Code Name: Operation Certain Death - The Grizzled Review

Uh oh!! Another game from Cool Mini Or Not! Ok, I'm making that sound worse than it actually is, basically if you've been keeping up with my reviews; they've been hit and miss for me lately. On the one hand they put a lot of effort into their miniatures and they always look great, however I tend to find that the game doesn't hit it for me after I get past the glossy exterior. The Grizzled however was originally published by Sweet November, a French company and they are the ones who have influenced the design of this game (i.e. CMON simply brought it over to the American/English market) so I will now proceed to eradicate any potential linkages to previous CMON games forthwith.

There's been some interesting feedback on this game, both good and bad, but some common themes arose. People were unsure what to expect from the game at first glance and the aesthetics were subject to personal opinion in a divisive manner. But overall, the feedback was positive and you know me, I love a good co-op game so this seems like a chance to review something a bit lighter than the typical norm as of late even if the theme isn't one that grabs me initially. Does The Grizzled give me a good fun feeling or will I be left feeling frazzled?




Designer: Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez
Publisher: Cool Mini Or Not / Sweet November
# of Players: 2-5
Age: 10+
Time: 30 Minutes
Rank / Rating: 7.47 / 1904
RRP: £16.99


Moving My Drinks Cabinet 6 Inches Closer To Berlin


The setting is the First World War. Two decks of cards are sorted out at the start, one of which the players must attempt to deplete to reveal the dove of peace below, the other the players must avoid depleting to avoid revealing the war monument and thus losing the game. These represent the Trials and Morale decks respectively.

Each round, the current team leader will choose how many cards every player draws from the Trial deck. Then, going around the table, players must either play a card in their hand or back out of the mission. Each card represents either threats to the team (such as mortar shells and weather conditions) or negative personality traits such as trauma or obsessiveness (Hard Knocks). If one threat shows up 3 times, the team fails the mission. The team must play their threats correctly in order to gain any progress. However, most of the information in a players hand remains secret throughout the game which limits what each player knows about his comrades. A failed mission will result in the trial cards played been reshuffled into the Trials deck to be faced again. Regardless of the outcome, a number of cards will be transferred from the Morale deck to the Trial deck based on the number of cards remaining in player's hands. This highlights a necessity for speed as well as efficiency. Each player may then offer support to another player, however this is also done in secret and only the player with the most support offered will gain any benefit.

Play continues until either the War Monument is revealed (lose) or the Dove of Peace is revealed and no cards remain in any players hands (win). Alternatively the game may end prematurely in a loss if one player has 4 or more Hard Knocks in front of them at any one time.


Advancing No Further Than An Asthmatic Ant With Some Heavy Shopping


The Grizzled comes in a small package, easily storable and not too expensive either. The cards and tokens are of decent quality; however the artwork is subject to debate. It reminds me of some film animations from long ago and I personally don't mind it, but also don't believe it's anything special. The characters look decent enough but serve no purpose other than a limited ability to discard certain cards in play that needs refreshing via support. Other than that most of the cards are simply a depiction of 3 threats and 3 weather conditions so it's not particularly varied, but its colour pallet is pleasing.

One bad point I will bring up though is the Hard Knock cards. I understand that the font is deliberately written in an old fashioned calligraphy style to match the way soldiers would write to their loved ones while out on the trenches, but it has the side effect of making them very difficult to read especially when glancing across the table. Given that the rest of the game is fairly language independent, this is a step in the opposite direction.


He And I Are Behind You. . . About 35 Miles Behind You


The gameplay is simple, in fact I would consider this a gateway level game, but by no means should you consider that The Grizzled is easy to beat. On Rookie mode which I do reccomend for your first game or two, it's reasonable that you will achieve a win. Once you stick true to the limited communication rules (that includes you Hanabi cheaters) and bring in the Trap rules (a trap symbol forces another revealed Trial card from the deck), the difficulty shoots up considerably. It can also get harder with a higher player count as choosing the support tiles can be a tricky decision. 2 player games have their own specific rules (but I don't recommend you play this ever with 2 players) and in a 3 player game it's usually pretty easy to gain a support benefit every round.


The big attraction to The Grizzled for me is the limited communication aspect. Nooooo, this doesn't mean I'm anti-social and don't want to interact with other players, but it's the same buzz I get from the aforementioned Hanabi where you can't relay certain pieces of information. It forces you to get in the heads of your team mates and try to figure what they are thinking to the best of your ability. The Grizzled would be dirt simple if you could always talk about everything, but now that restriction adds a new challenge. It's a concept I'm usually a fan of in games, though that doesn't mean I'll always like a game if it includes it (cough cough Then We Held Hands). This makes the playing of trial cards tense enough as one bad play could mean that your teammates are forced to withdraw with cards in their hand. But it gets worse for the support tiles as you cannot discuss who you will give support to. In a 4+ player game you're effectively conducting medical "triage" with the team as you decide who needs the support the most, but with less it doesn't have as big of an impact.

As a result I definitely feel this is a game best played with 4 or 5 players. And the higher of those numbers is a godsend in itself. How often do you end up with that dreaded number of 5 players at a club night which alienates a ton of games off the bat and makes your favourite Euro games drag on for so long at max capacity that you fall asleep in mid-game? Well here, you have a short game that can cater for that dreaded number and not drag at all, hell I think it's best with 5 players and I almost never say that about any game that maxes at 5.


Verdict


I'm actually pleasantly surprised. I didn't think I would get much out of The Grizzled, but even though it's light, it still poses a good challenge and doesn't bog down in mechanics or AP issues. 30 minutes is a fairly accurate timescale with 45 minutes being your absolute top limit so repeated plays are common place. As much as it litters the rule book with historical soldier letters, it's essentially abstracted and the artwork is nothing special. It pays tribute to those that fought in the war and I applaud it for that, but don't expect a thematic journey.

The big selling point for The Grizzled is the lack of communication between players. Not being able to relay what is in your hand or who you're supporting has you constantly thinking of how the other players will react to your play. It's a neat twist and helps to build on the co-operative nature of the game. Overall, it's a neat, light and inexpensive co-operative game that can be played quickly while also catering for that much dreaded 5 player count. I know other co-op's that provide more enjoyment, but this fills a good niche and as such I'll be holding on to this one for now.



YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You enjoy the idea of limited communication - it's what makes the game interesting.

You want to cater for 4-5 players in a short space of time.

You want an inexpensive co-operative option that won't take up much space on the shelf.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You're expecting a strong theme - the historical homages are nice, but it's fairly abstracted.

You want to play this with 2-3 players only - it improves with a higher player count.

You don't like the artwork as it's there's only so much to look at.


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