A few weeks ago, we all had a snow day from school and work. In between a few Teams meetings, I had the opportunity to teach my 11 year old daughter Marin the game of War Chest from AEG. She is always a good sport and likes to try new things so I was very optimistic that this game would awake in her a desire to play other games. Plus it has hexes! I also hoped that it could be a sort of gateway game to get her interested in historical wargames. I have seen several other people comment about playing this game with their children and I thought I would also give it a shot.
First off, what is War Chest? War Chest is a very unique 2-4 player tactical combat game where players will build a bag of units in the form of chips recruited from a supply and then place out those units on a hex board to maneuver around, fight enemy units and take control of a certain amount of objective spaces to win the game. The game is fairly straightforward and easy to learn and plays in about 30 minutes per game. The game was published in 2018 and is designed by the dynamic duo of David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin. These two have since gone on to design other games together, including Undaunted: Normandy (2019), Undaunted: North Africa (2020), Undaunted: Reinforcements (2021) and most recently Undaunted: Stalingrad (2022).
They have designed several other games together as well but the reason that I mentioned these games in a discussion about War Chest is that they took their inspiration for the Undaunted Series, as well as some of the same mechanics, from War Chest. You know the old saying. If it aint broke, don’t fix it! Well, the mechanics used in War Chest work very well for any tactical style game and there was no need to recreate the wheel when they had a perfectly serviceable wheel already designed. I was particularly interested in War Chest because of my experiences with the Undaunted Series and wanted to get a look at the genesis for this system that I have enjoyed playing so much.
War Chest comes in a very interesting and slick package as the box is kind of one of those clam shell deals where the lid never comes off but simply opens back to reveal the components held within in a very nice and tightly designed box. There is a custom insert inside to hold the unit chips and it works really well, until you end up storing the box on its side on the shelf at which point it kind of moves around and some chips fall out. There are 4 very nice and plush draw bags with emblems emblazoned on the fronts into which chips will be placed and drawn forth by the players each round.
The unit chips are really well done and are poker sized chips that are very sturdy and will stand the test of time over much handling and many plays. The graphics are adhered really well and shouldn’t see much wear over time and each unit has interesting art and color choices that differentiates them on the board. There is no confusion about what units are what when placed out on the hex board.
We set the game up and went over the rules together. I tried to setup various scenarios to fully explain what was happening and she generally understood the concepts. The game is really pretty simple as each player will draw three chips from their bag and then play all three as a part of a round. After the third chip is played by each player, the round ends and players will again blindly draw three more chips from their bag and rinse and repeat. If the players bag is empty when they draw, or they have less than three chips to draw, they will then place all of their played chips in their discard area back into the draw bag and continue drawing up to three. This was the easy part in my teach, as there was no difficulty with Marin picking this up. Where she did struggle though, and frankly I did a bit as well, was remembering all of the options you have to play your chips and how you were to dispose of them.
There are nine actions that can be taken including placing units out on the board, moving those units, attacking enemy units, controlling objectives, recruiting new units from the supply to place into the bag, bolstering a unit on the board by stacking a matching token on top giving it more “hit points”, taking the initiative which means that player will go first next round, activating a special ability on unit cards and passing.
Each of these actions requires the player to utilize the chips in their hands in several different ways. Most of these are pretty clear such as if you want a unit in your hand to be deployed to the board, you simply take that unit chip and place it on a spot where they can be deployed. Only one of each unit type can ever be deployed to the board at once but you can also place a matching chip on top of the same unit already on the board in an action called Bolster. This simply means that you have increased the hit points of that unit and if hit in combat one of the stacked chips will be removed and the unit will still remain alive on the board.
Once of the key actions though is activating a unit on the board to move, attack or to take control of one of the objectives. In order to take these actions, the player must discard faceup a chip from their hand to the discard area. The reason for this is to prove that you have the required chip to activate the unit that you want. This concept of requiring the players to lay face down or faceup in the discard area was what lead to some confusion from Marin and she became frustrated with not fully understanding the reasoning behind the differentiation. I tried to explain to her that the requirement for matching a unit on the board with a matching chip in your hand is to prove that you can actually move or attack with that unit. She got it but still struggled with this.
The real reason that she (really we) struggled with these multitude of actions was that there was only one player aid and it was printed on the backside of the rulebook. I know that there are many alternative player aids found on Board Game Geek listing these actions and giving an in-depth description about each but I hadn’t prepared ahead of time and printed those off and didn’t really know we would need them. Having these play aids is very important and I was a bit disappointed it didn’t have them.
