Posted Saturday, 7-Nov-2015
“The only thing that makes battle psychologically tolerable is the brotherhood among soldiers.” – Sebastian Junger
The landscape of human history has been sculpted by countless wars. Once humans learned to draws lines in the ground and claim ownership over land and resources, clashes both small and titanic became almost inevitable.
In modern western society, history is often taught through the lens of war. Students in the USA, learn the names of battles and generals alongside the names of Presidents and activists. Time periods are defined by war; “the post-War era” was a common chapter sub-heading in almost every history text book I ever read.
Enter The Grizzled, a cooperative game by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez that reminds us that for the common soldier, war was not about territory or politics, but about survival and brotherhood.
In The Grizzled, 2-5 players take on the role of a French poilu, or infantryman, who takes a pledge with his brothers to see the war through to the peace on the other side. This is a fully cooperative game, with none of the secret objectives or hidden traitors elements that have become popular of late. Through careful cardplay, players must empty their hands of Trial cards to succeed at Missions and in doing so survive together to the end of the war.
Mechanically speaking, The Grizzled is a simple game. The game is primarily composed of Trial cards, which feature simple yet evocative illustrations of the game’s various Threats or Hard Knocks. Players take turns playing cards from their hand to the table carefully ensuring that three copies of a threat are never active at the same time (a Mission failure) or that no player accumulates 4 Hard Knocks (soldier death, and Game loss).
The Threats represent the morale sapping aspects that the soldiers had to deal with on a day to day basis: military threats like Bullets, Gas, and Whistles (signalling an assault) or atmospheric threats like Night, Rain, or Snow. The Hard Knocks represent the various psychological anguish experienced by soldiers.
A phobia or trauma makes one of the 6 threats permanently active so long as that soldier is on the mission while the other Hard Knocks may even impose restrictions on the player. A particularly poignant one is “Mute”, which makes the soldier unable to use Speech tokens and the player herself unable to speak.
While players are not allowed to discuss or reveal the contents of their hand, ample opportunity exists to help each other through the war. Each soldier has a lucky charm that can be used to discard an active threat that matches their charm. Support tokens, allocated when a player withdraws from the mission, feature a simple drawing of a cup of coffee on the back.
These tokens allow each player to choose their friend who needs the most emotional support and the player who receives this support can discard two Hard Knocks from their character or refresh their lucky charm. Any soldier who has a Speech token can discard it to name a threat. Their infantryman makes a rousing speech and all other players may discard a card in their hand portraying that threat.
Note that there are no mechanics for combat, for raiding the enemy, or for taking territory. While the game uses common words of war like Mission and Support, no part of this game simulates armed conflict.
The Grizzled is about the emotional cost of war. In a designer’s note in the rule book, Fabien and Juan write:
“Without ever touching on the warlike aspect, ‘The Grizzled’ offers each player the chance to feel some of the difficulties suffered by the soldiers in the trenches. Thus the emotions around the table will often be intense.”
This emotional reaction is heightened in no small way by the beautiful and evocative art done by Tignous, one of the artists killed in the attack on Charlie Hebdo on January 7th, 2015. According to French publisher Sweet November, the final art for The Grizzled was delivered the week before the shooting. What little text is present on the cards is portrayed in a hand written style, as if the Hard Knocks are ripped straight from the pages of a personal journal.
The simple art on the threat cards serves to tell the story of your band of brothers clearly, while evoking a melancholy atmosphere.
Most of the art is sad yet beautiful, allowing the bright dove of peace that adorns the winning Peace card and inside of the box lid to stand in sharp contrast to the rest of the game. From the simple coffee cups to the infantry cards, some of which represent the ancestors of the very people who worked on this game, The Grizzled is worth the low price for the art alone.
Few games are as evocative yet simple as The Grizzled. Coming in at roughly 30 minutes of play for 2-5 people, no one should pass up an opportunity to play this little gem.
Published by BoardGamePrices.com