Radio Review #97 – V-Wars

 

vw_cover

(2016 – IDW Games)

 

“Come see the Vampires of New York….”

 

Designer Rob Daviau spent much of the early 2000’s co-designing licensed board game for Hasbro, some of which include Star Wars: Queen’s Gambit, Star Wars: Epic Duels, Risk 2210 A.D., and many of the Heroscape sets and expansions. Most will associate his name with Betrayal at House on the Hill along with the recent “legacy” genre that has emerged within the last few years, beginning with his creation of Risk: Legacy in 2011 and followed by the acclaimed Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 in 2015. This legacy system has spawned others using a legacy-type format, such as Space Cowboy’s unique TIME Stories and Cephalofair’s upcoming release of Gloomhaven. Daviau himself also has two more legacy games in the works; Plaid Hat’s Seafall and Artana’s Chronicles 1: Origin.

Daviau’s name is so intertwined with the word “legacy” that it’s easy to forget he had another release this year based off of the IDW comic series, V-Wars. V-Wars is a semi-cooperative game in the same vein as Battlestar Galactica, in which players are working together, though someone is a traitor (vampire in this case), and others may become a vampire during the middle of the game. All human players will work together to save cities from Vampire influence by declaring martial law in them. In this way they can destroy the vampire uprising before they can infiltrate the world’s governments, taking controls of various cities, and building enough sympathy through public opinion so that others view them as victims rather than the evil horrors that they are. However, since the actual Vampire player is hidden, he will attempt to sabotage the collective’s plans, and has the ability to cause the Infected player to join his cause.

 

 

 

Components:

– V-Wars game board

 

– Character roles cards

 

– Event cards

 

– Faction cards

 

– Law cards

 

– Player cards

 

– Vampire & Human miniatures

 

– Character markers

 

– Martial Law tokens

 

– Investigation tokens

 

– Vampire Sympathy tokens

 

– Victory & Vampire Control tokens

 

– Reference sheets

 

 

 

Setup:

At the beginning of the game, some of the cities on the map are already controlled by the Vampires. To determine this, a number of Player cards are revealed from the deck equal to the number of players in the game. Each Player card contains the name of a city.

For each of these revealed cards, a Vampire Control token and two Vampire miniatures are placed in the corresponding city. A number of cards equal to the number of players in the game are then drawn and revealed again. 1 Vampire miniature is placed in each of these newly revealed cities.

Only the cities with Vampire Control tokens represent the cities that the Vampires have taken control over, all other cities (whether they contain Vampires or not) are considered human-controlled cities. After these have been placed on the map, all revealed Player cards are shuffled back into the draw deck for the next step.

The Victory token is placed on the numbered space of the Vampire Victory track equal to the number of players in the game. This also directly correlates to the number of Vampire-controlled cities, as mentioned above. Anytime the Vampire take over a new city, this token is increased along the track. A number of Vampire Sympathy tokens are placed on the higher spaces of this track depending on the number of players in the game. In a 3-player game, they are placed on spaces 9-16, in a 4-player game on spaces 10-16, and in a 5-player game on spaces 11-16. The more sympathy Vampires are able to build amongst the public, the less number of cities they’ll need to take over to complete their goal. If at any point the Vampire Control marker increases enough to connect to the Sympathy tokens, the Vampires win. If at any point Vampires have lost all of their Sympathy tokens from the board, they automatically lose.

Each of the 8 regions of the map contains a set of corresponding spaces (“Region” and “Active Law“). At the beginning of the game, 3 random Player cards are dealt face-down to each Region space. Each of the Player cards contains a number and a color. White numbers represent human support within the Region, whereas red numbers represent Vampire support. These will be used when players are resolving riots in the various cities. In addition, 3 more Player cards are randomly dealt to the Riot Deck space towards to lower-left side of the game board.

During each turn of the game, an Event will occur. On the game board, there is a space for the Event taking place during the current turn (the “Now” space) as well as the to take place during the following turn (the “Soon” space). At the beginning of the game, an Event card and Player card are dealt face-up in these “Now” and “Soon” sections. The remaining Event cards are placed face-down in a draw deck to the left of the Riot Deck space. If there is a point in the game in which the Event deck is empty and no more Events can be resolved, the Vampires have won the game.

