Before I begin, I was sent a prototype of the game, and will receive a copy of the final version of the game should it fund. This is not a paid preview. If you would like to watch a video of this preview you can check it out below, and learn how to get your own copy here.
Astrology is one of those strange topics that I felt like I knew a lot about. I mean, I know my sign, I know that I am on the cusp of another sign, I know what my sign supposedly says about my personality. I know things! Or do I? Not really if I stop and think about it. I have the smallest bit of surface knowledge, that is it.
So when the designer of Zodiac War reached out to me to ask about potential coverage, I was intrigued. Then when I looked at the rules, and learned about the cool rotating board, and what looked like a competitive programming style game I was all in.
Zodiac War is a game for 2-4 players, in which each player takes on the roll of one of the astrological signs: Libra, Scorpio, Cancer, etc. In the game you are manipulating the stars (the board) to line up your signs, with the element associated with your sign. Each time you manage a partial, or perfect alignment you are rewarded with focus. In turn you use this resource to purchase cards, and the ever important crystals which are the end game win condition.
On your turn you will flip a card that will rotate the two moving rings on the board. Then you will play out 3 minor arcana cards (and you have the option to play a major one); these cards will, based on the position you place them out in your tableau will activate different abilities. They might earn you more focus, or they might rotate the rings, or they might remove focus from another player. At the end of each turn you conclude by purchasing new cards with your focus, and earning focus from your alignments (or if you have enough focus you can purchase the ever important star crystals). The first player to get three crystals is the winner.
So what do I think?
The artwork is very attractive, and the cards have bits and pieces of astrological knowledge that I particularly enjoy. I also like the multi-use cards that do something different depending on where you play them in your tableau each turn.
I also appreciate the lightly asymmetric player boards. They all have a single power that is unique and is a good bonus to the game.
However, the thing that stands out to me the most is the “toy factor” of the game. It is a lot of fun playing the cards and rotating the board, as you try to get your alignments correct, it is definitely not like anything on my shelf.
There is a strong balance of arcana cards in the game, with some cards that can be played as interrupts, and the major arcana cards that do things that are quite different from the minor arcanas that can be added on each turn. There are not too many cards to have no idea what to expect, but there are not so few that it is dull.
I also appreciate the resource management aspect of the game. There is only a single resource (focus), though you could argue that cards are as well I suppose, and since you have to use it to both win the game, and purchase the tools you need to be allowed to buy the crystals, there is a clever bit of management that you have to be on top of, or you will fall flat.
Initially, I thought this was going to be a programmer game. I was wrong. Yes you are trying to create three moves that will get you what you want, but since the game board resets in some way every turn, you are not really able to create any kind of a long term plan. Rather you are always reacting to the inherent chaos of the rotating rings. I personally like chaos in my games, but I was surprised by just how chaotic the game is, in comparison to my impression after reading the rules.
Additionally, this is a game that is very cut throat. As you get close to the end of the game, you will constantly be hit with interrupt cards, and attack cards to stop you as everyone will have to gang up on a player close to winning. If you like cut throat then you will be happy, if not then you won’t.
My final, concern is that there may be significant downtime in max player count games. Full disclosure: due to the pandemic I was not able to play this with more than two players, so this is supposition. Since the board resets as often as it does, you are unable to make a plan until the beginning of your turn, which could lead to some slowness.
Bringing it all together
Zodiac War is an aggressive game, with a rotating board, that works differently from any other game on my shelf. If you are looking for a game that let’s you control chaos, and cut your opponents down to size then this is a game for you. The game is sneakily chaotic, and I am concerned it could suffer from significant downtime in high player count games (though I did not experience too much in 2 player games).
You must be one of those verbose signs, get to the point!
* Great “toy factor” in this one, it is just fun to play with the rotating board
*Solid mechanics, that keep you thinking, but streamlined enough to not feel over complicated
* Extremely cut throat
* The game seemed on the surface to be a programming game, but it is less about planning, and more about reacting to the chaos you find yourself in the middle of
* Might suffer from a downtime issue in high player count games