Dice Drop Games
The Grizzled is a brand new cooperative card game designed by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriquez, and published by Cool Mini Or Not. I got a chance to play it at Dragon Con 2015 and I was pretty much blown away. Even in a convention setting with dozens of games being demoed, the box art of The Grizzled immediately caught my eye. The artwork perfectly captures the melancholy and darkness of war. The art became even more poignant when I learned that the artist for the game, a fellow named Bernard Verlhac (pen-name Tignous), was murdered in the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this year. I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase a pre-release copy of The Grizzled at Dragon Con, and it has been a hit every time we’ve played it since.
The Grizzled is best played with 3-5 players, and is set during World War 1. It is not, however, a war game. It’s a game about a group of French soldiers who were friends long before they were sent off to war. All they (you) are trying to do is help each other survive the horrors of this war and return home together in one piece (or at least in as few pieces as possible). The game is set up by separating its 59 cards into two different decks. One is called the trials deck, which contains 25 cards, and the other is the morale deck, which will have 34 cards. The goal of the game is to empty the trials deck and any cards in the players’ hands before the morale deck is gone. This goal is simple in concept, but satisfyingly difficult to execute.
The Grizzled is played over a series of missions where players start with a number of cards in their hand drawn from the trials deck. Then, players take turns doing one of four actions: play a card to the table, use their soldier’s unique good luck charm, make a rousing speech, or withdraw from the battle. There are two types of cards in the game, threat cards and hard-knocks cards. Threat cards contain one or more different symbols on them. These symbols include darkness, snow, rain, an artillery shell, a gas mask, and a whistle. When played, a hard-knocks card places a persistent ongoing effect on one or more of the players until it can be removed from play. Too many hard-knocks cards on any one player results in his demise, and the entire game is lost.
During a mission, each player is trying to discard his entire hand (or as many cards as possible) and then withdraw from battle. Problem is, if at anytime there are three instances of any one symbol type on the table, the mission is failed. All the threat cards played during this mission go back into the trials deck, thereby making the game more difficult to win. Any hard-knocks cards that were played remain in effect. So, if a player feels she can’t play any more cards without placing that third symbol on the table, then she must withdraw from the battle if she can. When she withdraws she secretly chooses another player to whom she will lend support while retreating. At the end of each mission, depending on how many cards are left in everyone’s hands, at least that many cards will be moved from the morale deck over to the trials deck. After settling up any effects of hard-knocks cards or support, players draw a new hand from the trials deck, add it to the cards they already have in their hand, and start a new mission.
There are rare opportunities in the game to remove bad effects from the table. At the end of a mission, for instance, up to two hard-knocks cards can be removed from the player who received the majority of support from the other players. While in a mission, a player can remove a threat card from the table if it has a symbol matching the good luck charm on his character card. Like the hard-knocks cards, a good luck charm cannot be used again unless it is replenished through support. Finally, if a player has obtained a speech token during the game, he can discard it and make a rousing speech about one of the six symbol types in the game, such as rain or the gas mask. This allows each other player to discard a single card in their hand containing that symbol type. These opportunities are finite, and using them in a way that maximizes their effectiveness is the key to winning the game. There are a few more rules to the game, but this gives a sufficient overview to decide if it is the type of game for you. If you want a full run through of the rules, there is a great video by Rodney Smith of Watch It Played that you should check out.
I’ve gotta say, few games evoke emotion the way that The Grizzled does. It’s hard to put a finger on any one thing, but the combination of theme and art, along with the solid cooperative gameplay, gives you the sense that you’re doing well just by not making things worse on your turn. You are just trying to survive. I wouldn’t begin to say that a thirty minute table top game could replicate the horrors of being in any war, obviously. But it does remind me not to forget about the emotional toll war must take on those fighting it – and those fighting to stay alive through it. From the game’s manual: “Without ever touching on the warlike aspect, “The Grizzled” offers each player the chance to feel some of the difficulties suffered by the soldiers in the trenches. Thus the emotions around the table will often be intense.”
If The Grizzled were a song, to me it would be Russians, by Sting.
More than two decades after its release, it still gives me Cold War chills every time I hear it. To me, it “shares the same biology” as The Grizzled; that is – war sucks. This game, however, definitely does not.
The Grizzled is due to to hit retailers on October 10, 2015. For it and other nerdilicious games, check out Dice Drop Games online store!