I am just barely recovering from the trauma I experienced after watching Toy Story when I was a kid. The thought that my expressive, ambulatory, and caring toys were distastefully tossed aside as I grew older still haunts my dreams. As an adult, my hoard of toys has reduced to a mere pile, and I now know they don’t come to life at night (I know… because I checked…). But these questions ring through my mind yet again as I play Bellwether Game’s newest creation, Windup Wars.
Step right up, and choose your toy army! Yes, an army. A toy army. Do not be deceived; these toys are not friendly, and they won’t hesitate to throw a bomb your way. According to the creators of Windup War, a child’s playroom becomes a battleground at night. Who becomes champion of the toybox depends on how you “windup your toys.” The compact packaging of this game emulates a real, tiny toy box. Each beautifully illustrated snuggly toy is cleverly named with a pun. Are you a member of the Air-istotles battle unit of the Gladi-8ers? Or join the ranks of the Dyno-Myttes of the Dinosoldiers. Each faction is made up of units who can perform only certain types of actions; some units can only perform green-card actions and others can play purple and green card actions. Ultimately, your faction choice doesn’t affect your gameplay; each faction has access to the same unit types and actions. But the artwork really amplifies the playful theme of the game, and I found myself diving for those good Dinosoldiers.
The two phases of the game move fast and loose, and you’ll have no idea what you’re doing the whole time. During the Windup, your toy’s available actions are selected and choreographed. It is your task as general to study your enemies to predict their strategies so that your unit is well prepared for the War phase. However, your enemies are winding up their toys and attempting to predict your movements at the same time as you. Of course, this is what makes strategizing difficult, but fun, in this game. You have a few restrictions; certain units can only take certain actions and other units are more fragile than others. But this restriction levels the playing field. Everyone has the same pool of attacks available to them, so you can make assumptions based on the units your enemies are playing. When I first read the rules, I assumed that there would be no blatantly obvious strategy. And in the first game, I was right. But then we played another game. And then another. And I found that I was able to start predicting the types of windups my frenemies were planning. Each player had a different strategy: cautious, aggressive, sneaky, or destruction with no inhibitions. The strategy in this game is more akin to Poker. You study your opponents, learn their subtle strategies, and then use it against them. BUT! Because the Windup phase occurs all at once, there is still an element of surprise and luck.
How you prepared your Windup determines how you perform in the War phase. The actions available to your unit can include defenses, targeted attacks based on how players are seated around the table, area of effect attacks, and victory points. In each round, players flip over their choices and immediately regret all of their life choices. Now here’s the kicker: your units can die. YASS THEY CAN DIE SO SAY YOUR GOODBYES NOW. If this happens, your next unit is forced to take its place. But remember how I mentioned earlier that your units can only play certain card colors? So what if you played only green actions during the Windup, not expecting your green-only unit to die, and your next unit can only make purple attacks? Your faction takes a penalty for playing what are called illegal actions. So this brings another level of complexity to the Windup phase. You may need to plan ahead for unit deaths, but how do you know when you are just wasting actions?! As I said before, you’ll have no idea what you’re doing during the game, but that guessing game is what makes Windup Wars fun.
Overall, Windup Wars presents a surprisingly complex game in adorable packaging that takes about 15 minutes to play. This quick game is excellent for parties and is a straightforward gateway game for friends new to the hobby. My friends and I easily played six games in a row, and had a ton of fun imagining our little toy armies duking it out. Please check out Bellwether Games and follow them on Twitter @bellwethergames. Keep an eye out for their next Kickstarter or find them at the next convention!