If you have played the original Air, Land And Sea, (designed by Jon Perry and published by Arcane Wonders) you can just keep moving kiddo, nothing to see here. Unless you thought the original theme was too dry for you and you thought “What this game really needs is the lush cartoony artwork of Derek Laufman of RuinWorld fame!” In which case, pull up a seat and take a gander, my friend.
Critters At War (or CAW for the remainder of this review) is a simple reskin of Air, Land And Sea. The only real difference is the artwork. That’s it. Which is not a bad thing. Air, Land And Sea Classic was just…beige. I guess it had its target market but that market wasn’t me. It just looked like a generic wargame and, as much as I’d heard how good the game was, I knew the theme and artwork made this a big ol’ no for playing with my wife. So when this new cartoonified version appeared, I had to grab it.
If you’ve not come across the game before, it’s a simple 18 card, 2 player game, a bit of a tactical rock paper scissors. What do you mean I’m not selling it? Ok, ok, I’ll give a bit more.
Setup (Let’s go to the theatre...OF WAR)
I absolutely love how easy this game is to set up. There are three theatres, Air, Land and Sea (who would’ve guessed). You place these in the centre of the table then deal 6 of the 18 cards to each player, placing the last 6 aside. Then deal out the 2 Supreme Commander cards showing 1st and 2nd player. Suspiciously simple right? Right.
Gameplay: It’s A Dog Shoot Dog World
To win the game, you need 12 victory points. Winning a round will earn you 6 points.
On your turn, you can do one of three actions. Deploy, Improvise or Withdraw.
In your hand of 6 cards, you’ll have cards matching the three Theatre colours. Each suit ranges in value from 1 to 6.
To deploy a card, simply play it to its matching coloured theatre. The number on the card will be the strength of the card. Highest strength on each side will win that theatre. The trick comes with the abilities on each card, bar the highest value 6 card. These abilities are either instant or persistent abilities and it’s the timing and order of placement which is where the strategy comes in. Some allow you to flip cards, play cards into a different coloured theatre or play a card from the deck.
Sometimes in Critters At War you’ll have a card that you can’t match into a colour. In this case, you can play that card face down into another colour. By doing this, it loses its ability and its original strength and becomes a basic 2 strength. HOWEVER if you play your cards correctly you can then follow this up with another card allowing you to flip an adjacent card, meaning your 2 now becomes its original form again. The action will trigger on flipping as well so make sure it will work for you.
I know. Why would you choose to run away? Well, sometimes the draw just isn’t favourable and you get a bunch of very low value cards and cannot contest a theatre. In this case, you can choose to rather withdraw, which means your opponent gets the points but not all of the points. The longer you wait the more points they’ll get. The amount of points they get based on how many cards you have left, or vice versa, will be shown on your Supreme Commander cards. Sometimes you just need to bite the bullet, gather your thoughts and give them 3 points rather than 6 points and a potential win.
Once a round is over, gather up all 18 cards, shuffle them up, deal 6 to each player again and move the Theatre on the right over to the left hand side, moving the other two over. Swap Supreme Commander cards to determine who starts.
And that’s it, rinse and repeat until one player has 12 points!
Cry “Havoc!” & Let Slip The Dogs Of War! Final Thoughts
I love this game. Critters at War is small, it’s quick and easy to learn and teach and it looks gorgeous. It’s a perfect pub game or small travel game. It can be a real brain burner trying to organise your cards into the right play order and then your opponent can flip something you really needed. Love it.
I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys a good head to head duel.