Above the Event draw deck are where the Human and Vampire Law cards are located. As players resolve certain Events, these Law cards are placed on the “Active Law” spaces that connect to each of the 8 Regions. Law cards provide certain advantages to the corresponding faction (human of vampire) in that region. At the beginning of the game, each deck is placed on its corresponding space, with the top card of each deck flipped face-up.

Finally, each player receives a Role card representing their character in the game. Each Role card provides the player with a unique ability and provides the starting location for that character’s marker. Each player also receives 6 drawn Player cards, an Investigation token, and a Faction card representing which side the character secretly belongs to. The Faction deck is made up of a certain number of card types depending on the number of players in the game. For instance:

 

– In a 3-player game, the Faction deck includes 2 Human cards and a Vampire card.

– In a 4-player game, the Faction deck includes 2 Human cards, a Vampire card, and an Infected card.

– In a 5-player game, the Faction deck includes 2 Human cards, a Vampire card, and 2 Infected cards.

 

If a player has received the Infected card, this means that he has been infected by the vampire virus, but is still working on the side of the Humans. However, his allegiance can change in the middle of the game. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:

 

 

 

Gameplay:

Throughout the game, players will collectively attempt to prevent the Vampires from taking control of enough cities, and limiting their ability to amass enough public sympathy to win the game. Of course not all players are entirely human. One player will always begin the game as a Vampire, unbeknownst to the other players. In a game that includes 4+ players, at least one other player will control a hidden Infected character. For all intents and purposes, this character will attempt to help the other Humans in their goal of protecting the world against the Vampires. His loyalty still lies with his Human brethren. Of course as time goes on, the Infected player may become awakened by the Vampire player, thus joining his side for the remainder of the game.

Each player takes a turn, resolving all phases and steps of their turn before play continues to the next player, moving clockwise. There are five phases to a player’s turn, the first of which is optional, the others which are mandatory. The phases of a turn, in order are; the Revelation Phase (optional), the Action Phase, the Event Phase, the Riot Phase, and the Cleanup Phase. Let’s take a look at how each of these phases work:

 

 

 

I. The Revelation Phase (optional):

As the first step of a player’s turn (if he’s the Vampire player), he can choose to reveal himself as the Vampire. There are a few benefits do doing so, such as being able to place Vampire troops on the board instead of Human troops, as well as gaining a new action during the Action Phase in which he can attempt to awaken the Infected player, thus joining his side. We’ll discuss these abilities more later. However, as Vampires are attempting to build sympathy amongst the public, revealing yourself as a treacherous betrayer is probably not going to go over well court of public opinion. Thus, when a Vampire player reveals himself in this way, half of the Sympathy tokens on the board are removed.

So for instance, if the Vampires had built up 8 tokens of Sympathy and the Vampire player revealed himself, 4 of these tokens would be removed (seen above). You’ll remember that at any point the Vampire Control token connects spaces with the accumulated Sympathy tokens on the track, the Vampires have automatically won the game. Also, if at any point all Sympathy tokens have been removed from the track, the Vampires have automatically lost the game. So it can be quite a big deal for this side to lose half of the Sympathy on the board at one time. The Vampire player must be confident that revealing himself in this way will be enough to his advantage to take such a penalty.

 

 

 

II. The Action Phase:

Each player will be able to perform a total of 4 actions on their turn. There are 5 possible actions to choose from (6 if the player is a revealed Vampire), and the player can choose to take any combination of these actions. Even taking the same action 4 times is allowed, if they choose. Just as long as they only perform 4 actions on their turn. Let’s take a look at each of these actions and how they are resolved:

 

 

1.) Move – During the game, player will want to move their Character markers around the board in order to take certain actions. Each space on the map is tied directly to a city, and these cities are further divided into regions. When taking the Move action, a player can move his character into a different city that is in the same region as the city he is currently in, or he can move into any city that is in a region adjacent to the region he is currently in.

