Cry Havoc Review

The futuristic area control game produced by Portal Games, Cry Havoc, has you systematically purging the natives of a beautiful, nameless planet. Released in 2016, you take the helm of one of three colonising factions, as you kill, conquer and collect the planets valuable resources – coloured, plastic crystals.
Alternatively, in a full, four-player game, one of you may assume the role of the brutish natives, as you also kill, conquer and collect – albeit in a slightly different fashion. By gathering crystals and staking claims on land that don’t belong to you, you will be accruing victory points over the course of five rounds, at the end of which victory is decided.
Set-Up and Components
Once unboxed, you may need to take a moment to take it all in. There are many components in Cry Havoc, and all of them are pretty. The artwork on the cards is beautiful, the miniatures are high quality, and it’s packed into an attractive box. When it comes to board games, I’m unashamedly shallow. If it isn’t aesthetically pleasing, then Qasi Modo isn’t making it onto my shelf. Thankfully for Cry Havoc, this isn’t a problem, even if the box art is completely disconnected to its contents.
On set-up, you first need to select which side of it you’ll be playing on. We’ve not been spoilt with wildly battlegrounds, but each side is balanced to a different player count. I’ve found this does a great job of ensuring that the game plays well at any player count, which can’t be said of many games in my collection.
Each player is assigned one of four unique factions: the nomadic Humans, the technological Pilgrims, the blood-thirsty machines, or the indigenous Trogs. Then, players receive an array of unique components corresponding to their faction, including a faction board, structure tiles, tactics cards, skill cards and gorgeous miniatures. Particularly, the faction board and structure tiles feel great and slot together in a satisfying way. In addition, various decks, tokens and crystals are scattered across the board appropriately.
This isn’t quite an exhaustive list of components, but I didn’t want to bore you. Simply put, if you like your board games to contain lots of things, you won’t be disappointed.
Once each player has placed four of their minis in their designated “headquarters” area, selected their skill cards for that game and ensured their thinking caps are securing fitted, you’re good to go.
Cry Havoc Gameplay
Games are separated into five rounds. During each, players will have three actions, including recruiting more units to the battlefield, moving and engaging said units in battle, building and/or activating faction-specific structures, or drawing additional tactics cards.

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Cry Havoc Board and Components (Credit: Portal Games)

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Recruiting, moving and building structures are similar across all factions, but the abilities of the structures are one of the key areas in which they differ. For example, the Humans can assemble Airfields, enabling regions to be captured without miniatures setting foot there; Pilgrims can erect Extractors, which generate crystals in their own back garden; Machines can operate orbital lasers to dispatch of foes sitting across the map, minding their own business; and Trogs can trudge through tunnels to spread across the map like an understandably aggravated rash.
With five unique structures per faction, this makes for very interesting asymmetrical gameplay.
Tactics Cards
Each faction in Cry Havoc has eight tactics cards, with four community terrain decks each containing eight as well. Tactics cards have two purposes: to be discarded as currency for specific actions or influence battles with effects. So, when you take an action, such as spawning new minis onto the board, you must first discard cards totalling the number of recruitment points that you intend to spend. But, if the cards aren’t in your hand, then they can’t be used in combat, disadvantaging you later.
The cards between each faction vary slightly, each complimenting their respective play styles, such as more build points across the Machine cards. The combat effects seem to be the same, regardless of race, however.
When more cards are drawn from the terrain tactic decks, thought needs to be given regarding which of the four terrains to choose from. Combat effects can only be used if you’re fighting in the corresponding terrain. Plunder the jungle deck and go fighting in the hills and your shiny new tactics cards are no use. Once used, these are discarded to each player’s personal discard pile, which will later be shuffled and re-used.
So, if you persistently raid the ocean deck, which is abundant in movement cards, then you may later be lacking in cards for recruitment or structures. This calls for some strategic thinking in your deck-building and considerations for your long-term plans.

