Sunday, 29 January 2023

Gila Bola crowdfunding ending soon

The Gila Bola crowdfunding campaign will be ending on 4 Feb 2023. Gila Bola is from the Meja Belakang team who made Drama Pukul 7 and Nak Makan Apa. It is a game about the Malaysian football (soccer) league. Help your favourite team win! 


Friday, 27 January 2023

Souvenirs from Japan

When I visited Japan with my family at the end of 2022, I did not initially plan to visit their boardgame stores or to buy any boardgames. However our itinerary was quite free-and-easy. We didn't really have many must-go places. So I decided to set aside some time for boardgame stores. Okay this is when non-gamers start rolling their eyes. Unfortunately for me, both the boardgame stores I visited were closed. I realised that some shops in Japan close in the last week of the year. Probably to do stock take, in addition to having a break. I wasted my effort going to these two places. I should have checked more carefully beforehand to make sure they were open. 

I was not satisfied and decided to look for non boardgame specific shops which might sell boardgames. I visited two places. One was BIC Camera, a departmental store which sells electronics and home appliances. The other was a bookstore, Shosen Grande. Unfortunately both their game selections were small. BIC Camera did sell Catan, and it was JPY 2980. That's about MYR 100, which is very cheap. I am guessing Catan is highly popular in Japan and mass produced, and that's how they can manage such a low retail price. 

The reason I visited BIC Camera was I had gone to another branch when I was in Yokohama, and that branch had many boardgames. Side note: No, I did not bring Yokohama (the boardgame) to be played in Yokohama (the city). I don't own Yokohama (the boardgame) but I have played it. It was by chance that I discovered the boardgames section at BIC Camera Yokohama. We had a little time when waiting for our train, so we went there to browse. I was thrilled to see quite a few interesting looking games. I didn't manage to buy any because I didn't have enough time. I used Google Translate on my phone and its camera function to help me read the Japanese on the game boxes. I wanted to get a few games from Japan, preferably something I couldn't get in Malaysia. I hindsight, I probably should have just bought a few there and then, even though I only had very little time to decide. At that time I hadn't visited the game stores in Tokyo, so I thought I still had plenty of opportunities to buy games. Such is life - sometimes we miss golden opportunities without realising it. This was why when I was in Tokyo I looked for BIC Camera. Too bad the one in Tokyo (Nihombashi area) wasn't as well stocked on boardgames as the branch in Yokohama. 

We visited Daiso in Tokyo - the 100-yen shop. Most of their products are just 100 yen, which is about MYR 3.30. I was pleasantly surprised to find a small collection of games, all for 100 yen each. I picked a few which looked interesting. I wasn't hoping to find games I particularly liked. I mainly wanted to try new ideas and see how people created and marketed games in Japan. I purchased not as a gamer, but as a game designer, publisher and marketeer. I hope to learn from what others are doing. 

When we were in Kanazawa, a city near the west coast, I saw some games at the train station and I bought them. 

The games on the left and at the bottom, with the yellow bars, are from Kanazawa. The other four are from Daiso in Tokyo. 

This is just a standard deck of cards, with a bullet train (shinkansen) theme. Train enthusiasts will like this. I'm not one and I like it. It's a nice souvenir. 

There are 10 different types of shinkansen in the deck. In addition to trains, some cards are based on train tickets. It's quite evocative. 

The rightmost face-up card is the joker. That's the card back on the right. 

This is the other game bought in Kanazawa. This is a simple boardgame (I assume). I bought it not because I knew how to play or because I thought I would like it, but because I wanted those six beautifully painted shinkansen locomotives. 

Look how pretty they are! These are all based on real shinkansen locomotives. They are not just generic models. I should go find out which routes each of these locomotives actually serve.  

I have not studied the game rules. The game comes with 8 tiles which can be assembled in different configurations to form the game board. In addition to the 6 trains (which I think are the player pieces), there is one die, and many tiny cards. 

This is what I intend to do with those six locomotives. I am adding them as pimp-up bits for my Ticket to Ride: Japan! See how pretty they are! 

The size of the locomotives I bought is close to that of those in Ticket to Ride: Japan, so they are compatible. I am guessing these two locomotives in this photo are based on the same real-life shinkansen locomotive. The one on the left is what I brought back from Japan. The one on the right is the original Ticket to Ride: Japan locomotive. 

This is Werewolf: Dead or Alive from Daiso. I am guessing it uses the standard rules. I still have not read the rules. Until now I have only played with the most basic Werewolf rules, i.e. with just werewolves and villagers. I have not played with the additional characters. The game comes with four other characters. I'm not exactly a fan of Werewolf, but this set is pretty and cheap, thus a good souvenir. 

Left: card back. Centre: part of the rules. Right: Reference table specifying which characters to use and how many for the different player counts. 