For instance, if the player was currently in Hong Kong, he could take a Move action to move his character from Hong Kong to Seoul, since both of these cities are in the same region. Alternatively, he could take a Move action to move his character from Hong Kong all the way to Moscow, since Moscow is in a region adjacent to the one that Hong Kong is in. If the player wanted to move from Hong Kong to Tehran, he would need to take two consecutive Move actions.

 

 

2.) Deploy Troops – One reason for a player to move their character around the map and into different regions is that they can use an action to deploy a troop into any city located in the same region as their character. Most of the time players will be placing human troops into cities, although revealed Vampire players will be able to place Vampire troops onto the board with this action. The gray Vampire miniatures represent 1 Vampire troop, whereas the red ones represent 3 troops. The tan-colored Human miniature is 1 Human troop, whereas the green colored ones are 3 troops.

Troops become important when Riots are resolved later in a turn. Each troop in a city is worth 1 combat strength. We’ll talk more about how Riots resolve later, but for now it’s important to know that deploying troops of your faction in a city that you know will soon Riot will give you a better chance in winning the conflict there. Because of the “Now” and “Soon” spaces on the game board, players will always know where Riots are soon to take place. It’s also important to note that a player can never place a 7th troop of their side onto a city space using this action. Each city can hold 6 Human troops and 6 Vampire troops simultaneously, but never more than that.

As an action, a player can discard a Player card from his hand and place a troop into any city of the region that his character currently resides in. If the player is not a revealed Vampire, he’ll need to deploy Human troops, through if he is a revealed Vampire, he can deploy Vampire troops.

 

 

3.) Destroy a Troop – As an action, a player can choose to remove an enemy troop from this city his character is currently in. Obviously, if the player is not a revealed Vampire, he’ll need to remove a Vampire troop. However, if he is a revealed Vampire, he can use this action to remove a Human troop. For instance, if Player A (seen above, as an unrevealed Vampire) is currently in Rio De Janeiro, he’ll need to destroy a Vampire troop here if he takes this action. Once he’s been revealed as a Vampire however, he’ll be able to destroy Human troops here.

 

 

4.) Play a Card – As we’ll see when resolving Riots, the numbered Player cards in each Region can become quite important. Because of this, players can take an action to help manipulate the outcomes of these decks. It’s important to note that if any of the Region decks or the Riot deck falls below 3 cards, it will need to be refilled back up to 3 cards by adding random cards from the Player card draw deck. This is important to keep track of because cards added randomly from the Player draw deck are unknown to all players. So it’s in the best interest of all players to keep the Region decks and Riot deck filled with more than 3 cards at all times.


As an action, a player can place one of the Player cards from his hand into either the Region deck tied to the Region his character is currently in, or he can add this card to the Riot deck
. He’ll then need to choose another player that is in the same faction to place a card of their own. Rati Chakravarti’s special ability is that he can choose not to ask another player to place this 2nd card, but instead will need to place a 2nd card instead.

 

 

5.) Investigate – At the beginning of the game, each player received an Investigation token. As an action, the player can choose to spend this token in order to accuse another player of being the Vampire. Since each player only has one Investigation token, they can only perform this action once per game.

If the accused player is the Vampire, he’ll need to reveal his Vampire card and is now considered a revealed Vampire. Since the Vampire has been revealed, he’ll also lose half of the Vampire Sympathy tokens currently on the track. He’ll then need to replace his character marker with his Vampire version of the character marker, as well as flip his Character Role card to its opposing Vampire side. These new Role cards contain a special ability that the player can now use as a revealed Vampire.

For instance, taking a look at Rati Chakravarti’s opposing Vampire side, we can see that his special ability has altered a bit. He now has the ability to place cards in a Region or Riot deck when any other player takes the “Play a Card” action.

 

However, players will need to be careful not to loosely accuse each other. If a player has been accused and is not the Vampire player (Human and Infected players are not considered Vampires, only the one Vampire player), then a number of Vampire Sympathy tokens equal to half of what is currently on the track are added to the track. A couple of false accusations can severely hamper the ability for the Human players to win the game. Obviously, since there is only one true Vampire player, once the Vampire has been revealed, players can no longer use any of their Investigation tokens.

