Review – War On Terror The Board Game

2-6 players, Aged 14+ with a 120 minute playing time
Artwork from the box lid

War on Terror The Board Game was kindly provided by Terror Bull Games

What started as an alcohol fuelled mickey take at the absurdities and hypocrisy of the 2003 Gulf War that “was not designed to encourage or make fun of terrorism” stirred up such a wave of controversy in 2006 that the games designers received around a dozen death threats, nearly went bankrupt themselves and are still banned from a number of Toy Fairs. A fuller history of the game can be read in the FHM article here.

War On Terror The Board Game is a satirical game that sets the players as ‘Empires’ seeking to dominate or should that be liberate large swathes of the world were oil is the primary means of gaining more money. Each land space has a probability (low or high) of generating the black gold. As the game progresses the Empires expand seeking to control more and more of the land (to gain greater and greater revenues). Along the way players may create and use terrorists to slow down their opponents, choose or be compelled to become a terrorist state themselves and in their lust for oil stumble upon a country with indigenous terrorists.

This is a game rich in cynical black humour where you can declare Holy wars, nuke other players, bankrupt opponents all in the cause of gaining enough victory points to declare yourselves the winner. If this kind of humour offends you then stop reading now, this game is not for you.

What follows is a high level overview of the game along with what we thought of the game and who we think would enjoy it.

World Map Board plus the Axis of Evil Spinner - The board is divided into 49 countries / regional areas within 7 continents. In order to score victory points at the end of the game players must control all countries / regions within a continent
Game board and components

'Evil' Balaclava – Should be worn by the “Axis of Evil” player. Unfortunately whilst amusing it is a very small balaclava that is both difficult to get over the head and extremely uncomfortable to wear so I suspect remains in the box or is given to children to play with.

Rules of Engagement including the Card Appendix – The rules are clearly laid out and illustrated liberally with the amusing art work of Tom Morgan-Jones.

65 Empire Cards – There are 24 different types of cards as follows: Card Inspector,Espionage, Explorers, Free Development - City, Free Development - Town, Free Development - Village, GDP Collection, Insurgency Emergency, Intelligence Leak, Koyoto Protocol, Nuclear Bunker, Nuclear Disarmament, Nuclear Weapons, Oil Gush - Double, Oil Gush - Treble, Radiation Clean-up, Regime Change, Terrorist Attack, Terrorist Buy Off, Terrorist Movement, Terrorist Upsurge, War
Weapons Inspector, Spin the Axis of Evil.
Sample Empire Card

47 Terrorist Cards – There are 16 different types of cards: Bomb the Pipeline, City Strike, Civil War, Dirty Bomb, It's Your Birthday, Oil Theft, Plane Hijack, Political Kidnap, Suicide Bomber, Terrorist Attack, Terrorist Movement, Terrorist Recruitment, Terrorist Training, Terrorist Upsurge, Video Appeal, WMDs.

60 Oil Counters – These include 4 Indigenous Terrorist Counters (not good), 3 blank counters (representing barren regions also not helpful) and 48 counters with numbers 2-12.

15 Radiation Counters - I have already mentioned the presence of nuclear weapons and these counters are used to represent the inevitable fall out on the territory attacked and its surrounding neighbours.

300 Empire (or player) Tokens – Each Empire player has a set of coloured (almost luminescent in some cases) plastic tokens representing 20 villages (disks), 6 Towns (cylinders) and 6 Cities (cones)

100 Terrorist Counters - Black plastic tokens representing 40 Terrorist Vanguards (disks), 20 Terrorist Columns (cylinders) and 15 Terrorist Cells (cones)

2 Oil Dice

1 Action Die

Secret Message Pad – Used whenever the players want to record important messages, agreements or secret trivia intended to unsettle the other players!

Lots of Money

Game Set-Up
Shuffle the Empire and Terrorist Cards and place them on the game board in their respective places.

The game board during a game
Randomly pick 49 Oil Counters (including at least 1 Indigenous Terrorist Oil Counter) and place one face down in each country / region.

Depending on the number of players allocate 2 or 3 villages, 200m or 300m and 2 or 3 Empire Cards to each player. At the beginning of the game all players start as Empires.

Having selected a start player then they place their villages anywhere on the board turning over the Oil Counters as they go, continuing counter clockwise with each player placing their villages. Once the last player has placed their villages (a country or region can only ever contain 1 Village, Town or City) the game can start with the last person going first and play proceeding in a clockwise direction.

Game Play
The object of the game is to be the player with the most victory points and depending on whether you are an Empire player or the Terrorists you can gain these by a combination of cities (1 point each but Empires only) and control of continents (a variable number depending on the continent). Alternatively all players can declare the intention for World Peace and if all the player’s next turns proceed peacefully then all the players can pat themselves on the back and everybody wins – hmm, I suspect this will very rarely occur.
Sample Empire Card

As already noted each player starts with their own Empire however as the game progresses it is highly likely that one or more players will turn Terrorist (by choice or forced on them because they go bankrupt or have no Empire Tokens on the board) and have all their counters replaced with the equivalent black ones and their Empire cards replaced with the equivalent number of Terrorist Cards. If there is more than one Terrorist player then they pool their resources and collaborate taking a single turn.