I like the artwork - Japanese manga style. 

This is Topolomemory. There are a few versions of this game and it was not originally published under Daiso. I think Daiso ran a project to create a product line of simple and convenient games, and brought Topolomemory in as one of the games. They collaborated with some popular game designers in Japan. I still don't quite understand how this game works, after skimming the rules using Google Translate. Only after buying the game I realised it contains Japanese text. I had thought it was all symbols and drawings, and thus would be playable even if I didn't know Japanese. Now I'm not so sure I will be able to play it. It may not be language independent. I'll need to try to read through the rules again to understand how the game works, before deciding whether to try to play. 

That in the centre is the card back. At the bottom left is one of the rule cards. Round cards look pretty, but they are not practical. I find shuffling them and dealing them a pain. Round looks good and probably helps in marketing, but I don't like it. 

This is Stockbreeding, a 2-minute game. You can certainly call this a microgame. I have played this once now. 

The game has 24 cards and 4 animal pieces - sheep, pig, cow and horse. At the start of a game deal all cards out evenly to all players. Any surplus is discarded. You don't look at your own cards. Shuffle them and form a face-down stack before you. The four animals are placed at the centre of the table. 

To play a round, someone counts to three and everyone reveals the top card from their deck. You must try to grab whichever animal is shown on your card. If two or more players need the same animal, only the quickest player will win it. If you are able to grab the animal you need, you score 1 point, by placing your card face-up next to your draw deck. Otherwise, you discard your card. You end a round by returning all animals back to the centre of the table. 

The game ends when the players' draw decks are exhausted. Whoever has the most points wins. 

This game sounds a little silly, but it turned out to be quite fun. This is a speed game, a reaction game. I played this with Julian, Cindy and Tim. Tim was the fastest gun in the west, and never missed an animal. When the game ended, he had a perfect score. I bet this will work very well as a drinking game. You can probably play all night and have a wonderful time, playing it repeatedly. This is a game of skill. If you play with Tim, he will likely win all night and never get to drink (assuming loser drinks). He will be your designated driver. If there is a big skill difference, you may want to handicap the strong players by asking them to use their left hands. Or left feet. Okay sorry I'm getting a little drunk here. 

I shouldn't make this sound like a game drunkards play. This can be an excellent children's game. Without alcohol I mean. It's simple, quick and exciting. 

This one is called Long Long Animal. This is a card game and the rules are straight-forward. I have yet to try it. The art is cute. 

This is a set collection game. Most sets have two cards. There is only one long cat set which has 3 cards. You score 1 point for every set you complete, except for the long cat set which is worth 3 points. If you manage to collect all four of the regular cats, you score a bonus 4 points.  

The leftmost is the card back. The rest are the rules and reference information. You can scan the QR code for English rules. 

I am doing game design and publishing, and how these Daiso games are being produced and marketed is a strategy I can learn from. Go for a wider audience. Go far casual players, so that it is a bigger market. Bring joy to more people. My first game Dancing Queen takes a different approach. It is a microgame, and there aren't that many rules, but it is not a simplistic game. That is why I don't target casual gamers and non-gamers. I target gamers. I target gamer couples. I go for the deluxe treatment, using high grade materials and pre-sleeving every card. My rulebook is in full colour. The cost is higher for me, but that's okay because I'm not going for the low mass market price range. 

These 100 yen Daiso games take the opposite approach. 100 yen is only MYR 3.30. I'm going a niche market, going for specific gamers who like this kind of game, while Daiso is aiming at casual gamers who happily grab a small, cheap and light game to play at a gathering or on a trip. It's a different ballgame, and one I certainly want to explore and learn about. There will be different challenges and techniques. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Dancing Queen Valentine's Day Giveaway


The Lunar New Year celebrations are not over yet, but let's not forget that Valentine's Day is coming. Dancing Queen is a good dating / partner / spouse game. It is a 2-player game. Despite the short play time and simple turns, there is some depth to the game. You get into some player psychology and you get to know your partner's way of thinking in more depth. You learn more about each other as you explore the tactics in the game. I'm doing a small giveaway event on Valentine's Day. I will be giving away a free copy of the game. It will be a lucky draw. You don't need to do all those things like Liking and Following on Facebook or Sharing on social media. Well, doing these will be helpful to me and Cili Padi Games, but they are not required. All you need to do to participate is to fill in this form (there are only 3 questions). 

The deadline is 13 Feb 2023 (Malaysia time). The lucky winner will be announced at the Cili Padi Games Facebook page on Valentine's Day, 14 Feb 2023. There is no limitation to participation, as long as you live on earth, and as long as the Malaysian postal service delivers to your country. I will ship worldwide at no cost to you. So do share this giveaway event with your friends overseas (just that they might participate and reduce your chances). Who knows, if the participation is good I might give more copies out. 

