Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Quick Review - PWNs - Kickstarter Preview

PWNs: A Game of Strategic Mayhem
Designer: Ryan Boyle
Publisher: AWRY Corp, LLC
Quick Review - PWNs - Kickstarter Preview
Disclaimer

Back in September I was contacted by Ryan Boyle about reviewing a whimsical combat game he was working on called PWNs (pronounced 'pones').  It was still in development at that time, but it looked interesting and I said I'd be happy to play it when it was ready.  It took about six months, but when it was ready to play Ryan sent me a prototype copy.  I've played a few times now, but was it worth the wait?

Overview:
PWNs is a light strategic combat game with a lot of chaos and mayhem.  The game is for 2-4 players ages 10+ (although my 6 year old played without any problems at all) and takes about 30-45 minutes.  PWNs will be on Kickstarter in mid to late May.  I'll update this review when the Kickstarter details, like price and launch date are available.  PWNs is now on Kickstarter, through June 22, 2016!  Be sure to check out the PWNs Kickstarter Campaign where you can grab a copy of the game for $34 ($39 for a deluxe version with exclusive cards and abilities) plus shipping.
PWNs are on the march!
In PWNs each player controls a set of pawns (called PWNs) and the goal is to eliminate all opponent PWNs on the board.  Each PWN starts out with 5 HP (Health Points) and will be able to move, attack, and heal throughout the course of the game.  If a PWN's HP is ever reduced to 0 that PWN is KO'd (Knocked Out) and is out of the game.  The last player with surviving PWNs is the winner.  The battle is conducted on a grid of 64 squares, much like a chess board, but instead of black and white squares each square is a different terrain: mud, grass, dry grass, and water.  Throughout the course of the game different effects will change the terrain, converting grass to mud, mud to holes, setting dry grass on fire, freezing lakes to ice, and more.  Some of the terrain is hazardous to the PWNs, some is just more likely to become a hazard.
Holes and lakes are two of the types of hazards that the battlefield will have.
Gameplay:
Playing PWNs is very simple.  Setup consists of each player selecting their team (there are no asymmetrical powers, so even though each character has flavor text the only real difference is the colors) of PWNs and their corresponding mats, setting the starting HP to 5 for each PWN, and drawing a number of cards that varies depending on the number of players.  Then you choose 4 random starting tiles (square tiles composed of a 4x4 grid of 16 different terrain spaces).  These are randomly assembled to create an 8x8 grid.  Finally each player places his four PWNs in the first two rows on a side of the playing area.  Currently these starting tiles are just cardstock weight squares, but in the final version I'm told they'll be thicker chipboard mats, held together with a frame, kind of like how the Catan hexes are held together with a frame.  This should make for a nice, solid playing surface as opposed to the somewhat floppy prototype playing area.
The cardstock starting tiles were annoying in the prototype, but fortunately they'll be nicer chipboard mats in the final game.
Once all the PWNs are placed the first player begins.  Each player's turn consists of three phases: Move, Action, and Health.  During the Move phase a player may move the PWNs up to three spaces total.  They can move one PWN three spaces, three PWNs one space, or any combination that totals 0-3 spaces.  Next comes the Action phase.  This is where the meat of the game comes into play.  During the Action phase players get to choose one PWN to attack opponent PWNs.  Once the Action phase is resolved players can play any Health cards during the Health phase.
Managing HP is important, otherwise your PWNs wind up KO'd.
There are two types of cards that can be played during the Action phase: Elementals and Attacks.  Elemental cards generally affect the terrain of the board.  If a PWN happens to be unlucky enough to be standing on an affected space on the board the may get some damage done.  Sometimes there may be a satellite that crashes into the earth, setting spaces on fire.  Or maybe a hurricane blows forth, blowing all PWNs in a certain direction, possibly into a hazard.  Elemental cards are great for adding a general sense of chaos to the board, ensuring that nothing stays the same for long.
Elemental cards can not only set the grass aflame, but also turn water to ice, cause lakes to expand, and more.
But Attack cards are the really fun part of the Action phase.  PWNs comes with a wide variety of Attacks.  Everything from Molotov Cocktails to a Bag of Stinky Leftovers to Halitosis is fair game.  Some Attacks directly damage PWNs.  Some send a PWN running into hazards.  Each one is great, but some are more useful in certain situations.  You don't want to don the Scary Mask and just make a PWN run across the board, you want to scare that PWN into a hole, fire, or crash him into another PWN (which does damage to both PWNs).
Oh, the choices...  I think I'll use a Poison Dart and keep my Block in case I'm attacked...
