Spoils of War Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 10 and up (publisher suggests 14+)
  • For 3 to 5 players
  • Approximately 60 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Bluffing and Misdirection

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • After the battle, the real war begins

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

After a successful raid, the Viking leaders gather once more to divide the spoils of their conquest. The battles may be over, but not the war. While these brave warriors may have been friends in the field, they are now considerably less friendly at the table. Incredible riches will go to the warrior who has the sharpest mind, not sword.

Spoils of War, designed by Jason Medina, Bryan Pope and published by Arcane Wonders, is comprised of 126 Treasure cards, 1 Viking Chief marker, 35 standard six-sided dice, 5 Viking Dice cups, 5 Viking screens, 93 gold coin markers, 5 Betting disks, 1 Copy marker, and 3 Cancel markers. The component quality is excellent. The cards are thick and durable, the coins are made of thick cardboard, and the dice cups are heavy and well designed.

Staging the New Battlefield

To set up the game, first give each player 1 Viking Dice cup, 1 Viking screen, and 1 Betting disk. Place any dice cups, screens, and betting disks back in the game box that are not being used.

Second, give each player a specific number of dice. The number provided to each player is determined by the number of players. For example, in a 3-player game, each player will be given 10 dice and in a 4-player game, each player is given 8 dice. Place any dice not used back in the game box.

Third, assign one player the role of “Purser” (i.e. “Banker”). This individual is given all the gold coin markers to organize and control. The Purser gives to each player five “1” gold coins, seven “5” gold coins, and three “10” gold coins. All players should place their gold coins behind their Viking screen and keep their total hidden from their opponents at all time. The remaining gold stays with the Purser and is referred to as the “Treasury”.

Fourth, divide the Treasure cards into three separate decks based on their stage number value (1, 2, or 3). Shuffle each deck and place them face-down. From each deck, draw a specific number of cards to create the 3 Treasure piles per stage. For example, in a 3-player game, 21 cards (7 cards per pile) would be drawn from each deck and in a 4-player game, 27 cards (9 cards per pile) would be drawn from each deck. Place the cards in the Treasure piles in a row and face-down so there is a total of 9 piles (3 piles per stage) organized in a sequential order (from left to right). Place any remaining Treasure cards back in the game box.

Fifth, place the remaining markers to one side of the game playing area.

That’s it for game set up. Determine who will be the first player and give them the Viking Chief marker.

Treasures and Artifacts

The game is all about collecting wealth. While the coins represent gold, the cards represent items of far greater value.

Treasure Cards

Treasure cards represent the many different valuables that were collected (read: pillaged) during the campaign. They range from jewelry to weapons and armor. Each has a gold value, which helps determine the game’s winner. The treasure to be possibly gained is not thrown on the table to be divided all at once. Treasure cards come out in stages, where each stage contains a treasure of a higher value. Treasure is susceptible to being stolen, so players should do all they can to avoid tipping off their opponents how much wealth they have accrued and taking the necessary steps to protect their hard-earned spoils of war. That being said, anything a player obtains during the game can be taken away from them via theft.

Artifact Cards

Artifacts are a special subset of the Treasure cards. These are objects of power that grant their owner a special ability (in addition to gold). But such power is not unlimited. An artifact can only be used for a certain duration in the game and sometimes only once, making them as much a tool to be used wisely as a treasure to be won greedily.

Artifacts remain inactive if they stay face-down once claimed by a player. Keeping them hidden helps a player hide their total victory points earned so far. If an artifact is revealed (placed face-up), its ability is then made available to the player to use. Most artifacts can be revealed whenever the player believes it most beneficial to do so. However, some artifacts must be revealed at certain times if they are to be of any use beyond their gold value.

Spoils, Toils, and Trouble

Spoils of War is played in rounds and turns for a total of 9 rounds of game play. Each round is comprised of 7 steps which are summarized here.