Have fun! 

Cili Padi Games website:

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

HR: The Toxic Workplace Game

The Game

HR: The Toxic Workplace Game (I'll call it just HR hereafter) is a local Malaysian game by I-van Yee. It is a humourous game which pokes fun at typical corporations and their employees. It is a light card game which targets casual players. Even at the top of the box you start seeing the humourous elements. There is a warning that playing this game may cost you your job. 

In this game you play department heads. You have your own team of employees. There are two ways to win the game. Either get all the employees of all your opponents fired, or complete a project. You get employees fired by asking the Human Resources (HR) department to issue warning letters to them. Whenever an employee receives the third warning letter, he or she is terminated. 

Completing a project requires having four different project stage cards in play, all at the same time. 

You have a hand of 5 cards. Normally you'll play one card per turn. Instant cards are not subject to this limit. You can play as many of them as you want. When you end your turn, you always draw back to 5 cards. Cards have all sorts of powers, and the most common one is simply issuing a warning letter to an employee. 

These are some of the employee cards. You'll see many familiar characters and I'm sure you can relate to some of them at your workplace. The cards have much text, but this is mostly flavour text. Only the employee names have relevance to gameplay. Some warning letters count as two when issued to certain employees. Employees themselves do not have any unique ability or special power. All they have are weaknesses to specific warning letters.

This is one of the warning letters. 

If you manage to have four project phase cards in play like this, you win immediately. This is not easy to do. You need to be lucky enough to draw all the cards you need. You also need to be lucky enough to not have any opponent steal or discard any of these cards before you complete your set. 

The Play

I played a 2-player game with younger daughter Chen Rui. Both of us were new to the game. She was keen to read through the whole deck of cards. After we finished playing, she didn't want to pack up yet and wanted to read all the cards. I-van told me that indeed he spent much time and energy thinking up and writing the content for all the cards. 

HR is a simple and tactical game. You just try to make the most of what you are dealt. You always draw back up to 5 cards anyway, so just fully utilise your cards. Sometimes you do save certain cards for the right moment when they are most effective. This is an easy game to learn, even for non gamers. 

With 2 players it is less interesting, because there is no politicking. It's either you or me so it's straight-forward. There are no alliances, ganging up on leaders or betrayals. 

Be careful if you are browsing Jobstreet at the office.

The main thing you will struggle with is whether you want to race to fire all your opponents' employees, or to be the first to complete a project. If you are falling behind in one area, you can try the other option.  You best bet is probably to appear weak and let the others beat one another up before you swoop in for the final victory. But then all the buggers in the office are probably thinking the same thing. 

Back of the box.

The Thoughts

I enjoy the humour in HR. It is an accessible game. It works for party and gathering situations, when you meet up with non-gamers and casual gamers. E.g. Chinese New Year gatherings. The setting is certainly something working age adults can appreciate. This is a rowdy game that works for players who do not want to think too much. 

Sunday, 22 January 2023

Please comment on and rate Dancing Queen

My first published game Dancing Queen was released at the end of November 2022. Till now I am still processing the preorders. Almost done now. Some friends from my hometown Sabah said it was okay to pass them the games when I was back for Chinese New Year. No need to mail them from Kuala Lumpur. I am grateful to many friends who supported my game. If you have bought Dancing Queen, do introduce it to your friends and family during the Chinese New Year holidays. I hope you will have a great time playing the game. 

Please help me comment on and rate Dancing Queen on BoardGameGeek. BGG is the most important boardgame website in the world. I hope to be able to introduce more players around the world to my game through BGG. 

Saturday, 21 January 2023

Happy Lunar New Year

It's the Year of the Rabbit, but I'm not drawing rabbits this year. I'm drawing Egyptian gods. And this guy here is Khnum. Here's wishing everyone success and great health in the Year of the Rabbit! 

Friday, 20 January 2023

My fanboy moment with Seiji Kanai (Love Letter)

In December 2022 my family visited Japan on holiday. When planning this family trip, one idea came to me - why not take the opportunity to meet a game designer I greatly admire, Mr Seiji Kanai, designer of Love Letter, one of my favourite games. Now I'm not exactly a young boy and it is weird to be still doing this kind of fanboy stuff. But YOLO. It's a little awkward reaching out to a complete stranger, and I didn't dare to have too high hopes. I was pleasantly surprised when Mr Seiji Kanai responded promptly and positively. I don't know Japanese and the email I sent out was translated using Google Translate. I guess it was at least understandable even if it probably sounded weird. We arranged to meet on Christmas Day, Sun 25 Dec 2022, in Tokyo Train Station, at the famous silver bell.  

We had hoped to be able to find a cafe to sit down and chat, but Christmas Day and a Sunday at Tokyo Station? It was mission impossible that even Tom Cruise couldn't have managed. So we stood and chatted a while. 

