War is Hell. The strains on the body and psyche can be seen long after the final bombs have dropped. World War I was a particularly brutal battle. Over 17 million people lost their lives and another 20 million were injured, making it one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. When facing a scenario fraught with such peril it drives together the people fighting towards a common goal. The bonds of friendship and the respect for life can’t help but be strengthened. The Grizzled is a game about friendship. Six friends join the French forces during The Great War and must battle to keep themselves and each other alive. It is a co-op game where the end goal is to make sure your brothers in arms survive long enough to see peace achieved.
The Grizzled is largely card based. It’s a game that mimics the trials and tribulations of trench warfare. A deck of cards makes up the Trials, covering the Peace card. The goal of the game is to successfully work your way through the Trials deck and reveal the Peace card. The Trials cards will be played out into No Man’s Land, with the Threats being assessed after each card played. The goal is to get rid of as many cards as possible each mission, but each card added to No Man’s Land makes the mission more dangerous. The remainder of the cards form the Morale reserve. This covers the Monument card. Each round the Morale reserve will add some cards to the Trials deck. If the Monument is ever revealed then you and your team have fallen and a statue in your honour has been erected.
Each player will get a character card representing a French soldier that took part in the war. The soldiers each have a Good Luck Charm that counters one of the threats they’ll face over the course of the war. When they use their charm they flip their character card over and remove one card of that threat type from No Man’s Land.
The Trials cards are made up of either Threats or Hard Knocks. The Threats depict some kind of mixture of an environmental condition (snow, night, rain) and an icon of war (raid whistle, shell, gas mask). Hard Knocks are cards that, when played are assigned to a specific player and handicap them and thus the team in some way. The Hardheaded card requires the players with it to stay in the mission until they have fewer than two cards in hand. The Mute card makes the owner unable to communicate in any way with the rest of the team. If one player ever ends a round with four Hard Knocks the game is lost.
The Grizzled is played over a number of rounds or missions. Each mission is broken up into four phases. The first step is setting the intensity. A rotating Mission Leader will determine the number of cards each player is dealt from the Trials deck. More cards will make the mission more difficult, but ultimately you’re trying to drain that deck and reach peace, so it’s a tough decision.
The second phase is the mission itself. This is the real meat of the game. The time when the crushing pressure of war is felt. Starting with the Mission Leader, players will take actions in turn. They can play a Trials card from hand, either adding it to No Man’s Land (the central play area) or taking a Hard Knock card. They can use their character’s Good Luck Charm, removing one card of that threat type from No Man’s Land and flipping their character card. They can make a rousing speech, by spending a Speech token. When a Speech is given, the player will announce one threat type and anyone that has a Trial card in hand with that threat can discard it. Finally they can withdraw and play a Support tile. Withdrawing means you’ll no longer contribute to the current mission. The Support tile you play facedown indicates one teammate that you think needs your aid. At the end of the mission everyone reveals their support tokens and the person who has received the most will be able to get rid of up to two Hard Knock cards or flip their character, so they can use their Good Luck Charm again.
Missions can end in different ways. If all the players withdraw voluntarily, the mission is over and the third phase, Support is assessed. However, it’s possible for a mission to be failed. If there are ever three identical threats present in No Man’s Land, such as three snow cards or three gas masks, then the mission will be failed. The cards in No Man’s Land must be shuffled back into the Trials deck to be faced again.
At the end of the mission the Support phase begins. Everyone reveals their support tokens and the person who has received the most will be able to get rid of up to two Hard Knock cards or flip their character, so they can use their Good Luck Charm again.
If the Trials deck is not exhausted then War continues and morale drops. You total up all of the Trials cards left in player’s hands and add that number from the Moral deck to the Trials deck. This gets you further from peace and a step closer to a monument in your likeness. The Mission Leader marker is passed and a new mission begins.
Although The Grizzled is about war, you don’t fight any battles. There are no assaults on enemy targets and you never fire a weapon in the game. The theme is much more focussed on friendship and survival. Probably more than many games, The Grizzled accurately depicts the fight any soldier faces just to get out of the war alive. You get a sense of the lives of the characters you play. There is an illustration on the back of the rulebook that shows the six young men, clean cut, smiling and full of promise before the war. It’s a stark counterpoint to the box cover that depicts them in the midst of the war, haggard, beat down, grizzled.
I think it’s pretty important to mention the art in this game. It drips with the horrors of war of course, but also with the spirit and hope of peace. The entire presentation is engaging and beautiful and it makes the message of the game even more impactful when you know the back story. The Grizzled was illustrated by French artist, Tignous. It was his last completed work before his death. Tignous was a member of Cartoonists for Peace and Clowns Without Borders International. He participated in CSF projects around the world. He was also a long time contributor to Charlie Hebdo and tragically was killed in the shootings there in January of this year. The senselessness of the loss of such an important force for peace is immeasurable.
It draws a parallel to the senselessness of war as a whole. If I can editorialize for a brief moment and step out of board gaming, the world is a messed up place with lots of different opinions, beliefs and ideas. Wars happen and violence happens. It’s an unavoidable fact, but violence and war should only ever come as a last resort. Too often today everyone from ordinary people to the political leaders of the world are quick to turn to violence as an answer to our problems, in platitudes or practice. Perhaps it’s because battles are fought a lot differently today than there were in 1914. It’s often not the same face-to-face engagement that we would have experienced in WWI. We’re not living in the Hell of the trenches day after day. The Grizzled made an impact on me and it serves as a reminder of the value of all human life. Our goal, what we strive for, should be the very same thing as we do in this game, the goal Tignous strived for. Peace.