Designer: Fabian Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez
Art By: Tignous
Average Play Time: 30 Minutes
Last week I mentioned that some games are cooperative, meaning that it’s a group of you and your friends working together to defeat the game. These games are big on teamwork and communication and making decisions. Today, I thought we’d talk about one of these games. But not just any cooperative game. The Grizzled is special. You’ll notice right off the bat that the artwork in this game is striking. Masterfully drawn by artist Tignous, this game would sadly be one of his last projects as he was killed in the Charlie Hebdo shooting. The Grizzled is more than a game about war. It’s a game about humanity and the way that our internal struggles affect all of those around us.
What’s it About?
Welcome to August 1914. World War I is in full swing. In your platoon, friendships have been fostered and laughs have been had. Yet now, there is no more laughter. A general mobilization order hangs from the wall, marking the end of the fun and games. You and your fellow soldiers are heading into war, into the trenches. You promise to keep each other alive and come back together no matter what. What you don’t realize is that the war ahead of you will change all of you forever and only through determination and teamwork will you make it out alive.
More than the flavor text, I want to touch on some points made in the ‘intentions’ section of the rulebook. First of all, know that board games don’t normally come with ‘intentions’ sections. Like I said, this game is special. Some of the characters in this game were real people. Others were relatives of those who made the game. At its core, The Grizzled is an homage to those who died before us and the difficulties they suffered through so that we may live in the world we do today.
How is it Played?
The Grizzled starts with a simple idea. Survive the Great War and stay alive until peace can be fostered. Several characters are sat out on the table and each player is asked to choose one that they connect with. Each round, one player will be the mission leader who will lead the troops. In doing so, they will choose the difficulty level of the current mission. The difficulty level corresponds to how many cards a player must draw at the start of that round. At a difficulty of 3, each player will draw 3 cards.
Cards are dealt and then players, one at a time, place a card on the table in a space that the game calls No Man’s Land. This is the core of The Grizzled. Essentially, this is a push your luck style game something like Blackjack. Each card has 1 of 6 threats. 3 weather threats: Night, Rain and Snow, and 3 items of war: gas masks, whistles and bullet shells. If ever there are three of a kind of any one threat, the mission is failed and the team returns to camp with their tails between their legs.
Fortunately, if you ever get to a point where you can no longer contribute without ‘busting’ the team, you can retreat to camp to drink coffee. In doing this, you remove yourself from the mission and place a coffee token face down on your character which will later be used to help out a fellow team members.
This process is made trickier by the addition of hard knocks like the phobia in the photo above. These are cards which add to a character’s mental state. In the phobia above, the whistle counts as a whistle played into No Man’s Land. This means that when trying to avoid placing three whistles, this card must also be considered.
Other Hardknocks aren’t so simple. Some make it so that you must randomly draw a card from the deck when you retreat, creating the possibility that you will bust the team. Other cards force you to not retreat until you have a certain number of cards. One card even renders the player mute so that the player is no longer allowed to talk or communicate in any way. The challenge starts to amp up quite quickly.
If everyone manages to retreat without busting, the mission is successful and all cards in No Man’s Land are removed from the game. The coffee tokens, which point to other players on their backside are turned over and then given to the player they are pointing to. Whoever gets the most support tokens is able to get rid of two of their hard knocks. This is important since any player who gets 4 of them goes crazy and the game is lost.
If the mission is failed, then the cards are added back to the deck and must be dealt with again. In a way, the game is a timed. There are two decks and your mission is to exhaust the deck atop the peace dove and get rid of all cards from your hand. Only when all players have done this do they win.
Unfortunately, for every card in a player’s hand at the end of the round, cards will be pulled from the Trials pile, the deck to the right in the photo above. This is representative of the morale dropping. If the trials card is ever revealed, meaning its deck is empty, the game is lost and we pay respect to those who lost their lives.
Once a mission ends, the leader passes leadership to the next player and receives a speech. Speeches are tokens that can be spent to name a specific type of threat. Doing this allows other players to get rid of one card from their hand with that threat on it.
Each character also has a lucky charm which allows them to eliminate a card of that type from the lineup, in hopes of helping other players be able to play more cards.
But therein lies possibly the biggest challenge of The Grizzled. Unlike may cooperative games out there, players can’t talk openly in this game. Much like a soldier on the battlefield, you can’t necessarily share your fears or troubles in the heat of battle. You simply must rely on your teammates to do what is best and then deal with the consequences. You’ll find yourself bravely giving a speech about not being afraid of the winter snow, only to find that no one at the table has any snow cards. The whole game has this tense “Please let this help us or we’re done for” feel which makes it fun but also stressful. I’ll be honest, seeing the blank Peace card and then winning is something that happens less often than you’d think.
What is so great about The Grizzled?
The Grizzled is a game that is hard to describe. It plays intuitively but talking about it as a normal game is always a challenge when I try to teach it to my gaming groups. It’s a game that is more about the feelings and the intensity and the trouble of just trying to find a way to get rid of one more card. It’s simple yet elegant. For a game that is made up of some cards and a couple tokens, it is incredibly deep and strategic.
What could make The Grizzled even better?
Soon, an expansion for The Grizzled will be released. I have no idea what it will add but I’m hoping for even more hard knocks like the mute card which really mess with the player as I think those are the moments where the game transcends the table and reaches new heights of teaching us the value of communication and companionship.
Other World War I or II games are about the conflict and have you fighting and killing the opposite side. This game is about the companionship and the emotions of war. It’s a deep experience that players always walk away from surprised at what they encountered there. It’s not a traditional Cooperative game by any means. But that is why it’s so good. Like any good piece of art or great song, The Grizzled asks you to take a moment and think. Pause and reflect. If you want a game with more substance or even just a game that will truly challenge you every time you play it, The Grizzled deserves your attention. I’ve trudged through the trenches, helped my fellow man, given speeches about not fearing the rain or snow. I’ve survived The Grizzled. Now It’s Your Turn.