 

 

6.) Awaken (Vampire only) – If a player has been revealed as the Vampire, he has an additional action that he can choose to take during his turn, called Awaken. If the Vampire player is currently in the same city as another player, he can choose to take this action in order to awaken the virus within an Infected player.

If the player in fact has the Infection card, he’ll immediately become a revealed Vampire. Since the Vampire player is outnumbered until he awakens the Infected player, it can be quite important for him to do so, especially earlier on in the game if he can.

 

 

 

III. The Event Phase:

After the player has resolved his four chosen actions, he will resolve the next Event. If you’ll remember, the Event area of the game board contains a “Now” and “Soon” section. Each section lists an Event card and a Player card representing where the event will take place. Players will always resolve the “Now” event during the Event Phase of their turn. Let’s take a look at some of the Events that can be found in the game, and how they work:

 

 

Uprisings

When this event occurs, three Vampire troops are placed in a specific city unless there are already Human troops present in the city, or if the city is currently under “Martial Law” (martial law token has been placed in the city). If there are other Human troops located in this city, one less Vampire troop is place there for each Human one present. We’ll discuss how martial law works a bit later, but for now if this event occurs and the listed city is currently under martial law, the player will need to place the three Vampire troops in another city in the same Region.

I mentioned before that when deploying troops, no more than 6 troops of each faction could be in a city at one time. A player can not deploy a 7th Vampire troops or 7th Human troop into a city. However, when resolving Events, if a 7th Vampire troop would be placed into a city, instead of placing the 7th Vampire troop, that city is now considered “Vampire Controlled” and receives a Vampire Control token. If a 7th Vampire troops would be placed into a city with a Vampire Control token already present, a Sympathy token is then added to the track on the game board.

 

 

Coordinated Uprisings

When this event occurs, Vampires will “arise” in the three listed cities. When Vampires arise, a number of Vampire troops equal to the number of Vampire troops currently in the city, plus 1, will be added to the city. So for instance, when this event occurs, if there is already two Vampire troops in Vancouver, then the player will add three Vampire troops there (2+1). If there had been no Vampire Troops in Vancouver when the coordinate uprising took place, only 1 Vampire troop would be added (0+1). The only way a Vampire troop is not added is if the city currently contains a Human player there. Since these Events are open knowledge a whole turn before they resolve, players will know which cities they need to get into to keep from these coordinated events from amassing the map with Vampire troops.

 

 

Epidemics

When an Epidemic event occurs, Vampires arise in all cities in the listed Region, unless the Region has a city under martial law. If this is the case, then only one Vampire troop is added to each city in that Region that is not currently under martial law.

For instance, an Epidemic has occurred in North America. This means that a Vampires will arise in the cities of New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Vancouver individually unless one of these cities is currently under martial law. In this example, since New York in under martial law, instead of Vampires arising in all four cities, only one Vampire troop will be placed in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Vancouver.

 

 

 

Elections

Each Region can contain an active law at any one time. Laws are split between Human-driven laws and Vampire-driven laws. These laws will give special rules and bonuses for the faction they represent in that Region. For instance, if the Human law seen below had been placed in the Southeast Asia region, players who end their actions in this region can remove up to two Vampire troops from the region.

Election Events determine which laws get passed in which Regions. When an Election Event occurs, the player will take the face-down Player cards connected to his character’s current Region and turn them face-up. The white-numbered (Human) Player cards are all added together, and the red-numbered (Vampire) Player cards are added together. The faction with the highest number wins the Election and will place the current face-up Law card onto this Region’s Law space. If there was a Law card previously in this Region, it would now be replaced with this one. Once the Law card has been placed, the two highest Player cards from the winning faction’s side are discarded from the Region deck, then all Player cards are reshuffled and placed face-down again.

