Final War is a tactical card game (TCG) by Australian studio Games Lab. The game can be played by two to four players pitting their armies against each other in the fantasy universe of Gloren. I have had my hands on the game’s starter set for a while now to pin down what this TCG does differently.
The starter set is called Onslaught and features three decks, each with their own Warlord. If this isn’t enough for you, you can pick up additional blister packs to expand the set – pretty typical TCG stuff. On the flipside, the starter set can be left as a standalone game if you don’t want to go down the TCG rabbit hole.
The stand-out elements for me are: Warlords and Heroes, the game’s use of dice, the unique game board, three distinct game lengths (Quick Kill, Quest and Campaign), the Fate deck and the game’s lore. The inspiration for Final War was taken entirely from 30 years of playing D&D, and this shows throughout the entire game, with rich variety in each deck for both game play and lore.
The Warlord is effectively you, and the objective of the game is to kill enemy Warlords. Each of the Warlords has a 50-card deck that reflects them, bringing a unique play style to each one. My favourite Warlord in the starter set is Tharas the Forest Lord, leading an army of elves and other forest creatures. This deck is built around speed.
Dice are used to keep things less predictable and allow for even the weakest units a chance to shine. All units have a power rating (what the game refers to as PR), and this is essentially how good the unit is in combat. When attacking another unit, you must roll equal to or lower than your PR to do 1 damage. The game also features a critical system with a natural 12 always missing, and a natural roll of a 1 dealing an extra point of damage (with the average health being 2 for units and 3 for heroes) as well as adding a bonus roll with the chance of instantly killing the target on another 1.
Each deck consists of unit, Hero, fortification, power, spell, item, and gold cards. An important note is that your Warlord is not in the deck, instead staring on the board. Unit cards are the rank and file, and most have an ability that defines them. Heroes are typically stronger than units and have more abilities, also giving bonuses to the units they lead. Fortifications help protect your army from enemy attacks. Powers range from drawing additional cards to changing combat in some way. Spells are like powers, but require a caster and are more combat focused. Items are given to your Warlord and Hero to help make them stronger. Gold is used to hire mercenaries that come from the Fate deck.
Now, most TCGs are purely card focussed and don’t require a game board. Final War is different. While you could play an entire game without one, I wouldn’t recommend it, because of how the positioning of units, Heroes and fortifications works. The main board is a 5×3 grid, where the top row is for units, second row is for the Warlord and heroes (the Warlord deploys in the middle column), the third row is for fortifications. Most of the game’s combat is done with only one column fighting off monsters, bandits or enemy columns, making it important to team the right units, heroes and fortification together.
When you start a game, you draw several cards (how many depends on the game type and number of players). Players can then deploy any cards they want to the board immediately, ready to deal with whatever the Fate deck decides. It’s important to note that, unlike other TCGs, Final War does not have a mana system, so you never get locked down waiting to have enough points to deploy bigger units. Most of the problems this could cause are fixed by the Fate deck, but it does leave the game with a lack of conventional escalation.
The Fate deck is what controls the game by being a sort of dungeon master controlling when you will fight other players, monsters and bandits, hire mercenaries, and play event cards that can be used to tip the tide of battle. The size of the Fate deck depends on the type of game you’re playing: Quick Kill has 12 cards, Quest 25 cards, and Campaign 50. Each turn, the player draws a card and plays anything they can, then draws from the fate deck, and resolves it.
In a Quick Kill game, there are only 2 cards that have players directly fight each other: Skirmish and Final War. Skirmish is when one column from each player fight each other (Warlords column can only be selected when there are no other choices). Final War has both players’ armies fight it out until the bitter end. In Quest mode, the game adds the Battle card that sees 2 columns fighting it out, and in Campaign mode, the game has 2 Battle cards and 2 Skirmish cards.
In all three game lengths, the Fate deck starts with an “Add to Hand” card on top (Fate deck cards are labelled as either “Add to Hand” or “Instant” on their back – most are Instant, including the three Combat card types). After that first card, the second card could be an Instant card, which may be the Final War Card or another Combat card. With players potentially only having a few units out that early in the game it means even if it’s a Skirmish or Battle card, there is a reasonable chance the game could end in its second turn. What I like most about the Campaign length is that it puts one Battle card and the Final War card into the second half of the Fate deck. This makes for more stable game length, although a standard Battle card could still come up in turn 2, potentially ending the game.
That’s the basic jist of Final War. Do the basics sound complex? Yes, and they definitely are – this game will not be winning any awards for simplicity! I was lucky enough to play a round against Ben Ellis, the developer of the game, at Pax AUS, and that was a great experience. With the complexity of the rules – and the way they are written out – the game may be hard to pick up if you don’t have help.
One example of this complexity is when the Final War card is drawn, the card says “Army vs Army”, but the rule book never properly defines the term Army. In the Combat cards section under Final War, we’re told “The “fight to the death” begins, from which only one player shall emerge victorious!”, but we’re not really given any further instructions about what to do next. The combat section is okay but doesn’t help with this.
The rule book lacks an index, glossary and desperately needs more examples. That said, I did give the game to some friends who play board games but not TCGs, and they did manage to get through a Quick Kill game without extensive reading of the rule book and only a little help from myself. EDITOR NOTE: Games Lab is already working on simplifying and clarifying the rule book for the next iterations of Final War.
Despite its flaws, I do enjoy Final War a lot. When playing, you feel like a Warlord on the warpath, encountering monsters and bandits on the way – and supporting Australian developers at the same time. Two new expansions are planned for 2017, and we’re looking forward to seeing what the future holds!