The Grizzled + At Your Orders Expansion
In France 1914, six friends are enlisted to fight in The Great War. Bound by friendship and duty, they work together to make it through the trenches and come out on the other side. But before the treaties are signed, they'll have to make it past guns, gas, raids, and awful weather. Can friendship be stronger than war?
The Grizzled is a cooperative press-your-luck card game for 2-5 players. It was originally printed in France by Sweet Games/Sweet November. It's expansion, At Your Orders!, added missions, character standees, and a new solo and 2-player variant. It is known for being an accessible and lightweight game with a heavy theme and high level of difficulty. Players take turns playing cards from their hands one at a time, until all cards are played or all players voluntarily remove themselves from the round. The game is noteworthy for its heavy theme, art, and engaging but simple gameplay.
One of the most important things to remember about The Grizzled is that players are limited in what they can say or show to each other. They cannot ever show cards in their hands or tell others what they have. They cannot ask for people to give them support at the end of turns. All actions are dependent on players using empathy and observation to make it to the end of the game.
In The Grizzled, each series of turns is called a mission, and each player takes a turn as the leader. The leader determines how many cards the mission will start with, and passes those out from the Trials pile of cards. The cards are split into two types: threats and hardknocks.
- Threat cards have between one and six types of "threats" on them: bullets, gas masks, and whistles make up the items, and rain, snow, and night make up the scenery threats. These are played in the "No Man's Land" in the center of the players, and they affect all players together. Each card can have any combination of these, including one card that has all six. They can also have traps, which force a player to immediately play another card from the top of the Trials pile.
- Hardknock cards have text and two red lightning bolts on them. They are played in front of the player, and can only be removed under special circumstances. The most common are Phobias and Traumas that act as an extra threat on the board at all times (so if a player has a Phobia to bullets, this card acts as one card towards the three needed to lose the mission). The others affect only the player who played it, such as the Mute card that keeps someone from speaking or communicating, or cards that make you withdraw before others, or force you to permanently remove support tokens.
Each turn, a player can perform one of the following: play a card, use their Good Luck Charm (removes a card from No Man's Land), give a speech if they have one (removes a card of a single type from all player's hands), or withdraw from the round. If there are three of any threat out at any time, the players lose the mission, and the next round is set up. When a player is out of cards or doesn't want to play any more of his cards, he withdraws from the mission, and his turn is skipped until all players have withdrawn as well.
If all players successfully withdraw from the mission before playing three of any threat, they succeed the mission and have the chance to support another player. Support tokens have little arrows on them, indicating players to the right or left. Each player secretly selects one, and then simultaneously reveals and pass their tokens. It's worth noting that players cannot support themselves. If any player was handed the most support, they can remove up to two hardknocks cards or recharge their good luck charm (or both in the expansion).
The players win or lose based on the two stacks of cards that the threats are placed on. The first is the the "Trials" pile and is placed over the Peace card. These are the trials and threats that the players must work through to beat the game. The other pile is the Monument deck, where cards are added to the Trials pile at the end of every round. The players win by drawing enough cards to reveal the Peace card, and then playing all remaining threats from their hand. However, if the Monument card is ever revealed, the players lose. Additionally, if a round ever ends with a player having four hardknocks in front of them, the players lose.
The At Your Orders! expansion comes with a new type of cards called Missions that dictate the minimum cards must be drawn each round, as well as a benefit or additional problem that the players must face. They're split into Easy, Medium, and Hard, with some of the missions remaining until certain criteria are met. The Missions are a great addition to the game, giving it more focus and adding to the depth and flavor of the game. Included in these mission choices are a "Last Stand/Final Assault" card that allows players who are about to lose to take one final, glorious action before the game ends. At Your Orders! also adds a Solo and two-player Duo variant. I've not played the Duo version yet, but I've tried the Solo and find it to be a fairly decent one-player game.
Artwork and Theme
The theme doesn't need to be blatant here. There is no need for bloodshed or gore. All we need to see are the characters in their current states: some jovial, others timid, all tired and dirty. One is reading a love letter from home. You could create a story yourself just from playing the game. The rulebook makes it clear that the creators tried to take a very respectful approach to what is an incredibly volatile subject. They state that they focused on the individual, rather than the event, and how it was important for the infantrymen to support each other. This is a game about overcoming adversity, and thus is not meant to be lighthearted.
It should be noted that the art comes from the French cartoonist Tignous (Bernard Verlhac). He was one of the 12 people killed in the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris on January 7th, 2015. Additionally, the rulebook indicates that some of the characters are named after and based on actual ancestors of the game's creators.
So is a lightweight cooperative card game about making it through World War I even fun? Absolutely! The theme is heavy for sure, but the art and simple mechanics of the game make for a challenging and tense experience. The game could easily be beaten with some advanced communication: "You withdraw this turn and you use your luck next so I can put down this difficult card." But the fact that such communication is not allowed is what adds to the game's genius. Each player must make their decisions based on the knowledge they have in front of them, and there is no chance for quarterbacking (when one player in a cooperative game tells everyone else what to do).
I have yet to introduce this game to people who have not liked it. The addition of mission cards in At Your Orders! really strengthens and focuses the game, giving the players something different to work around or towards each turn. Alongside the "Last Stand/Final Assault" card, it adds a much-needed layer to the base game..
This is actually one of my most played games of the year. The Grizzled hits some of my favorite gaming spots: It's co-operative, easy to pick up and play, strategic with some luck involved, and visually satisfying. I don't know why, but I've had a lot of trouble teaching this game. There are a lot of little steps here and there that are easy to forget, and sometimes my explanations, which seem obvious to me, have caused confusion. Even I was a bit confused when I learned the game at first. However, anyone who sticks with it finds that The Grizzled is an enjoyable and challenging experience. Trust me: this game is hard. And getting beaten just makes you want to reshuffle and try again.
The Grizzled is a game that should not be passed up. It's not necessary to get the expansion, but if you like to play games solo or want to add variety, I suggest purchasing it. I highly recommend The Grizzled and At Your Orders!