Cry Havoc Board Game – Written Review

I was excited when I heard about Portal Games latest release Cry Havoc. Designed by Grant Rodiek, Michal Oracz, and Michal Walkzak, Cry Havoc is a 2-4 player area control game that plays in about 90-120 minutes. My favourite game mechanic is area control and I was excited to add another great game to my collection, next to my two favourites Twilight Struggle and Small World. However, my first play through of the game was a bit more surprising than I expected. This was not just an area control game, this was an area control game that utilises deck building and battle mechanics with miniatures. Whatever I thought this game was going to be I was completely wrong. I was not prepared for what I was about to play. Yet it was not just the game play that impressed me. Cry Havoc was one of the most exciting experiences I have ever had setting up a game.

Cry Havoc portal games board game reviewCry Havoc board game review – it’s a meaty thing

Cry Havoc Game Components and Set Up
Straight out of the box there is big visual appeal. Cry Havoc is not a fully dedicated miniatures game, but the quality of the miniatures is still of a high standard. I have not taken the time to develop the skill of painting minis, but I do look forward to seeing what people with that ability will do to these components. However, the in-box quality is still impressive and they have a great feel being both weighty and solid constructions. There is a swag of tokens that surprisingly popped out of their packaging easily with no tears. This is a bigger deal to me than you might think. I have several games where popping tokens proved difficult and left me with damaged components. I find box openings to be an exciting part of buying a game and ripping tokens is a serious dampener for me.

Nothing seemed overlooked in the production of Cry Havoc. The cards are of a good quality and I do not just mean how they feel in the hand. The graphics and symbols are all nicely set out and the graphic design has been carefully thought through. In fact, this leads me to my favourite element of the game components, the design. Laying the board out on the table struck a stunning display, but as I sat down with the rule book to read about set up I hardly needed it. My friend and I set up the majority of the board without looking once in the book. Everything on this board was intuitive and so clearly laid out it all made perfect sense. The fact that so much time was spent in thinking through the layout and design elements of this game only added to the anticipation. The board has two sides, one for two players and the other for three to four players. It is immensely satisfying to look at the game fully set up.

Cry Havoc board game review portal games - Review by GameapaloozaPortal Games spared no expense with Cry Havoc

Cry Havoc Game Play
There are four factions in Cry Havoc, Human, Machine, Pilgrim, and the Trogs. This is not an uncontroversial game. The Humans, Machines, and Pilgrims are the aliens on this home world of the Trogs. Everybody is fighting over the resources of this planet with the Trogs working to protect their home world. It is old school imperialism at its best. I mention this because I think this point was not incidental to the design. Michal Oracz is known for his games that explore war themes and most recently his collaboration on “This War of Mine” was specifically designed to help people understand the ravagers of war and its aftermath. With this in mind let’s look at how Cry Havoc is played.

Each round begins with an event. These will provide randomly assigned benefits or disadvantages that may affect the state of play on the board or impact the players directly. Then each player draws four cards from their player deck that is uniquely designed for each faction. Among those cards is a scoring card that provides score bonuses should you play it on your turn. I’ll get back to this.

The next phase is the biggest phase where each player takes turns to perform actions. The action round ends after all players have finished their third action. The actions a player may perform include moving recruits, recruiting more troops, build and/or activate structures, drafting a card from the board, or enabling scoring. To move, recruit and build/ activate structures players will discard cards from their hand. Each card will have a value on it with a number of symbols for each actions. These become resource points to spend in performing your action. Discard two cards with 4 move symbols and you can move one character 4 spaces, or move 4 characters 1 space. This is the same process for the other two action. This may be more costly than you first think. Each card may contain an effect for battling, which will occur in the next round. Discarding to pay the cost for actions means losing the ability to activate the card effects during battle. Battle directly impacts control of the board and your troops so losing those cards as back up for your battle phase can be a big risk to take. One of those card effects in your deck is a single card that enables scoring. Only one player can enable score per turn and doing so has it’s advantages. While it may cost a whole action to activate if you are the one to activate scoring then your territories score double. Do that for several rounds before others and you are getting a clear advantage. At the start or end of an action you are allowed to activate a skill. These are not counted towards actions but are race specific skills you can employ to take advantage over the board. These are mostly a once per round action that builds into your specific strategy.

