What better time to review a board game than over a four day bank holiday weekend? Whilst never a truer word has been spoken, this is especially relevant to Assault of the Giants, which is a three to six player game that only really comes alive with at least four players. Set in the Dungeons and Dragons universe and featuring many of the familiar locations from the series, Assault of the Giants is a mix of area control/resource gathering and basic miniatures combat, with a significant nod towards the superb Concordia.
Upon opening the high, square box, I must admit that I felt mixed emotions. The board is of about average size, but features a fairly cluttered and unexciting appearance with a sombre palette. It also covers a vast amount of geography, and as a result the regions seem to pack in a lot of fine detail, which can make some of the giant tokens hard to spot. On that note, I was surprised to see that so many of the giants are represented in game as flat, double sided tokens, although the reason for that will be revealed later. The card stock isn’t up to much either, with most cards feeling thin and flimsy in the hand.
The whole thing is saved, thankfully, by the giant champion models, of which there are two per clan, and the neutral giant slayers, of which there are three. The giant models scale appropriately alongside the giant slayers, which is a nice nod to flavour, and the larger models feature a good level of detail and a decent standard of build quality. There are six basic dice, plus one for each of the giant clans. Unfortunately, like some of the other components in Assault of the Giants, they are hard to distinguish from one another because the colouring only differs in the detail on each face, rather then by the colour of the die. It’s worth noting that I’m reviewing the standard edition of the game that features single, solid colour plastic for the giant miniatures, but there is also a deluxe edition that comes with painted (to a better than average standard) versions of each model.
Assault of the Giants is easy enough to setup, with each of the players taking control of a giant clan that features a number of available giant tokens, a leader, a pair of champion models and a deck of cards. Depending on the number of players, the game will basically dictate what clans are available to choose from, and because each has different strengths and weaknesses, play can be quite unbalanced – even if you do follow these rules – but more on that later. The players must compete for ordning points, which represent the influence they hold in the hierarchy of giants, and at the beginning of the game the available points are sorted into two piles split roughly seventy five to twenty five percent. Once the larger pile is depleted, the endgame phase begins, allowing players access to a couple of variations on the basic rules, including primarily the ability to attack another factions home region. Even in a three player game, some non-player giants will be added to the game, and there are a few other things to note, but none will be taxing to even a relatively inexperienced gamer.
I mentioned before that Assault of the Giants gives Concordia a distinct nod, and it does, because the command system used is virtually identical, with a few minor improvements. Both games use a deck of cards for each player, but in Assault of the Giants, each clan has a unique ability to further their specific objective, and when the rest card is used, the player gains access to the giant slayers, and can use them to attack or weaken an enemy. What makes this system interesting is that when a card is played (Plunder, for example) it is placed face up on the table, and can’t be used again until the player rests and gathers up all of the cards he or she has played so far. The nuance of this system (and another unique feature in Assault of the Giants) is that each card features a bonus action that increases in power based on how many cards are played either before or after it, as indicated by an arrow in either direction. This means that there is a genuine strategy in which cards you play and when, and in particular, when you decide to scoop them up by resting to start all over again.
The giant clans are highly asymmetrical in strength, survivability and lore, which also drives their in game objectives (outside of simply obtaining as many ordning points as possible.) The Hill Giants believe that eating everything they can will allow them to grow huge and powerful (even though they are the smallest, weakest tribe) whilst the Storm Giants seek to restore their lost king, and will ally with small folk settlements in order to do so. The Cloud Giants seek a vast dragon horde to increase their wealth, and the Frost, Fire and Stone giants each have their own agenda as well. Whatever their individual objectives may be, ordning points are the way to win, so objectives can be ignored if you think fighting for them is more effective.
