That sound? It’s your opponent’s skull cracking under your boot. It’s your wall of mechanized chain-guns spraying hell-fire into a charging force of native giants. It’s the earth being scorched and laid waste so your extractors can mine precious minerals. This is war. Conflict. And area control.
Cry Havoc is a pretty radical release from Polish publisher Portal Games. They’ve made a name for themselves releasing quirky standout titles that break the mold. This design is very much a streamlined area control affair that blends Euro-game focus with thematic sensibilities. It’s very clean and restrained, and also very enjoyable.
If you don’t like conflict, hit the eject button right now. If the opaque title or brazen space marine on the cover didn’t throw up the warning signals, then the solid miniatures and biting artwork will. In the land of Cry Havoc, you fight. And then you fight some more.
The background of the game is somewhat light, but it sets the stage with the discovery of a new planet bearing precious resources. Clearly, the first response is to swarm the thing and get to work.
Players take on the role of one of four distinctly asymmetrical factions. Humans shell stuff and put down airstrips. The Machines lay down tons of structures and shred your face. Pilgrims waive their four arms around like they just don’t care. Oh, and the indigenous population that you’re unceremoniously ushering to their grave are dubbed the Trogs. These ogre-like hulks will put their fist through your face and not give it a second thought.
If you can get past the sheer joy of asymmetrical “dudes on a map” slaughter, there is a sobering subtext here that deserves further discussion. This whole experience could be described as a metaphor for the least admirable aspects of the human condition. I don’t think the game wants to put you in this uncomfortable state of mind, but I think it’s an interesting critique on the darker side of mankind.
But let’s get back to good ol’ blowing stuff up. Each faction plays wildly different. You have a unique deck of cards that provide actions such as moving, recruiting, and building. On your turn, you play these cards to perform one of those three options. The more weight you throw behind a particular option the more times you can do it. If you put down your entire hand and use every single card for movement, you’ll run dry and be left hanging before the round finishes and you can redraw. There’s a definite need for balance and restraint.
You also have the option to add powerful cards to your deck by drawing from external terrain piles. These add specific symbols linked to the aforementioned actions as well as special effects that can trigger during battle. Battle is where Cry Havoc makes its name.
The idea here is to push forward into Trog held territory and carve out a niche of land. You’ll battle the indigenous forces as well as other players you bump up against. The game rewards you for exploring and provides a large number of points for holding ground containing those precious crystals you came to this hellhole for.
Cry Havoc’s conflict resolution system is its chief asset. There’s an area control within area control vibe as you place your troops onto one of three combat zones. You can seize ownership of the territory, capture a prisoner, or inflict kills. Majority in the first two get the reward, while each combatant in the kill sector gets to off an enemy model.
Prisoners are particularly interesting because every one you hold generates a victory point each round. Additionally, they can’t return the dude to their front lines since he’s out of their supply. The owner can pay the ransom of two points to get them back but that’s costly. This should be the one time in life where you ignore Dave Mustaine’s advice and actually do insist on taking prisoners.
The end result of these three options of competition is a series of tough choices. Do you go for owning the ground so you can hold the crystals for end game scoring? But blasting his four armed blue freaks out of the water is instant points and very satisfying. Or do you dump several guys into the capture position even though you can only imprison a single enemy?
A huge nuance exists in that cards players refrained from using on actions may be spent for a possible battlefield effect. One effect is shifting your unit’s position after everyone is set up, negating the attacker penalty of committing troops first. Sometimes you can bring more warriors in from your supply. The most devastating ability is reversing the order the three battlefield regions activate in, triggering kills first and letting you wipe out the opponent from the control position before it is resolved. If you’re on the receiving end of this twist, just bury your head in your helmet and hit the dirt.
This deck-building, conflict heavy hybrid clocks in at a mere 90 minutes. It’s fast paced nature and style of play draw similarities to genre standouts Blood Rage and the classic Nexus Ops. The tight pacing also means the game can be unforgiving at times as a huge failed push offers little time to recover.
Fortunately the by-product is increased tension and drama, which is a trade worth making. While the sci-fi veneer and slick miniatures will draw you in, stay for the excellent combat system and breadth of faction content to explore.
Are you excited for Cry Havoc? What faction are you most interested in? Let us know in the comments below!
All images courtesy of Grant Rodiek via BGG