Boardgames are savage. Everyone loves to sit down at Christmas to a game of Monopoly, but by the time you’ve bankrupted your five-year-old niece it becomes clear that it’s hardly the cosy exercise in family bonding you remembered.
War on Terror is savage too, but it's a good deal more open about the fact. It shares similarities with Monopoly – both are obsessed with money, for starters – but I don’t remember funding any terrorist cells in Monopoly, or nuking Eastern Europe.
Both are standard fare in War on Terror, a satirical boardgame that has you expanding the boundaries of your empire in the pursuit of oil reserves and global stability. You'll also 'liberate' a few countries and fund a little global terrorism along the way.
Shock and awe
It’s not the most nuanced critique of the real-life conflict, then, but War on Terror’s bleakly reductive appraisal of international politics gives rise to some easily grasped game rules. Basically, you need oil to generate wealth and you need wealth to do anything at all in the game.
Every move in War on Terror costs money, ensuring that no-one in the game can afford to sit above the empire-building and war-mongering. Even when alliances are formed and enforced, you’ll still want to plant a couple of terrorist cells in opposition empires to destabilise them a little. That’s just good foreign policy.
Almost every territory in your empire has the capacity to produce oil, but it’s the roll of the dice that determines which nations strike black gold in each turn. The more countries you occupy, the more chances you have of earning a high income, making the largest empires the most mobile players.
Conversely, if your empire starts to dwindle – perhaps as a result of opposition invasions, a terrorist uprising, or even a nuclear strike – your income will plummet, making you less mobile and therefore less able to regain a foothold in the game.
By linking the size of your empire with your potential to act in a turn, TerrorBull Games has created a system that makes comebacks and underdog victories all but impossible. Lose too many territories and you’re likely to be ground away as the game goes on.
Of course, this isn’t much fun, and it’s made worse by the fact that your dwindling empire’s lack of oil limits interactivity. With only a few countries in your possession, it only takes a few unlucky dice rolls for you to receive no income for the turn, forcing you to forfeit a go. Defeat is rarely much fun, but it needn’t be as frustrating as it is here.
For all of War on Terror’s vitriolic wit, you may end up angrier at the game than its satirical targets.
Axis of Evil
Multiplayer support is promised through a future update, and it’s plain to see that War on Terror would benefit greatly from its inclusion. As with any boardgame adaptation, victories can seem hollow and defeats unfair when playing against AI rivals - particularly given that War on Terror only has a single opposition difficulty level.
While War on Terror’s art stands out, and the app’s design supports its satirical purpose – a menu option labelled ‘Torture School’ has you extracting credits information from prisoners clad in orange jumpsuits – the satire lacks insight or novelty, illuminating nothing much more profound than the existence of Western hypocrisy. Hardly revelatory stuff.
Played in the company of friends, War on Terror would likely provide hours of cut-throat fun. As it stands, the game lacks the solo gameplay mechanics or the satirical teeth to make it an essential purchase.