Both my daughters have played Love Letter and they enjoyed it a lot too. Unfortunately my wife Michelle could not be in the photo, because she was holding the camera and taking the photo. 

When I wrote to Mr Seiji Kanai, I said I was a fan of Love Letter and I would like to meet him to ask for his signature on my copy of the game. After he replied, I remembered that I actually didn't have a copy of the game! At least not an official copy. The old battered copy I had was a print-and-play version downloaded from Someone created an Adventure Time retheme of the game, and that was long before the official Adventure Time version was released. I saw it and thought it was rather cute. That was what prompted me to print and make a copy of the game and to try it out. I really should thank this BGG user. This fan retheme was what introduced me to Love Letter, which I eventually fell in love with. 

For many years I have been playing with this old print-and-play copy. I never had the urge to buy the official copy because I liked the art style of the fan version more. Now that I was going to ask for the designer's signature, I certainly must buy an official copy. I bought the latest English edition, which comes with a classy velvet pouch instead of a box. The game has changed a little. There are two new characters. However you can still play with the original rules by removing some cards. I have been playing Love Letter since 2014, and I have introduced it to many friends, yet only now I own an official copy. 

In the latest English edition, the princess is a 9 instead of an 8. Don't take it the wrong way. I don't mean scoring beauty out of 10. I just mean the number value in the game. So this above is my designer signed copy of the princess card and my preciousss. I brought a silver marker pen all the way to Japan for Mr Seiji Kanai to sign on this card. 

In our email communication, I asked Mr Seiji Kanai that I would like to purchase a Japanese edition of Love Letter from him. When we met, he handed me a copy and insisted it was a gift for my children. It was not just a copy of Love Letter, but also two more games he designed. That was so kind of him. I brought a copy of my recently released game Dancing Queen for him too. Although Dancing Queen is a rather different game, when designing it I applied many principles I learned from Love Letter. I also brought three woodcraft bookmarks from Malaysia for Mr Seiji Kanai. I said if he ever visits Malaysia, he must let me know and I would bring him around. 

I love the art in this Japanese edition of Love Letter. Absolutely lovely. 

True and experienced celebrities are well prepared and professional when it comes to giving signatures to fans. Mr Seiji Kanai brought along a compact toolbox packed with equipment for signing games, including marker pens, his own custom stamp and an ink pad. His game signing includes putting his unique stamp. 

Secret Moon was the second game Mr Seiji Kanai gave to me (well technically he said it was for the children, but, you know, communism). This is an English edition game. It requires a minimum of 5 players and I have yet to give it a go. 

Naturally I grabbed the chance and asked Mr Seiji Kanai to sign this game too. 

The third gift was R. I have played it before. It is a 2-player microgame with only 16 cards. The version I played was a fan retheme using Star Wars characters. The original is certainly very different. 

Before meeting Mr Seiji Kanai, he told me that his English was poor and communication might be challenging. I was prepared that we might have to rely on Google Translate to speak and conversation might be slow. However his English was much more fluent than he had lead me to believe. We were able to converse smoothly and did not touch Google Translate or our smartphones at all. 

One thing I asked him was his secret to success in the boardgame industry. His reply was simple, and it was the same thing Alan Moon (Ticket to Ride) said in an interview. He said he was just lucky. I notice one common trait among successful people. They tend to be humble. I think it is because they are humble, that they have open minds and they are always ready to learn and improve, and thus they become better and better persons. Mr Seiji Kanai explained that he was an early mover in the boardgame industry in Japan. When he got into boardgames, there weren't many other people doing it, so he enjoyed the first mover advantage. He was a pioneer. I say his success is much more than luck. I believe there is much hard work and sacrifices to achieve what he has achieved. His games are clever and well-crafted. 

He shared with me that visiting the Essen game fair was an excellent learning experience. He learned how to market his games to an international audience. There is certainly a lot I can learn from him, his journey and his games. 

Thursday, 12 January 2023

Drama Pukul 7

The Game

Drama Pukul 7 is a Malay language game, designed in Malaysia and uses the local 7 o'clock TV soap operas as its setting. It is a successful game in Malaysia and is now in its third edition. It is a game targeting casual gamers and it has wide appeal. You play characters in these corny 7pm dramas, and you compete to become the main star. You compete by condemning and disgracing your opponents, reducing their reputation. If your reputation drops to 0, you are out of the game. The last person standing becomes the star of the show and thus wins the game. 

During setup everyone gets a character card. Every character has a unique ability. Your reputation starts at 7. That's basically your health bar. When it hits zero you are out. You start the game with 5 cards, one green and four blue. The green cards are assets, including equipment and friends. Normally you will pay money for equipment and you pay cards for friends. Equipment and friends are placed in front of you and give you additional powers. 

