Can Friendship be stronger than War? That is the question asked on the box cover of the game. Let us transport ourselves back in time to the early part of the 20th Century as we find ourselves in the trenches during the Great War. The Grizzled, designed by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez, and published by Cool Mini Or Not has players playing the roles of Grizzled soldiers during World War I. The Grizzled is a cooperative game steeped in taking risks and pressing the luck of the group as a whole.
The Grizzled is a card-based game for 2-5 players and plays in about 30 minutes. In the box, there are a number of cards, a game aid, and some tokens and tiles. Players work together to overcome many challenges in an attempt to survive til the end of the war and Peace is made. The challenges include different threats, as well as hard knocks that affect the players including phobias and traumas. Players undertake different missions into No Man’s Land trying to be successful rather than casualties only remembered by a Monument.
OVERVIEW OF GAME PLAY
At setup each player will choose a Grizzled character card and place it in front of them with the Good Luck Charm side up.
The Grizzled cards are characters that were either real people or ancestors of people who worked on this game. The good luck charm is a 4-leaf clover and there will be an icon of one of the threats the players will face during the game.
Each player will also receive 3 support tokens with little arrows on the back side of them which will be explained later.
The support tokens have a cup of hot coffee printed on one side. Next the trial cards are shuffled. There are 2 cards that are placed in the center of the table with some space left between them. One card is the Peace card, the other is the Monument Card. 25 Cards are placed face down on top of the Peace card and form the Trials pile. The remaining 34 cards are placed face down on the Monument card and make up the Reserve of Morale for the group. The number of cards in the Trials pile can be adjusted to change the difficulty of the game. Speech tokens are placed between the card piles based upon the number of players. An area in the center of the table is designated as No Man’s Land, where cards will be played. The Mission Leader token is given to the hairiest person. And the game begins……….
Each round of the game is a mission that the players will go on. There are 4 steps that compose each mission. The first step is Preparation. The mission leader evaluates the risks to take and chooses the intensity of the mission which determines the number of cards each player will be dealt, with a minimum intensity of 1; the first mission always has a minimum of 3 cards to each player. Starting with the mission leader cards will be dealt out to each player.
The second step in the mission is the Mission itself. Starting with the Mission Leader and going clockwise, players must choose 1 of 4 actions. The most common action will be to play a trial card from their hand. There are 2 types of trial cards: Threats and Hard Knocks. Threat cards will be made up of various scenes: night, snow, or rain, and/or articles of war: shell, mask, whistle.
There may be multiple threats on one card. Some of the cards have traps on them which forces players to blindly draw and play trial cards. Hard Knock cards are conditions that have an effect on that player until the end of the game or until that Hard Knock is removed.
These Hard Knocks are either traumas that alter the abilities of the player, or phobias which present a constant presence of one of the threats facing the group. These traumas have a dramatic affect on game play and they are very traumatic to the whole group. Threat cards will be played into No Man’s Land, Hard Knocks go in front of the player. Over the course of each mission, players are trying to avoid having 3 identical threats in No Man’s Land which results in a failed mission.
Another action players can do is use their good luck charm, by discarding a trial card in No Man’s Land that has a matching threat that is on the player’s Grizzled card. Once the good luck charm is used, the Grizzled card is flipped over, showing no charm and the charm cannot be used again until it is restored by getting support from others.
Players can also make a speech if they have a speech token in front of them, which encourages the group and allows all players to discard a single card from their hand which matches the threat mentioned in the speech. After the speech is given, the token is discarded from the game.
The final action a player can do is withdraw and play a support tile. When a player withdraws, he or she can no longer take actions, they will then choose a support token and place it face down in front of them on their Grizzled card. Although that player cannot take actions, all of the Hard Knocks they possess have no effect on the mission.
The missions end in one of two ways: SUCCESS or FAILURE. A mission is successful if all players have withdrawn. A mission fails if there are 3 identical threats including the phobias and traumas of the players who have not withdrawn. When a mission is successful, the cards played into No Man’s Land are discarded, bringing the group closer to Peace. A failed mission has the cards played into No Man’s Land shuffled back into the Trials pile to be faced again. Any cards left in players’ hands remain there as well as any hard knocks.
The third step of the Mission is Support. Players will reveal their support tokens and place them in front of the appropriate player based on arrows printed on the tokens. Support is given to try to help benefit other players. If the mission was successful, the player with the most support tokens received can either get rid of 2 Hard Knocks affecting their character or recover their good luck charm. If the mission was a failure, only the support tokens of the withdrawn players are taken into account and the player receiving the most support can only get rid of 1 hard knock. If there is a tie for support given, no one gets support. Any support tokens received are kept and used in later missions to give support to others.
After Support, players check for either a victory or defeat condition. The group is Defeated if a player is left with 4 or more hard knocks. Victory is achieved if the Peace Card is visible and the players have no cards in hand.
The final part of the Mission is Morale Drop. Total the number of cards remaining in hand and transfer that number of cards from the Morale Reserve Pile to the Trials pile, with a minimum of three cards. If the Monument card is revealed during the morale drop, the game is lost.
If players have made it past the morale drop, the mission leader token moves on to the next player and the former leader gets a speech token if there are any remaining and the game continues until the group either succeeds or fails.
