Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game.
Brandon Sanderson is currently my favorite author, his Mistborn books are currently my favorite fantasy series, board gaming is currently my favorite hobby and, unfortunately, Kickstarter is currently my favorite way to lower my children’s inheritance. This is like a perfect storm for me and my (lack of) board game Kickstarter preview writing talent!
Mistborn: House War, designed by Kevin Wilson (Arkham Horror, Descent: Journeys in the Dark), is a negotiation driven game for three to five players. Mistborn: House War had already surpassed its funding goal and since unlocked a number of stretch goals. This preview will provide an overview of the game, as well as a description of my game experience to help you decide if it’s worth becoming a backer.
Mistborn: House Wars takes place during the first book of the Mistborn series, Mistborn: The Final Empire. My preview will contain no spoilers for the books.
Every round, players are presented with new and escalating problems that need to be solved before they erupt (move off the board). Players negotiate (or not) with each other in an attempt to solve these problems by combining their limited resources. This play continues until one of two end game conditions are fulfilled (see below).
How to Play:
Here is a link to the rules in case you want to review them in their entirety.
Each turn, the active player performs the following six steps:
- Take the Active player token – This is taken from the player on the right
Collect resources and cards – Each House has its own set of resources that are generated each turn. The active players collect these resources (money, Skaa (labor), Atium (wild), prestige, food, and warriors), as well as personality cards (Allomancers, Allies, Informants, etc.). Any resources that are not in the supply (which is adjusted according to the number of players) can be stolen from any House.
- Increase problem urgency – The board consists of four columns labeled I, II, III, and IV, with I being the least urgent and IV being the most. It also has three rows (two if you are playing with three players). Problems that the Empire is facing are placed on this board. In this phase, the Active player MUST move every problem on the board one column to the right. If a problem moves off the board, it erupts and a penalty is assessed. The penalty varies based on the problem. If the eruption has a target or targets, the active player gets to CHOOSE the target. The active player also chooses the order in which problems are moved to the right. If a problem is moved into a column that has no open spaces, it moves to the next column that has an open space.
- New problem(s) are added to the board – The Active player draws a new problem and places it in the column that the card indicates – if that column is full, it is placed in the next column that has an open space to the right. After placing this problem, if there is only one problem on the board, a second problem is placed.
- Pass or solve a problem – This is the heart of the game – the Active player either
- Passes: No problem will be solved this turn and the Active player takes one resource or one personality card
- Places the Active player marker on a problem to be solved: This will begin the negotiations. Resources in this game are scarce and most of the time the Active player cannot solve a problem by himself.
When a problem is solved, favor (victory points) is earned. Negotiations will involve:
- Personality cards being played (or threatened to be played) to increase/decrease problem costs or hamper/assist other players
- Resources will be offered and the Active player will most likely need to divvy up the favor points among those that help solve the problem
6. Pass the Active player token to the left
These six steps are repeated until one of two things happen:
- A specific card is either solved or erupts, the Final Empire survives, and the player with the HIGHEST score wins
- Unrest (increased through eruptions or personality cards that are played) reaches eight or more, the Final Empire crumbles, and the player with the LOWEST score wins
This first paragraph is for those who have read The Final Empire. The theme is very strong in this game and ties in with the book. The characters you love (and hate) are present, as well as the major Houses. In fact, the retail game will have MORE unique personalities than my prototype copy had as they have been unlocked via stretch goals. I cannot comment on the art as it was placeholder art and did not look anywhere near as good as what has been shown during the Campaign. Both my wife and I were pleased with how thematically this game tied to the books, especially the negotiating, personality cards, and, what makes this game, the two divergent winning conditions.
OK, back to my preview. The two most enjoyable aspects of this game are the negotiations and the diametrically opposed win conditions.
Negotiating is just plain fun in this game. The key is that EVERYONE will get hosed, so you cannot get mad. Some jerk will permanently ruin one of your resources so you will no longer be able to collect them during the first phase. You can get back at him by increasing the cost of a problem just as he thinks he has solved it. Or you can steal his resources. Or you can PERMANENTLY destroy one of his resources; removing it from the game (this can be especially beneficial if your House happens to produce that same resource every turn…). So the “cooperate until you can’t” attitude of this game removes some of the tension experienced in other negotiation games I have played.
What we really liked about this game are the divergent win conditions. This makes EVERYONE try to play for the middle of the pack until you can spring your trap/strategy/amazing plan no one saw coming. If one player jumps WAY ahead in points, suddenly the entire table will try to destroy society faster than you can say 4chan. On the flip side, if someone at the table is refusing to cooperate or has zero or negative points, the other players will band together like they were the Justice League and create a perfect society with no (well, two) unsolved problems. It is this balance that makes this game fun.
I enjoyed my game experience more than I thought I would. I thought my enjoyment of Mistborn: House War would come from my love of the source material, but I legitimately liked the game for what it was, despite it being negotiation driven. My wife, who also loves the Mistborn series, enjoyed the game as well, and she HATES negotiation games.
If you like negotiation games, I would recommend checking out the Kickstarter campaign. This is a unique negotiation game that will be entertaining even if you have not read the source material. If you love the Mistborn trilogy, but are a casual board gamer or not a fan of negotiation games, I would similarly recommend you visit the Kickstarter site.
If you’d like to become a backer, pledges start at $50 for the full game and stretch goals. Mistborn: House War is scheduled to deliver in April 2017, and you have until Wednesday, July 20th, to become a backer. So head over today and check it out.
As always, we don’t post ratings for preview copies as the components and rules may change from the final game. Check back with us after the game is produced for a full review.