When I heard about High Command Rapid Engagement, I was intrigued. Using deck-building to do battle without the investment of a collectible card game sounded good.
I hadn't played Smash Up at this point (and I've only played part of a game since). I won't compare them much, since I don't have much experience with Smash Up, but there are similarities, using cards in your hand and their various abilities to conquer locations.
The game is for two, and it's set in Privateer Press' Iron Kingdoms universe. It's designed by David Carl and William Schick.
It's a quick-start version of the full deck-building game, which has multiple sets of cards you can buy. You can also play with up to four people.
But Rapid Engagement ismeant to stand on its own. Each player chooses a faction — Khador or Circle Orboros — and they strategize to get the most points by the end of the game.
Before I tell you how it went for me, let me tell you ...
How it Works
Each turn, an event card is drawn. It will usually require or allow players to break a rule during that round, such as holding more cards than usual or looking at cards before they draw them.
Two location cards are placed in the center of the table. They are worth points, and they usually give an ability to the player who wins them.
Players start with 12 cards, which they shuffle and put into a deck. They generally keep six cards in their hand at a time.
Four cards from another deck of cards are placed face up in front of the player. These are army cards, and they have health, which allows them to defend themselves, and power, which allows them to attack.
On a player's turn, these cards are available to buy if the cards in the player's hand has the right amount of "command" or "war" purchasing power.
After the first two turns, a player can pay to rush an army card to a location. Otherwise, the card goes to the player's discard pile. When the draw pile runs out, the discard pile is shuffled and becomes the new draw pile. Cards in the player's hand must be paid for again to deploy them to a location.
Cards played to a location will battle any enemy cards there, calculating their power and health and taking into account any special instructions on the cards.
At the beginning of a player's turn, he can claim a location if he has at least two more cards than his opponent at that location.
Play continues over 10 to 15 rounds, depending on when the final turn card is drawn from the event deck.
Why you might like High Command Rapid Engagement
The battles in High Command Rapid Engagement are tense, and you will feel you earned a location if you can claim it.
The powers of the two factions are radically different, forcing players to use different tactics.
There are lots of types of army cards in the deck, so the game has a lot of replay value.
If you're interested in High Command or Iron Kingdom games, this is a good introduction at a reasonable price.
If you like games where you get tot build your character or deck, this one allows for that.
There are lots of combinations that can be very powerful for both factions.
Why you might not like High Command Rapid Engagement
I played seven times and could not get the red faction to win. When my opponent (also known as my husband Andrew) and I switched factions, he couldn't get the red faction to win, either. The green faction won easily at first, and even as we figured out better ractics for red, it still wasn't enough.
That leads me to believe the factions are not as balanced as they could be.
The battles are tense, but they're also long. You can battle over the same location for several turns, which can lead to feeling like the game is not progressing. If you let a location go, however, you've given up a significant number of points, often too many to recover.
Some of the art is quite graphic. On the other hand, the art is very well done.
I enjoyed combining cards and working with the deck a lot.
But two players playing well (or maybe we were playing equally badly?) means a lot of stalemate in the battles, which are the heart of the game.
The factions being unbalanced and some of the artwork (and I admit to being squeamish) make this game a miss for me.
But I understand why the collectible game — which is more customizable — has so many fans. I'm quite curious how the game plays with four players, but I'm worried the battles would drag on even longer.
Other reviewers' opinions
As far as I know, Cody over at The Discriminating Gamer is the only other reviewer to weigh in on High Command Rapid Engagement. He likes how confrontational the game is. He also praised the assymetry of the game (each faction plays very differently) and the event cards. He recommends you buy it.
If you do, you might want to check out a variant posted by a user on Board Game Geek. I haven't tried it, but the poster said it "completely fixes this game."
Hmm. If you're not okay with the above art for your kid, then definitely not.
If you are, it depends. The game doesn't have a recommended minimum age.
It takes being able to read and understand special abilities, do some addition, keep a few icons straight, and strategize given all the math and those abilities. I'd guess it's at least 12 and up, but I'd be open to hearing otherwise.
What my husband wants to do to it
He wants to balance those factions and cover up some of the creepy art.
So there you have it.
Full disclosure: I got a review copy of this game from Privateer Press. That doesn't affect my ability to give an honest review. If it did, I wouldn't have taken it.
And a final note: Much of this review first appeared over at News for Shoppers, where I wrote it.