[Game Review] Rivet Wars – CMoN/SuperRobotPunch
I love Real Time Strategy games. I cut my teeth on Command & Conquer and the original Warcraft games, and then moved into the juggernaut that is Starcraft when I was a teenager. From Age of Mythology to Rise of Nations, to Rome: Total War, I’ve pretty much played them all. I really, really enjoy them. As a miniature gamer, I’ve always been frustrated because there wasn’t any ‘good’ representation of the genre in a miniature game or board game. Rivet Wars fixes all of that in a dynamite package.
Rivet Wars and it’s accompanying universe is the brainchild of artist and game designer Ted Terranova; its a sort of mash up where 80’s Fisher Price meets Steampunk meets World War I. It sounds odd at face value, but its an aesthetic Terranova has been honing for the better part of five years, and is immediately appealing. My buddies in the art and design business love it for its nostalgic pastiche. My wife loves it because its, for lack of a better term, cute. I love it for all of those things, but also because Terranova’s been able to develop a simple yet elegant game system that really “feels” like a great RTS.
Bombs Away: The Gameplay
When I first saw the Kickstarter for Rivet Wars, my immediate reaction was, “Wow, that looks a lot like Dust Tactics,” a game I was intimately familiar with having demoed it or three straight years for FFG at GenCon. My initial impressions couldn’t be farther from the truth, as in reality, the only thing Rivet Wars has in common with Dust Tactics is a passing resemblance to combat resolution.
The game, at it’s heart, is simple and is played over five phases: Card Draw, Deployment, Combat, Movement, and Wrap Up. The Card Phase consists of the drawing of Action and/or Secret Mission Cards and is a part of the game that adds a bit of randomness and additional objectives for the players to accomplish. The Action Cards, in a really nice design decision, also serve to resolve weapon deviation.
The Deployment Phase is the point in the game where Rivet Wars really shows its RTS roots. In Rivet Wars, each scenario determines how many Deployment Points each player is allowed to spend per turn. These refresh every turn, allowing you to redeploy expired units (and oh, will they expire in numbers!) and reevaluate your strategies. In the base game, units range from a single point for deployment all the way to four points for deployment. Adding a wrinkle to the deployment system is the fact that some units, like heroes and tanks, require Rivets to deploy, a resource that, unlike your Deployment Points, do not refresh after each round; rather, you accumulate Rivets so you can deploy that big bad model on your unknowing opponent at the most opportune time. It’s a really simple, yet wonderfully elegant system that forces the player to make some really fun tactical decisions as the game progresses. With the base game, you are slightly limited in the units you can deploy, but if the Kickstarter is any indication, both the Blight and the Allies will have plenty of units to bolster their forces in the future.
The Combat Phase allows the players to use their units to attack their opponents based on an attack system that is, like I previously mentioned, a bit reminiscent of Dust Warfare system. But that’s not a bad thing. Basically, each model has a Range, an attack number, and a grid that outlines how many dice they get to roll during their attacks, and units are killed on a roll of a 5 or 6. The number of dice is determined by the opposing model’s armor rating. Most infantry has an armor rating of one, while light vehicles are a two, and so on. Units are pretty practical in how they attack; Panzerfausts are just okay against infantry (one dice) but really show their mettle when attacking level two armor (three dice). Contrarily, the Allied Riflemen are fantastic against other infantry (three dice) but can’t even damage enemy armor. The “common sense” practically of the models really helps with teaching gameplay, as a rocket does what a new learner thinks a rocket ‘should’ do, and allowed my wife to catch on really quickly. Attacks are then resolved utilizing the Attack Block while following the rules for Grid Target Order, perhaps the most innovative and fulfilling parts of Rivet Wars. When electing to attack, players don’t attack models, but rather the grid in which they reside. This is one of the things that really sets Rivet Wars apart from other grid-based board games and gives it a level of tactical depth that Dust Tactics lacks. Because targeting is resolved via that Grid Target Order, it presents all sorts of interesting choices in the Movement Phase.
