The War of the Worlds – A Pointed Review

Based on the novel by H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds is a science fiction wargame with a streamlined and abstracted set of rules and mechanisms. It retells the story from two alternating angles, one being the top-down, strategical perspective of a high-ranking officer, the other the tactical perspective of the commanding officer of a flotilla or of an army unit the size between a regiment and a brigade.

The War of the Worlds (TWotW) was designed by Arnauld Della Siega, illustrated by Nicolas Treil in a style that invokes the setting and the theme, and released by Dan Verssen Games (DVG) in 2018. It’s a solitaire-only game and that’s an area where DVG has a good track record, especially in the wargame genre. The Leader Series, the Field and Fleet Commander Series and the Warfighter system, but also single titles such as Pavlov’s House, are popular solo games. Neither me nor my cats are wargamers (yet!), however, so the only previous experience we have with DVG (apart from their very useful Deep Dish counter trays) is the peculiar, lightweight solo game The Cards of Cthulhu that we reviewed favorably in 2019.

There are four different incarnations of TWotW representing four different theaters where the war against the Martians is fought; England, France, Japan and the US East Coast. They use the same rules for the most part, and apart from a few variations the differences mainly pertain to looks, flavor and geography. DVG sent me a review copy of The War of the Worlds: England.

The central component is the display board with the strategic map, a simplified turn order structure chart, and a track for recording victory points, resources and other data. For the most part, at least as far as major decisions are concerned, the display board is the center of attention.

While troop movements are tracked on the strategic map on the main board, battles are fought on either of two smaller, tactical boards – one for naval battles and one for battles on land.

There are two types of cards in the game: event cards and battle cards. The former are divided into seven different kinds, each representing one of the seven phases of a turn, and the latter are divided into two decks, one for land battle and one for naval battle. I wouldn’t call TWotW a card driven game, however – apart from the Martians behavior on the tactical boards, which mainly is controlled by the battle decks, the Martian actions are dictated by die-rolls and tables.

The event cards serve multiple purposes. They often represent events from the novel, tying gameplay to Wells’s narrative. They also add tension, variety and a measure of unpredictability. Some events are good, and some are bad.

TWotW comes with quite a few counters for a relatively small game with low complexity. A counter tray is recommended.

The two brightly colored dice are rolled both to determine the behavior of the Martian invaders, and the outcome of the player’s attempts to fight back. Three faces are green, two are yellow and one is red. Whenever the dice are rolled, the result is looked up on a table representing the current action or event.

The Martians can win the game in three different ways: by destroying London, by assembling all four pieces of the Flying Machine, or if the Martian Colonization counter reaches ten. Over the course of six games, I’ve been defeated in all of these ways.

You win if you manage to wipe the board clean of Martians, or if the Human Germ counter reaches ten. I have yet to defeat the Martians.

The Martian Colonization counter and the Human Germ counter mechanically represent victory points, and to anyone familiar with the novel they make thematic sense as well. The assembly of the Martian Flying Machine is done in four steps, each triggered either by an event card or by a die-roll during the Martian action phase. The completion of the Flying Machine means human defeat; in the novel it’s hinted that the peculiar aircraft plays a role in spreading the poisonous black smoke that kills people in droves.

In the novel, the Martians prepare for colonization by attacking infrastructure and making the land unfertile by spreading a red weed. The game is developed in the spirit of the novel, and thus the defense effort is not only about moving troops around and shooting; the importance of protecting centers of production and efficiently using the dwindling resources to produce munitions and build freighters to take refugees into safety means that both economy and logistics have to be taken into account.

The game takes between one and two hours to play, and takes up more table space than most games in a box this size. Now it’s time to sum up my impressions of the game point by point.

The Negatives

  • The rule book, while well written and edited for the most part, sometimes requires a little more interpretation than I’d prefer. Some things are left to the reader to figure out, and although these things can be deduced using common gamer sense, I always prefer rules text to state everything explicitly, rather than to require the player to read between the lines.
  • The game has quality components and looks great on the table, but there are a few details that detract from the positive impression; a few typos have snuck their way into the finished product, and the stands for the standees tend to damage the cardboard and are also very hard to attach.
  • The ratio between upkeep and meaningful decision making is just right as far as the main board is concerned; the game is strategically challenging. What goes on on the tactical battle boards, however, feels somewhat shallow in comparison. The decisions are simple and luck plays a rather important role. Here the upkeep-to-decision ratio leans toward upkeep. The naval battles in particular are rather tedious, but thankfully they are few and far between. These battles sometimes occur when refugees get onboard a freighter and try to escape, and they feel like a lot of work and upkeep for a few, measly points if the refugees get away.
  • Everything from martian victory points to human economy is tracked on the same track, which means that that ten-step track has eight counters on it in total. This is a bit fiddly.
  • In Europe, the game certainly is rather expensive.

The Neutrals

  • This game is hard – not in terms of complexity, but because the Martians are a formidable foe. Expect to lose a lot.
  • The bulk of the decision making is strategical and concerns economy and logistics; mustering, troop movements, creating routes of escape for refugees and so on.
  • There’s a lot of die-rolling. Luck is a factor both on the strategical level and on the tactical.
  • The perspective is very top-down. The story takes place on the grand scale of national defense and not through the eyes of the narrator of the book. This is certainly not a problem, just a fact.

The Positives

  • The game is both thematic and immersive. I’m impressed by how the designer and the developers have managed to make such an abstracted, simple set of rules and mechanisms convey such a strong story. The game is true to the book it’s based on.
  • The Martians come across as a superior enemy and the human attempts at defense feel desperate, but there is also a sense of hope; I never feel like giving up – every small victory is a cause for celebration.
  • The Martians move around the strategic map with a sense of purpose and determination, and the simple card system that dictates their behavior on the battle boards is clever.
  • The game looks great on the table and the components are of good quality (except for the stands for the standees).
  • Despite taking at most two hours to play, the game feels epic.

Summary and Conclusion

The War of the Worlds: England is a solitaire science fiction wargame of low complexity. It’s very true to the book it’s based on and provides an epic, thematic experience in at most two hours. The game is very interesting on the strategical level, but the fighting on the tactical maps feels simplistic and rather shallow. The tactical aspect is my only real issue with the game. I’ve enjoyed it despite this, and despite some minor quibbles with the rules writing and components. It stays in my collection for the time being; I definitely plan to play it again.

Other People’s Opinions

This game has received relatively little buzz, despite being ambitiously released in four versions simultaneously. There is not a lot to read about it. However, my friend Athena of Solitaire Times has written an article about the Japanese variant, and I also recommend reading Shane Avery’s narrative review of the game.

Thanks for reading. Mysan says “Meow!” Juni is snoring.

2 Responses

  1. Nice review!
    The board and components look great, but the theme and mechanics don’t “do it” for me. I like a heavier hex and counter game, and not much into scifi unless the game checks off ALL my other desires.

  2. Like Invaders from Dimension X! Which is slowly making its way towards my table…

    Thanks for reading and for commenting.

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