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High Stakes: High Command Game Review

Longtime fans of Hordes and Warmachine and anyone else with a penchant for bone-crunching, metal mangling gameplay, will find much of that experience re-envisioned in a hard hitting deck building game called High Command from Privateer Press.  It is available as separate Warmachine and Hordes sets, and both bring all the same fun of theorycrafting army builds in a smooth, streamlined, and more portable format.  High Command’s card-crunching spin on the Iron Kingdoms successfully shakes up the deck building genre in several ways.

high command warcasters
Warcasters and reinforcements.

Each player first chooses three warcasters or warlocks to use.  Warcaster and warlock cards in High Command provide a wide variety of effects on the battlefield that can swing things in your favor, but each one can be used only one time per game, much like a feat in the tabletop version.  Warcaster cards have two colored stripes, and army cards are grouped into corresponding colors called detachments.  Players choose one detachment per warcaster whose color is available to the warcaster, effectively letting players build a different army each game.

Players start with only resource cards in their decks, which provide a combination of CMD and/or WAR.  Players play cards to use one or the other resource for purchases.  Purchases are made from available reinforcements, or four face up army cards.  The cards played for resources and the card purchased are placed into the player’s discard pile, which build the player’s deck throughout the game.  When a player has no cards to draw, the discard pile is shuffled into a draw deck.  Extra bonus: some army cards are also worth victory points, which is what players need to win.

high command location
Units ready to capture a location.

Cards with the highest victory points are location cards, depicting notable locations around Immoren.  When a location is captured it is added to the player’s discard pile.  To capture a location, a player simply needs to have two more units at the location than any other player at the beginning of that player’s turn.  But as you might expect that is easier said than done.  The army cards have their own unique bonuses, retaining the strategic edge of when and where to play cards.  The only thing missing is the satisfaction of lucky rolls on risky moves.  Units have attack and defense numbers which are simply summed together, so the outcome of a fight can be predicted easily by simply doing the math.

Despite that, High Command does one thing differently than many deck building games I have played.  Usually currency or victory point cards are only good for that purpose, and are dead weight in hand when drawn.  In High Command, every card provides resources, including combat units and locations, truly making every card in the deck count.  While that gives players flexibility, utilizing cards for resources or otherwise, how best to utilize every card in hand is an ever changing strategy.  Sitting on a bunch of cards probably won’t help you win, and the rules allow you to bank only one card from hand to hand anyway, so using all your cards is almost always in your best interest.

To play a card from hand to a location, pay its purchase cost using other cards in hand.  Optionally, and at a premium cost of course, a reinforcement card can be rushed directly to a location.  It is no surprise then that warcasters and warlocks, with their feat-like single use, can only be rushed, thus striking with their abilities at the most opportune time becomes a critical component of any strategy.  One intriguing mechanic is when a player successfully captures a location, cards used in that capture are placed into an occupying forces pile essentially disallowing their use for future attacks (their VP still count at the end).

One might wonder if such attrition would be a problem, as it often is in the tabletop games.  High Command has a finite number Winds of War cards, which determine how many turns there will be.  Winds of War cards are divided into three stages, Early, Mid, and Late.  Each Winds of War card has bonuses that affect every player for that turn, giving additional strategic opportunities or challenges to players. Players can modify the number of turns by removing some cards.  Additionally, when there are no more locations to capture, the game ends.  There seem to be plenty of combat units available in a typical game as I have not yet run out of army cards to purchase.

high command hordes cthulhu
Hordes: High Command.

Cthulhu commands you to play!All in all, High Command is a great game with some fun tweaks to the usual deck building game.  Strategizing detachments and warcaster combinations will continue to provide players with a new experience for many games to come.  Combat over locations is not a wholly new dimension to the deck building theme, but High Command takes it to a new level with the same aggressive playstyle as its tabletop counterpart, victory favoring the bold. In general, it takes somewhat overwhelming force to capture locations, worth victory points at the end, which encourages liberal use of a player’s entire hand in their capture.  And with every single card being useful at any time, every choice becomes a matter of how to play like you’ve got a pair.

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