The blue cards are either episode cards or plot twist cards. Episode cards are action cards. You play them to use the effects written on them. Some help you, some hurt your opponents. Plot twist cards are response cards which can only be played when a certain condition is fulfilled. Sometimes they cancel certain episodes, sometimes you steal someone else's asset, sometimes you divert an attack back to the attacker. Things like that. 

The centre of the table is set up with 5 face-up green cards. These are equipment and friends you can pick from. Whenever one is claimed, a new one is drawn from the deck to refill the row. A turn is simple. The four basic things you do are earning $1 million, drawing a blue card, playing a blue card and condemning one opponent. As you collect assets, they may augment your basic actions and let you do other fun things. The most important action is condemning an opponent. That's your attack, and that's how you eliminate your opponents. Drama Pukul 7 is a free-for-all. The sole survivor is the winner. Yes, this is a game with player elimination. 

There are plenty of characters to choose from. All of them are double-sided, one side is male and the other female. The names are different but the abilities on the two sides are the same. 

You can marry one of your friends, by spending $2 million. The rulebook cheekily reminds you that you can only marry one person at a time. Once you have a spouse, he or she becomes a long-term shield, always neutralising one point of damage whenever you are attacked. Regular friends protect you too, but whenever they do so, you have to discard them. Spouses protect you for life. Well, at least until a divorce happens. This is soap operas so divorce is certainly one of the dramatic elements. 

The Play

We did a 5-player game and I taught the game. I was also the start player. Now in this game it is highly dangerous to be the rules teacher, because you will be perceived as the biggest threat. Before we entered the second round, i.e. before my second turn came, I was already eliminated from the game. Everyone decided it was wisest to gang up on me right on the get go. Drama Pukul 7 is this kind of game. Friends form gangs and attack one another. Ultimately you can't trust anyone, because there can only be one winner. Your friends will sooner or later stab you in the back. Or maybe in the front. If you want to enjoy Drama Pukul 7, you need to be prepared that it is this kind of game. 

This is one of my favourite cards. This is taking revenge for a 10-year-old grudge. When you play this episode card, your next attack (i.e. condemnation) has an additional strength of 2. This card was partly how I got eliminated so quickly. My reputation started at 7. With 4 opponents ganging up on me, using their basic attacks as well as special powers on cards, it wasn't surprising that I was taken out before Round 2. I probably should have pleaded harder for my life. 

Once I was out, my wife Michelle became the second victim. The kids worked together to get rid of all the adults first. 

This type of scooter is common in Malaysia. The game has many local elements which resonate with me. 

The Thoughts

The target audience for the game is certainly Malaysians. It is in Malay, and it is very colloquial, with some English and other local dialects mixed in. This is endearing. 

Some of the game mechanisms are not defined clearly. The game cards have many different abilities, and sometimes some combinations raise questions. The rulebook suggests to use the rules as just a general guide. If you come across any situation where the rulebook doesn't have a direct answer for you, just decide for yourself how you want to play. I generally prefer the rules to be explicit and exhaustive, but for a rowdy party game, being a little loose is not a deal breaker. 

Although a very Malaysian game, this may not quite work as a souvenir, because it has a lot of text, and it is in Malay. Non-Malaysians will struggle to play, maybe with the exception of Indonesians. I like the unique art in Drama Pukul 7 and the many familiar local elements (especially that Food Panda rider). I enjoy the humour too. 

Saturday, 7 January 2023

War Room

The Game

War Room is a wargame from Larry Harris, designer of the Axis & Allies series of games. The setting is World War 2. It has a complexity level higher than Axis & Allies, but the granularity is the same. Quite a few core mechanisms are different, so this is certainly not an Axis & Allies variant. 

The map is round and huge. It takes up a lot of space. The game contains a number of scenarios, and the global war is just one of them. There are 7 countries, which can be played by up to 6 players. The same player would control both the USA and China. Other scenarios include the European war, the Pacific war, North Africa and the Eastern Front. These smaller scenarios use only certain sections of the map. When broken up, the map pieces have very odd shapes. 

The centre of the map is a tracker which indicates the political stability of each country in the game. All countries start off stable, but as casualties mount and territories are lost, stress builds up, and eventually leads to stability deteriorating. At different stages of instability, countries suffer different penalties, and these penalties are cumulative. In the worst case, the government collapses and that country is out of the game. If you manage to capture enemy territories, you can reduce stress for your country. Good news cheer people up. 

Every country has a little planning booklet.

This is what the inside of the planning booklet looks like. Every page is a planning sheet. You need to use one planning sheet per game round. These sheets will get used up quickly. 