 

 

 

IV. Riot Phase:

I’ve previously mentioned cities under martial law. This can be one of the outcomes when resolving a riot, however more importantly, if the Humans can put six cities under martial law in six different regions, they’ve won the game. Riots are basically skirmishes that break out between Humans and Vampires in a particular city. During this skirmish, Human and Vampire troops currently located in the city will be used, as well as the hidden Player cards connected to that city’s Region. Thematically, you can view these visible troop miniatures as those stationed throughout the city, while the hidden Player cards are those forces working underground. The “Now” area of the game board will list the city in which the Riot will occur this turn.

During a Riot, the Humans are normally considered the defender, while the Vampires are considered the attacker. The only way in which this is reversed is if the city contains a Vampire Control token. If it contains one of these tokens, the Vampires would be the defender and the Humans would be considered the attacker. At the beginning of the Riot Phase, the Player card is removed from the “Now” section of the game board and shuffled into the Region deck attached to its listed city. Next, cards from the Region’s Player deck will be flipped and revealed one at a time and added to the faction’s overall combat strength. All white numbers added together count toward Human combat strength, while red numbers count towards Vampire combat strength.

Before numbers can be added to overall combat strength, troops present in this city must be taken care of first. When the first Player card is revealed, the number listed will remove that many of the opposing faction’s troops. For instance, if there were four Vampire troops and three Human troops in Cape Town, and the 1st Player card drawn was a white 3, then 3 Vampire troops would be removed from Cape Town. Since this Player card was used to remove troops, it would not be used towards combat strength. Player cards can only be used towards combat strength once all enemy troops have been removed.

Once a card is flipped from the Region deck and there are no enemy troops to remove, that number is added to any remaining allied troops still in the city. For instance, using the same example above, we now see that there are no more Vampire troops present in Cape Town, but still one Human troop. The next Player card revealed is a white 2. This number is added to the remaining Human troop, meaning that the Human’s overall combat strength is 3. Whenever a faction totals a combat strength of 6 or more, the Riot immediately ends and that faction is the winner. The result of the Riot is determined by whether the winner was the attacker or defender, and dependant upon the total combat strength.

 

 

 

If the Attacker Wins….

– If the winner was the attacker and a Vampire, and won with a combat strength of 6 or 7, a Vampire control marker would be placed on the city, the Victory token would increase by 1 on the track, and a Vampire Sympathy marker would also be added to the track. If the winner was the attacker and a Human, and won with a combat strength of 6 or 7, the Vampire control marker would be removed from the city, the Victory token would decrease by 1 on the track, and a Vampire Sympathy marker would be removed from the track.

– If the winner was the attacker and won with a combat strength of 8 or higher, all the same effects would apply, however the Sympathy token would be move in the defender’s favor, instead of the attacker’s. Basically, the attacker slaughtered the defender so savagely, that the public sympathizes with the losing side.

 

 

 

If the Defender Wins….

– If the winner was the defender and a Human, and won with a combat strength of 6 or 7, a Martial Law token is placed in the city. If this is the 6th Martial Law token placed on the board, the Humans immediately win the game. If there is already a Martial Law token in this city or any other city in the same Region, two Sympathy tokens are instead removed from the track.

– If the winner was the defender and a Vampire, and won with a combat strength of 6 or 7, the Vampire player can choose to reveal himself without losing Sympathy from the board. Remember that normally revealing yourself will cause half of the current Sympathy tokens to be removed. If the Vampire has already been revealed, he can choose instead to awaken the Infected player anywhere on the board. If he chooses neither of these actions, he can instead choose to add two Sympathy tokens to the track.

– If the winner was the defender, and won with a combat strength of 8 or more, nothing happens.

 

Riots can seem a bit complicated to resolve at first, but since a Riot is resolved on every turn, it shouldn’t take too long to get the hang of it. After a Riot has been resolved, the current player will take all Player cards that were counted towards combat this turn, choose one of them the discard secretly, then reshuffle and return the rest of the Player cards back to the Region deck.

 

 

 

V. Cleanup Phase:

After a Riot has resolved, the player’s turn has ended. There are a few cleanup steps that must be completed before play continues to the next player. The Event and Riot location cards in the “Soon” section of the board are now shifted to the “Now” spaces. A new Event card and Riot card are now drawn to refill the “Soon” spaces. The player will then need to draw a number of Player cards from the draw deck until he has a full hand size of 6 cards.