Step 1: Set Up Treasure

Only one Treasure pile is available to bid on per round, starting with stage one and ending in stage three. The current Treasure pile being bid on is referred to as the “active” Treasure pile. The active Treasure pile of cards is taken from the farthest left in the row. All normal treasure is flipped face-up, but all artifact treasures remain face-down.

Step 2: Roll Dice

All players now place their dice in their cup and roll them at the same time. The results of the dice roll should be kept hidden from the player’s opponents. If the player has artifacts that allow for additional dice, they may add them at this time. Some artifacts allow the player to re-roll their dice, too.

Step 3: Bidding and Challenging

The player with the Viking Chief marker now selects one player to start the bidding. Bids must follow a specific set of rules when being made. A bid value must include the quantity of dice and their value that the player believes are in play. For example, “four fives” would mean the player believes there are at least four total dice rolled that have the value of five showing. This means the player is not only bidding on their own dice, but their opponents’ dice, as well.

The next player in turn order must either bid higher or challenge.

To bid higher, the quantity must be changed to a higher value. For example, if the last bid was “four fives”, a higher bid would be “six twos” or “six fives”.  If the quantity of the dice and the value of those dice are equal (for example, “five fives”), then the higher value of the dice determines which bid is higher.

However, if the player believes the next highest bid is unreasonable or too risky, they can always “challenge”. Challenges are always against the last bid. When a player does challenge, they are essentially saying, “liar!”. The player who initiates the challenge becomes the “Challenger” and the opponent who is being challenged becomes the “Declarer”.

The bidding and challenging steps continue until a player is challenged.

Step 4: Place Bets

Once the challenge has been declared, all players now bid on what they perceive to be the chances that the dice quantity and values are legit. Players will either be betting on the Challenger or the Declarer. Or, if you like, bidding on who is lying and who is simply guessing. After decide on who to back, the players then place any amount of gold along with their bet. The minimum is “5” gold pieces. Players should keep their bets secret at all times until revealed.

Step 5: Reveal Bets

After each player has placed their bet, all bets are revealed simultaneously.

Step 6: Reveal Dice

After the bets are revealed, all players lift their dice cups to reveal their rolled dice quantities and values.

If there are at least the same number of dice and value being bid on showing at the table counting all the dice in play, then the Declarer has won.

If there are fewer than the number of dice and value being bid on showing at the table, then the Challenger has won.

For example, if the challenge was made at “six fives” and the total number of fives was only four, the Challenger wins.

Step 7: Divide Treasure

Any player who backed the wrong player gives the gold they bet with to the Purser which is then placed back in the Treasury.

Each player who backed the right player now gets gold from the Purser which is taken from the active Treasure card pile, starting with the highest bid and ending with the lowest bid. The player who won the bid with the most gold is the new Viking Chief. The Viking Chief marker is handed to them at this time.

The Viking Chief gets to select three Treasure cards while all other winning players get to select two. Any Treasure cards taken are placed face-up in front of the player and visible to all opponents, unless they are “Artifacts”, in which case they may remain face-down. Any gold spent on the bid is returned to the back of the player’s Viking screen. Any Treasure cards not taken are placed in the “leftover” Treasure pile. Note that the leftover Treasure cards are NOT discarded and out of game. Keep them face-down in their own pile.

Players should take a moment to consider what cards to take. In addition to earning gold which helps determine the winner, the game also includes a set collecting aspect. By collecting certain types of cards, the player can attempt to earn more points.

This ends the round. A new round now begins as described above beginning with step 1.

Ending the Game

After the ninth and final round ends, the game comes to a close, but not before players have one last chance to reveal any artifacts they may have that might influence the end game scoring.

To determine the player’s points, each player reveals their gold and the Purser gives each player bonus gold based on their collected Treasure cards. All gold is then added together along with the gold value of each Treasure card. The player with the most gold wins the game.

Note that players can collect even more points if they complete a specific set of Treasure cards. For example, a player can earn an additional 8 gold by completing a card set referred to as the “Conquer’s Hoard”, which is a set of all five different Treasure card types.