The left half of the planning sheet is for you to plan which command stack to go where. This is your movement planning and all players do this simultaneously every round. You won't know how your opponents are planning to march their troops. Units on the board come in three types - land, sea and air. Every command stack has at most 8 units. You can issue at most 9 orders. So every round at most 9 stacks of units of yours can move. 

One important thing you do with this planning sheet is to bid for turn order by spending oil. Turn order affects the execution of your orders. If you have units which are trying to avoid battle, you will need to fight for an earlier turn order. Else if they get attacked and pinned down by enemy units, it would be too late for you. You might not be able to execute all the orders you issue. Sometimes you may not want to execute them all. 

The right half of the planning sheet is for planning your new unit purchases. There are three resource types in the game - oil, iron and other strategic resources (OSR, and I will just call it "stuff"). You need different combinations of resources to buy different units. Not all territories produce resources. It is possible to trade with neutral nations. 

Units are stacked to form command stacks. Square units are land units. Round units are air units. The elongated hex units are naval units. All command stacks are topped with a command token, indicating the command number and the country. The command number is used when you plan movement. Every territory and sea zone on the map is numbered, and these are used for planning movement. The sea zone to the north of Australia is P-17. P series sea zones are in the Pacific Ocean area. The Australian territories range from B21 to B24, B series representing British territories. 

At the start of the game there are already some American units in the UK. UK has a factory, which means the British player can produce units here. The 8 chimneys mean UK can produce up to 8 units per round. 

Game setup is time consuming. Thankfully the command pieces are designed to make this process slightly easier. Command pieces used during setup have their starting locations and compositions specified on the pieces themselves. For example that British 7th fleet in the photo above starts in sea zone A-7, and it has a blue cruiser and a red battleship. 

Every country has a tracker for resources. Red is oil, blue is iron and yellow is stuff. There is a territory card for every land territory on the board, which indicates resources produced. You need to align your territory cards this way so that you can see easily how many of each resource you produce in total. 

Information on the territory cards include the serial number (black background), the strategic value (white background) and the production value of the three resource types. The strategic value affects stress and stability. Losing territories with strategic value causes stress. 

When you capture an enemy territory, claim the corresponding territory card from your opponent. E.g. here Japan has conquered a Soviet territory.

In War Room battles are only fought for one round, as opposed to as many rounds as the attacker wishes in Axis & Allies. If both sides still survive after a battle round, that battle would continue in the next game round, and the territory would remain in an embattled state. The territory owner uses the embattled side of the territory card, which has lower resource production. See that card with a red and white border. 

There are only 9 unit types in the game. You have bombers and fighters in the air. You have tanks, artillery and infantry on land. You have battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers and submarines at sea. 

Battle resolution is done using a battle board like this. Both combatants place all their units on the board. Axis on the left and Allies on the right. There is no different strengths based on whether you are attacking or defending. Instead, you can pick stances for some troop types. The stance you pick affects the abilities of the units. E.g. a cruiser in a defensive stance fights more effectively against air units and can take hits for other capital ships. 

Battles are conducted in two stages - air then surface. During the air stage, only planes can be damaged. Surviving planes then participate in the surface battle. Different unit types have different strengths against air and surface units. Strength is defined as the number of dice you get to roll. 

The dice are 12-sided. The sides include black, white, red, yellow, blue and green, and the distribution is not even. Yellow appears the most. The colour you roll determines the unit type you hit. This is of course subject to the presence of that unit type. If there is no such unit type, your hit is wasted. Normally a unit is only damaged upon the first hit, and is destroyed on the second hit. White die rolls can be applied to damaged units. Black die rolls are jokers and can be treated as any colour. 

One side of the battle board is for sea battles, and the other side is for land battles. This photo above shows the start of a battle. You get to roll at most 30 dice. If your strength is above 30, the surplus is wasted.  

This is the aftermath of the same battle. The units pushed to the edges are dead units. They are not removed immediately because you need to keep records of your casualties.

This is the morale board. This is where you place casualties from battles. At the end of the game round, your casualties determine the stress your country takes, which may in turn worsen your political stability. Different countries have different stress tolerances. Japan has a high tolerance and only worsens its stability at 7 stress. USA already worsens at 5 stress. 

The standard victory condition is to capture two enemy capitals. For the Axis this normally means Moscow and London (Washington is rather unrealistic). For the Allies it's Tokyo and Berlin. I think it would usually be unnecessary to get to this point. Well before the fall of two capitals, the imbalance in strength would have been obvious. The losing side should just surrender rather than stretch the game on when the outcome is inevitable. 

There is another way of ending the game which I quite like. You play a set number of rounds, and then compare scores based on political stability. Political stability is actually a good measure of how well each country is doing. 

