In War Chest you take on the role of a medieval commander vying for control of a battlefield. To succeed you must manage your deployed units, draft new units and successfully manoeuvre the battlefield to outwit and outsmart your opponent(s).
War Chest is a bag building game with poker chip style coins that represent your units. Each turn players will draw three coins from their bag and use these to perform a variety of actions. The game ends when one player has placed all of their control markers.
Set-up is pretty straight forward. Each player takes six control markers and selects four units. The units can be selected randomly or using the suggested set-ups. Each player then takes all of their chips for their units from the box. Two chips for each unit are added in to the player's bag along with their faction marker.
War Chest is played over a number of rounds until one person (or team) has placed all of their control markers. Each round is split in to two phases. Phase one is the start of the round and each player draws three chips from their bag, keeping them secret from their opponent.
In phase two these chips are used to perform a number of different actions. Actions come in form of placement, face-up or face-down actions. Placement actions include:
- Deploy - Allows you to place a coin from your hand face-up on the board on a location that you control. You control a location if you have a control marker present on the corresponding space.
- Bolster - Allows you to play a coin from your hand on top of a matching coin that is already on the board. This creates a stack of two (or more) coins of the same unit type. These move as one unit when performing the move action.
Discarding a coin face-down allows you to perform the following actions:
- Claim the Initiative token.
- Recruit new units by taking that required unit from the supply. The recruited unit is placed face-up in the discard pile.
Discarding a coin face-up allows you to perform the following actions:
- Move a unit on the board that matches the discarded coin. Units can move one space in to a unoccupied adjacent hex.
- Control a location that you occupy by discarding a coin that matches the a unit on the board on a control space. If the space contains an opponent's control marker, this is returned to the player.
- Discard a coin face up to have the matching unit attack an enemies adjacent unit. Remove the unit being attacked from the board and return in to the box not the supply.
- Perform a tactic by discarding the matching units coin face-up in to the discard pile. Each unit has a special ability called a tactic that can be activated this way.
Play continues this way, drawing coins and using coins until one of the players has placed all of their control markers and is the winner.
Final Thoughts on War Chest
War Chest is such beautiful game. It's a heavily abstracted, bag building area control game, a combination that is not seen often, if at all. The production value is amazing with all the units being represented by hefty poker chips. There is a decent amount of variety of units in the box giving the game a lot of replay value. The rulebook also comes with suggested scenarios/units that are inspired by historical battles. Alternatively, the units can be shuffled and dealt to each player for a more random set-up.
But it is not just the production value that gains high praise, the gameplay is top notch as well. The tactical choices that players have to make based on what they draw is, at times, agonising, but in a good way. There are only limited actions that you can take and when you bolster, recruit, move and attack is a tough choice to make.
Removing the units from the game when they are attacked was a brilliant design choice. This presents interesting gameplay as you can count what units have been removed, what have been deployed and what is waiting to be recruited. This gives you some information as to what might be in your opponent's hand or bag. However, with the face-down actions and the player's faction marker you don't fully know all the information. This feels, somehow, very thematic. You almost feel like a General sat across the battlefield knowing some information and planning and making movement and deploy actions knowing full well that you don't have perfect information.
So what, at first sight, might seem like totally random choices actually gives players quite tactical decisions to make, as you can work out what pieces the other player might have available. You can work out that positioning and movements based on what units your opponent has or has not recruited. The meta game of counting the units presents an added level of depth to War Chest. However, players might not grasp this on their first play though depending on their experience level. The placing of units face-down or face-up adds further depth to the unit counting and elevates the game.
The tactics on the units are varied and interesting, and can really turn the tide of the game. Players need to be aware of what their opponent's units can do to ensure they don't move their own units in to an unfavourable position. This is, again, something that more experienced players might perform better at than new players but all the units have clear to understand tactic cards that can be referenced so shouldn't a major problem.
Gameplay is smooth, whilst turns and total game time can be quick. This is great as you will want to set-up the board, grab some new units and go again straight after, especially if you have lost. It is definitely a game that gives you the feeling of "I could have done better" and entices you in for more.
War Chest will be in my collection for a long time. I can see this getting a lot of plays and highly recommend that you check it out.