It’s no secret that I thirst for unique and serious concepts when it comes to tabletop gaming. I hold a strong belief that games are indeed Art, possessing a singular quality of immersion that can convey deeper thematic concepts at a very personal level. Hand in hand with this potential is an imperceptible directive of providing an emotional connection with the player. Achieving this goal heightens the experience and accomplishes something we can only call special.
To wit, Dawn of Peacemakers succeeds where Holding On: The Trouble Life of Billy Kerr has failed.
War, huh, good god
These are vastly different titles, although they share a unified purpose of attempting to elevate the analog gaming experience. Let’s put the trouble behind us and move forward.
This war-game of anthropomorphic critters sits in the shadow of Root, but it’s very different. The subject is a matter of border conflict as the impassioned Scarlet Macaws invade the territory of the Ocelots. The story is compelling and one grounded in the political realities of mankind. The significant twist is that we do not play Ocelots or Macaws seeking blood and wealth, rather, we inhabit the roles of a gecko or fox seeking peace and reconciliation.
This is a war-game centered around the concepts of compassion and mediation. It’s peacekeeping with walking stick and tongue instead of AR15 and airstrike.
And it all actually works.
Dawn of Peacemakers is sort of an amalgamation. It’s a miniatures game with cute yet fierce animals donning weapons and armor. These units move across hexes of varied terrain holding bridges and inflicting bloodshed. Your little collection of misfits wades into No Man’s Land, using cards and sheer will to breach the violence.
It ain’t nothing but a heart-breaker
The two warring factions are controlled by asymmetrical decks which form an artificial intelligence of sorts. They’re somewhat unpredictable as different segments of warriors will push forward, attack, or seek cover. Each faction features a specific behavior profile and adapt their own set of tactics. As an overarching system that forms the integrity of the design, this concept is executed expertly. Tension ratchets up and you are compelled to desperate action.
Players cooperate utilizing a hand of cards. These are the best kind of cards, multi-use, offering several options. You will spend some time maneuvering but the majority of your work will be in rhetoric and platitudes. You will attempt to steer the actions of each side by manipulating their order deck and boosting the defensive works on the front-line.
The goal is to get each side to retreat while maintaining composure. This requires their morale drops to a danger zone – the trick is ensuring this happens simultaneously for both forces.
Thus, play is mostly about seeking balance. Aid is provided to the underdog as you try to stifle the onslaught of the aggressor. It’s a tough act at times as dramatic reversals and unexpected aggression are commonplace.
This area of fighting for control and directing the storm is where the heart of the game exists. It’s the point of your cognitive interfacing and presents the challenge and narrative swings of the experience. It’s also where the game most notably stumbles a bit.
It’s got one friend that’s the undertaker
Dawn of Peacemakers remains thematically coherent for nearly the entire affair. It finds trouble when it seeks equilibrium among its systems. This occurs most prominently with the poison card.
Poison has you wounding an otherwise able creature. The idea is to soften it up so that the approaching enemy can fell the warrior. You want this to occur because losing troops results in dropping morale. The swing can be even more significant if the lost soul was defending a key point such as a tower.
This highlights one of the thematic cracks of this design. That notion of lowering both sides to a breaking point appears astute in theory, in practicality it means you must inflict pain as well as protect. It’s somewhat disheartening that you’re required to harm in order to find peace and it leaves a message lingering in the smoke that doesn’t sit comfortably.
That shortcoming is paralleled in the motivations of the peacemakers. These characters that we inhabit are the ones travelling to this region to extinguish the flames and soothe, yet each hero possesses a backstory that concerns itself with selfish motivations. For instance, one has arrived due to a promise of treasure as compensation. The third party calling us to quell the strife is the organizer of the peace-keeping operation, our small players content to perform with an underlying tinge of self-regard.
I feel the urge to offer additional nuance to this argument but much of it is intrinsically linked to story. This is difficult because Dawn of Peacemakers is very much a story-driven game. It’s fueled by an excellent campaign of linked scenarios paired with legacy content. There are sealed decks of cards, a large envelope, and even a mysterious box teasing your soul. I’ve played through roughly half of the gross and thus far all of this has come together incredibly well. The overarching narrative and pace is phenomenal.
Of import is this bevy of unlockable material does not make up for or patch the gameplay. The card system is a heavyweight in its own right. Beyond that niggle of a poison card, the decision space is fascinating and rich. There is much strategy to discuss and your noggin is kept entrenched in fantasy. It’s a focused experience that doesn’t drain your faculties or wallow in over-complication.
How it accomplishes this is through delicately balancing control with a restricted agency. You’re able to properly steer the combatants, but it feels as though you’re rowing against a squall. It manages to avoid a stifling degree of randomness while still providing upsets and shock.
Peace, love and understanding
Surprisingly, replayability suffers only slightly. The unexpected events and opening of new material are absolutely high points in the adventure, but the scenarios themselves are comprised of tactically deep challenges that form a shifting puzzle. The sequence of action changes with future plays and the core strength is maintained.
The primary benefit of the campaign structure is in alleviating the slight fatigue encountered from the repetitive structure. New scenarios, terrain, and encounters keep that challenge of halting the momentum of two boulders interesting.
My problems as noted are not enough to divert my overall enthusiasm. The quibbles with motivation are minor and only noticeable upon the introductory text. The poison card is so seldom used that it’s almost a non-event. These attributes create an identity of imperfection, but they don’t mar the broad enormity of this Art.
This is a very playable and satisfying design with an unusual theme. It scales well offering a solid experience for a group or solitaire individual. It delivers on its premise even if you don’t seek an emotional tether to your cardboard. As a message, Dawn of Peacemakers is mostly spot on and contemplative. As a game, it’s an outright joy and continual temptation.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dawn of Peacemakers can be purchased directly from Snowdale Design.