Packs Of War Each Rank. That's what P.O.W.E.R. stands for. I know, not the "jump up and captivate you" type thing is it? The name P.O.W.E.R. sounds cool though so when I was contacted about potentially doing a Critical Review for this game, I was intrigued, both as someone who enjoys war games and someone who enjoys deck builders.
P.O.W.E.R. is described by the designer, PK Torretto, as a "Non-collectible deck-building tactical military game". The goal is simple, end your opponent's turn with an infantry or tank unit in their HQ and you win. You get to your opponent's HQ by crossing the battlefield, which is an 8 x 4 square grid but of course, your opponent will be sending Missiles, Tanks, Helicopters and Troops of their own to stop you! While all this sounds cool, is it fun? Let's don some camo, grab our ammo, and dive into the trenches to check it out!
POWER (I'm not typing periods after everything here, so bear with me) looks cool. If you are a fan of war games in general, you will feel right at home here. The high resolution pictures of all the troops and combat vehicles are stunning and the card design is well organized, colorful, and logical. I say logical as there are multiple different types of units involved, but the in game system does a great job with symbols to denote everything easily, even for someone who isn't possibly a war gamer by nature.
While POWER looks good on the surface, including the mats, there are a lot of things about this game that are not exactly as they may seem on the surface. Is it non-collectible? Sure, everything you need and all you need is in the main box. There are SAMs, Snipers, Tanks, Helicopters, the whole nine yards. Unfortunately, to get the game mats you see in the video, you'll need to buy them separately. They have included reference cards which you can lay out to portray the 8x4 battlefield, but this both takes away from the experience, and after seeing the battlefield maps, there really is nothing that compares.
Is it deck building? No, not at all. There are 5 different ranks, or ways to set up the game, which the game boasts to be 5 different games in one. This is just not fact. “Different games” implies different ways to play, and all this is is 5 ways to set up the game, with possible differences in best two out of three matches, but it's certinaly not 5 different games. The gameplay perists, you just set it up differently per rank.
After setup for each, gameplay is the same. Additionally, 3 of the 5 have rules that say to choose specific packs of cards as each "set" is made up of 8 cards each, and then you will choose from those available to you which to make your deck up of. This is not deck building in the sense gamers are used to and I feel is misleading.
Deck building implies through the course of the game, you'll make your deck more powerful. In POWER, you simply choose cards, when using those ranks that tell you to, and set up your deck using them. Once you have done that, gameplay is gameplay, your deck doesn't change as it does in a traditional deck building game.
Is it a tactical military game? Yes! A bit too tactical at times. In fact, before I tell you why, let's explain set up. Each game, you choose a rank, either Private, Corporal, Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, Master Sergeant. As you increase, set up complexity changes, but by no means anything we haven't seen before. Some are pre-constructed set ups while others let you build your deck out of card sets available to you.
Each set of cards has it's advantages. Some have more support, some are offensive on the ground, some are offensive in the air and some are defensive. There is quite a bit of variety here given the small number of cards, 48 in all. There are additional reference cards, but that's it, 48 cards. Oh, and your "deck", it'll only be 8 cards, no matter what rank you play in. So the notion of "deck building" an 8 card deck, it just falls flat like a dud grenade.
After each player has their "decks" built, they shuffle them and play them face down in their Build Queues. This is one area of the game I like, but with caveats. The Build Queue is how your units come into play. Part of your turn will see you flip cards that are face down in your Build Queue face up. They are then placed in their corresponding Build Queue position, so the higher the number, the longer it'll take to get into play. Almost like a supply chain if you will.
This design is both keen and very luck driven. Luck driven in that the rules for populating your Build Queue and flipping cards in your Queue comes down to luck of shuffling the 8 cards you made your deck out of. That said, it's a unique way to use time as a resource to get things into play and one that seems to fit and make sense for this type of game. It is, in my opinion, the high point of the game.
Unfortunately, when you get into gameplay, things boil down to a few critical decisions and that's all. The design of the gameplay seems really good the first time you read the rules and start to play. Cards come into play "spent" or "tapped" and need to be "supplied" to be "readied". All terms most gamers are familiar with and can figure out. Supplying means that they either "self-supply" as stated on a card (which is nicely done as you see it written along the left edge of a card so when it's spent, you read it clearly from left to right in English) or they can be supplied through the use of a Supply type unit.
Cards can move around, even when spent, but they can't use their TCA, Turn Card Ability, until they are supplied and ready. Most attacks are TCAs, so attacking will cause a card to be spent. Additionally, not everything can attack everything else. This make sense and is handled nicely through a use of symbols along the bottom that will tell you what each card can attack.
The critical decisions? Well, it usually comes down to this... Do you have enough balance in your troops, tanks, and vehicles to manage what your opponent chose for his 8 cards? And that's in the drafting option set ups. If you choose Private and pre-constructed packs, there are some that can only win with blind luck due to some just not having enough balance. Being able to only pick 8 cards means you have to pick right, and it means for new players, they will be utterly obliterated by their opponents unless they are helped in their choices.
Most, if not all games, come down to the first half spent bringing your cards in from your Build Queue, as if you attack too early, you won't be able to hold up, and this leads to essentially ruining the whole idea of the Build Queue in the first place. It becomes apparent very early that you need to pace yourself, and everyone's BQ4 position is paced to enter play roughly the same time, so it comes down to tactical movements in the second half, once your units are in play.
That tactical combat and movement though? It more so feels like you are playing a game of military checkers. You move, you attack, something dies as there are no rolls, and you tactically place things so you will always win. If your attack is more than the defense, the defender is removed from play, and you can attack with multiple things so if you have a 2 and 1 attack value attacker, you can destroy a 3 defense defender, presuming your units can attack that unit type. Having only 8 cards though quickly shows that it is inevitable who will win by halfway through the game, once 4 or 5 of your opponent’s cards are revealed.
This makes POWER a game that misses the mark, even for the hardcore war gamer with the most erratic of howitzers. This is both dissapointing as the Build Queue is unique, if imperfect, but the game looks so good, you want it to be good too!
Would a war gaming fan enjoy this? Yes, at first, I think without a doubt a war gaming fan would enjoy it. Would they play it a lot, and/or, over their normal war games or others that are on the market? Sadly, I don't think so, which is where the disappointment comes in. POWER makes an OK filler game, and something that I would recommend those who are military fans or war gamers to at least try and check out, but it is definitely not what it appears to be, so enter battle cautiously. POWER takes a unique concept in the Build Queue, and leaves it stranded on the battlefield, returning with a bruised battalion and a Miss of a game.
Critical Score (Crit, Hit or Miss):