The land: the Forgotten West. A desolate wasteland that is home to a plethora of mysterious – and dangerous – creatures. You have been dropped into this treacherous world, having no idea why or how. What you do know is that there is no way out, and you’ll be here for quite some time. You’ve been turned into a Grimslinger, a witch who has been given special elemental powers and made part-machine. Your “creator,” the mysterious Iron Witch, Icarus, wants you to fight against other Grimslingers to determine who can best be used to fulfill his own (unknown) purposes.
Grimslingers, designed and illustrated by Stephen Gibson and published by Greenbrier Games, is a card game set in a futuristic, sci-fi, fantasy Old West, and features two separate modes of play: a versus mode (referred to as Duel mode), and a co-op (campaign) mode. In Duel mode, 2-6 players go head-to-head with one another (either in teams or in an “every man for himself” free-for-all). In the co-op mode, 1-4 players will work together to complete scenarios in the included “Valley of Death” Story Booklet. This review will focus on the campaign mode. However, because the combat in the game is fought using the Duel mode mechanics, the Duel mode will (indirectly) be reviewed a little as well.
To setup a campaign of Grimslingers, you’ll place the map board on the table and surround it with several decks of cards. To the left of the map, you’ll lay the creature decks, along with the cards specific to each, the “general creature” cards, and the creature modifier, health, and energy tracking cards. Above the map, place the Event deck and the number cards, leaving a space for a discard pile for the Event deck between them. On the right side of the map, you’ll place the item and signature spell decks. Also place the Hank the Hunter and Hexilion Blade cards in this area.
Then, each player will be given a Grimslinger, an Amina (your robot companion), an Archetype, trackers for Health, Energy, and Level, and one spell of each of the six basic types (Earth, Fire, Water, Wind, Ice, and Lightning). Your Grimslinger card is placed over the top of the Health tracking card so that the arrows at the bottom of the card are pointing to the current health points (HP). As you receive or heal damage, you’ll slide your Grimslinger card up or down to display the new HP total. Your Anima is set up (and used) in the same manner over the Energy tracking card to track your Energy Points (EP), and your Archetype card is used in this way to track your Level (using the Level tracking card). Your remaining cards (your six spells) make up your hand. These cards will be used in combat as you explore the desolate wasteland and come face to face with its many dangers. Finally, place the red meeple and single die nearby where all players can reach them. The meeple will be used to keep track of where the players are on the map (all players always travel together as a group).
Gameplay in campaign mode consists of a series of player turns, each consisting of three phases – Narrative, Node Resolution, and Movement – and is played using the “Valley of Death” story booklet. In the Narrative phase, you first need to check to see if all prerequisites have been met for the next part of the story. If they have, the narrator will read that part of the story. You will then resolve any actions required by that part of the story. These actions may require you to trade items, battle enemies, or find and take items. If, at the end of the current part of the story, you have not resolved the end of a chapter, you will move on to the next phase of the turn – Node Resolution. If you have completed a chapter, you may begin the new chapter (beginning, once again, with the Narrative phase).
In the Node Resolution phase, you will resolve the type of map node that the players are currently located on. There are four types of nodes – landmark, attack, event, and rest – found on the map. When players are on a landmark node, they must refer to their location’s page within the story booklet. This page will tell them how to proceed. On an attack node, the party has fallen under attack. A player will roll to determine what is attacking the group. Roll outcomes are found on the right side of the map, and there are six different types of beasts for you to fight (bandits, jackalope, peyote scorpion, dune worm, specter, and chupacabra). The attack nodes are usually found on the fastest routes between landmarks. This, of course, makes them the more dangerous routes to take. When players find themselves on an event node, the top card of the Event deck is drawn and resolved. It is then placed in the Event discard pile. If the Event deck is depleted, the discard pile is reshuffled to form a new deck. When players arrive on a rest node, they all automatically heal 2 HP and 2 EP. They also have the ability to perform other actions such as using the Purge or Reload ability of their Anima, trade items with teammates, or using an item labeled as a “Standoff” type or item. Some nodes will require that they be resolved as a group, while others will allow each player to make their own decision for which action they would like to take.