Ever since my first encounter with The Grizzled, I have felt there are so many things more to this than the game play itself. The Grizzled is a very challenging card game that to me captures the struggles of the soldiers in the trenches during The Great War. The first impression comes with the artwork from the late Tignous. The artwork done in the game is a certain French style of cartooning used for World War I images. The artwork certainly sets the scene for the game, with illustrations of our Grizzled characters just trying to make it through. the component quality is very good, with sturdy cardboard tokens and good card stock. The game play itself has many layers in which I wish to discuss. At the surface the game is a cooperative card game with a press your luck element. The Mission Leader says how many cards each player is dealt after getting a feel from his group; players play as many cards as possible before withdrawing or failing the mission. Hard Knocks cripple the players, severely hampering the efforts for a successful mission. Give a few speeches along the way too. Failures come and make things more difficult while players try to best support the player most in need all while trying to keep the Monument card from being exposed and working to find Peace. That’s the game in a nutshell. And, it plays in 30 minutes or less. Looking at the game from a playing standpoint, I enjoy it best with higher player counts.With the 2 player game, there is a virtual player known as the Chaplain and I found that when playing with 2 players, some of the Hard Knock cards do not work well with the Chaplain, making some games impossible to succeed because of how support tokens go to the Chaplain and how he randomly distributes the support tokens. I applaud the effort to accommodate 2-player situations, but 4 or 5 players is best in my opinion as the Support phase really shines with some of the double arrow tokens. I really like the Hard Knock cards and I think this is the heart of the game because of the conditions that affect the players. The Mute trauma……well I guess you will have to play to experience that.
The trap cards ramp up the game and really enhance the press your luck aspect of the game, and the two stacks of cards: trials and morale reserve create a tension that keeps players engaged the whole time. Looking closer at the game design, the game may seem unbalanced as 50% of the cards are Hard Knocks that have adverse effects on the players, increasing the difficulty of the game exponentially. There are 39 trial cards with each of the 6 types of threats represented 14 times and 9 cards have traps. It may appear that the design is not perfect, but for this game the design is perfect in which I will explain later.
Digging deeper, we start to see the underlying message of this game. This is the intention note from the game:
At the same level as literature and cinema, games are a cultural medium which is undeniably participative.
There are no subjects it can’t broach, though some are more delicate that others. The life of the Grizzled is one of those.
Guided by the deepest respect that the suffering endured by these men has inspired in us, we’ve designed and tweaked this game with this constant concern.
In this earnest endeavor we’ve chosen to focus on the individual, with his preoccupations and his daily fears.
The only escape for the men we’ve portrayed is to use their solidarity, their brotherhood, and mutual assistance to save one another.
Without ever touching on the warlike aspect, “The Grizzled” offers each player the chance to feel some of the difficulties suffered by the soldiers in the trenches. Thus the emotions around the table will often be intense.
The path to victory may seem difficult, but don’t get discouraged – persist and survive the Great War!
Even though the game is a simple card game, there are so many thematic elements presented here that the gameplay experience is quite rich. As the game play carries out, a self-sacrificing element comes across as each player is faced with the choice of doing what is best for the group at the expense of his or her own well-being, best illustrated by enduring Hard Knocks that have a negative effect on the player, yet it helps the group have better success on a mission. This game is an excellent representation of a cooperative game because it does not suffer from Alpha syndrome, where one player calls the shots. Players must work together and the speech giving is a nice touch to encourage the players to keep on going.
There is an underlying tension in the game that the Morale Reserve presents. There is only so much that the men in the trenches have before all hope is lost. This makes players try to take on more intense missions and try to play more cards each round because at best morale declines even at a slow drip of 3 cards. This keeps the game engaging, but also gives a feel of the Grizzled as they pressed on and pushed to survive.
I mentioned earlier that the game design may seem unbalanced and not perfect, yet it is perfect for this design. When playing The Grizzled, it is very difficult and many times the players are put in such dire straits that it seems like they will never survive because of the constant hard knocks and some of the trial cards have multiple threats on them. To me this is where the design is perfect because those soldiers in the trenches were in the same situations and so I think the game captured this element perfectly.
Looking at this game from a family perspective, this game has so much going for it. Not only is it a great team building type exercise, there are some underlying educational aspects as well. For team building, this is a great game that a family can play in a short time where everyone has to work to help each other, and also illustrates how others need to fill in where others cannot due to the Hard Knocks. Educationally, for home-schoolers, this is a great supplement for Social Studies chapters covering World War I, or even as a practical supplement for literature where someone may be reading “All Quiet On the Western Front”, that deals with soldiers during and after World War I.
I really enjoy this game a lot. I appreciate that it is an homage to those who were the Grizzled in World War I. I like that there is varying difficulty levels for the game so increase replayability. The game comes in a small box, takes up little space on a shelf and does not take up a very large footprint on the game table. There are clarifications in the rulebook to help avoid any confusion and the game itself is easy to play and to teach. The recommended age for the game is 14+ and I think the game can be played by kids 10+, however the theme of the game is better realized by a more mature audience. I recommend The Grizzled highly and I look forward to continued plays of this great game.