I was out at a monthly boardgame event and managed to get my first game of Ars Victor with Charles. As neither of us had played before we used one of the scenarios, number 3, from the back of the book which had two armies to use and a predefined board layout.
Ars Victor is a sci-fi(ish) themed board game that takes some of the unit themes of 40K Space Marines, Eldar and Imperial Guard and then combines it with a command and control system that is somewhat reminiscent of the Command and Colors system. Players have a deck of 24 cards that have two colours (gold and silver), four suits and values from 2 to 7. These cards are used each turn to determine the type (colour and suit) of units that can activate as well as how many. A more detailed description of the game can be found in the rules which are available as a PDF download from their website.
I managed to get a copy of the Limited Edition of the game that was produced via Kickstarter and it has the Ancient Hegemony faction as a free bonus. The box is rather well stacked with counters, unit badges (to determine the suit and colour of a unit) and mapboards. The mapboards are double-sided so there are 19 distinct map sections you can use. The unit tokens are double-sided as well with a different unit on the reverse side of the token. The unit tokens and unit badges are suitably thick and punch out quite easily. The mapboards and the Control Point hex markers are a little thin for their size and so you need to be a bit careful punching them out. My mapboards had a slight curl to them but that is really not unexpected in Calgary’s dry climate. Thicker stock though would have made the map sections sit together easier.
The art for the units is a bit quirky and some people may be turned off by its simplicity but I enjoyed it and thought it was a nice change from the hyper-realistic art in games like 40K and in a lot of modern sci-fi and fantasy games. It also fits in well with the rest of the design aesthetic of the game.
The rules are very simple and easy to remember. There are several special abilities that units have, depicted by symbols on the unit tokens, which are again easy to remember due to the visual queues. Damage is handled by using a series of coloured dice (white, red and blue) with each dice having more, and more powerful, damage icons. Combat can also result in units being pushed back which means that even weak units like Conscripts, which only attack with White dice, can move enemy units from a Control Point.
The special abilities on the units really do help create distinct and interesting troop types. The Assault trooper was very difficult to pin down and was constantly jumping in and out of combats and the Skirmishers were able to quickly run into battle and engage units in advantageous close combats in terrain that would normally provide cover.
Gameplay is fast as is combat resolution and each player’s turn moves quickly enough that you are always engaged in the game and planning your moves. The cards are another element in the game that you need to manage and one issue both Charles and I had while playing was that units with a similar task (such as taking out a Control Point) needed to have the same suit or at least the same colour to be most effective.
In our game I took an early, slight, lead by being able to capture several Control Points but Charles’ Skirmisher and Brute units were able to push off my puny Conscripts. The Skirmisher was especially effective as it was able to get full close combat dice against my units and even attack while moving.
Charles got “first blood” by removing a Conscript unit and then a few turns later took out another. I was pinging his units with Mortar an Field Gun fire as well as using my Assault trooper to do hit-and-run attacks against his units controlling the CPs. I was using my HQ, a Cavalry unit, to also attempt to push the Skirmishers off the CPs but Charles managed to get a lucky hit with a Mortar unit and I had to retreat it to keep it safe.
Ultimately Charles was able to remove my HQ but as the last turns available to use started to dwindle away (when you run out of cards the game ends) I took out a Brute and won the game. Charles was really only a turn or two away from winning so it was a close thing that I was able to remove the Brute to win.
The game didn’t have a lot of carnage. I lost three units and I suspect that Charles lost the same number. The main way to win was through the control of CPs. Even without destroying units you can get three points a turn which can be pushed to four or five depending on whether your HQ is on a Control Point and if your opponent has their HQ out. That makes the game winnable, in extreme circumstances, in five to seven turns without destroying any of your opponents units.
Despite the simple art and design, the game actually requires and rewards careful planning. The rightmost Control Point was almost entirely uncontested for the last half of the game as Charles and I had stranded units there that had colours and suits that were required in other parts of the map. I had a Mortar unit supporting the Conscript near that CP but because of the differences in colour and suit between the two the Mortar was firing almost constantly at other targets in support of other attacks. The game also provides a very good feeling of having to combine multiple troops into a single attack. Softening up a target with a mortar and then assaulting with some close combat troops to try to remove the opposing unit or force it to retreat.
The dice used in the game can make combat results quite random. Both of us had rolls with no results at all, all blank faces, and in some circumstances units with four blue dice can still roll and have no effect against an opponent. Over the course of the game this evened out and the units that you would expect to have a large impact based on the number and colour of their dice in fact did so.
I had a lot of fun with the game and I am looking forward to trying it again and also trying to build my own armies and see how they work. There is a lot of room for experimentation and customization in the game even with the single faction. The addition of the second faction in the Limited Edition box gives you even more options so the base prices of the game has a significant amount of replay value.