But not every Attack card is guaranteed to be successful.  A few require rolling a die to determine just how destructive they are (like, does a vulture swoop down for the attack or a dragon).  And most Attacks can be avoided if the victim plays an appropriate Reaction card.  Some Reaction cards simply protect a PWN from being attacked, or let them dodge out of the way, but some Reaction cards turn the tables on the attacker and make him the attackee!  Using the Sniper Rifle on a PWN that has a Reflector could be the end of the attacking PWN!
Oh yeah, that's a good card to play on your brother!
During any phase of a player's turn they can trade in a card from their hand to gain a new card from the deck, so sometimes it's worth it to just lay low and shuffle cards around until you have what you need to move in on a big strike.  But you need to be careful, because sitting in one place for too long makes you a prime target!
Beethoven and Happy are trapped between the giant lake and the wall of flames.
Final Thoughts:
The concept behind PWNs is simple, but it is hugely fun.  Sending these PWNs around the board, attacking your opponents, changing the terrain, is all hugely satisfying.  This isn't going to be your 3 hour, highly strategic Euro game.  It's not even an Amerithrashy strategic war game.  It's simply a chaotic battle that gives the feel of a bunch of unorganized kids having an epic paintball battle, but with slightly odder weapons.  I'm not sure I'd recommend the game for a group of serious gamers (although it could be a good starter or end of the night game just for a few laughs), but this is an excellent game for families.  My sons (6 and 9) and their friends absolutely love PWNs.  I think it's the only Kickstarter preview I've had where they've pulled it out to play on their own.  I've played with adults, too (although never a game with only adults) and everyone has always had a great time.
There are always hilariously fun choices to make.
There are only a few minor issues with the game as it is now, and some of these issues are simply because it is a prototype.  I mentioned that the game will be coming with thicker starting tiles instead of the thin cardstock tiles.  This is almost a necessity.  The game is fun, regardless, but the thin tiles are just a pain to play on.  But when I mentioned it to the designer, Ryan said it's already planned to be fixed in the final game.  Also, a minor concern is that some effects that apply to PWNs (like being frozen, poisoned, trapped in ivy, etc.) are difficult to indicate.  We've been playing by using the card that caused the effect to indicate which PWN has been effected, but Ryan has indicated that they'll be adding better markers to indicate various statuses.  A few of the interactions between attacks and reactions were a bit confusing, too, but that should all be clarified with some adjusted text and FAQs in the rules.
Mr. Decaf is trapped in ivy and Houdini is on the run.
I think my only big complaint about the game is the player elimination aspect.  The current rules say that you play until there is only one team of PWNs left.  In a 2-player game this is fine, but in a three or four player game there can be a significant amount of time between when the first player is eliminated and when the game finally ends.  PWNs is generally a pretty quick game, but being eliminated 15-20 minutes before the game is over is never any fun, especially when some of the players are kids.  The good thing is that I made a suggestion to Ryan and he really liked it.  Instead of playing until one team is left, play until one team is completely eliminated and end the game right there.  The winner is the player with the most PWNs remaining, or with the most HP if there's a tie.  This make sure no one is left out at all and also makes sure that no one is ganging up on any other player.  It also speeds up the game a little bit, too.  The games I played with this variation were a lot more fun for everyone and added an extra level of strategy, too, since you have to decide who to attack because you don't want to end the game when someone else has too many PWNs left.  So it's very possible that this will make it into the final rules, either as the primary rule set or as a variant to the last-PWN-standing rules.
Play until one player's team is eliminated and then determine the winner, that way no one has to feel left out.
So overall I really liked PWNs for a fun, crazy family game.  It offers a bit of light strategy with a lot of funny action.  I never felt like I was a slave to the game, but also never felt like any player had a huge advantage over any other player.  Every game I played ended up being a close game and every game was a ton of fun.  PWNs is a roller coaster ride of mayhem and strategic chaos!  My sons, their friends, my friends, and I all had a great time playing PWNs!  
I think this is the only Kickstarter preview I've done where the kids insisted on playing without me.
If you want something that is light, plays quickly, and is full of crazy family fun, check out PWNs on Kickstarter through June 22, 2016!

Preliminary Rating: 7.5/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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