One Sentence Synopsis: An exercise in randomness with no end in sight.
Feudal Japan is a wonderfully rich period of history for creators in various fields to draw from, and has been used effectively as a theme for many board games including Yedo and Shogun. It’s personally one of my favorite historical settings, so the $12 investment in Age of War was an easy one given its designer pedigree and the high production quality I knew I could expect from a Fantasy Flight title. Unfortunately, I’ve found that even at $12 it’s not a game I’d readily recommend.
Players are spoiled for choice as far as light filler games are concerned, so a title really needs to do a lot of things right to stand out in the field. Age of War certainly has its extreme portability going for it, which is not something many 6-player games can boast; the box is less than 6″x6″, and if need be its seven dice and small assortment of cards can be removed and taken with in a pocket. The components are also, as expected, of high quality. The engraved dice are colored well, and the cards are linen finished and sport beautiful, thematic etchings of Japanese buildings.
Contrary to what many gamers have found with Fantasy Flight products, Age of War’s rulebook is also straightforward and easy to read. Granted, there aren’t many rules here to go through. Castle cards are placed face up in the middle of the table, and players take turns rolling all seven dice to try and match the symbols on a castle. If a player cannot finish a “Combat Line,” that is, match one row of symbols depicted on the castle they’re trying to take, they must set one of their dice to the side and roll again. If some of their dice match a combat row, however, those dice are placed on the castle and the player continues to roll the remainder of their dice until they either capture the castle by matching all the castle’s Combat Lines, or they run out of dice.
Each castle gives the controlling player its displayed number of points at the end of the game, and castles give bonus points if the player has managed to capture all others of the same color. Controlling all the castles of the same color also stops other players from stealing one’s castles, which is done by rolling the card’s Combat Lines in addition to one Daimyo helmet symbol. The player with the highest points value once all the castles are captured is the winner.
Age of War is a serviceable dice-chucking game if you’re looking for largely mindless experience, but there’s just really not much strategy for anyone looking for some real meat. Choices are limited to which castles to try and capture and the order in which to try and complete Combat Lines, and in the end players are completely at the mercy of the D6. Don’t get me wrong- I’m all for some elements of randomness, especially when they fit thematically, but in Age of War “random” might as well be the name of the game.
Player interaction comes through the game’s stealing mechanism, and while that’s a nice idea the implementation here is extraordinarily troublesome. The only way to lock down conquered castles is to control the entire color set, but that’s much easier said than done when other players are constantly taking them from you. As with everything else in the game it mostly boils down to luck whether you’re able to hang onto castles long enough to secure others of the same color, and all-too-often it results in prolonged back-and-forth exchanges that drag the game out well past its advertised playtime of 20 minutes. This is simply annoying during a 2-player game, but if you’re playing with a larger group that prefers confrontation it turns the game into a ridiculous, never-ending free-for-all.
COG Takeaway: While I like the theme and its portability, Age of War is not a title I can recommend unless you want something that requires negligible attention and simply kills time. The game’s total reliance on rolling seven D6 means players are completely at the mercy of their rolls, and the couple of “strategic” choices players may make during their turns are shallow at best, and often moot once the die are cast. That randomness and the ability to steal others’ castles also commonly pushes Age of War well past 20 minutes, and there’s just not enough game here to sustain it for any longer than that. I’ve heard some players have had success introducing rules variants that make stealing castles a bit harder, or adding tokens that modify rolls in different ways, but unless you’re willing to do some research and bank on finding a variant that works for you then I’d suggest putting your $12 towards something else.