I recently picked up a copy of Rivet Wars by Super Robot Punch and published by Cool Mini or Not. Rivet Wars is a Kickstarter game, which if you backed the Kickstarter you received a load of extra goodies. I did not back the Kickstarter, mainly because at the time I had several other Kickstarter projects I was already backing in the pipeline. So this review covers the base retail version of the game.
Opening the Box
Rivet Wars, like other CMON published games, has a very high production value. It comes in a massive box that is literally stuffed full of goodies. Upon opening the box you will find your cards safely nestled in a plastic tray with six brown six-sided dice underneath. Two nondescript white boxes contain your miniatures, packaged in plastic trays that protect them from breakage. Rivet Wars comes with 38 miniatures in total split evenly between the two factions, The Allies and The Blight. Beneath your miniatures you will find your rulebook, nine double sided tiles, two stat dashboards, a tracking tile, and two sheets of tokens and markers.
For me personally, part of the appeal for Rivet Wars was the miniatures. I don’t generally consider myself a fan of super-deformed style, but there was something about the unique style of these miniatures combined with the WWI-esque styling I liked. The miniatures come pre-assembled, which is great if you want to start playing right away, but could cause problems if you want to paint them up. Each faction gets nine infantry in three unique poses, two characters, two support weapons, three calvary, one tank and two upgrades (or plugs) for the tank. This may not seem like a lot, but basic units can be recycled onto the battlefield during the game and we never felt we had a shortage of miniatures.
The game is a light tactical miniatures game played out on gridded tiles that comprise the battlefield. Like most miniatures games, each unit has a set of stats which indicate how quickly the model moves, what kind of armor it has, how many wounds it can take, what kinds of attacks it can make, and if it has any special abilities or actions. Additionally, each unit has a deployment cost indicated in deployment points, with more powerful units requiring rivets to be spent in order to deploy them (but more on that in a minute). Some of the more powerful units can also award victory points to your opponent when he kills that unit. Players also have access to Action! cards which let them perform special actions like call in artillery strikes, redeploy a unit that has just been killed, bring on free units and more. Each player also has a number of Secret Mission cards that have objectives that can earn the player bonus victory points.
A player’s turn is broken up into four phases: the card phase, deployment phase, combat phase and movement phase. The card phase essentially lets a player manager their hand, they can discard a single Action! card and draw a single Action! card up to their hand size of three. Additionally they can draw new Secret Mission cards, although a player cannot have more than two Secret Missions at any one time.
During the deployment phase, each player generates a number of deployment points and rivet points based on the scenario being played. These points are then spent to bring units onto the battlefield. Deployment points are lost, but rivet points are accumulated over successive turns, which allows players to save up to deploy more powerful units.
The combat phase comes next, which might seem a bit strange to most miniatures players used to being able to move prior to attacking–but I will explain this in a bit so just hang with me. Each tile is broken up into several grids, with each grid containing four squares. Units can take up one, two, or four squares in a grid and their placement within the grid will be important as you will see in a moment. The player chooses a grid with his units and then can choose a grid with enemy units within range to attack. There is no line of sight, so you can attack through your own or enemy units. When you attack an enemy grid the squares within the target grid are attacked in a specific order, starting with the unit that occupies square one. This is important because you can put higher armor targets in the first square to shield other units or you can place higher value units in the last square to try and protect them. Some attacks, however, attack all the squares in the grid regardless of position while other abilities let you pick your target in the grid. Attacking is simple as you compare the armor of the target against your attack to see how many dice you get to roll, each die that rolls a 5 or a 6 is a success, but you only ever cause one wound regardless of the number of 5s or 6s rolled. In some cases, certain attacks can’t even harm higher armor values.
The movement phase is last, which may seem odd, however in terms of how Rivet Wars is played it is vitally important. In order to capture objectives you need to have your units on them at the end of your turn to score the victory points. By moving after you attack you can move onto a grid that has been cleared of enemy units as you can only move onto grids that contain no enemy units. Movement is again done in terms of grids, and once you are done moving all of your units you can then rearrange them on the squares however you see fit.
The rulebook contains 10 scenarios, each with their own special rules and victory point objectives. The first player to reach the requisite number of victory points triggers the end game. If that player was the first player, then their opponent would get a chance to play out their turn in an effort to tie VPs and cause the game to continue, otherwise the game ends.
Games of Rivet Wars take about 30-45 minutes, however we found that on average the games can take considerably less time, sometimes ending in as little as 10-15 minutes. The game plays a lot like most tower defense games, as units are constantly being recycled onto the board each turn. We also found it is very luck based, with a single roll of the dice or a single Secret Mission card wildly changing the balance of the game.
Typically the player that can reach and hold the objectives for the first few turns and that can setup a good defense will pretty much have the upper hand the entire game, which then leads to the whole “tipping point” problem that I have with this game. At some point the player who is behind on VPs will realize that no matter what they do, there is nothing they can do to keep their opponent from scoring those last couple vital VPs. Add into that the unpredictable nature of the Secret Mission cards, out of the half-dozen games we played, each one hit that tipping point each time and we were able to call the game before we even finished it out.
The Secret Mission cards themselves are not very balanced. Many award two bonus VPs for rather easy tasks such as “Leeeeroy Jenkins” for moving a single infantry unit into enemy territory or “Tally Ho!” for having three cavalry units in no-man’s land. Others, such as “Can Opener” rely on your opponent actually fielding his tank in order to complete the Secret Mission or “Killdozer!!” which forces the player to field his most expensive unit–his tank–in order to complete the Secret Mission. As there is no mechanic to allow a player to discard Secret Mission cards, the ones they draw at the start of the game are the ones they are stuck with until they can complete them.
Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, some of the more powerful units can award VPs when they are killed, but again this relies on your opponent actually fielding these units early enough to make a difference.
I was personally drawn to the style of the miniatures, so they have a lot of appeal for me, however I was let down by the game play of Rivet Wars. One could say that the short game play time is a bonus and allows players to get in multiple games in one evening, however I feel this is one of its biggest detractions. The game can swing on a dime with a single lucky (or unlucky) die roll, or play of an Action! or Secret Mission card. Combined with the “tipping point” problem, this does not give much room for players to recover from a poor turn. Combine that with the unbalanced units and Secret Mission cards and it can make for a very frustrating game. The miniatures are beautiful, but don’t make up for the problems with game play. For a retail price of $99.99, I had expected a little more than a complicated version of checkers from Rivet Wars.
Final Score: 2 out of 5