Thursday January 01, 1970

Cry Havoc Review – A Four-Player Game (Credit: zgabor BGG)

Once engaged in battle, the “battle region” is typically locked until the end of the round – when combat is resolved. Once locked, units can neither move in nor out, unless otherwise specified on a card. These scenarios are often triggered by stumbling upon one of the “trog war party tokens” scattered across the map. These, when flipped, will spawn up to three Trog units and an equal number of crystals.
Unless a fourth player is present, these trogs are controlled by the player to the attackers left. This makes many, if not most, of the in-game encounters proxy-battles between one another. From my experience, it is often not until late in the game when true PVP combat occurs, once players realise the Nomads have been nurturing a nice, little crystal farm for the past three rounds.
This combat take place on the “battle board,” on-which devious plays, bluffs and bloodshed take place. For me, the battle board is one Cry Havoc’s most genius features. Instead of combat being reduced to dice rolls or army size, players vie for the three objectives on the battle board, which decide on land claimed, prisoners captured, and units lost. Often, the most sought-after objective is region control, because regions and crystals equal points, and points equal prizes (or something to that effect). However, capturing prisoners also gives you points each turn, albeit far fewer, whilst also depriving the owner of one their units.
The final objective, attrition, lets you cut your losses and slaughter enemy troops for a one-off victory point payment. Objectives are resolved in order, starting with region control, capture prisoners, then attrition. This is important, as units can be captured or killed from anywhere on the battle board, so by default, the results of the region control objective are unaffected by the remaining two.
Once each player has decided where they will lay siege on the battle board, they take turns playing tactics cards from their hands. These have a range of abilities, such as “Air Support”, which lets you drop an additional unit in from your reserve; “Outflank”, allowing you to move up to two of your units from one objective to another; or “Shifted Priorities”, which reverses the order in which the objectives are resolved, so region control is then very much influenced by the murder and kidnapping of troops.
Skill Cards
In addition to structures, skill cards are the other main aspect that differentiate factions. These are unique abilities that can be played at any time, typically with no cost and are refreshed at the end of the round. Among these are the Human “Occupation” skill, which allows for the capture of unoccupied regions; the Pilgrim “Data Extraction” skill, a passive ability which scavenges crystals from each battle to store in a personal supply; the Machine “Moving City” skill, that enables the movement of structures; or the Trog “Disappear” skill, which involves the removal of a Trog unit from one region and the placement of a Trog War Party token in another nearby.
As with structures, there are five of these per factions, though only up to three per player should be brought to the table each game. Nevertheless, these compliment the rest of each faction’s attributes nicely.

Final Thoughts on Cry Havoc
In all, Cry Havoc makes for a very interesting asymmetric experience. The races play sufficiently differently that the game stays fresh, but similarly enough that it remains reasonably balanced. With any asymmetric game, balance is the main concern and it is very difficult to determine how well balanced Cry Havoc is.
My instinctive feeling is that the Nomads may be slightly under powered, as they don’t seem as combat efficient as the others. In multiple games I have played, they have been piled on in the late game, as they’ve crawled ahead by farming crystals, but can’t compete as readily on the battlefield. I sense they may just have a steeper learning curve than the other factions and, with a consistent gaming group, the wins across factions may stabilise.
This offers a very thoughtful tactical experience, with relatively limited RNG. It could be argued that limited RNG can affect the replay-ability of the game, but I have not yet found it to be a problem.
My personal highlight is the battle board, which provides a novel approach to settling combat in a board game. I have fond memories of deducing why an opponent placed units in a certain location and what tactics cards they may have up their proverbial sleeve. However, I do think it’s a shame that most of these encounters occur as proxy-battles, with one player temporarily controlling the Trogs – though this is not an issue in a full four-player match. That said, coupled with a fantastic aesthetic, I’d love to get Cry Havoc to my table more often.
So, what’s kept this from my table as often as I’d like? As you can see from my gameplay description above, there is a little more to it than a lot of the games on the market – particularly as some additional details have been omitted to keep this review accessible. This makes it a bit of a chore to teach to others and off-putting for my more casual friends. The main problem is I feel the depth disadvantages a new player, more so than a simple one, and completely stomping friends isn’t as fun since I’ve mellowed with age.

You Might Like

Thoughtful, tactical gameplay.
Asymmetric gameplay.
Great artwork.
High quality miniatures.

You Might Not Like

Pretty heavy game.
Arguable balancing issues.

You Might Like
Thoughtful, tactical gameplay.
Asymmetric gameplay.
Great artwork.
High quality miniatures.

You Might Not Like
Pretty heavy game.
Arguable balancing issues.

The post Cry Havoc Review appeared first on Zatu Games.