Godtear is not what I expected. It’s tighter and more succinct than the standard Steamforged Games release. The ruleset is very clean and sensible, surprisingly so. Better yet, it manages to avoid any native sense of sterility that is common in stripped down conflict-oriented designs. All things told, this is a fantastic work.
Before I nestle into the details of what makes this game a standout competitive skirmisher, I do want to address its most significant issue. This game is expensive, yo.
First off, the two core sets are extremely limited in scope. They each come with a beautifully illustrated board and all of the needed tokens and dice to play, but they also deliver a skimpy two champions and their accompaniment of followers. While the price is reasonable from a product standpoint, it’s problematic because you can’t really play Godtear with it. At only a single champion aside, you’re merely learning the rules, not the experience. With this restrained setup, none of the interesting dynamics or strategic considerations arise. All-in-all, one versus one Godtear is a rather poor skirmish game.
The full experience as intended is each player fielding a chunky three champions. That means, to play as the gods intended, you would need to buy an additional four champions after the starter set. Each cost roughly $25 for a large champion miniature and their contingent of three to five smaller follower figures.
A full 140 bones for two people to play. If you’re hooked like a guppy you will want more. We always want more.
Now, if you’re just supplying your own warband then it’s much more palatable. That’s a reasonable assumption to make as miniatures games like Warhammer and Kings of War expect you to supply only your own troops, not that of your opponent’s.
Unfortunately, this contrasts with the strongest quality of Godtear as it’s such a palatable and enticing framework for deep casual play.
One of my favorite skirmishers is Warhammer Underworlds by Games Workshop. The problem with that system is you need to engage in deckbuilding prior to your engagement. That is wonderful for the lifeblood of the competitive scene as the card pool and strategic space is unbelievably rich, but it’s a huge detriment to casual play as it makes supplying your own opponent with a warband awkward.
“Here, I built this Orruk deck last week, they hit hard and can take a beating.”
Then you beat the poor chump sitting across from you and it feels hollow, as if you cheated.
Godtear functions more similarly to my other favorite skirmish title, Mythic Battles: Pantheon. In both games combatants simply draft a collection of troops from a greater pool. There’s no official system to do this in Godtear but it’s the obvious way to play when one person is providing all of the miniatures. It works incredibly well.
Mythic Battles is an exceptional title. It’s one of my favorite games.
Both it and Godtear have players battling on a board, free of measuring tools or complex line of sight calculations. They both scatter objectives – literal fragments of supernal god-derived power – and force players to cobble together a strategy from disparate modular character abilities. Developing your synergies and exploring combinations is the cognitive essence of both games’ strategic curves.
In Godtear you select three champions to form your force. This is a simple process where you can grab three randos from the shelf and be ready for war. It’s the main advantage it has over its peers, even Mythic Battles.
Champions are broken down by color, each representing their function and providing a unified direction for scoring points. Red champions, Slayers, earn a bonus for taking out an opposing champion. Yellow, Maelstroms, can scoop up large swathes of points by dunking on the smaller followers. The blue are Guardians, focused on protecting and holding scoring tiles in the end phase. Finally, green are Shapers and receive a bonus point for dropping a banner on an objective hex during the round.
This classification of abilities is clever. It means that you can pick up an entirely new character that you haven’t seen before and have a familiar contact point for basic strategy. No matter which Slayer you select, you will know that you want to deploy and utilize them as a bludgeon against your biggest foes.
It makes internalizing the asymmetric capabilities of each champion more palatable.
One of my other favored skirmish miniatures games is Marvel Crisis Protocol. This is another exceptional design, one focused on assembling unique faction-less teams where each individual contains their own suite of singular effects. It can be quite a lot for a newcomer to field six individual characters each with several unique rules and considerations. Godtear softens the curve somewhat by offering those color-oriented roles and providing a framework for familiarization.
I mentioned in the opening ‘graph that Godtear was tight. This aspect is a strong quality of the design’s personality. It feels more cerebral and complex at times as positioning is the primary component of tactical nuance.
This is driven by a couple of different facets. The first is the nifty turn structure.
There is a two layered activation system that is very interesting. During the plot phase, one side activates all of their figures first. Every single one. Then the second player follows suit.
This phase is all about positioning and claiming objectives. It’s a more strategic approach to setting up the round and forces you to keep a forward view on the battlefield, committing to a plan. There is no fighting typically in this portion of the game, as character cards are double-sided with capabilities segmented by phase, and their plot face typically has support and positioning oriented abilities.
Then the clash phase occurs, less focused on movement and instead centered on carnage. Here, each player alternates turns activating a single unit – either one champion or one squad of followers. It’s the unwinding of the jack-in-the-box that occurred during the plot phase. Blood is spilled and bodies are broken.
