Updated: Oct 24, 2020
Designed by Michael and Adeev Wohl, Psi Wars is a new two-player combat card game that brings some fresh dynamic twists to mechanics that players will recognise from other collectible card games.
The game is set in a dystopian 37th Century and there is of course a backstory to add flavour, but you don't need to dwell overly on that. There's also a lot of techno babble: the raw materials needed to create battle units are Bio-Acceleration, Neurogenesis, Digital Splicing and Raw Material Animation. You may get a kick from learning and using these terms but they are each a different coloured resource and players can simply slip into the shorthand of referring to the red, blue, green or purple resource.
Players each have their own individual decks of cards and they draw a starting hand from these. On successive turns they will be placing cards out into their 'lab' (the tableau in front of them). Resources need to be placed into the lab for them to be used to create battle units. Each battle unit requires a set combination of resources to be created. The term 'tapped' may be copyrighted by other publishers but, in effect, resources are 'tapped' (partially rotated to show they've been used) and any battle units created arrive 'tapped' to show they cannot be deployed in the turn in which they were created. All cards are replenished at the start of a player's turn.
On our first plays we were worried that the game had a slow start, with players sometimes having patiently to wait for their resource cards to come up before they could generate battle units, but the designers have anticipated that by introducing an optional rule that allow players to start off with cards available to them representing all four of the resource types.
What particularly distinguishes Psi Wars from its established predecessors is the way in which combat is resolved. Tho' there is a plethora of different battle units, these break down into three core types: beings, robots and cyborgs. Each has there own particular strengths and weaknesses. Cyborgs are much the more powerful - not least because they have ranged attack and an individual special ability - but they are mostly more 'expensive' to create because you'll need all four resources to produce them (most beings and robots require just two of the resources). All units have attack and defence values across the three areas of combat: cyber, psionic and physical. The cyber and psionic attacks are resolved first and may result in the attacker or defender being 'disoriented'. Only after these attacks are resolved can the attacker attempt a physical attack that can result in enemy units being destroyed and hit points being taken from the defender's lab.
Whereas most battle games resolve combat merely by comparing cards' relative attack and defence values, Psi Wars uses a six-sided die to modify the attacks. Obviously this introduces a degree of luck but it adds considerably to excitement of play: a successful attack in this game is never a foregone conclusion.
The multi-phase aspect inevitably adds to the complexity of combat but it also introduces scope for subtle strategies. It may seem initially counter-intuitive that, for example, a psionic attack cannot be pressed where the defending unit has no psionic ability (the natural assumption might have been that such circumstances would lead to an automatic victory). However, this rule can lead to some interesting defence strategies against seemingly powerful attack units. The combat rules also allow for counter-attacks, so give rise to some tense confrontations.
Battle units can be 'equipped' (enhancing their stats) and two battle units can be stacked. In addition there are 'power' cards that can be played on your turn for their special effect. Played judiciously, these can prove critical in bolstering an otherwise vulnerable defence.
The version of Psi Wars shown here on Board's Eye View is a preview prototype produced in advance of the game's upcoming Kickstarter campaign. It means we've been playing with identical 'unified' decks, whereas the KS version will incorporate four playable pre-constructed decks. The campaign promises some other exciting developments, including the possibility of lenticular cards! We'll add a link to the campaign when it goes live very shortly...
We've really enjoyed our plays of Psi Wars and we'll be interested to see how the game develops through its promised expansion packs. If you've ever played Magic: The Gathering (Wizards of the Coast) or Star Realms (White Wizard) you'll be able to hit the ground running with Psi Wars. The relatively complicated battle rules may take some initial getting used to but they are worth the investment of time and mental (psionic) energy.