Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Jesse Li


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In contrast to many other civilization-type games, Guns & Steel is a pure cardgame, and with 45 Civilization and 10 Wonder cards even the total number of cards is relatively small. At the beginning of the game each player receives an identical hand of 5 starting cards, ranging from some basic cards for resource trading to comparatively weak Military and Tactics cards. During each turn, a player will be allowed to play two cards from his hand, one of them face down to represent a resource, and the other face up to trigger the effect printed on the card. So, Guns & Steel uses cards both for their effect and for the payment of effects or acquiring new cards, but when Resource cards are used to pay they will not be discarded (like in Race for the Galaxy), but instead such a Resource card is simply turned face up without triggering the card effect. This way a player slowly uses up the cards from his hand, and only when he is down to 0 or 1 card he will be allowed to take all of his face-up cards and any of his face-down (resource) cards back to his hand, giving him once again a broader choice of cards.

During setup the 25 Civilization cards which can be purchased during the game have been arranged in a "Tech Pyramid", with the inferior cards at the bottom and the advanced cards at the top levels. Each level of this pyramid also represents an age, and so the cards from each level have different resource symbols at their back, starting with "Horse Age" over "Gunpowder" to "Oil", "Earth" (joker) and "Space" (2 jokers) symbols. Each of these Civilization cards represents a technology and also lists a purchase price in form of one or more resources, and the higher the pyramid level on which the card is placed the more advanced are the resources which are needed to purchase a card. One card can be purchased by each the active player at the end of his turn, and so the players will try to use their card actions to generate/trade the resources needed to get the desired card.

However, a card's price is not only determined by the resources listed on the card itself, but the players also have to check whether the cards aligned below the card in the pyramid structure have already been purchased. It is possible for a player to purchase any card from the Tech Pyramid, but if the cards below the desired card have not yet been purchased one additional resource must be paid for every card still aligned below the card the player wants to purchase. This nicely represents the fact that a real technological breakthrough comes at a high cost, whereas a stepwise process of development usually is cheaper. However, making an expensive breakthrough early in the game can have its advantages, since it is a way for a play to ensure that no other player will get this card. And since all cards in the Tech Pyramid are unique, a player's strategy really can be improved by getting the one or other crucial card.

As indicated, a player uses his turn to play two cards from his hand - one card as a resource and one for its effect. The available card effects vary from resource related trading and production to military campaigns which effectively trigger an attack against all other players. If an attack is made, the active player compares the combined military strength of all cards placed in front of himself with the total military strength of each other player, determine the outcome of the attack against each other player separately. The other players are allowed to play Reaction cards from their hand to add to their strength, since they just need to have a strength equal to the attacker to thwart the attack. However, if the attacker prevails against one or more players, he will apply the effects of his chosen Attack card against those players, resulting in a loss of resources (they are turned face up) or the stealing of Wonder cards.

A total of 5 Wonder cards has been added to the open display in the middle of the table during setup. Each wonder card lists a requirement which must be fulfilled in order to take the card (possession of certain cards, military strength level etc.), and a player who has fulfilled this requirement may take the Wonder card at the end of his turn. The wonders will remain with their owners and count for Victory Points when the game is over, but as described they may be stolen by an opposing player who has launched a successful attack.

The game ends when either the last Wonder card or the last top-level Civilization card has been claimed/bought, and the winner will be the player with most Victory Points from his wonders and Civilization cards. At this point it is of no interest whether the cards have been played or are on the player's hand - everything is taken into the calculation!

Sometimes civilization-type games tend to be a quite lonely matter with only some minor player interaction, and sometimes the playing length gets out of hand because it may take hours to develop a Stone Age tribe into a modern nation. Both of this is not true for Guns & Steel, because the game offers both a rather moderate playing time and some interesting means for player interaction by attacking other players.

Quite interestingly, there are several effective strategies which the players can employ to win the game, but they will hardly be able to totally disregard all Military cards. While it is true that a high production of resources helps to collect better Civilization cards and wonders, some military strength is needed in order to defend the valuable Wonder cards against the greedy neighbors who might have decided to take them by sheer force. Nonetheless, it is not really necessary for a player to get aggressive himself, since Military cards often can be played as a reaction to an attack, and it is even possible for a defending player to turn over and reveal a Military card which has been played as a resource in order to defend during an ongoing attack.

With these multiple card uses and strategies, Guns & Steel finds a very good, balanced approach to the question of direct player interaction. Whereas a lost war has devastating effects in games like Through the Ages or Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game, often robbing a player all chances to catch up again, the attacks launched in Guns & Steel are nasty but not decisive. Players can catch up again and Wonders can be taken back, and sometimes this just depends on a good timing because a player who runs out of hand cards needs to take back all his face-up cards in order to refill his hand. This may prove to be a good moment for a counter attack, since many Military cards do not have a "Reaction" icon which would allow them to be played in response to an attack.

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