The Grizzled Review
Okay, just bought this recently and I already logged many plays over this one. So what is The Grizzled anyway? Truth be told The Grizzled is a cooperative game (yeah, I don’t like coop games, but this one is among the exceptions) that sets in the first world war timeline, where a bunch of village men (from France) were forced to take arms and go to war against their will. They promised that if they survive the war, they will get back together to their village. In case you don’t know, this one is based on a true story, historical! The game was published by Cool Mini Or Not (which is unusual for them to release a game without minis, hey it only has cards and some tokens) around 2015 and has garnered quite worldwide attention (a positive one).
As you already know from the above description, The Grizzled set in WWI timeline, where some group of village men in France were forced to go to war. They had no choice, but fought for survival, not about winning the war, but how to stay alive together until the war ends. This story was told from the characters themselves, surviving the horror of life called war. And the game recreates that story, which they described as a living hell. In the game players will take up one of the roles of the characters, fight to survive alongside their teammates. They must survive until peace comes or one of them die before then or they lost their morale.
Simply authentic, since the game was adapted from famous graphic novel, it also used the same talent, Tignous. I did not familiar with the name, though maybe Europeans or French might. But whoever Tignous is, his works are amazing, the style is very fit to represent the era and situation. Warm but rough that represents familiarity and the hardship during war. Sadly, he had passed away in the Charlie Hebdo shooting, may he rest in peace.
The Game Components
Nothing special I must say, though the small box really suitable to say the least. The cards are good, with nice linen finish, but I advice to sleeve them since you will be required to shuffle them often. The tokens are good enough, no complaint. They also provide a square game aid board for reference but not that is really necessary. They also provide a stand we for leader player, a nice addition, though also unnecessary.
The Game Play
The Grizzled is one of those co-op games that shares partial information to the players, keeping them unknowingly about the situation of other players’ hand aside from what is on the table. Though not knowing other players’ hand, players can figure out some clues along the way, which I must say this one requires more subtle and advance deduction and card-guessing than games like Hanabi or The Resistance (well no bluffing though).
In the game, players will undergo missions and working together until peace is resolved (there are 25 cards form a trial deck on top of the peace card, they will removed these cards so that peace card is revealed and they win). The restriction is that no one get killed or before their morale runs out (which is a morale card beside the trial deck with some cards on top of it). These cards are their morale indicator, when the cards in this deck run out, they died.
At the start of the round, the leader will declare the mission intensity, which is how many cards that each player will be dealt from the trial deck. More cards they deal the faster they go towards peace, but more difficult to finish the mission.
Then starting from the leader, each players take an action. The action could be playing a card from their hand, using their lucky charm or speech token. Playing a card from the hand could be either playing a threat card (cards with threat symbols) to the No Man’s Land (center of the table) or playing a hardknock card beside their character card.
When playing cards to the center of the table, players must play a threat card, nothing else. Threat cards are cards that consist of one or more threat symbols on them (there are 6 threats, Whistle, Mortar, Gas Mask, Night, Snow and Rain). These threats represent obstacles that the group has to overcome through the mission. If at any time there are at least three threats of the same kind present in the center, the mission is failed.
Aside from playing cards to the center of the table, players can play cards toward themselves, which is to sacrifice themselves by playing trauma or hardknock cards. Trauma punishes the group by adding virtual threat (depicted on the card) as long as the player is active on the mission, while hard knock punishes the group / player during mission in many ways.
Another actions are using a speech token or lucky charm. Players can spend a speech token they have to get rid of cards from their hands that share the same threat that they declare. Very handy but speech tokens are limited, so not to be used carelessly.
For lucky charm, each character has their own lucky charm preferences. Players can use their lucky charm (once) while their character card is still face up. Once used, the card is flipped face down and the lucky charm cannot be used again until they flipped it face up again in later turn.
If they cannot or do not want to play an action, they must or can withdraw from the mission. When withdrawing, they play a support tile (if available) face down and will no longer take part in the current mission. This means they do not take another turn and also their hardknock and trauma cards do not take effect.
The mission is over if it’s completed or fail. Players completed the mission if all players have passed. In other hand, they failed if there are 3 or more threat icons of one kind present in the center of the table. Failed mission is not the end, it just makes the road to peace is further away, which lead to morale drop. Check support tiles, the player who receives the most support tiles this round will get the benefit to either remove 2 hard knock cards or refresh their lucky charm. If they failed the mission, the player only able to remove 1 hard knock card and cannot refresh their lucky charm.
After support phase, there is a morale drop. Each mission the group will always remove 3 cards from the morale deck and place it on top of the trial deck. If the sum of cards in players’ hands more than 3, for each excess card, players add a card to be removed from the morale. If the morale deck runs out, the group lose the game.
My Thought of The Game
I think the game is very refreshing, unique but stays simple and easy to learn. You can explain the game in 5-10 minutes and start playing the game. The game also plays quite fast, 15-20 minutes per game and you can play back to back if you have more time. I usually don’t enjoy cooperative games (mostly because of the decision making and alpha male issues) but this one is different, players do not share all the information and they were kept in the dark about other players’ hands. I like the simple idea by playing cards with symbols on it, and the catch is easy, they failed the mission if there are 3 symbols of one kind present in the game. This is a controlled situation (mostly) since they have full control what cards to play (aside from the trap effect). So given the situation, there are many times that players were forced to play bad cards to themselves or withdraw even they still have cards in hand.
The interesting part is they need to determine how they treat the missions, either they want to reach the peace in a hurry (but risky) or keep calm and do small steps. This is interesting since players cannot just fooling around since there’s a morale deck that keep on reduced on each mission. But if players rushing it in, the difficulty rise up. So they need to find a way to keep the balance and survive. Yep I haven’t told you before about it, the game is about survival. And the game play really reflects that in many ways.
I just like how they integrate such a small and simple game into a theme with strong flavor and very immersive from it’s characters’ point of view. I find the game to be relaxing and fun playing with friends or family (nope, never try with family before) disregarding the theme context of war. It’s about survival and nothing is bad from that.
I don’t think there’s many replay value in the game, but of course since the beginning the game is not really that easy to win, so players will struggle to take up on winning and with different players, there are different feels. But the good thing is that there are some modules and variants to keep you entertained for some time, enough until any expansions released (wait, there is an expansion). The expansion will greatly add replay value to the game, haven’t tried it yet but looking at the preview, it surely damn interesting.
In fact the game’s difficulty can be adjusted, though I am sure the default difficulty is hard enough, it’s good to know that even if you and your friends beat the game at default difficulty you can step up on the game with harder ones (moving cards from morale deck to trial deck).