Once the Node Resolution phase is complete, the Movement phase happens. During this phase, the players must decide – as a group – which map node to travel to next. You can only move your group to a map node that is connected to your current map node by a designated path. Nodes not connected by a path cannot be traveled between. After the Movement phase, the next turn begins, starting with the Narrative phase. These turns continue until players have reached the maximum number of defeats (based on the difficulty level they select when starting each new chapter), or until players have successfully completed a chapter.
The combat system is Grimslingers is designed to mimic the duels that happened during the old west. The difference here is that, instead of pistols, you’re dueling with elemental spells! In the Duels mode of the game, each player would select one of their elemental spells and play it facedown in front of them. Once all players have made their choice, the cards are simultaneously revealed and resolved based on the type of spells used and their effect (abbreviated as FX throughout the rules). For example, an Earth spell will beat a Lightning spell, but it is beaten by a Water spell. So if Player 1 played an Earth spell, but Player 2 played a Water spell, then Player 1’s spell would not resolve (in other words, it would have no effect), and Player 2’s spell would get through (doing 2 damage to Player 1, and healing 2 EP for Player 2). This is the simplest form of Duels within the game. If you Duel with more than two players, you add target cards for players to play with their spells, indicating which player they are targeting. Items can also be added to the mix, which will cause even more chaos to the Duel mode.
During the campaign, the players will be working together to fight one of the game’s creatures. In order to set up a Duel in the campaign mode, you will take the portrait card for the creature you are fighting, draw a card from the creature modifier deck (to place under the creature so its ability for this combat round can be seen), and set it up in such a way that the arrows on the card point to the creature’s HP and EP (as pictured to the right). Each creature has its own deck of abilities, which are shuffled with the General Creature abilities to form its combat deck. During combat, you will draw the top card from the creature’s combat deck, playing it face down. Then, you’ll select a card from you hand, playing it facedown as well, just as you would for a normal Duel. Once both cards are chosen, they are revealed and resolved in order of Resolution Number (RN), with the lowest number going first. Combat continues until either the players or the creature are defeated. If the players defeat the creature, look on the back of the creature’s portrait card to find out what the players receive as a reward (levels, items, etc.).
I have to say that, overall, I really enjoy playing Grimslingers. It is an intense ride through the Forgotten West that is difficult to complete. Each play session is designed to last 60-90 minutes, and that feels about right or this type of game. Of course, players who want more of a campaign feel can play multiple sessions back-to-back if they’d like. My only concern with the campaign mode is what happens after you complete the “Valley of Death” story booklet. I have heard of no official plans for future campaign stories to be added – though I’d be shocked to find out that there are none planned. I’m sure there will also be fan-made stories and campaigns posted online soon, too (perhaps on Greenbrier’s website or on the game’s page at BoardGameGeek). That being said, the “Valley of Death” story included with the game is really well written and is an entertaining introduction into the Grimslingers world. I look forward to playing through again, and making different choices to see how the story is affected.
Outside of the gameplay, the components are solid. The cards are great quality and the map is just the right size and weight to be useful without being too much. And the art. Wow! This art is incredible. Stephen Gibson, the designer of the game, also did all of the artwork, and I have to say that it is my favorite art in a game today – even more impressive in my eyes than the magnificent art found in Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn. The creatures, the Grimslingers, even the items are all drawn to perfection and do an amazing job of capturing the feel of the world that acts as the game’s setting. It is simply stunning to look at (look at that Witch King!). I’ve found myself thumbing through the cards to just look at it even when I don’t have time for a game. When I came across the game at the Greenbrier booth at Gen Con, I was sucked in immediately by the art quality. Luckily, the game doesn’t just look good. It plays good as well.
Grimslingers is currently available for pre-order through the Greenbrier Games store, and will begin shipping on September 1. That only gives you a couple of weeks to secure your copy – so click that link and grab your copy today. For its $30 price tag, there is a lot of game – Duels, Advanced Duels, Multiplayer Duels, and a Campaign mode – in the box.