Overview: Skirmish: Modern Card Warfare is a sort of mash-up that reminds me a little of War and Stratego. It’s a fast-playing two-player battle that’s easy enough for younger kids to learn. It also happens to be more interesting than playing War with your kid, and easier to set up or carry around than Stratego. The game was funded last year on Kickstarter and now has limited availability.
Ages: 7 and up
Playing Time: 10 minutes
Rating: Quick and light. Great with kids but still fun for adults.
Who Will Like It? Fans of the classic game Stratego, and parents who are sick of playing War with their kids who are too young to understand why War isn’t actually a game. Not for somebody who wants a hardcore strategic wargaming experience, but a lightweight game.
War. Your classic “capture the flag,” with some defenses, various military figures from Private to Field Marshal, plus Spies and Bombs. The gameplay reproduces the feel of classic war-based games, though thematically it’s still not clear why a Colonel would always beat an enemy Lieutenant on the field.
The entire game consists of 116 cards: each of the two players gets 50 unit cards, 7 Defense cards, and 1 Flag card.
The game comes in two clear plastic tuckboxes that have been stuck together, and the instructions are printed on a couple loose-leaf sheets of standard office paper. Components-wise, it’s not all that impressive. I’ll give a few points for using a box that actually fits the game with very little wasted space, but these clear plastic tuckboxes also tend to crack easily. The artwork is pretty bare-bones, as you can see. The cards themselves are a decent quality but not top-of-the-line.
The goal of the game is to take out all of your opponent’s defenses and then capture their flag.
Players lay out their flag and defense cards. (Layout doesn’t really matter.) Shuffle your deck of unit cards, and draw five. You’re ready to begin.
Each player selects a card from their hand for the skirmish, and then both reveal simultaneously. As in War, a higher number beats a lower number, and the loser flips over a defense card to the X side. The unit cards played are then discarded. However, many of the cards have special effects, particularly the lower-numbered cards.
A card that says “Reinforce” may be played from your hand and added to the current skirmish, increasing your power. Any number of reinforcements may be played in a skirmish. “Reinforce: 2” adds 2 points to your skirmish. “Field Review” allows you to flip the next card from your deck and replace the current unit, if you’re feeling lucky. Some of the cards have the “Sniper” ability, which lets them beat a level 8 or 9, the top brass on the field. But against middle-ranking officers, they lose.
Bolster Defense is a card which simply adds another defense: the opposing player puts their skirmish card back in their hand and you have another skirmish. Bombs are powerful cards that basically beat anything — but you only have a few in your deck. The only thing that beats a bomb is the “Bomb Buster,” which some of the Sergeants (level 3) have. A Spy cancels the current skirmish, lets you look at your opponent’s hand, and choose a card for them to play in the next skirmish — which is almost a free win, unless it turns out that nothing in your hand beats what they have already. There are also some “Spy Buster” cards which defeat Spies.
In the case of a tie (after any reinforcements are played), then you move to a Battle. The current skirmish is set aside, and you have another skirmish. You continue having skirmishes until there is no tie, and then the winner gets a number of victories equal to the number of skirmishes. So if it took three skirmishes to resolve the battle, then the loser will flip over three defense cards.
The game continues until one player takes the other person’s flag.
I vaguely remember seeing Skirmish on Kickstarter when it was running, but I hadn’t paid much attention to it because at a quick glance it looked like War. And, to be honest, the artwork didn’t impress me much. But then at a recent GameStorm game day, I saw a couple of people playing this card game next to me and having a pretty fun time. It turned out that Jayson Murray, the designer of the game, is a local and he was happy to give me a demo.
We played a couple of games of Skirmish — it was really easy to pick up and the quick gameplay meant we could play several rounds of it — and by the end of it I was sold. I purchased a copy for myself, and took it home to show my kids. My nine-year-old grasped the concepts without difficulty and we played a few more times before bedtime.
I think what I like about the game is the way it recalls Stratego, with the flag and bombs and spies, but it’s a much quicker, more portable game without all the setup time. Granted, it’s less strategic — there’s no movement, no planning on where you’re going to hide your flag, no maneuvering your spy around to get to the opponent’s Marshal without getting picked off by a lowly Scout. However, the speed and ease of play make it a great stand-in when you don’t have the time or space for a full game of Stratego.
It’s also a vast improvement over War. My nine-year-old used to love War — in fact, I remember a time in my life when I played a lot of War with my siblings. But of course it’s a completely deterministic exercise, with no choice involved at all. Skirmish gives you a hand of five cards to choose from, but it also ensures that every card has a counter of some sort. Bombs can be defused, spies can be defeated, Field Marshals can be brought low by snipers, even the Bolster Defense can be blown up by a bomb. There’s still the luck of the draw, but you do get some room for tactical decisions.
One note: I’m toying around with the idea of some house rules, because it occurred to me that you might actually be able to use the cards to play something more like Stratego, where you set up your flags and defense with the X side showing, so that the opponent has to hunt for your flag. I haven’t gotten much beyond just the initial thought, but it may be possible to make a movement-based game out of the cards as well.
From speaking with Murray, I know that the Kickstarter campaign allowed him to print up about 100 copies, half of which went to backers, and he’s just selling the remainder on his website, so there’s a limited number. I don’t know if he has plans to print more of them once they’re gone. If you’ve got kids who are getting into games and you want a fun one that won’t drive you up the wall, pick up a copy of Skirmish and give it a shot. The components are so-so, but the gameplay makes up for it. (Unless you’re a components snob — then it might drive you up the wall after all.)
Wired: Quick, easy gameplay reminiscent of Stratego but without all the setup. Portable.
Tired: Not pretty.