Pages of War is a new competitive strategy card game from J. Kloud Entertainment, LLC. Soon to be on Kickstarter, it combines a unique theme with interesting mechanics to make for an intriguing and original experience. Utilising set builder concepts, players must create armies strong enough to defeat their opponents while ensuring their own defences are strong. This must be done with careful planning, however, as eliminated players remain an active part of gameplay and can influence the outcome – even after defeat.
While most games have a story, it’s not often you see one integrated quite as deeply as Pages of War. Players represent bards of the four races of Murphingale, all competing to tell the greatest epic story of conquest. However, this isn’t a game like Gloom, and you don’t do any actual storytelling – it’s a game of card-based strategic combat. The storytelling theme is prevalent in all aspects of Pages of War, though – from the naming of components to the look of the cards, it’s all strongly thematic. This was a little disconcerting at first, but as the names were contextually relevant, it didn’t take long to become accustomed.
Pages of War is a game for two to four players, although with the way certain mechanics are designed, I feel you’d be doing yourself a disservice playing with any less than four. Each of the four races (Orcs, Humans, Elves, and Dragkin – that’s like “dragon kin”, not like “drag queen”) has its own unique deck, each of which requires a slightly different play style to the rest. Decks are based on standard playing cards with Kings, Queens, Jacks, Aces, and numbered cards. The similarities to a standard deck end there, however – cards have different strengths and each serves a unique purpose.
The rules for Pages of War are fairly involved, so I’ll refer you to the above “How to Play” video if you wish to learn the specifics, and just focus on the basics for this preview. When first set up, the game players position their King, Queen, and three Jacks face down in a row. This is called the Royal Row, and is what the other players will be attacking. Above this, players position three stacks of cards, which are called their “chapters”. Chapters are made up of numbered cards and a chapter’s strength is calculated as the sum of all its cards. When making an attack, players select a chapter to attack with, then indicate the card on the Royal Row they wish to attack. The goal is to locate and defeat each player’s King and Queen, which eliminates them from the game. The defending player may then either defend with that card (which means you flip and reveal it) or block with one of their own chapters. By keeping valuable cards hidden, but revealing the strength of the chapters, the game opens up a variety of strategic options. The attacking player is able to calculate risk based on what they see on the table; however, a defending player is able to control how they deal with a threat. This also affords the defending player an opportunity to bluff their opponent. For example, you could defend a low-strength Jack like its Queen to misdirect your opponents. I love this sort of meta-game as it adds an unpredictable element to conflict and works really well.
Conflict isn’t as straight forward as just adding up card totals, however – each card comes with a few modifiers, including card suits and special effects. Card suits merely refer to what weapon your hero (card) is wielding, and don’t really do anything by themselves. They’re mostly used in conjunction with card special effects or an optional “wheel of power” mechanic. This mechanic gives cards a combat buff (or debuff) depending on the weapons held by the heroes involved in a conflict. This is a nice idea; however, we felt it over-complicated conflict – In a four-player game, there are potentially nine chapters for you to attack, so calculating the strength of each, as well as special effects and wheel of power buffs based on the weapon each is carrying quickly becomes laborious. Card special effects come in a variety of flavours, ranging from persistent, to single or on-demand use. This gives players some versatility in use, although for the most part they are fairly consistent for each race. One thing I found strange was that my cards displayed this information in an inconsistent manner. Some used icons while others described the effect using text. I can only surmise that this is because I’m playing a prototype and this will be addressed in the final version.
I really enjoy how Pages of War handles defeat in a conflict. When a player loses a conflict, they don’t immediately lose all cards, but instead lose a number of cards equal to the difference between each chapter. So if I attacked you with two cards that totalled 11 points, and you defended with 3 cards totalling 8 points, I would be deemed the winner of that conflict. I used two cards and you used three, meaning the difference between the number of cards would be one so you would be required to discard one card. This adds a new strategic element to conflict – if the attacking and defending chapters each have the same number of cards, then neither will lose any cards, regardless of points.
While all heroes in a chapter are played face up, there is a card at the bottom of the stack that is always played face down. This is referred to as the Spoils card, and is awarded to an attacking player upon a chapter’s defeat. Spoils are then added to the winners discard pile, which introduces an interesting potential for players to use mixed decks. The more Spoils a player wins, the more varied their deck will become – opening them up to greater strategic options. This mechanic is further enhanced by restricting players to three heroes per Spoil per chapter. This means that if I wanted to strengthen my chapter with more cards – I would need to add additional Spoils, thus making it a more appealing target for my enemies. This is an enjoyable risk-versus-reward mechanic that compliments the game play well and restricts single turn overpowering.
The ability to mix decks becomes even more essential as the game progresses and players are eliminated. Once a player has been defeated (lost both their King and Queen), all players gather up their discard and chapter cards, shuffles them, and start a new round. The Royal Row is recreated using existing cards (but once again hidden and in a new order) and three new chapters are introduced. The person who was eliminated is not out of the game however, and may continue to take turns playing their cards onto other player’s chapters. This is a fantastic mechanic as it allows a defeated player to still enjoy and influence the game.
All in all, I enjoy Pages of War, but it felt like it need further refinement. Some mechanics (like the Wheel of Power) feel obtrusive and the three-card hand limit feels like it limits your strategic options. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever played, but games can be long (over an hour) as there’s quite a lot of number crunching involved. That said, there are some very interesting and unique mechanics in this game, and it’s definitely worth your time. It’s beautifully presented and I am very eager to see how the finished game evolves (both mechanically and with character art and consistent presentation). I strongly suggest checking it out as soon as it’s up on Kickstarter.