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The Grizzled: Armistice Edition Review

The Grizzled: Armistice Edition cover

“The key to success is knowing who to surround yourself with!”

In the trenches of war-torn Europe, a group of friends make a promise to stick together, to see each other through the war and return home safe, no matter what. As each day of combat brings new threats and challenges, it’s up to you to ensure a happy ending for the Grizzled. It won’t be easy, but with your friends by your side, you might just make it to Armistice Day.

Into the Trenches

The Grizzled is a cooperative card game that gives players a taste of the day-to-day experience of soldiers during the First World War. In this game, there are no glorious battles, only the threat of mental stress, enemy assault and bad weather.

Each round (called a mission), players draw cards from the Trials Deck and attempt to play them without causing the team to ‘bust’ by playing too many matching threats. A successful mission clears all played cards and depletes the Trials Deck, bringing the players closer to winning the game. However, if players bust, or fail to play all their cards, the Trials Deck gets bigger. If that happens too many times, you lose.

The game requires a careful balancing act. You want to draw enough cards to push through the Trials Deck quickly, but you also need to play all those cards to avoid bigger penalties. Choosing the right number of cards to draw each round is half the strategy. The rest comes down to how well you can work together to play those cards.

Shell Shock And Hard Knocks

Playing cards isn’t easy. There are two types of cards: Threats and Hard Knocks. Threat cards show a combination of six different daily threats to the soldiers’ physical and mental health. When playing a threat card to the table, you must avoid having three or more matching threats, otherwise the round immediately ends and all threat cards are shuffled back into the Trials Deck to be faced again.

Hard Knocks represent more significant trauma. These cards are attached to players and create ongoing negative effects round after round. If these Hard Knocks cards build up, they can make the game very difficult, and if a single player ends a round with more than three, they die and the players lose.

There are also trap cards that force you to play a card blindly from the top of the Trials Deck. This can help deplete the Trials Deck but at the risk of a failed round or an untimely player death.

Speeches And Support

While The Grizzled presents a considerable challenge, you are not alone. Your allies at the table have a number of boons to aid against the seemingly insurmountable odds.

Each soldier has a lucky charm to clear a threat from the table. Giving a speech might help players to discard a tricky card from their hand. Even withdrawing allows you to support a struggling comrade. When you drop out of a round, you may secretly offer support to a fellow player. At the end of the round, the player who received the most support recovers their lucky charm and removes up to two Hard Knocks!

However, the trick with these bonuses is that players can’t share the contents of their hands, nor the target of their support. If two players tie for the most support, no one gets the reward. When giving a speech, you may declare a threat for people to discard, but if no one has that threat in their hand, the speech does nothing. You’ll have to rely on trust, luck and guesswork, and figuring out your group’s limitations on ‘table-talk’ is an important part of the game!

Armistice Edition

While the base game is a challenging puzzle, its replayability is limited once you’ve overcome its obstacles a few times. That’s where the Armistice Edition comes in. This standalone anniversary edition comes with 6 beautifully sculpted soldier minis and a fully developed campaign that allows players to follow the events of the First World War as they play over multiple chapters.

The campaign provides a detailed historical narrative, while also introducing new modules and rules, building on the complexity of the game while offering additional rewards for struggling players. You can still play the base game, but the Campaign offers a way to keep the mechanics fresh and interesting.

We Will Remember Them

The true beauty of this game is not so much in its mechanics as in its theme and the story behind it. Many of the characters are based on real people, in some cases relatives of the developers, and at the forefront of The Grizzled experience is the desire to shine a light on these remarkable men.

Special credit should be given to the incredible artwork of French cartoonist Tignous, whose satirical newspaper style brings life to the soldiers and a simultaneously whimsical and melancholy beauty to each of the cards.

Final Thoughts

The Grizzled occupies a curious niche. In some ways, it feels like an appetizer – a smaller game to crack out before moving to the main meal of a game night. And while the small packaging and the light rules support this first impression, the subject matter is actually pretty heavy.

I find this simple game surprisingly moving. Its earnest message of remembrance is one that brings a lot of presence to the table. For me, the base game alone doesn’t quite do itself justice. The Armistice Edition is where the game comes into its own. The Grizzled deserves to be the main event, and the Campaign allows it the space to tell its story.

The Grizzled doesn’t glorify the horrors of war, but it does seek to honour those who endured it – those who fought for freedom and those who were lost. And for that reason, it will always have a place on my shelf.