Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Fabien Riffaud & Juan Rodriguez


No. of Players:
2 - 5



Les Poilus ("The Grizzled") is a cooperative game about the Great War. I first thought that the game actually about the spontaneous Christmas Truce which had been happening at different parts along the Western Front on Christmas 1914, but it is actually a game about a group of young French men who has been drafted by the French government to join the army in 1914.

As indicated, the players will take the roles of a group of French soldiers, and as the subtiles of the game suggests, these men have sworn that their friendship will be stronger than the war. So, the will go on a number of missions, and these will be simulated by a variant of a push your luck mechanism in which the current mission leader (=active player) first assigns a freely chosen number of Mission cards to each player and afterwards the players try to play all these cards from their hands. If the players can successfully get rid of all or most cards assigned to them, a number of Mission cards from the deck will be discarded, whereas a mission going awry will result in new cards being added to the Mission deck. These cards come from a second deck which is positioned on a Memorial card depicting the names of the group of friends, and if the Memorial deck runs out of cards the game will be lost by the players. So, the players will strive to get rid of all their Mission deck, signalizing the end of the war and the winning of the game.

The mission deck shows a combination of weather conditions and traumatizing symbols like a shell, a gasmask and a whistle (which stands for a call to attack). In turn, each of the players will add one of his hand cards to an open display, always keeping an eye on the fact that the adverse weather conditions and the symbols may not be shown on more than two of the cards. A third card of this type would cause the mission to fail, thus adding new cards to the Mission deck. A player actually may withdraw from the mission if his hand-cards would cause him to trigger a Mission failiure, but if too many cards are still on the player's hand this also may cause new cards to be added to the deck.

Another type of cards included in the Mission deck are Moments of Fate. These mostly negative events will be placed in front of the player, causing some long term restrictions on his cardplay or other playing conditions. If a player collects too many of these cards his character will die, once again resulting in a loss of the game. For this reason the players have markers for backing each others, and after a mission is over these markers will be secretly assigned in order to help wounded characters to get rid of their Moments of Fate.

The game plays fairly easily, but the cooperative elements have been implemented quite well, and the scary scenario will grip the players right away. Even though the war itself remains mostly abstract, the game draws a very intense atmosphere from the players trying to assist each other, and the fact that communications about hand cards and Backing markers are restricted all adds to a quite unusual cooperative experience. The push-your-luck variant chosen for the game leads to an interesting dilemma, since the players want to get rid of their Mission cards as soon as possible, but on the other hand too many cards on hand may cause a severe mission failure and additional Moments of Fate. It's up to each player to decide whether he is in or out, and this once again adds to a quite unusual teamplay experience.

Designed by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez, this game certainly is my most unusual find quite a few years, but this story of hope and friendship gets outright scary if you look at the name of the artist who has illustrated the game. The drawings have been done by Bernard Tignous, and it was actually his last work before he got killed by the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. The game's spirit stands in strong contrast to exactly this type of terrorism and madness which has caused the shooting at Paris, and in this way Les Poilus stands as a memorial against all kinds of war and fanatism.

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Copyright & copy; 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany