So, I am one of those annoying people who take on blogging goals, thinking that I will have plenty of time (or energy) to get them all finished. And I usually end up delivering on said commitments later than expected. Stworze falls into a category all unto itself. For I wanted to love this game so much. It is a game with the theme of Slavic folklore. No other game exists that shares this theme (that I know of). No preaching about The Witcher board game, that is more generic fantasy than it is Slavic folklore! Anyway, look at it! Go on, scroll down into spoiler territory, and look at the pics, the game looks absolutely incredible. The production quality is through the roof. The problem is, I just don’t love the game. And that saddens me.
Here is a deep dive into my thoughts on the game, and how even if it is not the kind of game for me, it might very well be the one for you.
The Allure Of The Familiar
It is worth mentioning again that this game is based on Slavic folklore. That in itself sold me on the game. I am a sucker for anything based on folklore, mythology, supernatural, etc. Coupling this theme with artwork and production that is literally without (much) fault, and you have yourself something special. Especially in the gaming world which is littered with generic themes at the moment.
The game features a healthy number of characters to play as. These are all creatures that stem from folklore such as Leshy, Chort, and Rusalka. If you are a fan of The Witcher, you may recognise a few of the creatures included. Each of these creatures have their own goals that they want to achieve, which takes the form of your personal deck. One of things that I love about Stworze is the fact that there are multiple ways to complete each task. You can achieve the unique goal set out on the card itself, or you can set your sights on one of the several methods that will achieve whatever your current goal is. These alternative methods consist of defeating the warrior or mage, successfully performing the ‘here I am’ action, or defeating another player in combat 3 times.
Whilst you are on the hunt to fulfil your goals, you will be traversing the lands and completing quests. While you visit areas, take part in quests, and put yourself up against challenges, you will push your influence into the populated areas. You do this by secretly placing either fear or favour tokens in an area and then once an area is at capacity, you reveal the tokens to see which type has majority. Depending on the results, this will have different impacts on the gameplay and challenge ratings etc.
The core action selection mechanism in Storwze is the thing that glues everything else together. I think the action selection in this game is one of the best I have ever seen. It uses the ‘select an action card, move it to the end, and slide everything else up’ mechanism that is seen in Civilization: New Dawn (and later stolen by Ark Nova). The difference here is that there are 10 action cards, and they get shuffled and placed 2 in a sleeve back-to-back. Whenever you use an action card and move it to the end, you also flip the card so a different one is available to other players. On top of this, if your character loses too much health, the action spaces they are allowed to use shrink. And on top of that, each action space also has a separate action card associated with it with a spin-down die on it. Whenever you use the action in its space, the die rolls down and then triggers at 0. This will be an effect that will reset certain things or have general effects on the game. I love all of this; they are all amazing ideas.
Beware The Mare
There are a few things that bother me personally in Stworze, but I thought I would start with the thing that will bother the most people: the rulebook. The rulebook is a chore to get through. I will give it some leeway as I believe the original rulebook may have been in Polish, but still. Throughout the whole read-through, I was constantly feeling like I was missing something as it just wasn’t sticking in my head. I needed to reread a few sections a couple of times to make heads and tails of some parts. On top of that, the book constantly refers to test challenges, which don’t get explained until the very end of the book. Page THIRTY to be exact. This made the read pretty jarring. It is not by far the worst rulebook I have crawled through, but it is a tough one.
Now for the few things that affect me personally, that may not necessarily bother you. The first is the player board itself. It looks fantastic, but the areas of the game are not easily distinguishable due to the muted colour palette. Also, there is a quest card that is always in place in each area, in which some areas are too small to house this properly. The one other thing that bothers me is the way in which you succeed or fail the challenges needed to complete quests and goals. The result of these challenges comes down to flipping some cards, and seeing if you win or lose. There are different challenge difficulties and ways to mitigate this slightly, but it essentially comes down to luck.
This is the crutch that broke my enjoyment of Stworze. I am not a fan of randomness in games. Especially given the rest of the game comes down to choosing your actions and planning ahead. It seems like these two halves of the game contrast each other. I know a lot of people like a bit of unpredictability in games, but it isn’t for me. I loved the idea of different actions and results you do have an influence on the difficulty of the test. I also love that depending on where you take a challenge test influences the difficulty. This is because if the warrior or mage is in the location, it has different effects on your challenge, and also if there is a revealed fear or favour token in the area; this affects it too. I also like the fact that the tests are divided into brutality tests and cunning tests, and not only do all the previously mentioned variables have different effects on the type of test being performed, but so does the fact that each individual character is asymmetric in their preference of test type. And on top of allllll of that, it also depends on whether your brutality/cunning test is being performed at day or night because that affects it too. And of course, your individual asymmetrical character will prefer day or night too which influences the difficulty.
I love all of this. I love just how much goes into affecting the outcome of a test and how many ways there are to mitigate the luck (difficulty) aspect. The problem is that everything mentioned in the paragraph above (And probably more that I am forgetting) only mitigates in a single way. Determining how many cards you flip to see if you win or lose. And that just saps enjoyment for me. Considering you can always reveal at the minimum 1 card; I had opponents flip 1 card and succeed in difficult challenges, whereas I lost when getting to flip 5. This is all of course a me thing. I know there are many gamers out there that will enjoy all of this mitigation with a simple end-goal mechanic.
The Lair Of The Chort
There is a lot to love about Stworze, but there are also a few things to run from if you have similar tastes to me. It is clear to see that there are so many great ideas in this game, and there are plenty of twists on established mechanics that give this game plenty of meat. Coupling this with possibly the best production quality I have seen in a game, and it produces a game that I so desperately wanted to love. Literally, the only thing that dampened my enjoyment of this game was the random elements to winning or losing challenges. But this may very well be a game that people into luck-driven games go crazy for.
Quacks of Quedlinburg is the best example of this. Since its debut, people across the world have gone bonkers for it, and I have no idea why. The whole premise of the game resorts to the luck of drawing the right tokens from a bag to advance. This does not appeal to me, but it does appeal to people in the masses. If your game group (like mine) prefer tighter, more strategic style games, then I can advise you to maybe look elsewhere for a new game instead. There are certainly many to choose from.
But, if you are a fan of luck-based games and are looking to branch out into more euro-style games then Stworze would be the perfect fit for you and your game group. I just advise that this game is the perfect fit, but only for those with a niche gaming preference. If that is you, and the flipping of cards to determine win/loss outcomes excites you, then Stworze is the game you want.