WarChest bills itself as a "customizable strategy board game" and is being marketed similarly to collectible card games: each player has their own "deck" made from a "starter" and customized with boosters. Here, the Starter boxes contain six figures as well as a Warchest figure. Play is on an 8x8 chessboard that the players must supply. (A paper board is included in the event a regular one is unavailable.)
Prior to playing each player "builds his deck". This consists of simply selecting the actual figures he will use in a particular game. Each figure has a cost (averaging around 10 points) and the recommended introductory game is a 48 point battle. This allows for about five figures per side and is quite manageable. Once this is done the figures are then placed one at a time on the board alternating between the players. This is a somewhat interesting exercise as a great deal of how the game will be played out is determined by the initial setup of figures. Also, since you don't know what your opponent forces will look like there can be a few surprises revealed here. Obviously the more figures a player has the greater variety of "armies" he can create.
Gameplay is simple and straightforward: Each player takes two actions per turn. These actions can be either a move, resting, recovering a disabled figure or using a figures special power. (You conduct an attack as part of the move action.) The game proceeds until one player captures his opponents Warchest.
What becomes immediately clear is that this is a game of maneuver and not one of attack. There's a general jockeying for position as the lines advance and retreat out of each other range waiting for an opening. When it comes it usually results in the death of a figure and often this can mean defeat as the line collapses.
The figures are of adequate quality but as I'm not a connoisseur of miniatures I'll say no more on that. I would have liked the bases to be both wider and aligned better with the board though. The figure cards are rather poor quality unfortunately, they're photocopy quality printing on standard weight paper (ie. very flimsy). With the quality of most games these days I see this as a significant shortcoming in the game's presentation. In fact, when I first opened the package I thought I had accidentally received a "beta" copy of the game and had to check the website to ensure that these were, in fact, the proper cards. What's most perplexing is that as there are only six cards in each starter box, the increased costs of standard quality cards should have been minimal. It really does detract from the game and I hope that Unigames is able to rectify this by printing and making available proper cards in the future. If they do I'd also hope that the figures in the photos be painted as a guide for those that want to paint their own. That aside, the design of the cards is rather clean and uncluttered (although I would have used an arrow as the movement icon rather than a circle). The text is of sufficient size that I didn't suffer the sort of eyestrain common with certain collectible card games.
Note: I played the game with only two starter boxes, the Kotharians and the Hykolarans. As could be expected from any "customizable" game play will vary considerably with the pieces used. It was clear after only a few playings that some of the special powers were more impressive than they first appeared. Looking through the list of all available figures one could immediately start to see the possibilities of certain figures. (This can only be seen as a good thing—when a game gets you thinking about interesting strategies and such...)
Overall, I'd give the game a thumbs up. There are some small problems (most notably the cards) but nothing that couldn't be overcome. I was a little disappointed in that the game felt more like Chess than a fantasy battle. I found it difficult to move past the abstract nature of the game and imagine that these were actually knights and warriors battling it out. This isn't really a problem per se, but I could see miniature gamers being disappointed with it. I suppose one needs to figure out what type of game this is trying to be: is it a miniatures game, a board game or a collectible card game? For the most part these types of games are quite different in their goals and execution and so how well you like it may depend as much on your expectations as anything else. As a miniatures game I think it fails, there's not enough "story" or narrative in the game to envision it as anything other than an abstract exercise. I never got the feeling that this was an actual skirmish occurring in front of me. As a board game it fares better as the elements of strategy and tactics are certainly present. Its not a brain burner by any stretch but careful thought and planning are rewarded. Where it really comes into its own is as a customizable game. The real fun is building and playing different armies. Working with strange and unique combinations of figures that complement each other or expose a weakness in enemy setups. As individual games take so little time its easy to play many games in a session possibly modifying the setup each time.
While the basic gameplay was simple we found that several games were needed to really get a feel for the relative strengths of the figures. Often a figure would appear to be rather weak until someone clued in on how best to use that figure. Also, I suspect that some of the figures need to be used in conjunction with certain others in order to be useful. For example, the Village Seer may grant another figure the "Martyr" ability. Essentially this means that anyone attacking said figure will also die. I can see this working in a game with lots of low valued figures. Set up a line of peasants and have them martyr themselves on all those juicy and expensive knights. However, in a low point, few figure battle she's not nearly as good. Since she can't attack and becomes immobile when when she "martyr-fies" a figure she's less useful than even a lowly squire. Which brings up another example: those squires are somewhat poor figures but they have a low cost. Match them up with knights and they become very useful. The squires special ability is to move whenever a knight moves which essentially doubles the number of moves you can make per turn. Its this very customization that is the real fun of the game and I suspect its a deliberate design feature to mimic the deck-building of CCG's. As such it works very well and I suspect that those who enjoy the game are likely to purchase plenty of figures to build specific armies.
- Greg Aleknevicus