S HOW THIS GAME SHOULD BE PLAYED.  4 PLAYERS!!!!  In fact, I will say right now, that this is a 4 PLAYER ONLY GAME!!!  It never should be played with 2 or 3.

So what changed?  Everything!  The flow is so much better.  Everyone controls their own faction.  The way it should be.  Also, I feel like the more I played, the better I understood on what to do.  I have now played every faction except for the machines.  I was the pilgrims twice.  I’m not sure who my favorite faction was.  I don’t think I have one.  Maybe the pilgrims, because they are rewarded if they don’t combat as much.  I’m not a very confrontational player.  So they probably fit my gaming personality the best.  Though I will say that it was super fun playing the Trogs, who just stomp everywhere!  It was hard not to make monster noises every time more Trogs appeared.  Though I did like the tactical thinking I had to do when playing the humans.  I have won the game twice now, but it was never by a lot.  Second place was usually close behind.

However, in every game, there was always one person that was really far behind.  And I can see that not being very fun.  I mean, they were so far behind that they might as well have not even played the final round.  I’m not really sure if I like that.  I feel like if you are having trouble understanding any aspect of the game, you are going to lose.  Badly.  So that’s a downside.  The game does reward you if you play it multiple times though, but if you lose by a lot the first time you play, you might not even want to play it again.  That’s kind of a problem.

The board is giant and functional.  The artwork is good but not great.  The miniatures are decent, but not mind-blowing.  I think we’ve been spoiled by Cool Mini or Not and Fantasy Flight games.

I like the card play.  I like that you have to decide on which action you want to use based on what symbols you have a lot of in your hand.  And figuring out how to use your buildings is pretty cool.  Though it will most likely take you a couple of games to figure out the most optimal way to use them.

The battle system is definitely unique.  Most players I’ve played this with LOVE the combat.  Tom Vasel said it’s his favorite combat system in a game period!  I will shoot him down and say, I don’t think so.  It’s cool and unique, but it’s not the best combat system.  Depending on the situation, there might be only one option you CAN do, and that’s never fun.  I like having lots of decisions in games, but occasionally in this game, you may be forced to do one thing, because that’s the ONLY thing you can do.  But there are other times when you play battle tactics from your hand that can alter the battle board, like switching the order in which they resolve, which can be pretty cool.  So, I like the battle system.  It’s unlike anything out there.  But sometimes you’re forced to do something because there’s nothing else you can do.  So take that with what you will.

It may sound like that I actually didn’t like the game.  But that’s not true.  I actually liked it.  In fact, I liked it more each time I played it.  I am definitely going to keep it in my collection.  It’s an interesting area control game that is elevated by how different each faction plays.  I like the idea of exploring each faction further.  I would like to try to win with each faction.  So far I’ve won with the Trogs and Humans.  This game definitely has replayability.  It makes me want to go back for more, if only to figure out how to play each faction to it’s best abilities.

I will say this.  Except for one player, each person I played this with LOVED the game.  definitely more than me.  A couple of people wanted to play again immediately.  However, one of my friends who lost by a lot, HATED the game and said it made him feel stupid.  He had a tough time wrapping his head around the combat system, as he never fully understood by the time the game ended.  And it is a new concept, and can be hard to understand at first.  I’m sure he would do better next time, but he was so soured by his first play that I don’t think he’ll ever play it again.

Now, I’m not trying to scare you off.  I think it’s a solid game.  It’s definitely not perfect, and that rulebook is not very good.  Thankfully there is a good FAQ out there, which you can find on Boardgame Geek.

If you like area control games like Blood Rage and Kemet (I like those both a bit better), than you will most likely enjoy this game.  Especially if you’re sick of dice rolling for combat, then you might really like this unique combat system.

So, overall, it’s a cool area control game that only works with 4 players.  I love how different each faction is, and how deep the strategy is for each faction as well.  There’s a bit of a learning curve.  It might take a couple of games to figure out how to do well, but I feel like that if you give it a couple of chances, you’ll be rewarded with a satisfying experience.  It may not live up to the hype for me, but it’s still good.

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