War Room is an epic war game, simulating World War II. You can play this game in multiple modes – smaller games concentrating on specific countries/areas of the world – or as we played, the full world war. You can play it with a smaller a number of people playing multiple countries, or one country each.
We played 6 player. On the Allies side you have UK, USA (and China played by the USA player) and Russia. On the Axis side you have Germany, Italy and Japan. When we played, I played Germany.
How the game plays
Each round involves various stages – income (get resources), planning, moving, combat, sorting out stress levels, and producing new units. It’s the 3 middle stages that make up most of the game (and take up most of the time). In planning you work out where your units are going to move – you have up to 9 possible movements (or 6 depending on who you are or how well you’ve been doing). You have to write down what unit you want to move and where you want to move it. Because we were playing this 6 player we did this in two stages. Axis and Allies did their planning separately with the other group in another room waiting for their turn. This obviously adds time to the game, but you need to be able to secretly plan together.
Then comes the movement stage, and you bid oil in order to determine turn order (and you don’t always want to go first as you can cancel your move if your opponents do something that you didn’t plan for). You have to hope you didn’t make any mistakes in writing down your orders or your order just won’t happen. Your move can also be stopped if enemies come into your territory.
After movement, wherever enemies are in the same place, or if you’ve moved into an empty territory owned by someone else, combat happens. Combat is based on dice. The units you have and how you assign them determines how many dice you roll. The colours on the dice indicate what you hit. These are twelve sided dice with some colours represented more than others. There are also black and white spots on the dice which you may or may not be able to use depending on what units are in the fight. If you have a unit killed during a stage of the fight it still gets to hit back during that stage.
Following combat you work out your losses, which determines how much stress you are under. Losing territories also causes you stress. Too much stress and you have certain penalties. Winning territories gives you medals which you can use to offset stress.
Finally you get to decide what units you want. Except you won’t get them for two rounds – and if your territory gets taken over in that time the units go to the enemy.
On the one hand I really like this game. It’s really well done and has the epic feel you’d expect from a game that simulates WWII. Far more epic than a “quick” game of Twilight Imperium. I like games where you program in your moves ahead of time and see what happens and this game does that aspect so well.
The first round of the game is overwhelming though. You have no idea what the enemy might decide to do. It took us well over an hour to plan the first round. Later rounds took 20-30 minutes. But at the start you’ve got so many troops, so much ground to cover. You need to get into position, but that could leave you weakened.
Later rounds it’s more about second guessing your opponent. Sometimes you’ll guess what they will do but ignore it, taking expected losses. Sometimes they’ll do something completely different. Sometimes they will ruin your turn. The further into the game you have a better idea of what they are trying to do, but you often have less troops to combat it as they’ve slowly been whittled away. I guess that’s not much different from a real war.
The stress is the real kicker. If you don’t plan for it, or you take greater losses than expected, you may find your game totally stymied. It’s a mechanic that makes sense though and it keeps the tension up. It’s not a mechanic I dislike though, just one that really affected my game suddenly.
While I don’t like dice games as a general rule, I’ve always been okay with dice in war games as it gives that randomness that you need when simulating a fight. The problem is that when you’ve taken losses, sometimes it’s hard to see how you can come back from near death – and when those losses are because of random dice (or more likely, when you don’t cause the losses you expected because you can’t roll for toffee) – that’s when it starts to become demoralising. This is the nature of this type of beast, but in a game of Command and Colours, for example, the pain will be over in a matter of minutes, maybe half an hour. But when things start to go wrong and you know it could take hours to finish the game, that’s when it becomes a struggle.
How our game played out
In our game, Russia took some early losses that really reduced what they could do in the game. The Allies then began to make a comeback and the best laid plans of the Axis were starting to fail. We had one of our goals (we took the UK), but we were stuck outside Moscow with limit ability to regroup. I mean, it was pretty thematic. But it was also getting boring. Gone were the epic fights of early game, and instead the fights were smaller but so much more impactful. Each loss felt demoralising, but the wins didn’t feel that glorious either. The end goal was in sight but several hours away. And we called it. We said “one more round” to give the Allies a chance to take Germany. But of course that round we played things differently than we would if we were playing to the end so it was hardly a fair conclusion.
On the one hand the game is perfect. It’s thematic. The mechanics work very well. It does what it says on the tin.
But I’m fairly certain I’ll never play again. Or if I do I’ll play the cut down version and not the full world. It was a great experience, but perhaps a little too epic for my liking. It’s not the game length specifically (I like long games) but it is tiring for the brain. And when you take a break (we played over two days) you can’t stop thinking about it and your brain doesn’t go to sleep.
If it’s the sort of game that appeals to you, I would definitely recommend giving it a go. It is an event. Just not one I want to repeat.