The Basics: The Grizzled by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez and with excellent illustrations by Tignous, was published in 2015 by Cool Mini or Not (“CMON”). CMON is an interesting company that’s produced a lot of successful and impressive games over the years. The Grizzled marks the latest entry in their expansion away from the miniature-focused games that defined CMON’s earlier successes, games such as 2011’s Super Dungeon Explore and 2012’s Zombicide.
The Grizzled is yet another cooperative game in a year that has seen plenty of high-profile cooperative games such as Mysterium, XCOM, and Pandemic Legacy. Players take it in turns to negotiate the difficulties of life on the western front of the Great War. On a player’s turn, they can either play a card in their hand that has one or more hazards pictured on it, make a speech to hearten his comrades, or withdraw from the mission and play a support tile. Hazards such as snow, rain, darkness, gas attacks, and charges into no man’s land add up very quickly and if a threshold number (initially 3, usually dropping to 2 for at least one type of hazard over the course of play) is reached then the mission is a failure.
Somewhat frustratingly, the rules hearken back to the old days of semi-cooperative design of Shadows over Camelot and forbids players from sharing information with each other. While this is an acceptable design element to protect the guilty in a semi-cooperative game, it seemed to make this game needlessly more difficult. Of course, given The Grizzled’s pacifist themes, this might be an intentional design choice intended to model the frustration of being unable to communicate critical information due to the fog of war. One of the notable things about The Grizzled is how it creates an increasingly tense, pessimistic tone throughout gameplay as the players accrue tics that hamper not only their own survival but the overall success of the game overall. It’s tough to think positive during a game of the Grizzled, usually your choice as a player will be to do whatever sucks the least, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.
What We Did Wrong: Hoo boy. This one is a whopper. I’ve said in the past that in cooperative games it’s more common for players to make mistakes that make the game easier. During our initial play we overlooked a rule that required us, upon failing a mission, to replenish the deck with all the cards we had played during that mission. We just discarded them instead. Naturally this lead to a lot of confusion—what exactly is the consequence for failing a mission? It also led to some moral hazard as players began top-loading hopeless missions with their worst cards so they wouldn’t have to deal with them later. Somewhat shockingly we still lost pretty badly during our first games. So, if you fail a mission, all of the stuff you were trying to avoid will come back to haunt you later.
Conclusion: This game felt more like performance art than a cooperative game. While I appreciated the excellent art direction, which appears to take some cues from Goddamn this War by Jacques Tardi, this game felt like kind of a downer to play. Rather than accomplish some kind of goal, players are basically just trying to survive World War One, which makes perfect sense except it’s just not a whole lot of fun. I’d recommend trying before buying.