A player’s turn consists of the following:
1. Roll the Action Die – determines:

a. for a Terrorist players/s how many Terrorist Tokens may be moved on the board;

b. for an Empire player how many Empire Tokens a player may place on the board in their go,

c. plus for all players a couple of other actions most notably Spin The Axis of Evil. If the dial stops on the colour of an active player they immediately get 2 Terrorist Cards (thus begins the temptation to turn to the dark arts and the way of evil!), if their head is small enough they don the Balaclava and at the end of their turn they may choose take Terrorist Cards instead of Empire cards.

2. Play – This is the main part of a players turn during which they may do any of the following in any order:

a. Buy up to 2 Empire (or Terrorist if they have turned to evil) Cards at 50m each. Early in the game this is an expensive option that will reduce the rate of the Empires expansion across the board, however as the game progresses and if you are fortunate enough to have strong oil revenues this is a useful way of boosting your hand with some very powerful cards.
Sample Empire Card

b. Play any of the Empire or Terrorist cards they have in their hand.

c. Place Empire Tokens up to the number indicated on the Action Dice. These can be placed in countries and territories adjacent to the players existing tokens that do not already have an opponent’s token (obviously in the nature of the game you may have used War or Terrorism to remove opponents tokens and so leave the territory free for you to occupy). Alternatively you can upgrade a number of your tokens from Villages to Towns or Towns to Cities equal to the number indicated on the Action Dice. Looking to place Cities in territories that have a high probability when it comes to generating oil can create strong flows of money but beware the jealously of the other players. In particular an Empire with strong oil revenues can quickly attract the attentions of terrorists and potentially the nuclear option. This is where the Secret Message pad comes into its own as a way of communicating and or defining what has been agreed between Empires (much as often occurred in games of Diplomacy played in my youth). Note that countries or territories that have Terrorist Columns or Cells may not have new Empire Tokens placed in them.

d. Place Terrorists from your training camp anywhere on the board. Whilst doing this can be quite an effective way of impeding the progress of other players it must be remembered that if any player relinquishes their role as an Empire and becomes a Terrorist state they will then gain control of all terrorists on the board!

3. Buy Terrorists – These are initially held off the board in a ’training camp’ which of itself may prove a useful threat / deterrent as part of your negotiations / trading.

4. Draw 2 free Empire or Terrorist Cards depending on your leaning towards the dark side!

5. Roll the Oil Dice. The number on the dice shows which countries / regions will generate Oil this turn (very like Settlers of Catan) and depending on the players Empire tokens they will collect greater or lesser amounts of Oil Revenue (Villages=50m, Towns=100m and Cities=200m). The presence of Radiation Counters or Terrorist Cells will either stop the generation of oil or in the case or Terrorists Cells steal them.

Outside of your turn
Players may trade, negotiate alliances and send secret messages to each other as well as remove any amount of their developments in order to generate additional monies (Empire Tokens can be redeemed in this way for their cost price) or a player can turn Terrorist.
The game box and components

What Did We Think
This is an amusing tactical game that forces players to compete for land (oil) and offers them the opportunity to negotiate based on the threats of war, nukes or terrorism. Ultimately players may forget to negotiate and just go to the more belligerent alternatives. Players whose territories have high oil generating capacity (6’s, 7’s and 8’s) are likely to gain a lot of money and so will likely be targeted by players with less productive land.

We have played it a number of times and it has been enjoyed by our social gamers and we have others who have held their hand up saying they would like to give it a go. It would not be their first choice as the ratio of humour to mental excursion is weighted to the later and with a play time of nearly 2 hours it takes longer to play than they generally like.

When offering it as an option I was concerned that our social gamers would not be comfortable with the black humour (suicide bombers, nukes etc). This has not been the case so far with two of the ladies chuckling away as they acquired new Empire or Terrorist cards (with the great artwork of Tom Morgan-Jones) and read through what new nastiness they could unleash on their fellow players – first time out my wife sneakily won by standing on the sidelines whilst 2 guys attacked each other back and forth.

It inherently is a game of conflict (and in the main we avoid games of this type) where to dominate rival players (gain enough victory points to win) you are likely to have to be belligerent. However, a player losing their Empire (through having no Empire tokens on the board or being made bankrupt) turns Terrorist ergo this does not end up being an exclusion game this together with level of humour (albeit black humour) and you have the recipe for a fun couple of hours. A feature I particularly liked as if there is more than one Terrorist player they then act as a single player (collaborate) against the other players - an interesting and unusual game mechanic.

Who Will It Work For
1. If you like this quote taken from the War on Terror Board Game web site, then this is a game for you:

“War on Terror, is a huge favourite in all my playgroups because it has political and satire elements but is simple and really fun with massive opportunities for bullying, blackmail, coercion, extortion, double-crossing and player-on-player screwage on both the one-on-one and mass screwage scale”
2. If you like classic games like Risk and Diplomacy then this is another game of world conflict but with a lot more humour.

3. Teachers and Professors. This is a game that will stimulate debate and can be used as a useful tool by those teaching geopolitics amongst other subjects.

4. Wargamers looking for something to play after the figures have been put away and the drinks have been poured.

5. Social gamers /people who can get into the theme and the humour and want a light-ish tactical playing experience with a level of chaos.

If you liked this review then other games I have reviewed can be seen here

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