The best part about the design of War Chest is the asymmetry found in each sides available forces. At the beginning of the game, players can choose what 4 units they will add to their supply and use throughout the game. Each has their own unique attributes and Tactics, which makes the game imminently replayable while also keeping players on their toes having to keep track of not only their unique units and their actions, but also those of your opponent. As you can see in the picture above, we followed the recommended setup for the game’s first play found in the rulebook and I ended up using the Archer (has a special Tactic to attack up to 2 spaces away), Cavalry (has a special Tactic to move and attack on the same activation), the Lancer (who can move 1 or 2 spaces and then attack but they all have to be in a straight line) and the Scout (who can deploy anywhere on the board near a friendly unit) while Marin used the Swordsmen, Pikeman, Crossbowman an Light Cavalry. Marin also struggled with this part of the design a bit as everything was unique and she had to keep referring back to her unit cards before deciding what actions to take. This is a problem however that will take care of itself over time and plays as players will become more familiar with the individual units through trial and error.
The play time for this one is short. We played for about 40 minutes with the teach included in that time and were able to finish the game up. I was able to get my 4th control marker down at the very end due to the deft use of a few of my units tactics (such as placing the Scout adjacent to a friendly unit on one of the objectives) and then had a 2nd chip in my hand to activate that unit to control that final objective. Marin really enjoyed the game and found it interesting. Interesting enough that she asked if we could play again, but she wanted to use the same units because she had already learned them and was more comfortable. She came out on fire and placed a Crossbowman who was able to get into position to take out a few of my units as they came onto the board and while I was trying to fight her off she built a commanding 3-1 control lead. I fought back and got my controlled objectives to 3 before she finally was able to double activate a Swordsmen to move onto and take control of the final objective and win. Mission accomplished. I was able to teach my daughter an abstract tactical game and see her enjoy it! We have not had an opportunity to play since these first games but I am awaiting the moment when she asks to play again.
War Chest is a fun light game with some very interesting units that are all different. This means you can play the game multiple times without using the same units. My guess is players begin to love units they have played with and want to use them again once they figure out their preferred tactics and strategy. The objectives are the same for each game and pretty clear cut as players need to get 4 of their control discs out on an objective to win the game. This keeps it simple and straightforward and really very fast playing. The recommended ages for the game is 14+ but I think that you can teach your children how to play this game. My daughter Marin is just 11 and got it pretty quickly. A good play aid would have helped get it even quicker but she was able to grasp the rules and is now working on her strategies. I am just glad that there is a wargame on the market, albeit a bit simple and abstracted, that appeals to children and I plan to use this to build her interest in gaming.
My final point of discussion is what War Chest lead to for the design duo of David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin. The concept of bag building, where you are adding your units from your supply into the discard area to later be placed in the bag, became a lead in to the concept of deck building for the Undaunted Series, which also is a tactical game but set in WWII as opposed to a fantasy medieval themed time. The concept of recruiting your units into the game from a Supply, as well as Bolstering them by adding more of those units into the game, is the basis for War Chest and must be done well in order to be ensure the ability to activate the best units more often as the game progresses. The more units you place into the bag, or into the deck in Undaunted, increases the chances of those units being drawn and able to be used on the battlefield. Conversely, it also waters down the bag, or the deck, causing you to draw out units that might not be as important at the time to the player’s goals. This must be kept in mind when playing both games and I am so glad that the concept transformed from War Chest to make a very fascinating and interesting wargame in Undaunted.
Overall, we really enjoyed War Chest. I love that I was able to play a light game with my daughter to engender in her a desire to play board games and appreciate the simplicity of the design as far a mechanics go, but the depth of strategy that it offers for players to consider and be challenged. I look forward to many opportunities to play with Marin in the future.
I have played this one a couple of times on BGA. It’s an interesting, light abstract game with a “war” theme pasted on. It would make a decent filler if you needed one to start or end the game session.
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Agreed. Not a deep game by any means but a light game that you can use to lure your children into wargaming.
Although some people complain about it having “old mechanics”, I found that OGRE was great in getting my sons to have at least a passing interest in non-video war games.
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Deeper than it looks! I recommend checking out the BGG forum post “How to Master War Chest in 7 Steps”.
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This is a great introductory game. I used some of its features as inspiration for one of my own designs, used in a professional setting with Army officers. David Thompson is doing some remarkable stuff these days!
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It is a very slick little game. It also was pretty easy to pickup as evidenced by my daughters grasp of mechanics pretty quickly. She needs some time to work out strategy but that will come with more plays.
Thanks Have been wondering about this one
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