Windup Wars: Preview

What if Toy Story were real? (It’s not, right?) And the toy soldiers you had as a kid would enter mortal combat with your siblings’ toy soldiers?  This sort of dystopian world is captured in Windup Wars and coming to Kickstarter soon. Fairway delves into this tiny world full of tiny combat.

Windup Wars is a three- (two maybe) to six-player war game in a small form factor and simultaneous actions.

Initial Impressions

  1. Programming your toys with a full rounds worth of commands (five) is challenging and there’s room for some strategic thinking.
  2. Lower player counts even at three don’t feel as balanced as the higher player counts
  3. There is a player elimination, but implemented in a pretty amenable way.

Game play

In Windup Wars, players take on the roles of generals of very small toy armies with the objective of outlasting all of the other armies.

In the beginning, each player is given a pack of little, chewing-gum-sized cards. The cards contain a series of units, health bar, and a set of color-coded actions.  Each unit card has a series of ribbons. The first red ribbon indicates the number of “hit points” that unit has. Next to the red ribbon, are up to two other ribbons: green, blue, purple, and pink.  These colors correspond to a series of color-coded actions.  Units can only “use” the actions that match their ribbons or actions that are universal (black-colored).

With you pack of cards, you select three units from the five available. You place the first one on the health bar (so that the number hearts equals the life) and two others horizontally. The two horizontal units are next in-line for combat when the current unit is destroyed.

With your units selected, you then program the first round of combat. Every player does this simultaneously by selecting from the available commands and placing them face-down next to the unit.

There are a few rules about selecting orders. First, units can use only their colored and black colored commands. Second, if a unit uses another colored command it’s treated as a “block” unless that unit isn’t attacked that round. If the unit isn’t attacked, the command “breaks.”  Three broken commands and the player is eliminated.

Once a round is programmed, players simultaneously flip over their commands from left to right and evaluate them. All the players evaluate each step at the same time and everything always resolves: hits cause units to lose health points, blocks stop attacks, and so on. If during a round a unit loses all of its life, it is immediately substituted for the next unit in the line.

Once an entire round is complete, the commands are discarded.  The only exception is if you use the “full reload” card which keeps any commands to the left (i.e., earlier in the sequence) from going to the discard pile.

Play continues until only one player remains.

On the Green

The game is a cute idea. While the art and theme are kid-friendly, it’s definitely a war game.

Simultaneous actions.  Windup Wars deftly avoids most of the pitfalls of other games with simultaneous actions: action tracking, cheating, frantic flailing, unnecessary feeling that the game is realtime, etc. Everyone enjoyed the reveal as each command is turned face up.

Strategy.  Pre-programming five commands a round takes a lot of planning and strategic thinking. Trying to anticipate your opponents moves and cycling through your available options makes for some very calculated decisions.  Likewise, trying to figure out where someone is going to put that “Full Reload.” Windup Wars does a good job making the strategy rewarding.

The game is not all guessing. Since you know the units your opponents have and you have the same sorts of attacks, you can make educated guesses about how they’re going to attack (or defend).  That said, it often feels like guessing early in the game as you’re somewhat blindly setting out instructions.

Good player count and overall play time.  This game seems to scale very well. More players doesn’t necessarily mean more time, except for the increasing complexity issue noted below.

And because of the playtime, even though it has a very obvious player elimination, no one is out of a game for very long.  Typically multiple players are being eliminated at or near the same points in time.  This tends to cause the game to come to a conclusion relatively quickly.

Where it comes up short

Polish. Recognizing that this is still just a preview, the game lacked polish both in the art and graphic design. For example, the colored ribbons indicated the available commands, but didn’t provide much additional game play insight.

Balance. Similarly, I’m not entirely clear how balanced the unit types are. There seems to be some that are much more advantageous than others. For instance, using a tank with a repeated block strategy, with a single fire and reload action, seems to be too effective way to wear down your opponents and simply outlast them.

Downtime between rounds.  For a cute little game about windup toys, players thought really hard about the commands they were going to issue.  At four and five players, even though it’s simultaneous, there is a lot more permutations of attacks which can slow down the decision making. Part of the downtime is spent rifling through all your various commands. And, especially at higher player counts, it’s not enough to just look at your immediate neighbor. You have to look at them and two down (some actions are attack two to the left, for example).

I’ll note that conversely resolution of commands is really fast. This means, little time actually doing the “fun” war part, and a lot of time doing the planning part.

Lower player counts.  The game says that it’s 3+ players. But the game does solely eliminate down to two a 1v1 fight. At these lower player numbers, some of the powers are a bit hard to use, e.g., where “two to the left” means you only hit yourself. There’s also an increased chance players will just repeatedly use their block powers intermixed with a single fire and reload at these numbers.

On the Green.

Windup Wars is a war game masquerading as a kids’ game. The cute theme and interesting use of simultaneous actions makes for an enjoyable game with room for strategic thinking and longer-term planning. Attempting to discern your opponents’ choices is half the battle. The form factor makes this game easily portable, but makes handling things like commands more difficult. There are some elements that are in need of some tender loving care, including balance. But, if you’re looking for a light war game with a family-friendly theme, then this will be perfect for you.

Windup Wars is in the hole for One Over Par.

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