This two-layered approach is reminiscent of 2018’s Kill Team, another Games Workshop touchpoint. Mixing the staid IGOUGO with a follow-up phase of alternating individual activations. It’s a wrinkle that is very satisfying as you commit to action and watch your plans unfurl in brilliance or failure.
It also allows for some smart character design, where some excel in a particular phase. There’s a very strong personality to the flow of play, one that elevates the simple ruleset.
But yes, positioning is crucial. You’re trying to throw down banners to score objective hexes, and also trying to step atop your opponent’s banners to rip them down. Angling certain attacks requires swarming your targets, and the crusty followers that accompany champions to battle are unable to step atop the scoring hexes. Thematically, it jives as the objectives are literal god tears, embers of power drained from the eyelids of celestial beings. Only the most powerful can encroach upon them.
This emphasis on careful placement dovetails wonderfully with the scenario structure. While always trying to score points by placing banners and killing opposing units, individual scenarios dictate a dynamic battlefield.
In the first scenario, “Life”, the player who is behind places new objective hexes every single round. In another, conspicuously named “Death”, many begin on the battlefield but vanish over the course of play. There are several different options and each provide a very dynamic and lively experience that distorts strategic conventions.
One criticism I’d levy is that occasionally you can stumble into the dreaded death ball. This is where all of the units cluster at the midpoint and simply trade blows, sapping some of the dynamic energy from the outing. This is not common, although some scenarios can lean toward such an outcome. Even so, the tactical precision interfaces with the tightness of actions, and maneuvering and scoring, to provide a myriad of considerations regardless.
Let’s divert into scoring. This needs a word.
Instead of merely amassing points that we tally up at game’s end, Godtear provides for isolated scoring by round. This means one player wins each round by accruing the most points, which awards them the round token and an associated number of macro victory points.
Within a round it’s more a tug-of-war, attempting to get the turn marker to land on your side of the track. If you can manage this, then you receive the token and cannot lose those points.
What’s intensely clever about this process is that the macro scoring escalates to a peak in round three and then de-escalates again. The purpose of this is to provide the scaffolding for a very solid yet not overly intrusive catchup mechanism.
If you win the first two rounds for instance and dominate your opponent, you will have a total of three victory points for the game. The third round, however, is worth three points as well which allows you to stage a large comeback.
The risk is of course that this feels unfair. But it manages to sidestep this issue because you can strategically play in a way to set yourself up for future rounds. This is integral to how you position your forces and approach the latter stages of the game. It reminds me of a key strategic element of Blood Rage, in that you want to leave yourself in a strong position at the end of the round to maintain or build momentum. This is a very warm and enriching portion of design space that Godtear handles admirably.
The tight focus of the ruleset is subverted in a couple of key places. The first is the wild capabilities of champions, allowing for you to perform outside the bounds of standard actions and affect the battlefield in various ways. The second, and more divisive feature, is the large quantity of dice rolling integral to the combat system.
You roll proprietary dice to hit and then to wound your target. While only a third of the faces result in a miss, this is the most swingy and unsettling portion of play when it comes to competitive considerations. There is a certain pleasure in rolling six or seven of the suckers, and I do prefer this additional level of uncertainty the action filters through. It could definitely be a sticking point for the sticklers, however.
It also is a rare graceless moment in the design, as on the surface, a unified single roll resolution system would have interfaced more strongly with the design philosophy. This is the only facet of the design that even approaches a semblance of clunkiness.
That granularity though of a two-roll approach does provide for more various effects and a touch more depth in the straightforward boon and bane system. So it’s not for naught.
This really is a solid and intriguing skirmish game. It stands tall, shoulder to shoulder with the best of the bunch. It’s lithe and avoids clutter, refraining from clogging the board with activation tokens or status markers.
What has really crippled this system and stunted its growth is COVID-19. Godtear, unfortunately, released in 2019 and never was given room to take off. Games such as this find new life in the competitive environment, and I do believe the three-champion structure expertly bridges the gap between competitive and casual play in a way that few of its competitors can manage.
Steamforged Games have shown their commitment to this title. New champions are still being designed and released amid an already large pool of options. That initial monetary outlay to experience the game is a doozy, although I would offer that playing with only two champions aside is still a thrilling and tight conflict, allowing you to delay a larger financial commitment until you’ve flirted with the experience.
Taking up a mere 60 minutes of your time, it’s the style of game that begs return to try out new combinations. Fortunately, it provides enough depth and consideration to warrant such investigation. I can’t yet be sure where Godtear will ultimately fall in my own personal hierarchy of skirmishers, but as someone who is infatuated with the genre, my initial impression has certainly proven very favorable. I wouldn’t hesitate to name this Steamforged’s strongest post-Guild Ball title.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.