15th Oct2019

‘Glorantha: The Gods War’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


When I think about the first few board games I played in the 80’s and early 90’s, it was unthinkable to me that the games I’d be playing in my thirties would cost hundreds and hundreds of pounds, and feature miniatures so large that the word “miniature” becomes highly questionable. And yet, with the likes of Glorantha: The Gods War, here we are. Initially a Kickstarter that funded several years ago, Glorantha: The Gods War is a huge area control game from Petersen Games, which is based on the Glorantha property, with gameplay that is spiritually similar to Peteron’s existing Cthulhu Wars game.

In the base game that is under review here, the players receive four highly asymmetric factions based on the followers of the Sky, Storm, Darkness and Chaos Gods. The base game itself has an RRP of over a hundred pounds, but the Buildings, Elder Races, Monsters and other expansions (released at the same time) each weigh in at hefty price points, taking the potential total spend to well in excess of £200. With these expansions in hand, Glorantha: The Gods War supports up to eight players and has several variant modes.

Regardless of all of the extra stuff, the base game itself is huge, featuring one of the largest boxes that I’ve ever seen. Inside it, each of the four races has at least one huge God figure (with Chaos receiving two) and then several midsized figures (which are in themselves about six inches high.) The set is completed by between four and six miniatures per faction that are of regular size. The board itself comes in two pieces and unfolds to cover the entirety of an average kitchen table with ease, whilst a number of sturdy side boards depict the Heavens and Hell.

Each player receives their own equally sturdy player board and credit where it’s due – these boards are exceptionally well laid out and clear, providing each player with exactly the information needed to operate their faction effectively. A player aid for each player is also added, detailing the phases of play and the various actions available. Other cardboard pieces include an oddly flimsy score tracker and then a host of buildings for each faction, split into three sizes – shrines, temples and ziggurats, with one further unique building assigned to Darkness.

Honestly, there are some odd decisions across the components, even though the overall effect is jaw-dropping thanks to those miniatures. The minis themselves are all well cast and made from a softer plastic that shouldn’t smash or crack easily. This is important because only a few of the largest miniatures receive their own dedicated space within the insert. All of the small and medium miniatures (as well as one or two of the larger ones) simply float around in the box, which is a shame. The cardboard elements are excellent, but the score tracker is flimsy and looks poor next to everything else.

The board is very high quality, but has relatively little on it to catch the eye thanks to the scale at which the game is played, and if I’m honest, I really don’t like the token buildings sitting next to the glorious monster and God miniatures. This has led me to consider investing in the buildings expansion as a minimum, and if you like Glorantha: The Gods War and decide you’d like to keep it for the long term, I bet you’ll feel the same and should therefore add the cost of at least the Buildings expansion into your reckoning.

The instruction manual (all 100 odd pages of it) is very clear and well laid out with a conversational tone, and it’s good that it includes all expansion detail within, should you decide you do want to invest in it. I suspect this manual could have been shorter and the size of it is certainly daunting, but much to my surprise, Glorantha: The Gods War is far, far simpler than this huge manual might have you believe. A quick start guide could have been compressed into perhaps ten pages and it would have offered a smoother point of entry, but as it stands, no great complaint here.

Once the game is setup and on the table, you’ll probably wonder what you’re aiming to do. The answer is, in short, score the most victory points at the point the game ends. The trigger for this is when one player reaches 35 points, but since this can happen during one of two game phases and depending on turn order, the player who reaches this watermark first is by no means certain to be the winner. There are several mechanisms for scoring points which broadly speaking comprise of; building structures and completing Heroquests, although there are one or two other faction or card specific ways as well.

A game round begins by taking actions – these include moving, building, summoning units and declaring attacks, as well as countless others that are faction or unit specific – for example, the Sky faction can use decrees that bestow benefits on other players, in exchange (usually) for some kind of favour, and each decree is considered to be an action. Each of these actions is as straightforward as it sounds, with building and summoning taking pieces from the supply and adding them to the board, and movement allowing a player to move all units from one area into other areas (in any way they see fit.)