During the Movement Phase, models move into new grids per their allotted movement, much like any other game. Unlike any grid based game I’ve ever played, in Rivet Wars you can manipulate your units within that grid so they give you the best options when it comes to the Grid Target order. Have a few Panzerfausters you want to move up, but are staring in the face of a bunch of riflemen? Hide them in the 3 and 4 spots of your grid behind a Monowheel. Want to keep your Mortar safe from those Panzerfausts? Increase your odds of survival by shielding it with some Rifleman. It’s such a simple system, but its genius lies in the tactical depth it adds to game play.
The final phase is the Wrap Up, where you check to see if you’ve earned any victory points (by capturing objectives or completing victory conditions) or if you’ve achieved enough success to satisfy the victory conditions.
Again, the game is relatively simple. There are a few special rules available to some units that add some advanced rules to the game (Runner allows infantry to move two spaces on duckboard, Bolster Defenses reduces dice rolled against a grid in an attack) and Secret Mission cards add additional ways to achieve victory points, but this isn’t Twilight Imperium 3 or even sister CMoN publication Zombicide. Rivet Wars is elegant in its simplicity and boasts the opportunity to make tons of meaningful decisions due to the Grid Target System. Your Rivets die quickly and often, giving you new options to deploy models and maintaining that wonderful Real Time Strategy feel. The gameplay is varied and interesting, and most importantly, fun. But what’s a fun game if the components aren’t up to snuff?
Shiny Chrome: The Components
Fortunately, the components for Rivet Wars are more than up to snuff. In fact, I’d argue they’re some of the best components of any game I own. This is a Cool Mini or Not production, so I was expecting a nice product (despite its warts, the component quality of Sedition Wars is very good), but I don’t think anything prepared me for how nicely produced Rivet Wars is. The Rivet models are made of a nice hard plastic, one that seems to be a halfway point between the Dust Tactics models and the Super Dungeon Explore miniatures. Mould Lines are pretty minimal as a whole, and they’re non existent on many of the models. I plan to paint mine, so I’ve removed most of the mould lines that did exist, and it was really easy to do so. Don’t want to paint your models? That’s just fine. The Blight models are in a nice grey plastic while the Allies exist in a military drab green.
The bases for the models are a neutral khaki color and have tiny slots engineered on them to allow for plastic status markers (these don’t exist…yet) and wound tokens (these come in the base game) to be inserted. A few of my models did have slightly bent weapons, but this was easily fixed by dipping the in some hot water and allowing the plastic to reset itself. The plastic components are absolutely top notch and rival any other game on the market, including many miniatures games.
The cardboard components of Rivet Wars are of a similar high quality. The nine double sided tiles are bright and functional and look great on the table. I’ve read reports of some slight warping due to the extreme temperatures the game was shipped in, but my copy has had no such problems and lie perfectly flat. Similarly, the game card decks are bright and well made. The cards have a glossy, not linen finish, and shuffle really well with a nice snap to them.
The rulebook also shines; it’s thoughtfully laid out, full of glossy, colorful illustrations for a range of scenarios, and walks you through the game easily. The 10 missions that come with the base game move you from a small skirmish size with basic rules all the way to more complicated map set ups utilizing the full breadth of what Rivet Wars has to offer. I hope that CMoN and Super Robot Punch follows the lead of Guillotine Games and release a map generator to support user created scenarios and content, as it will only add to the already high replayability of the game. My only small qualm about the game “only” having 10 scenarios is that there isn’t any random game generating system in the rulebook that outlines how to set up a generic scenario. This could be house ruled easily as most scenarios use a base of 4 deployment points and 1 Rivet per turn, with your total Victory Points dependent on how long you’d like the game to last. Again, it’s a small issue, and is one I don’t expect will affect the longevity of the game at all.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Conclusion
Rivet Wars is the complete package. I had relatively high expectations after playing the game at CMoN Expo and the boxed game I received has really blown those expectations out of the water. The game production oozes quality at every turn, and the gameplay provides a wholly satisfying experience every time you play. The miniatures are top-notch and adorable and if the support for the game continues as I expect it to, this one is going to have some real staying power. If you’re an RTS fan, or a Weird War fan, or a Steampunk Fan, or even just a miniatures fan, Rivet Wars is going to scratch an itch for you. Its one of my big surprises so far of 2014, and I expect Rivet Wars to make some real splashes come convention season.