The Play

I did a 2-player game with Allen. We were both new to the game. We had played Axis & Allies before, but War Room differs in many ways. We needed to relearn most of the systems. I was in charge of reading rules and teaching. Although it was just the two of us, I suggested to go for the full global game, because I wanted to experience the game in full. I knew we likely wouldn't finish the game, despite allocating almost a full day for it. We played from about 10am to 6pm. I had hoped to play about 6 rounds and then determine victory by comparing country stability. In the end we only managed to complete 2 rounds. It isn't as big a gap as it sounds, because the first two rounds in the game tend to be long with many hotspots to resolve. As the dust settles after the initial flurry of activities, the situation becomes cleaner and simpler. I certainly didn't regret having experienced the full worldwide war. 

I asked Allen to play the Axis. I think the Axis being the aggressors is more fun to play. The point in history at the start of War Room is already after Pearl Harbour (unlike in Axis & Allies). The Americans and the Japanese are already fighting in Guadalcanal. 

China (yellow with red star) has only land armies. No aircraft and no ships. 

The Solomon Islands are already embattled at the start of the game, thus the embattled marker. 

Naval battles in the Pacific were intense, involving the Japanese, the Americans and the British. There are no transport ships in War Room. The mechanism for transport ships is streamlined and abstracted. Land units are allowed to enter sea zones, and when they do, they are considered to be loaded onto transports. They become defenseless and need to be protected by friendly naval units.  

The British (me) decided to produce troops in India and coordinate with China (also me) to fight the Japanese (Allen). That stack of units under the red factory token are under production. When you buy (i.e. start producing) units, you need to wait for a full game round before you can deploy them. In case the territory producing these units gets captured, you lose your units to the invader. 

I like the simultaneous and secret movement planning in War Room. It creates a double guessing game. It offers opportunities for smart play for the weaker parties. In Axis & Allies players take turns moving units and resolving the resulting battles. Movement orders are absolute. You can't run and you can't hide. In War Room there are opportunities for weaker parties to avoid battle or to attack where the opponent least expects it. This makes movement interesting and less predictable. It opens up more possibilities. There is a cost though. The whole process takes more time. 

On the left, the Americans (me) unexpectedly took control of the Solomon Islands. The islands were embattled right from the start. However both Japan (Allen) and USA (me) had few troops, so it wouldn't be easy for either party to kill off the other. We didn't have many dice to roll. I imagine this as both of us being lost in deep jungle and shooting randomly under low visibility. However the Americans got lucky and scored enough hits to kill off the Japanese soldiers. 

China (me) inadvertently took advantage of the Japanese (Allen). In our first round, Allen mistook the Chinese troops as Japanese troops, and issued commands to them. Imagine the confusion of both the Chinese soldiers and the Japanese generals shouting orders at them, in Japanese some more. Naturally, all his orders were wasted and he didn't manage to get anything done in China in the first round. As China, I tried guerilla warfare, trying to focus the units I had on Japanese weak points and where he wouldn't expect an attack. The secret order mechanism in War Room allowed me to do this. 

I headed south and managed to capture Vietnam (photo above). The Japanese had to send reinforcements from Malaya to Thailand to fight with me. Peiping (north east of China) is an important territory for China which is already under Japanese control when the game starts. It is the only Chinese factory on the map and China needs to recapture that in order to be able to produce artillery and tanks. Without it, China can only produce infantry. 

One crippling weakness of China is it cannot bid for turn order. As long as Japan is willing to spend one oil, it can guarantee an earlier turn order than China. If Japan doesn't want to spend even one oil, then the turn order is left to chance. If Japan is determined to exterminate China, there is not much China can do to stop it. It is just a matter of how long China can last, buying time for its allies. 

The Solomon Islands were captured by USA (me), thus the USA token placed on it. The Solomon Islands had strategic value (number on white background), so Japan received stress from losing the territory. 

Fighting broke out all over China. My Chinese solders got cocky and strutted about like they owned the place, just because of Allen's wrong footing in Round 1. I caught Allen off guard and managed to take down Peiping. That allowed me to steal his units under development, which was a huge bonus for China. Japan (Allen) headed north to attack the Soviets (me), which surprised me. There was a Russo-Japanese treaty, the breaking of which entailed a heavy stress penalty. I think Allen forgot about it. I hadn't expected him to attack. Japan's diversion into Soviet territory was what allowed China to be more daring. 

At the bottom right a huge naval force had assembled. A huge sea battle was imminent. The British had captured Burma. More troops would be supplied from India to reinforce Burma and the British push against the Japanese Empire. 

In Europe, Germany (Allen) was a juggernaut. Compared to them, the British and American land forces (me) were paltry. Invading the European continent looked impossible. The Allies would need a lot of patience and discipline to plan and coordinate an effective Normandy Invasion. There are railroad tracks in War Room, which allows troops to be transported quickly to the front lines (compared to Axis & Allies). However train tracks can be damaged by strategic bombing. This is an aspect to consider. 