Fighting is actually a lot more straightforward than you might think, with each unit involved in the fight adding a single combat die based on its combat strength. The dice on each side are rolled simultaneously, with kills, routs and blanks being the possible outcomes. Buildings add automatic routs or kills to their sides roll, so players defending a region with their structures in usually have a small natural advantage. Killed units are returned to their players supply, whilst routed units leave the area in the direction chosen by the opposing player – including into unfavourable locations like Hell.

With the Actions Phase done, players move on to the Power phase, where each faction receives power (which is used to pay for summoning, building and several other things) based on how many buildings of different types they have, as well as any faction specific rules. Chaos, for example, only has one building type, but gains extra power for having their buildings present alongside those of other factions – a reminder of the insidious, infectious nature of Chaos. With this, usually brief, phase complete, players move on to The Council Phase.

During The Council Phase, players set the new first player token (which can never be Chaos) and then score victory points based on whatever their board state looks like. If this takes someone over 35 points, then as I mentioned earlier, the game end will be triggered. There are two other events that can affect the Council Phase – one being the destruction of The Spike (a region on the board) which opens a Chaos Rift and the other being The Great Compromise, which is a phase of the game where one player claims “control” of the Gods and is able to distribute victory points to all players, at the cost of having to spend half of their power ahead of the upcoming turn.

The Chaos Rift sequence is interesting and bears its own explanation. When opened, each player (other than Chaos) must place one unit into the rift on each turn. The players then secretly bid power up to the value of one dice (which is added to the unit strength of those units already in the rift) to determine a total. Chaos bids in the same way, but their bid is subtracted from the total. So for example, if three players each bid three (and then spend that much power to do so) the total will be nine. Add this to the strength of the three basic units in the rift (another three) and the strength against the rift is twelve. Subtract the Chaos bid of two and you’ll have ten. In this game, which has four player, you’ll then roll four dice to determine the strength of the Chaos Rift, and if it is greater than ten, the Rift stays open and the process will be repeated during the next Council Phase.

With all of those actions and phases covered, that’s more or less the base level complexity out of the way – remember that I said Glorantha: The Gods War wasn’t complicated? The real gameplay weight comes from the complexity of how each faction wins, since the asymmetry here is off the scale – perhaps even more so than games like Root or Assault of the Giants, for example. To be specific, Chaos has no medium sized units, but its large units are super powerful, and it has no buildings aside from its nest, which can flip over to become imbedded (which is spelt incorrectly on purpose because, well, Chaos.) They are the only faction that can build on the same area as another faction, and indeed they will want to do so because it benefits them with power.

Sky, on the other hand, has fairly weak units that aren’t brilliant in offensive battles, but can become very entrenched thanks to their archers unlockable ability that allows them to support adjacent areas. They also begin with their God unit in play, albeit trapped in Hell. One unique aspect of Hell is that once you’re in it, you can only leave by asking permission from another unit that is also present and has a higher combat value. To actually get the God out, you’ll usually have to make off-board deals with another faction, using your decrees to persuade them – but of course neither side of the deal is binding, so Sky has a few ways to punish any potentially treacherous allies.

For me, Glorantha: The Gods War is simply magical to play. I would call it glorious, but the name of the game kind of makes it hard to do so in the same sentence! Every game plays out so, so differently even with the four base game factions, and I can only imagine how awesome it would be to have all of the extra content available to play in smaller games, let alone with the full compliment of up to eight players. The asymmetric nature of each faction allows different players to express their preferences in different ways as well, and whilst there is certainly an “optimal” approach for each faction, human beings remain capable of being unpredictable in hugely entertaining ways.

Overall, Glorantha: The Gods War is the kind of showpiece product that you may only play from time to time, but if you set aside a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to dust off those huge miniatures and clear your entire table, it will certainly be worth it. It looks a little janky without the buildings on the table in my opinion, and it might just be necessary to collect all the expansions in the end, but despite the high price, I think it might be worth it. A superb and hugely exciting addition to any collection, albeit an expensive one.

****½  4.5/5

Glorantha: The Gods War is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator


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