Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hitting The Table: Mistborn: House War

A while ago, I backed Mistborn: House War on Kickstarter. I'm both a fan of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn universe and I generally like what Crafty Games produces, so it was a no-brainer for me.

I'm really glad I backed.  This game is awesome.

Players take the role of Great Houses, trying to hold the Final Empire together. It's semi-cooperative, but there is only one winner.

Each turn, the active player starts their turn by collecting income. Each Great House has a different income. This income is made up of a couple of types of resources, taken from a (limited) pool (or from other players if that pool is empty) and one or more Personality Cards.

The next step is escalating existing Problems. The active player chooses the order in which they worsen, which can cause things to get dramatically worse. If a problem pushes past a certain point on the board, it "erupts."  Most Problems have an eruption effect - some of them will destroy resources (removing them from play forever), some of them will give negative victory points to players, some of them will ruin resource production, and so on. A few of them do have beneficial eruption effects, but not many.

Once existing problems have escalated, a new Problem is added to the board.

And then we hit the meat of the turn: Solving a problem.

The active player can choose to pass, which gains them one resource of choice from the (limited) pool. Or they can choose to tackle a problem.

Each problem has a cost to defeat printed across the bottom of its card. The cost (of course) varies. Most problems require more resources to defeat than players are likely to have in their stash. Because of this, players who want to defeat problems need to negotiate with other player. Personality cards can increase or decrease the cost to defeating the problems.

If you can gather the resources to defeat a problem, then you will score victory points. Most of the negotiations with other players are for a share of these victory points, but you can also give or trade resources.

An important rule: You can't start negotiations until the active player decides which problem they're going to tackle. This means that if you want to negotiate deals over which problem to tackle, then you need to do it one or more turns in advance - which is important because deals made for future turns are non-binding (unless certain characters enter play).

Remember those Personality Cards?  Some of them give you bonus victory points. Some of them make problems easier to solve. Some of them make problems harder to solve. There are characters who increase your income, and there are characters who can make those "next turn" deals binding.

Most of the time, your best option is clear. There will be three or four problems in play, and you can only solve one of them (even with help), or else there are problems whose eruptions won't hurt you but which will hurt your opponents.  If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you'll know that this is (for me) a serious strike against the game. I like games where there are difficult decisions that need to be made. Unfortunately, that means that every play of this game feels like every other play of this game.

Because so much of the game is negotiation, this game is very dependent on the group you're playing it with. For some groups, that's good. For some groups, that's bad. It's fine for my group, but it means that I, personally, am pretty screwed because my friends have played too many games with me to be able to trust me.

There's also a strong luck factor. The Problems that come up are randomly drawn from a deck, as are players' hands and their Houses. Several times, now, we've had Problems pop up that no-one produced the resources to solve. Yes, you can do a two-for-one trade, but that gets expensive quickly.

Many of the reviews I'm seeing complain that players are the "bad guys" from the books. They want to be the resistance. Allies of Vin and Kelsier. They also want a very different game.  This game is what it is - it's a semi-cooperative resource management game with some light backstabbing. Players are trying to preserve the Final Empire.

The art is great. The components are great (I don't have the super-deluxe version with foil cards and pennygem resources, either). There's an expansion coming, probably next year.  Maybe that'll fix some or all of the complaints I have.

Until then, this will still hit the table occasionally - it's a solid and playable game, even if it's not especially inspiring. There are people out there who will really like this one.

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