Cry Havoc board game review It smacks a tiny bit of Small World don’t you think?

During these actions rounds it is likely players will move into occupied spaces on the board and engage in battle. Battle does not occur immediately, but happens once all actions are finalised. The battle phase has to be one of the most innovate battle resolutions I have witnessed. Though I cannot say if it is entirely original it certainly is not something I have encountered before. The battle tracker board has three sections on it delineating 3 phases of battle. Players allocate their troop mini’s to indicate what they want to do in battle. Phase one is dominance in the area of the board being fought over. If you place more troops in phase one you will win control of the area and its minerals. You get to place a control token in that zone and claim it as your own. In result of a tie, defenders win. Phase two is for taking hostages. If you place more troops on this section you can claim from any battle phase on the battle tracker an opposition troop and take it hostage. It stays in your reserve pool with your troops and after this round players may reclaim their hostages troops by paying 2 victory points. This is a huge cost considering how tight scoring can be. The final phase is attrition. For each troop you place here you may kill one troop from any battle phase on the battle phase tracker and gains a victory point for each troop you kill in this way. Before resolution of any phase each player has the chance to play battle cards from their hand. Some of these effect may move troops from the board as support into battle, it may move troops around on the battle tracker or may even reverse the order in which battle is resolved on the tracker. This makes the battle stage so much more than just resolving effects, it is a thoroughly engaging and tactical part of the game opening up whole strategies on the board. You may win dominance on the board but lose all your troops to battle. You claim the area and then have no way to defend it. You may lose dominance but gain more in victory points by killing your opponents troops. Because of this it is sometimes advantageous to go into battle even when you have no chance of claiming victory over the battle zone. It also makes you really consider using your cards for paying costs during the action stage. After battle has been resolved players have a chance to regain captured troops, which is followed by scoring if it has been activated.

The gameplay in Cry Havoc is wonderfully engaging with every turn needing careful strategising and planning, as well as keen tactical response. The truly captivating part for me was how well this game used asymmetrical play. Each race not only looks different, but feels different and uses a completely unique path to victory. Initially I felt that balance was not achieved and believed the Machines were overpowered until I went onto Instagram and listened to people complain that the Humans and Pilgrims were overpowered. Further play has proved to me that any strategy done well can win and all strategies have strength and weakness to be exploited. This is a well tested game.

If I seemed like I am gushing over this game perhaps you are right. It did get to me on many levels from design through to game play. There are some areas in this game that were either not quiet to my liking or underdeveloped. The game has a whole mechanic for cards that carry the (!) symbol. If you use the card for an effect that has that symbol you may also activate the effect on the card immediately. It was a great mechanic. It was on one card in each deck. I really feel that this could have been a stronger part of building into strategies on its own and really hope future expansions can do more with this feature. The terrain cards that you acquire from the board to build your deck are also not as impressive as I would like. I felt that I wanted more from them.You draw them from certain terrains and can only activate their effects during battle if the battle ground is occurring on that terrain, yet all the effects are the same set of effects in each terrain deck. I believe there could have been more done to use the terrains to build strategy and further flavour the game. Finally the player board has a side for dedicated two player games. Yet the board is not really challenging in any way. I did not feel as satisfied playing the game on the two player board as I did with the three to four player games. I think in part the terrains double up to often and do not pressure players to make better decisions about terrain use. The fact that these complaints sound more like minor quibbles is perhaps testimony to the how solidly designed this game is. But if there is one thing I want feedback on, and please post in the comments below if you know, what does the picture on the box relate to? Seriously, I cant see where in the game the character fits at all.

Overall Cry Havoc is a wonderfully designed game that meets me on many levels. It has several of my favourite mechanics, area control, deck building, and miniature battling, all working together to make a successful and enjoyable game. This is a clear winner for me from 2016 and is sure to stay a favourite for a long time to come.