Windup War is a programming combat card game designed by Jessica Chu and Katie Khau about toys that come out to battle when the kids are away. As the army commander, you must strategize your moves to be the last army standing. One box contains 180 cards in 6 faction match boxes, which allows for playing with up to 6 players (though multiple boxes can be combined to play with as many people as you want). Published by Bellwether Games (who also released the top-notch fishing board game, Coldwater Crown), Windup War is currently available in your local board game store or direct from the publisher.
How to Play Windup War
Each player selects a faction (which all feature great names like tin-fantry and gladi-8rs), and then selects three units. The unit cards tell you how much damage it can take and what colored actions it can use. Every round players "windup" their army by placing five action cards face down, programming their attack for that round. All players simultaneously reveal cards one by one, resolving everyone's first action, then revealing and resolving everyone's second action, and so on. Most the action cards are various attacks that do damage to other players around the table, such one damage to the player two spaces left or one damage to all players (including yourself). Other cards block or retaliate damage, reload cards from the discard, or score points. If you are the only player to reveal a "Charge!" card, you take a card from your discard and score a point. Either score three points in this manner or eliminate all opposing players to win.
Limiting the actions that each unit can use and requiring cards in the discard pile to score points or detonate the bomb added a fun hand management aspect to the game. Players have to be wise about when they reload cards from their discard pile back into their hands. All too often a player isn't thinking and plays a "Full Reload" before a "Charge!". Despite succeeding to be the only player charging, they just removed all their discards and have no cards to score a point with. Players can also risk using action cards that don't match their unit's colors. If they are attacked, the card acts as a block. If they are not attacked, the card breaks and is permanently lost. When you aren't managing your hand well you may be left with little choice but to use actions that don't match when you have a few rounds worth of cards in the discard. This is a light hand management aspect, cards are chosen rather quickly and this is not really something players sweat over. It is fun to laugh at a player who thinks they've bested you with a "Charge!" or "Detonate Bomb" only to realize they reloaded their discard pile. New players quickly realize that card order matters.
All factions have the same action cards, so if you pay close attention you can deduce what cards players have left to play. This is something I enjoyed about the game, trying to block a player about to make a big attack or save your "Charge!" card to cancel out another player's attempt to score points. It is also fun to attempt to disrupt a player's program by destroying their unit early in a round. When one unit is destroyed, the next unit is activated but the programmed action cards remain the same. Since player's units are visible to all players, you can see that a player with a unit using green and purple actions is followed by a unit that can only use pink actions. Timing the defeat of their first unit to the beginning of a round optimizes the chances of breaking some of their cards that will no longer match their unit's color. A player can also be eliminated if they break too many cards.
Typically player elimination is a big negative in my books, as I want to play games not watch other people play games. However, I found it very difficult to pick on one person in Windup War. Players are dealing damage to players all around the table and the limited actions available make it hard to pile damage on one player to destroy all their units, eliminating them early. Most often players were getting down to their last unit during the same round and their might be one player who still have two units. Once eliminated, they only had to wait another round for someone to win and then they could play again. The spatial element of the game also turned player eliminations into an interesting challenge that had potential to ruin the actions you programmed. When a player is out, they no longer count as a space and actions will affect new players, sometimes those you didn't intend (including yourself).
Windup War Enjoyable With Two Players
Windup War can be played with 2-6 players, but before I had ever played the game it seemed that the game would be lacking with only two players. Reading the rule book, it shows that cards attacking two spaces left or right can hit the player using them and it appeared that you would be far more limited in which cards you would play in a two player game. While Windup War is more frantic and exciting resolving attacks from 4 or more players, I was surprised at how much fun the game was with only two players. It opened up an interesting strategy of the surprise attack. When my unit is weak, I can intentionally program a card to kill myself and the rest of my card order be actions for use by my next unit. This has shocked a few opponents and I managed to hit them with big double attacks. The only card that seems to suffer in a two player game is "Alpha Strike", which deals damage to all players within three spaces of you (including yourself). In a 6-player game, you suffer one damage to dish out five damage to opponents. The trade off is no longer beneficial with two players, as you only have potential to do one damage to your opponent and if they block, you'd only damage yourself. My house rule for 2-player only games is that "Alpha Strike" deals two damage to opponents and one to yourself.
Windup War is an excellent quick-paced game that tests your forward thinking abilities. Fun and light, it is suitable for players young and old. Colorful, adorable artwork and quality packaging makes a good first impression when you bring it to the gaming table. Utilizing some different mechanics from most of my other filler games, Windup War is absolutely a hit in my books.