In the Mediterranean, Italy (Allen) started off stronger than the British (me). The British had troops in Egypt and the Middle East, but their production centres were far away, in India and in South Africa. Replenishing troops was going to be difficult. 

Italy and Germany didn't do well in their attempt to take Egypt. The British lost many units too, but managed to hold on. However the Italian navy dominated the Mediterranean Sea now. 

The Axis powers - Japan, Germany and Italy. 

On the eastern front both Germany and the Soviet Union started with tons of land troops. It was going to be bloody and brutal. 

Turn order can be crucial. It can determine whether the orders you want to execute can be executed at all. 

This was our Ukraine War in the game. Italy came to help Germany. A command stack has at most 8 units, so when the scale of the battle is more than 8 units, you need 2 or more command stacks. Air units are separate stacks from land units so if you want combined arms you need even more command stacks. 

The Soviets (me) were aggressive and took the fighting to Germany. I left many of my territories behind the front lines ungarrisoned. 

The Americans (me) couldn't do much at the start of the game. They were far away and didn't have many units yet. However they had a large production capacity. Playing USA was all about planning and building up a pipeline to supply troops to the front lines, to help its allies before it was too late. 

War Room has one similar problem as Axis & Allies - for USA to build troops and ship them across the Atlantic or the Pacific to the front lines takes too long! I call this a problem, but perhaps this should be called a feature instead of a problem. Expect a long lead time for American troops to reach the action. That means you have to do planning far ahead. 

As America, I decided to put more effort into the European theatre, thus the concentration of troops on the eastern seaboard of USA in the photo above. For American units to cross the Atlantic and get to UK it takes 3 rounds. We played a whole day and only completed 2 rounds. I guess once the pipeline of units was set up from USA to Europe this would no longer be an issue. I just needed some patience. 

Similar to Axis & Allies, War Room is at its core an economic game. When you have a higher production capacity, you will have more units and in the long run you will overwhelm your opponents. You need to take the long-term view. What new units will you buy? How are you deploying them? How do you steadily secure a stronger economic base than your opponents?

Japan was first to have its political stability drop, mainly because it broke the treaty with the Soviet Union. We placed the conflict tokens (explosions) and flight tokens (arrows) at the centre because they were used frequently. 

Two game rounds taking a full day sounds scary. It was partly because we were new to the systems. Also one big factor was we did this 2-player. The game speeds up with more players, because everyone can do movement planning at the same time. Allen and I had to do this one country at a time. Thus we needed at least triple the time, and suffered some split personality disorder. 

There were some features we hadn't explored, e.g. bombing factories and railroads, trading with neutral countries, attacking convoys and invading neutral countries. The game was large and complex, and the core rules already took a fair bit of effort to digest. We didn't want to get into the minor and secondary game mechanisms. Allen (as Germany) almost invaded Spain, but there was an error with the orders so the invasion was delayed. 

Having played the first two rounds, I felt the units being produced were far from enough to replenish what was lost. I imagine the countries would become more and more frugal as the war wore on. As the Soviet Union I was aggressive in counter-attacking the Germans, but after two rounds I realised my attrition was too high and my position was probably not sustainable. The Germans still had many units they could transport to the eastern front. The Americans and the British were nowhere near ready to put pressure on the western front. 

The Thoughts

War Room is certainly a gamer's game. It's the kind of ceremonial game which you allocate a full day for. It is difficult for me to not compare it against Axis & Allies. Same designer, same historical background, same granularity. War Room is more complex. Many mechanisms differ. They may feel similar in many ways, but they are quite different in execution. One analogy is the various Batman movies by different directors. 

If you are not into Axis & Allies and similar games, War Room will not be your thing. It is still a heavy game based on World War 2. It is medium-light compared to the typical serious wargame, but compared to the average Eurogame it is pretty heavy and complex. 

I like the secret orders. It allows interesting tactics and it is a challenge for the combatants. There is uncertainty and psychological play. I like the concepts of stress and political stability. In war, we are not machines which fight to the death. We are human beings of flesh and blood which fight till our spirits are broken. I like the battle resolution mechanism. It is logical yet at the same time can produce unexpected results. You know good positioning and combined arms will help you, but sometimes you can still get unusually lucky or unlucky. That's war. 

I don't like the three different resources in the game. It adds some complexity but I don't find it much more fun. Perhaps I haven't played enough to better appreciate it. 

Is War Room an advanced version of Axis & Allies? I would argue they are different games. A more complex game is not necessarily an improved or better game. I see these two games as different ways World War 2 is being presented. Yes, they are from the same designer, but they are independent games. 

War Room is that kind of game that you schedule once a year to play with a group of close buddies. Something commemorative and anticipated. I know this sounds weak. Only once in a year?! Gotta pump up those numbers, rookie!