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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Davidson

History & Game - The Grizzled

History & Game - The Grizzled

To paraphrase one of my comedic heroes: "You can't swing a dead cat in a game store without hitting a game inspired by historical events." It's true. Since registering for my board game obsession card back in late 2009, I have always told people—and will continue to do so—about board games' didactic nature.

Board game designers have always looked to history for thematic inspiration. Not only the significant events such as Memoir '44 (World War II), Lancaster (15th-century invasion of France), and Guillotine (French Revolution), to literally name a few. It does not stop there! The world of board games illuminates the minor, off the beaten historical path, periods, and events: Watergate (1970s American scandal), Tulip Mania (a period in Dutch history where the price of tulips grew to extraordinarily high levels), and Freedom: The Underground Railroad (a path created for escorting black slaves out of the south and into the north in the years during and before the American Civil War).

For gamers and historians, this is a win-win. Considering I exist in column A and column B, I love that games offer me a chance to learn or use as tools in an education setting to help others learn. Initially published in 2018, The Grizzled is a cooperative game where players take on French soldiers' roles during The Great War. At its core, The Grizzled is a simple card game with limited information (table talk is not allowed). I did not fall in love with the game; then again, I did not hate it, either. I thought it was, to quote Shane from The Board Meeting: " drowning in a sea of mediocrity." The Grizzled presents nothing in the way of narrative. The marriage of game play and theme is disjointed. Due to the minimal amount of table talk allowed, winning and losing felt entirely dependent on randomness—often negatively referred to by gamers as RNG (Random Number Generated).

Oh! And did I fail to mention how incredibly difficult The Grizzled is? The game is punishing. The limited table talk distinguishes a brutal cooperative game; otherwise, players win The Grizzled nine out of ten times.

I never purchased a copy of The Grizzled. It was okay, but I was not all that taken with it. Recently, I picked up a copy of The Grizzled: Armistice Edition. The latest edition, published by CMON Games, turns The Grizzled into a narrative scenario-based campaign game—everything I wanted in the original game! In the new edition, players take on the role of neighborhood guys living in France during the summer of 1914 during the onset of world war in Europe. You are enlisted to serve in the French army. As long-time friends, you make a vow swearing to protect each other and make sure that every one of you makes it home. To be honest, the game's narrative has got some heart; I'll give them that.

The latest edition comes with ten scenarios (boot camp + nine battles). Each scenario—called chapters—is individually wrapped, intended to be played in numerical order. Each chapter moves through history, starting in 1914, and represents a significant moment or battle the French army endured. As you and your friends play through the campaign, the game introduces new mechanics and rules that serve to increase the game's difficulty (as if it wasn't challenging enough?)

The chapters are incredibly thematic. The new mechanics and rules make thematic sense. For example, there is a certain point during the war where the introduction of mustard gas rendered troops unable to see, unable to breathe, coughing up blood, and, for some, resulting in a violent death. The game introduces new mechanics along the way. When you and your friends reach the battle where mustard gas made its debut, the game introduces a new mechanic making the game more punishing. Another battle during The Great War introduced heavily armored attacks and frontal assaults led by tanks. Again, the game introduces another mechanic to players representing tanks engaging in the skirmish. The additional complexities are compounded and parceled out a little bit at a time. By the end of campaign play, players will be well-versed in all new rules and complexities. After finishing the campaign, The Grizzled: Armistice Edition can be played as a standalone game. The campaign does not make any permanent changes to the game. This allows players to replay the campaign (in an attempt to receive a favorable score).

Considering each chapter illustrates a real-life event or battle during The Great War, early on, I took it upon myself to learn about every horrific event or bloody battle. After the completion of each scenario, I fire up my television and Amazon Prime streaming service. I click on a documentary series aptly entitled The Great War. I find the episode that explains the events surrounding the battle that my gaming friends and I just lived—or died—through only a matter of an hour earlier (for example, the Battle of the Somme).

So, by this point, you're probably asking yourself: What's the point?

The point is that by playing a character within history, then watching a program about the actual events during The Great War, this process has not only contextualized the chapters and increased my enjoyment of the game, but it has offered opportunities for me to search out the real struggles individuals fought during The Great War. The point is that while The Grizzled is a mediocre game, with the addition of narrative, The Grizzled: Armistice Edition is a phenomenal game. The fact is that history is abundant, and many games are set within history. If one so chooses, they can transcend their gaming experience into a learning experience.

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