RogerBW's Blog

A War of Whispers 23 May 2020

A War of Whispers, by Jeremy Stoltzfus, got some attention when it came out last year but sold out quickly, and as I write there's a Kickstarter for the second edition. Should you jump in? I've now played it twice…

The core idea is that five empires are going to war; but as in Imperial 2030 or many railway-building games, you're not directly controlling one of those empires. Instead, each of the 2-4 players represents one of the "cults" that inserts its agents among the rulers of those empires.

At the end of the game, an empire's rating is the number of cities it controls. But your score as a player is the sum of each empire's rating multiplied by its value to you, which is randomly generated and hidden from other players; one empire will be worth four points per city to you, while another will be worth minus one. You can shuffle them around a bit, but only by revealing them…

In each of the four rounds, the players take turns to place agents in the councils of the various empires; then each empire in turn goes through its council and the player controlling each spot can take one of the actions it can do, whether that be raising troops, gathering cards, or launching an invasion. The rim of the circular board serves as the turn order track.

The only element of luck here is in those cards, and there's not much of it, as most of the card powers are fixed. Combat is very simple: each "banner" (cube) on one side destroys one banner on the other side, and if either side has any left it's the winner and controls the territory it moved into. (Forts contribute, but only defensively.)

I rather like the fact that there isn't any lore. The empires have different balances of banners, cities, forts and farms, and different actions that they can do; but all you know about blue is that it's the Bear Empire and the terrain is largely shown in white, and if you want to associate that with barbarian reavers from the frozen north and talk in a bad Scandiwegian accent, well, you can, but you don't have to. There are no city names or paragraphs about ancient alliances and the Once-Mighty World-Spanning Empire. The shadowy manipulators don't care about that kind of thing.

All these images are from the Tabletop Simulator mod, which is particularly good: the city, fort and farm markers are easy to spot (they're a bit un-obvious on the actual board, presumably to encourage you to buy the Deluxe Edition with lots of plastic, though instead I'm planning to 3d-print my own bits), and when you change their colour to represent conquests the automatic score-card by each player tallies up the totals.

If I have to find another negative point, it's a bit of a shame that the cults are all identical apart from their symbols; it would be interesting if particular cults had their own unique abilities. On the other hand this might be hard to balance with the fact that in each new game you may be supporting any combination of the empires.

The first three rounds can seem quite calm, as people set up their agents and resources for massive changes in the final round. This is, I think, by design. It's often quite clear where some of your loyalties lie after your first few plays, but not necessarily all of them; and both the games I've been played have been won by a single point.

The Kickstarter runs until 4 June.

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