Players: 3-5 Ages: 14+ Game Time: 60-90mins
Mistborn: House War is a franchise game, based on the books of Brandon Sanderson and produced by Crafty Games (originally through Kickstarter). A knowledge of the novels is not required to both play and enjoy this game, however if you don’t want to encounter any spoilers then I recommend reading at least the first book in the Mistborn series before playing. I will do my best to avoid spoilers here, whilst giving an overview of the setting and the game itself.
So, what is Mistborn all about? The original trilogy of Mistborn novels are set in a post apocalyptic, dystopian land known as Scadrial. Here the sky is red, volcanoes constantly spew ash into the sky, blocking the sun and coating the land. Here, under the near absolute control of the Lord Ruler (a semi-divine dictator) and his bureaucratic/theological government, The Final Empire, goes on.
The people of this land are strictly and brutally separated in to nobles and Skarr (workers/slaves). The Skarr exist like livestock, whilst the nobles have wealth and luxury in a high Victorian/Edwardian-esque society, often living and partying to excess. The first novel in the original series follows a group of Skarr thieves and con artists as they plot to use their individual talents and special abilities to overthrow the empire. However, in this game you are playing the other side of this story. Each player randomly takes on the role of leading one of the greater noble families (or the ministry) during the attempted insurrection. During the game, problems that the empire is facing emerge on to the game board and gradually become more and more threatening to the stability of the empire. If problems are not dealt with, they erupt and the noble houses and/or the empire suffer the consequences.
Therefore, it is the duty of the god/lord ruler fearing nobles to do everything in their power to prevent the empire from collapsing. Each problem requires houses to spend resources to defuse the situation. Whilst noble houses have their own income of a selection of different resources (warriors, workers, food, money etc.), as well as a hand of personality cards, they will often find that they cannot solve problems on their own and must make deals with their peers. However, nobles in Scadrial are, almost without exception, power hungry and corrupt. They will help save the empire because they must, but they also see the opportunity to move up in the noble hierarchy.
Players' successes and failures are closely watched by the lord ruler and the houses earn either favour or disgrace. The game ends when either the rebellion is thwarted, or the empire collapses. So, who wins at the end? Only one player can emerge from the chaos as the house most stable to carry on!
Mistborn has win criteria for both outcomes of the game (collapse or survival of the empire). If the empire lives on, the house who has earned the most favour with the lord ruler wins as they will now be the most influential house. If the empire collapses, however, the rebellion will seek retribution against the nobility. Here, the only way to survive is to be as far from the high nobility as possible, and therefore the most disgraced house wins if the empire collapses. During play, accumulated favour and disgrace are kept secret from other houses. Therefore, skilled payers need to mentally keep track of points earned by each house, and when success or failure becomes apparent manipulate the situation to their benefit.
The games rules are fairly easy to learn, younger or new players should be able to pick up the basics quite quickly. That said, the game can take on greater depth with older and experienced players who can master the arts of deal making, alliances and keeping track of opponents' hidden scores etcetera, so I feel that a starting age rating of 14+ years is about right for this game. The production quality of the game is very good. The cards, gameboard, and punch board components are of a good weight, and the graphics of all components are beautiful.
Note: during the Kickstarter campaign to launch this game, a token upgrade was available. PennyGems are made by Improbable Objects and are supplied as a sheet of self-adhesive polyurethane bubbles and are stuck to either side of a coin with a strong adhesive to create a token. They have a great feel to them, and are very nice to handle. They are sized for US Pennies, however the manufacturer does provide a list of alternative coins. Sadly, the manufacturer has discontinued them. I would recommend to anyone that can find them to take the time to clean and polish the coins before use.
This game has some great features including: two ways to win, a strong resource management mechanic, a deal making/bargaining system that is built into each players turn, making it easier for even quiet or reserved players to get their say in. On top of this, the artwork and game pieces are beautifully designed, and are of good quality.
Personally the only detractor from this game is the 3-5 player cap. The reason for a 3-player minimum using the rules provided is fairly clear as with only two players it is not possible to bargain and backstab your way through the game properly. I have played the game 2-player where both players control two houses each, which works to a degree (especially if training up a new player for an experienced group), however it is not the same. I have seen some other suggestions for 2-player variants, including one by an original play tester. However the point remains that a 2-person household will not get the full experience. Additionally, the player limit of five is a shame as many groups of adult gamers are couples, and this means somebody sits out if you have two pairs of guests. Given that there are 12 different houses to choose from, it appears that the only reason for this is game speed and balancing and available resources.
So, how does the game score? I love the game system and the production quality of this game. However, the only let down for me is the lack of a formal 2-player or solo rule set and the limit of players set at five. Therefore I find this game to be a solid 5/6
Please stay tuned for a follow up review for this game, as the first expansion for the game is due to ship very soon and we will be posting our thoughts on this as well.
If you are a fan of Mistborn or just like the sound of this review be sure to check out Crafty Games (crafty-games.com) as they also have a tabletop RPG Mistborn game and game accessories including card sleeves and dice.
Images for this article have been sourced from the Mistborn House War Kickstarter page and from reviewer's own photos.