TL;DP (Too long; didn’t play)
I have never been able to get into a game which drags on for too long. I am not the kind of guy that can dedicate an entire half day/day/weekend/lifetime to playing a board game. Needless to say, I have looked at the mighty but meme inducing Twilight Imperium, chuckled to myself and walked away again. I sometimes feel like I’m losing out because of my short-ish attention span, but then I find something else to occupy me so I don’t care anymore…. Oooh! A piece of candy!
That being said, it doesn’t mean that I have never wanted to play something with some depth or some character.
The first convention I ever worked I ended up playing the fantastic Quartermaster General. Someone was really (almost fan-girlishly) nerding out about it while we were there so I figured I’d give it a go… that and I’m certain he’d have hurt me if I didn’t play.
If you don’t know it, QMG is a card based game about playing as either the Axis or Allies in World War 2. The game has some subtle nuances, but the most important (and simultaneously annoying) of which, is the fog of war. Despite the fact that you’re sat together, you’re not allowed to talk about what your plans are. You have to play as your own country and hope that what you do is what is best for you compatriots. Masses of fun! It is World War 2 condensed into a couple of hours, with a bit more wood and cardboard and a lot less misery.
*For the record, the day I finished writing this, Plastic Soldier also released Quartermaster General 1914 which is World War 1 themed. If it’s anything like the original, it will be well worth a look*
Sadly, I have seldom been able to play it since because it relies heavily on the full 6 person player count. I guess you could play it with less, but it wouldn’t be the same. To me, it feels akin to arguing with yourself. It passes time, but you’re always going to win, so feels ultimately unsatisfying.
How is that relevant to anything I hear you ask? Enter Victory or Death. A new release from Plastic Soldier Games which is a spiritual successor to Quartermaster General, but with a max player count of 4. Now 4 people I can do! So let’s face it, it would have been rude not to not grab a copy to review.
As Victory or Death is a spiritual successor to QMG, it has the same feel but not the same theme. The mechanics feel the same, but Victory or Death is set in the Peloponnesian War instead of World War 2, and because of that, the combat is a little different.
You start off by playing as one of four reasonably ancient peoples; 2 on either side of the war:
Demos: Athens and the Delian League
Oligarchs: Sparta and Corinth
*At this point, I could have broadened my horizons and gone and done some research about the Peloponnesian War to make myself look intelligent and impart some wisdom on you… but it really felt like too much effort. If you’re willing to put in the effort, the back of the rulebook has lots of thematic information and notes from the designers- and credit to you for doing the research!*
If you’re anything like me, once you crack open Victory or Death and someone realises that there’s an option to play as Sparta, you will all start doing horrifically bad Gerard Butler impressions about who’s going to play as Sparta. Since I’m never that fussed, I tend to award Sparta to whomever salivates the least when screaming “This is Sparta!”. After all, there’s nothing worse that spit flying all over your gaming table.
Please bear in mind that I will give a nice and simple game overview, but that there are some complex rules which you can find for yourself. However, I really don’t like reading reviews which sound just like you’re reading a rule book. So, you can check the rules out here should you wish to check on the finer points of my boorish explanations.
Victory or Death!
Each “country” in Victory or Death starts with a deck of cards, some little land troops, some boats, some cities and some bribery tokens of varying amounts. The components themselves are of pretty average quality, being made of hard plastic and the cards have a nice feel to them. As such, they’re not terrible, but not overly stunning either; nothing to write home to Mumsy about anyway.
The idea of Victory or Death is to score more victory points that the opposing team within 15 rounds (broken down in to five phases each), or go for the domination victory of being 10 points ahead of your opponent at the end of any round.
Land guys (Hoplites according to the book. Honestly, that sounded like a fossil to me though) are used for spreading your might out across the land and winning battles full of valour for your side of the war. Well actually that’s not strictly true. All you need to do to win a battle is play a card. Sounds a little too easy right?
Boats (Triremes): as you’d expect, these are used to conquer your small corner of the world by water. Fighting sea battles works in much the same way as land battles, except for the fact that you’re able to attack the land from the sea (but not the other way around).