Because of this asymmetry between the clans, the game uses various mechanics to try and force balance. Storm Giants are strongest, and can therefore have only three giants in any single province, whilst the Hill Giants can have up to six, and the other clans somewhere in between. The strongest clans go first as well, with the intention being that the weaker clans have more information and can respond accordingly, which is true because of the way that some of the order cards work, such as Trade, which forces a player to hand over resources to the player who plays the Trade card. As I said earlier, the game also restricts access to certain clans depending on the number of players, and oddly the available clans vary based on the number of players. Following the rules, it is entirely possible (and even likely) that you might never have the Frost, Fire or Stone Giants in play.
This variation in clans is the best and worst of Assault of the Giants. In a three player game, the Hill Giants can be locked into their starting position before they even play a card, and as the weakest clan, the chance of them fighting their way out is slim. The Stone Giants have a similarly hard time, with a painfully low attack value, despite having a high number of hit points. Their objective is also much hard to achieve than that of the Hill Giants, so gaining ordning points that way is also hard, and they don’t even have a powerful leader ability to fall back on. The Storm Giants are unrivalled in combat, and have an interesting objective that forces them to move and pays off well, so there are multiple reasons to want to play as them.
This myriad of balancing rules and regulations, combined with a genuine imbalance between the clans lead me and my group to consider our own house rules to try and improve things. For example, we considered reversing the turn order to allow the weakest clans to act first, in conjunction with a hard stop when the last ordning point is drawn. We certainly considered “unlocking” the ability to play as any clan, because the board is small enough to ensure plenty of action regardless. The game is also quite short based on the recommended number of ordning points, with most players only rotating their order cards once or twice (ie about 10-15 actions) before the end. We hypothesised that doubling the number of ordning points in the pool might give the Hill and Stone Giants in particular a better chance of success. There are tons of other ideas on the internet, but it seems a shame to me that out of the box, Assault of the Giants can be so one sided that it’s almost broken.
I should probably comment further on what giant clans will do in Assault of the Giants, as that is clearly the heart and soul of the game. The order cards drive the action, and objectives shame the intent of each clan, but broadly speaking the game boils down to moving, gathering, fighting and completing those objectives. Most clans want to spread so that they can undertake their faction specific ability to ally with, eat, pillage or otherwise exploit the local small folk. Gathering resources can lead to the collection of food, runes, weapons and more, which in turn provides an edge in combat or allows objectives to be completed.
Fighting is fairly uninspiring, but it is functional and has interesting outcomes. Players may roll up to a maximum of all six basic dice, plus their own faction dice to make a total of seven, depending on their power in the region that is attacking or defending. Any champions in the region will take damage first, with any additional damage being passed to the other giants one by one until all damage is done. If any normal giants are damaged but not killed, their tokens flip to reveal a weaker “wounded” side, which is a nice touch. For any killed giants, ordning points are awarded. Weapons and magic spells affect combat and can occasionally result in an upset, but more often than not the attacker will attempt to stack the deck in his or her favour. My gaming group had no doubt that combat was by far the easiest way to gain points in Assault of the Giants, and whilst the first few games began tentatively, the later matches became real slugfests as the players sought out battle earlier and earlier in the game.
So where do I stand on Assault of the Giants? Well, it’s probably not a game that my group will be desperate to pick up again, because it doesn’t stack up well against the games we most often play. It is combat heavy, but doesn’t feature the best combat system, and whilst the order cards are a really nice addition to this kind of game, the fact that you’ll only play each one two or three times does reduce the impact. That said, the speed of Assault of the Giants could be a blessing on some occasions, and as I often host, I can allow less serious gamers a better chance of winning by choosing myself a weaker clan to balance out my greater experience. I like the miniatures a lot, and I like the flappable giant tokens, but the board and card stock is less impressive. There are other features in Assault of the Giants that I haven’t touched on as well, and all of them are accessible and usually, fun, like the Giant Slayer mechanic upon using the rest order, for example. To summarise, Assault of the Giants is on the good side of average, though it could be worth an extra point to you if you can introduce custom rules that change the game to suit your regular number of players, or your own personal preferences.
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