It’s interesting how a theme can make or break a game for us. My daughters were born in the early 2000’s and have never experienced the type of war other generations have. We’re familiar with campaigns taking place in the air, land, and sea. Their idea of a military conflict is drones and anti-drone weapons. While war is never good, I guess there’s some benefit to technology preventing loss of civilian life.
This inexperience with traditional war prevented them from enjoying one of our holiday gift guide recommendations in 2019. The reviews for Air, Land & Sea were coming in strong, but the theme was too unfamiliar to our daughters for them to choose it on game night. We must not have been the only family with this issue because Arcane Wonders elected to reissue this great card game with more family-friendly artwork and a less graphic title, Critters at War.
Critters at War is the exact same game as Air, Land & Sea. You’ll find twenty cards, fourteen score markers, three Theatre boards and a rulebook inside the small box. As before, this is a two-player only game intended to be played in about twenty minutes. The three Theatre boards are laid out in a line (randomly) in the middle of the play area. These are the three different areas the war takes place in (Air, Land & Sea).
Two of the cards are Commander cards, which are shuffled and dealt out facedown to each player. The white Commander becomes first player, and each has a slightly different scoring table. The remaining eighteen cards are shuffled and six dealt to both players to form their starting hand. The remaining cards are set to one side without revealing them. The score markers are placed in a pile on the opposite side of the play area.
A full game of Critters at War is played over a series of rounds called “Battles”. Each battle is won by a player controlling more theatres than their opponent or after an opponent withdraws from the battle. The goal is to be the first player to amass twelve points or greater.
On a turn you choose one action from a possible three. First, you may deploy a card from your hand to one of the three theatres by laying it face-up to your side of the theatre board. The card signifies its strength and must be played to the same type of theatre as shown on the card. If you already have cards in that theatre, simply place your new card so it overlaps the prior card, showing all card strengths. If the card has a printed tactical ability, resolve it immediately. Some will be instant abilities while others will be ongoing.
Instead of deploying, you may choose to improvise. This allows you to play a card face-down to any theatre without concern of matching. There are no actions on the backs of the cards, and the strength value is typically lower. But it may be the only way to capture a theatre if you don’t have the right cards!
Lastly, on your turn, you might choose to withdraw. This signifies you don’t see a way to win the battle and wish to retreat. When you find yourself in this position, you can prevent your opponent from gaining the full victory points from a battle (six points). Using the scoring table on the commander card, they will receive points determined by how many cards are left in your hand.
Players take turns until either one person withdraws, or all cards are played. If a player has exceeded twelve total points, they immediately win Critters at War. If not, another round is played in the exact same manner, with players switching commander roles between each battle.
While still advertised for ages 14+, the new artwork and simple gameplay would easily allow kids as young as eight to enjoy the game. This latest version is selling fast and at the time of writing there are only ten copies left on Amazon! Ask for it at your favorite local game store or purchase it directly from Arcane Wonders on their website. Keep up with what else they’re releasing by following them on social media! (Facebook, Twitter)
Do you prefer this cuter tamed-down version, or would you prefer something rooted in history?