Clockwork Wars (CW) is fundamentally an area control game. I’m going to call it a hybrid, and what I mean by that is that it’s got both Ameritrash and Eurogame elements to it. It’s a light war game with a thick veneer of theme, but it plays quickly and won’t consume your entire evening. It’s got combat, but no dice. It’s mostly area control, but there’s a little worker placement and a little area majority. There's a tech tree, espionage system, four different races to play, and unique units - but the rules for everything have been streamlined, and there's virtually zero down-time between each of your turns.
Let’s talk about the area control. There’s a map that you deploy units to, and you earn Victory Points (VPs) for controlling certain strategic territories. However, unlike a lot of area control games, the map is infinitely variable. You will construct it at the beginning of every game out of hexagonal tiles that represent nine different territory types: capitals, villages, citadels, towers, manufactories, shrines, forests, lakes, and barrens. Now, you might guess that these territory types represent different “terrains” and that there are terrain modifiers that affect combat. But you’d be wrong! I think plenty of other games use that mechanic quite well (I’m a particular fan of Memoir ‘44), and I didn’t feel the need to use it in CW. Instead, every territory that you control gives you a particular benefit. Capitals and villages are for recruiting workers; towers, manufactories, and shrines are for generating research points (which I call Influence Points); and forests and lakes generate VPs.
Generating maps is a joy unto itself. You can use one of the recommended maps for your player count which we include in the instructions, or make one up yourself. The shape and size of the maps can vary enormously, and we hope people get excited about this aspect of CW and eventually share their creations with each other.
Each turn you’ll deploy units to the map. You’ll engage in battles with other players’ units in an attempt to control key territories. But again, CW offers some unique twists on this age-old formula. First, unit deployment is hidden. Players decide where they want to send their troops and write down their orders using a quick, simple system (each tile in the game has a unique identification number). Then, all players reveal and perform their orders simultaneously. This leads to an enormous sense of tension every turn, as you try and predict where your opponents will shift their military strength. Second, once units are deployed to the map, they rarely move. Consider the unit deployment in a game like Small World. You’ve got to think carefully about your deployment decisions, because you can’t easily move your armies around. However, control over a greater extent of the map opens up more deployment options for you.
Combat is simple and deterministic. The tension of combat resolution isn’t generated by a random die roll, but rather by the hidden and simultaneous deployment. Battles are resolved using a simple one-for-one rule but several other factors will come into play. Battles can be reinforced by soldiers stationed at adjacent citadels. Players can research discoveries, like Power Armor, that provide significant benefits in combat. And players can also play espionage cards if they’ve invested a little in that system. Most battles are resolved in seconds - but that doesn't mean there aren't tough decisions to make! I'll admit that CW can sometimes be a bit of a brain-burner. There are a lot of factors you need to juggle and every decision you make counts.
So if you find modern hybrid war games like Cyclades, Nexus Ops, Kemet, Chaos in the Old World, and even Tammany Hall attractive, I think Clockwork Wars is for you. It’s very different from all the games I’ve mentioned, and I don’t think there’s anything out there currently that plays like it. One final point I’d like to emphasize is that I think CW plays great (and quite differently) with 2, 3 or 4 players. CW started its life as a 2-player game, and unlike a lot of modern area control games, it’s perfect for 2. With 3 or 4 players, negotiations and deals can become part of the game, which of course tends to create a unique experience. I think CW, because of its replayability, tight integration of theme with mechanics, and relatively short play-time, has broad appeal for people who like strategy games.
Want to learn even more?! Read my ongoing design diary series:
[Diary #1: Overview]
[Diary #2: Espionage]
[Diary #3: Generals]