Cities: Vaguely reminiscent (to me at least) of the harbours you get in Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails but very important in terms of gameplay. The cities placed are used to act as the start of the supply route for your troops, and this is the most important point of the game. All troops need to have supplies! Take out the supply line, take out the enemy. They are also worth victory points as you score one point for every city you have on the map in the scoring phase.
Bribery tokens: These can be used to virtually fake a supply line when you need one. It can act as a port of call by bribing the locals to help supply you. Bribery tokens are virtual one use wonders and are “borrowed” from the supply by discarding one of the cards from your hand. This can be a risky play though since you only have a set amount of cards and you have to reduce your victory points every time you need to draw one and can’t.
Cards: The bread and butter of Victory or Death. You have cards to: place a land troop, place a boat and battle either land or sea. However, you also have prepare cards which can be played in the second phase of the game, and placed face down in front of you. These can be played when the conditions of the card are met. I’m never one for understating things so…. These are the best! The right play at the right time can “turn the tide of war”. They can vary between returning the attack and killing the person which was trying to kill you (strong for obvious reasons), or being able to discard a card or 2 to resist being ousted from the country you’re currently inhabiting. Quite literally Victory or Death!
Let them eat war
It’s hard to talk about what I thought about Victory or Death without drawing comparisons with Quartermaster General.
As I mentioned near the beginning, Victory or Death is the spiritual successor to QMG, but does it pull off the engaging level of gameplay that QMG managed?
Honestly, there’s no clear cut answer. Victory or Death does have that similar feel to it, as you’d expect but there are some things I really don’t like about it.
Firstly, I find the supply routes are really fiddly to work out with the mixture of bribery tokens and odd geography. It’s not a case of “Is there a line from my city to my troop? Good, supply line sorted”. It’s more “OK, I have a city there, then a boat, and then a friendly bribery token and then I can sort of get into that body of water and; oh yeah! Supply line!”. I found that time dragged out a lot more than it needed to trying to work out if your opponents move was legitimate because of this.
Secondly, the theme is a real drag to me. I’m not a warmonger by any stretch of the imagination; I hate war movies, games, and books, which is why I found it odd that QMG made such an impression on me. However, what QMG had that Victory or Death doesn’t, is relatability. World War 2 is still fresh in people’s minds despite being over 70 years ago now. Whereas, not many people could even tell you that the Peloponnesian war even happened.
And lastly, the one thing that irked me most about Victory or Death…. The map. My world geography isn’t too bad. I can probably at least be in the right continent if I am looking for a country. However, in Victory or Death if a prepare card says that you can muster a troop in Chios or Thessaly, or virtually anywhere for that matter, most of the time it took me a while to work out exactly where that was. This is only irksome because of preference though. The cards do have a little map on them showing roughly where the country is, but I found it annoying still.
I can’t be completely negative about Victory or Death though. With the preceding comments in mind, it is a very good game. It does what you’d expect and has the feel of it’s predecessor that any spiritual successor should have. If you’re a lover of area control and lots of interactions between players (despite not being able to talk plans) then Victory or Death will definitely tick the right boxes for you. If you’re a history buff that happens to be into the Peloponnesian war then this has to be a no brainer. Finally, if, like me you’re enamoured with Quartermaster General but can never get 6 like-minded people in the same place at the same time then Victory or Death is likely to work out well for you. Much like QMG though, I found it really necessary to have the full player count to get the best feel from the game.
But how do I feel about Victory or Death overall? Well…. Pretty indifferent. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, because I did. I can’t say it’s a bad game either. The gameplay is solid, the interaction fantastic and it plays in my sweet spot of time that games play in (generally sub 2 hours). But; and this is a big, big, but; I found the whole time that I was playing, that I would much rather have been playing Quartermaster General. Although the player count for Victory or Death is much more achievable than the same for Quartermaster General, I’d still much rather hold out and play the latter.
This is by far the hardest game to score that I have played so far. For the game itself, I would give it a Hoplite spreading 8 triremes out of 10. For me personally, and purely because it’s not what I wanted it to be, I would have to give it a pretty flaccid 5 slightly bent hoplite spears out of 10.
If you would like to pick up your own copy of Victory or Death you can do so here:
If you have a big enough gaming group and would much prefer to pick up a copy of Quartermaster General you can do so here:
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.