Ars Victor: The One-Hour Wargame Limited Edition

Publisher Trip West Games
Design Credit Stephen DeBaun
Graphics and Maps Credit Jason Kingsley
Game Contents Nine double-sided Map Tiles plus End Caps, six double-sided Capture Point hex overlays, 60 various double-sided Units, 30 Banners and two headquarters tiles in two team colors, 14 Command tokens in team colors, four Glory Markers in team colors, 70 Damage chits, 12 specialty six-sided dice, two 24-card Command decks, two Reference Sheets, “First Wave” promotional Units, rules
Guidelines Fast, far-future war game
MSRP $59.99
Reviewer Andy Vetromile

“What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.” With respect to Thomas R. Marshall and his contemporaries, what the world needs is a quicker war game. Time was a gamer could find thick, full rules for products that took hours, even days to finish, and the manual was as much his opponent as the person sitting across from him. Many such pastimes have fallen by the wayside in the wave of European offerings that now populate so many game tables, but that doesn’t mean they’re not missed or wanted. So . . . can it be done, a simple but challenging combat game that brings both grognards and Eurogamers together? Ars Victor, subtitled The One-Hour Wargame, is game to give it a go.

The object is to drain your opponent of Glory.

Two players take on the iconic roles of “Red” and “Blue,” armies facing off on a narrow strip of terrain. They build their teams with an allotment of points and whatever they don’t spend is their Glory for the game. During the Scouting portion they alternate placing sections of the map on the table, hoping to arrange the tiles to their team’s advantage. Once underway, Units enter from their respective sides of the map and move to attack each other while occupying important command points along the midpoint of the board. Each side has an identical deck of cards to determine which units they can activate.

"We will die to defend the honor of being blue"

The cards are numbered 2 through 7 in four suits: radiation and weeping stars in yellow, crossed swords and castle in gray. The number is the Command Points provided to manage one’s troops. Commanders assign a suit to each token using a Banner, a small cardboard backing, so they know what Units act when. A piece can Advance (all movement) for one point or Assault (a shorter move and an attack) for two. The 4 castle card therefore offers 4 points to activate forces assigned castle Banners. If he hasn’t any or needs to move something else the player can go “Off-Suit”: Crossed-swords are also gray so the castle card affects them as well, but those Orders cost an extra point. One cannot go Off-Color, so gray cards can’t be spent on yellow actions and vice versa.

Green and gold darts on the counter’s edge determine movement allowance. Advancing units move farther because they use both “Walking” (green) and “Running” (gold) arrows. Assaulting Units can only Walk but they may attack a foe. Most pieces are rated with dice symbols for both Close and Ranged combat. The white, red, and blue dice display a combination of skulls and arrows, with white dice being the weakest and blue the strongest. Every skull is a Hit of Damage and every arrow forces the opposing piece one space back toward his starting line. Other rules will seem familiar to war gamers like establishing line of sight to targets; terrains that impair attacks or movement; and being unable to leave Close Combat without a retreat result once adjacent Units are Engaged.

"With this zone of control, I thee engage"

Players “bleed” each other for Glory at the start of their turn, draining points by occupying the central Capture Point hexes down the middle of the board. Each commander’s special Headquarters Unit may remove additional points, and players lose Glory equal to a troop’s cost when a piece is destroyed. If a commander’s Glory is depleted he loses; otherwise the game ends when both sides run out of cards to play, in which case the higher Glory wins.

Ars Victor is not stingy with its components. Both the Map Tiles and the Units are made of heavy cardboard stock, brightly colored if cartoonishly illustrated, without looking too busy or overwhelming the players with thick tiers of stats. The cards are simple and utile, and the dice, while feeling a bit light, are still pretty solid plastic. The rules are clear and well-written, and there is plenty of information both on quick reference sheets provided for the players and along the End Caps of the game board. (One end of the board is the Glory track and some Unit references, while the other end has a turn order for both sides.) The Glory Markers and Damage chits are on the small side and could easily be lost, but they’re the exception. And yes, the game capitalizes just about every important concept.

Your headquarters - your very well-armed, highly mobile headquarters

The units are identical – every Scavenger Unit looks like ever other Scavenger Unit – but the use of Banners to identify their team and suit (and to offer somewhere to put the damage token) is a clever and concise way to make the most out of a pool of pieces. The game, frankly, takes more than an hour if you don’t employ a chess timer and an unforgiving attitude, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t play quick ‘n’ breezy and a lot of time can be shaved off with one of the pre-generated mission scenarios provided (more are promised at the website). These establish both the map and the counter mix if no one wants to fuss with army composition or laying the tiles for play, though creating one’s own forces means getting to decide how to split points between Glory and firepower.

Those familiar with war games will find a lot in Ars Victor falls into their comfort zone, but with tweaks sufficient to reengage their interest in the battlefield of the far future. Special abilities allow Units to turn Hits into Pushes or vice versa; navigate tough terrain without stopping; or arc movements and attacks around obstructions. Shrewd application of the underlying rules leads to Units like the Mortar crew – with only gold darts they must take an Advance Order to move, replicating such a force’s need to break down their equipment when repositioning. These powers aren’t layered on to the point of rendering rules meaningless or turning armies into superheroes. They remain components of a strategy that must be accounted for and managed through skilled play.

Those lacking real experience with old-school conflict get a painless introduction to the best elements of combat games without having to commit the time or brain cells necessary to survive an extended campaign. The price tag is quite competitive with the war-game market (usually higher than the Eurogames segment) and you’re getting what you pay for in both equipment and replayability. The base game, currently available in a limited edition with special extras, is customizable and has boundless opportunities to expand rules, create scenarios, and add to the Unit mix – most of which Trip West Games already offers to do for free at their website. Ars Victor is an addition even those who make Euros, not war, would be happy to have on their shelf.

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