 

 

 

End-Game Conditions:

Play immediately ends if any of the following winning conditions are met:

– The Humans win if they’ve placed six Martial Law tokens in six different Regions on the map.

– The Humans win if all Vampire Sympathy tokens have been removed from the track on the game board.

– The Vampires win if there are no empty spaces left between the Vampire Sympathy tokens and the Victory token.

– The Vampires win if no more Events can be drawn from the Event deck (Event cards have run out).

 

 

 

Thoughts:

Over the past couple of years, IDW has fixated heavily on publishing more focused, hobby-oriented board games with their intellectual properties rather than stick with the casual norm seen with other companies looking to make a quick dollar from these franchises. To that end, IDW deserves a lot of credit. Bringing in a designer like Rob Daviau to work on a V-Wars themed board game is a smart move, though the game is not without its flaws. Although V-Wars has a lot of clever mechanics and intriguing gameplay, it will probably take a few sessions for players to grasp the subtle strategies needed to succeed in the game. It’s important to note this going in, as the first play will probably feel like an uncontrollable mess. Players will need to keep track of not only manipulating the Player cards amongst 8 Region decks, but also somewhat remember the ratio of white/red cards, as well as the numbers contained in each of the decks. Add that to the fact that players are attempting to figure out the best placement for their characters on the map each turn, how best to use their special abilities and actions efficiently, and that at least one player is secretly playing to derail the whole thing, and it can be a bit chaotic the first time through.

Having said that, once players are familiar with the system and how it all flows together, V-Wars is quite captivating. It may seem advantageous early on to reveal yourself as the Vampire player, especially since gaining an Infected player as an ally can completely shift the balance in your favor. However, revealing yourself comes at a great cost. Losing half of your sympathy from the board can be almost too much of a blow to recover from, so the Vampire player will need to weigh his options in doing so. At the same time, Human players will need to be careful when attacking a Vampire-controlled city during a riot, not to lose combat by a strength of 6-7. Doing so can allow the Vampire player to reveal himself without losing any sympathy.

A design decision I found interesting was the fact that although the Vampire player is hidden and unknown, almost all other information in the game is known (to a certain point). While player cards in a Region tend to be an unknown entity for a time, at some point when resolving a riot in the Region, players will get a sense of the ratio of red/white cards available in the deck there. This allows players to somewhat strategize on the number of troops to deploy in that region for future turns as well as how many assassinate actions to perform there before the next riot. Because of the “Now” and “Soon” areas on the game board, all Events and Riots are common knowledge a for two full turns before they’ll need to resolve. To this extent, the possible Laws are also common knowledge, though which one becomes active may not be. With a game that can feel quite chaotic in how it plays and the amount of decision-making it asks out of players, it’s nice that the game is designed in a way to give players a lot of open knowledge.

Though I’ve never read an issue of V-Wars (not counting the one that’s included with the game itself), the theme of the game seems to come out well from the built-in mechanics. I love how a winning condition for the Vampires is taking over a number of cities while building up enough sympathy from the public. There’s real sense of political overtones that I don’t think’s been used in any other vampire-themed board game I can think of. Though the Riot system can take some time to get the hang of, thematically it works as well. If a group of Vampires riot and absolutely slaughter the Humans maliciously, it would make sense that they aren’t going to gain any sympathy from the public. If the Humans are able to defend a city without massacring unnecessarily, then it makes sense for them to be able to place that city under martial law.

Though it may take a few plays to grasp the strategic nuances of the game, V-Wars is a well designed, hidden role style game. The red-shading of the game board can be a bit difficult at times to tell the difference in regions in lower light, and it would have been nice to see better production quality in regards to the cards, but IDW seems to be improving in these areas with each release. I would imagine for fans of the V-Wars series, this game would be of interest and fits well as a supplement to the comics. V-Wars however is able to stand on its own, and fans of games such as Battlestar Galactica that are looking for something a bit different should find some interesting gameplay with this one.

 

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