To learn more about Spoils of War, visit the game’s web page.

Final Word

The Child Geeks had no problem learning how to play and enjoyed their time with Spoils of War. Many of them have played Liars Dice and other dice bluffing games in the past, which made introducing and playing Spoils of War an easy exercise. According to one Child Geek, “I think the best part of the game is the artifacts. I like how you can use them to quickly change the game to work in your favor.” An excellent observation, but the artifacts were not readily accepted by all our Child Geeks. Another Child Geek said, “I like the game, but I wish we could play it without the artifacts.” Actually, you can, and the Child Geeks did a few times just for fun. When the games were over, the Child Geeks all voted to approve Spoils of War, finding it to be a game they enjoyed both with their own group and their families.

The Parent Geeks found Spoils of War to be a far superior version of Liar’s Dice. Their most favorite part of the game was the subtle set collecting aspect that they found to be both entertaining and challenging. According to one Parent Geek, “I think the game has a lot of depth and a lot of layers. You have to be a good liar, a good strategist, a good tactician, and a good mathematician.” The math aspect of the game is very visible, but not overpowering (otherwise we most certainly would have heard something from the Child Geeks), but it’s important to note that the players are given a lot of information to chew on. Even cards that are face-down tell a player a great deal. What little is hidden does nothing more than make one suspicious of their opponents. As one Parent Geek put it, “You have to bluff a lot in this game. If you want to win, you need to be able to look another player in the eyes and not blink.” When all was said and done, the Parent Geeks voted to approve Spoils of War, finding it to be a fun game to play with family and friends.

The Gamer Geeks were immediately skeptical. As one Gamer Geek put it, “This is Liars Dice with cards. How is that new or exciting?” Turns out the Gamer Geeks enjoyed the set collecting aspect of the game as much as the lying and bidding. According to one Gamer Geek, “The game combines bidding, bluffing, and set collecting very well. Each stage of game play has a natural transition and the game play is smooth as a result.” Smooth, yes, but also cutthroat. The Gamer Geeks, being the most aggressive of players, used their artifacts like champs to cause a great deal of mischief at the table. Never to the point of making the game chaotic, however, which is worth mentioning. After the last bit of gold was accounted for and quickly hidden away, the Gamer Geeks all agreed that Spoils of War was a game they enjoyed playing and would play again. One Gamer Geek said it best when they remarked, “This is Liars Dice all grown up.”

Spoils of War is a beefier and deeper game than Liars Dice and a whole lot more complicated. The card set collecting and artifacts give players a great deal more to think about, adding new levels of depth and complexity. My favorite aspect of the game is the continuous interaction the players have at all times. If a player loses all their gold, they can still keep playing the game (albeit it with a great deal of difficulty) and can even win everything back that they lost. What really made the game entertaining for me was how the players had to keep looking to their opponents for clues and play off assumptions. This is a very social game, although most of it is played in the mind. This is a game that requires its players to think.

For those of you who have Liars DiceSpoils of War is best considered something of an upgrade. You can play Spoils of War just like Liars Dice, but doing so means you ignore a great deal of what Spoils of War has to offer. Several of our players noted that they would replace their other dice bluffing games with Spoils of War because it felt like it had more “replayability” and was more “entertaining”. This is because the game is more involved without feeling altogether heavier as a result. Every aspect of game play ties into every other aspect of the game, making each move meaningful and regrettable if you do it wrong. The game gives its players a great deal of feedback at all times, helping players see the “big picture”, but stopping well short of making their next moves obvious.

I very much enjoyed Spoils of War and I think you will, too. You will need to outthink, out bluff, and outplay your opponents if you are to win. Luck has no place in this game. Victory will go to the shrewdest player who can balance both the long and short objectives at all times. It has been said that victory in battle does not win the war. The same is the case here. A player will lose and win continuously during the game. Victory can only be achieved by those who keep a cool head and sharp focus. Do play Spoils of War and get ready to fight hard for what you want as subtly as possible.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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