This 18-card micro-game Air, Land and Sea: Critters at War by Jon Perry is a re-implementation of the creator's original game: Air, Land and Sea, both published by Arcane Wonders. The fantastic re-skinning illustrations of this version are by Derek Laufman.
The game play for Critters at War is exactly the same as its predecessor: two players battle over three theatres of war simultaneously, attempting to 'control' (score the most points) in at least two of them to win the round. Each player has only six cards with which to accumulate their score, making for tight, hectic gameplay with much more thinking than you'd perhaps expect. During their turn, a player may Deploy, Improvise or Withdraw.
Deploy means to play a card face up to its corresponding theatre for its (1 - 6) score which the player accumulates in that theatre as well as for its power to affect gameplay (for example, flip or destroy cards, play to an unmatching theatre etc). Alternatively, a card can be played face down to any theatre as the Improvise action. This always adds 2 to your score at that location but you may subsequently play other cards that will flip your face-down card, so Improvise can be a way of playing a high-value card to a theatre other than the one it matches. Finally, Withdraw allows the player to quit the round. This concedes the round to the other player, so your opponent will gain victory points (VP) but they'll get fewer than the 6VP awarded for winning the round after all the cards have been played. Withdraw can therefore be a sensible play if you reckon you've drawn an unviably poor hand. Deciding whether to play or, in effect, fold introduces a clever poker-like element to this micro-game. Victory goes to the first player to get 12 VPs - so only if both players always play out all their cards does the game becomes a simple best of three rounds.
If this were simply a game of mitigating luck, it would be dynamic and fun, but Critters at War seamlessly adds a layer of strategy that catapults the game into something much more: a tense speculation that brings a new definition to the idea of ‘waging war’.
The quality of the components is excellent: the theatre cards are double-sided so as to offer the option of either card explanation or immersive artwork – and the artwork is stunning. Granted, it’s a big departure from the purist depiction of war in the original game, and cute animals aren't everyone’s thing, but I loved it. It's gorgeous; the images are punchy, exciting and ludicrous, and each tells a story that matches the power capability of the card.
My only frustration with Air, Land and Sea: Critters at War is that there isn’t more: it’s a strictly two-player game, and I would love to see this reworked to include the option for more players over a longer game. As it is, it’s a perfect small-box game to have in your pocket for those times when you need to just declare war on your buddy and overrun them with decisive action and cute critters.
(Review by Michael Harrowing)