Game Review : Story War

Copyright: Cantrip Games

Copyright: Cantrip Games

My Gremlin fires off his laser at you and you die!

No wait, my goblin is way too dexterous to get hit, and he fires off his laser at you and you die!

Please-my Gremlin’s way faster than your goblin and your laser, he dodges, fires again, and you die!

[Repeat, ad infinitum]

That about sums up the final round that my gaming group completed over the weekend for the Kickstarter funded, Story Wars. Its a tense, no-holds barred ostensible card-game that allows players the chance to use their creative talents towards nefarious and ultimately lethal ends in destroying their opponents at the table.

Put out by Cantrip Games which consists of the duo Brad O’ Farrell and Tom “Frezned” McLean and who are in theory based in my own backyard neighborhood of Astoria, New York, Story War is a game of geek story-telling. In it, players work off of three decks of cards composed of locations, creatures and equipment in the basic Kickstarter set. The equipment and creature cards form a players hand that replenishes each ’round’, and is overseen by another, non-competing player for the round who is a ‘judge’ for the current match-up who draws and places a location card.

This location card determines where the ‘battle’ between players, and their creatures and items, happen. Players play their creature(s) and item(s) and create stories how their creature(s) and item(s) kill/maim and ultimately destroy their opponents. These descriptions must match the mythological and fairy-tale oriented cards like the Philosopher Stone, a Gremlin, a Wishing Star or a Kraken that a player plays during the round. It’s a completely open-ended battle with the player who convinces the ‘judge’ with the best plausible and ‘coolest’ way they kill their opponent and also most believable way, winning the round. The game admittedly has its roots in Apples-to-Apples and other third-player decider mechanisms.

Image Copyright: Cantrip Games

Image Copyright: Cantrip Games

The crux of the game comes down to the levels of competitive testosterone imbued at the table that it is played at. As my group is generally rules aware but also incredibly great at role-play, the game quickly degenerated into mechanical lawyering the minutiae of what was displayed on the cards as applicable to the outcome of a fight, along with obvious traits of creatures and items that clearly could and couldn’t be applicable in the game; obviously for instance an invisibility ring is metal and is drawn to a magnet, even if a ghost is wearing it. Duh!

It’s a tricky game because it is so open-ended but boils down to being a basically competitive, argumentative procedural affair. Creature does X; Creature 2 does Y; repeat. It has appealing traits in that players combine stories into a unified whole similar to Once Upon A Time, but without the mechanical foundation of a game like Gloom that gives a fixed goal-post towards a win. With the right people its a great game. For Gamers? It’s an exercise in rules-lawyering.

Overall it’s a great concept, something that appeals to the story-teller in me, as well as the role-player– the chance to don a new character every round with new items. The cards themselves are illustrated in a campy anime-crossed style by Vondell Swain. Their appeal is surely a means to lean players towards a light-hearted feel, however, the combative nature of the game itself somewhat undercuts the approach.

Still, if you’re able to get a few folks together who like a competitive game, without being competitive about it, I suggest picking up a copy of Story War, and sitting down so you can,

Game Forth!

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