A War of Whispers Board Game Review
WBG Score: 8.5
Player Count 2-4
You’ll like this if you like: Root, A Game of Thrones
Published by: Starling Games
Designed by: Jeremy Stoltzfus
Do you have a game that you love and you really want people to play and discover? When you go to give people your well thought out pitch for the game do you find that at that exact moment your brain wanders off to make a cup of tea and you end up spouting nonsense? I do and for me that game is A War of Whispers. Let's hope I do a better job of it here!
Shhhh, it’s oh so quiet
In a war of Whispers you’ll be dividing your loyalty between each of the five different clans in the game. How much of your attention each clan gets depends on how many points they’ll bag you at the end of the game. Before the game starts you’ll shuffle up your clan tokens and place them on your player board in one of the five spaces, each having a point value on them ranging from four down to minus one. Players will score points per city each faction owns and where their token is on your player mat. So for example if the bear clan has control of 4 cities and their token is in your 4 point space then you’ll get 16 points. It that token was in your -1 slot then you’ll bag yourself minus 4 point for that clan
On a turn players will place two agents onto available action spaces on any of the different clan sections on the awesome circular board. On round two onwards you would remove an agent first before proceeding to place your two agents. Then going clockwise around the board players will take those actions. These will be things like adding units of that clan, moving units, attacking other clans and taking cards to be used later on. The brilliance here is that if there are any empty action spaces to the left of your agent then you get to perform those actions as well. This means that you can potentially have four actions to perform on a given round with that clan. Take advantage quickly though because those slots will fill up as the rounds progress. At the end of a round a player can swap the positions of two of the tokens on their mat, these then have to be placed face up and can’t be moved again for the rest of the game. The game ends after four rounds and players will score up.
A Cunning Plan
Area control games aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and I can totally understand that. I enjoy them to a point but it’s easy to see why they can be divisive. It’s easy to feel picked on, especially if you're a new player who may pose an easy target. They can suffer from the problem that whoever can amass the biggest army quickest will win (that usually falls to a more experienced player) and sometimes, just sometimes getting attacked can feel a little personal. If you're someone who feels like that then please read on because I think A War of Whispers largely fixes all of that and may just be an area control game that you’ll enjoy!
On the face of it a war of whispers is a standard area control game and a simple one at that. You add units to the board, move them and then fight. Even fighting is boiled down to a simple one for one system. Move five cubes into an opponent's four and cubes are removed on a one for one basis until none or one player's cubes are left.
If this was your typical area control game then I would place it in the gateway game camp which is no bad thing by any means.
What I love about this game though is that just by changing a few little things, like giving people access to all the clans really opens the game up and gives you so many options and strategies. If you find a favoured clan is losing ground then you have the option to use any of the other clans to take it back rather than having to go through the potentially slow process of building your forces again before you can retaliate. This includes using the clan that just took it off them and If you're able to make that happen in the same round then I’ll guarantee that you’ll want to let out an evil mwahaha.
Despite all the evil laughs and sly manipulation, at some point, no matter how hard you try you may find that the clan you're pushing for may just be beyond saving. Don’t worry though because this game is the board game embodiment of the phrase “if you can’t beat them, join them” because the idea that you can swap your clans is a small one but brilliant. Rather than feeling that you’ve lost the game after a couple of rounds you can swap tokens and get back in the running. That doesn’t mean it’ll solve all your problems though because now everyone knows who you’re rooting for. They may not necessarily start gunning for you because your interests may align but the secret is going to be out.
Let's get to those fixes I mentioned. A war of whispers keeps everything a secret so until anyone swaps clans no one knows who’s rooting for what clans, so being able to target a player because they're in the lead is rare. Even if you saw the opportunity for that kind of play it may turn out that that very same player is actually now pushing for the same clan you are, so helping them is your best bet. This is where I think the game leans into an almost semi co-op territory. Throughout the game you can get a rough idea where people's loyalties lie, that is of course unless they’re playing a great manipulation game. The question then remains whether or not to help them, possibly revealing your allegiances, or do you leave them to it hoping your interests align.
A war of whispers isn’t about taking areas off of other players, it’s about taking them from the faceless clans. It’s not about attacking certain players because they backstabbed you in a game of TI4 because as I mentioned, you may actually be going after the same goal. It’s certainly not about amassing the biggest army because the way combat works means that your armies get thinned out pretty quickly the more you attack.
Gather round everyone, are we all sitting comfortably? Excellent, because I want to tell you a story from the first game I played of A War of Whispers which I think captures everything that makes me love this game.
A couple of rounds into the game I noticed that one player was leaning heavily on my most preferred clan and strengthening their position on the board. Rather than wasting agents to activate that clan I decided to leave him to it and turned my attention to my least favoured clan. Rather than push them into battles just to make them lose and make it obvious what I was doing (just in case someone tried to retaliate to it) I subtly nudged them into positions where I knew other players would do my job for me and take them out. Luckily for me I usually make random stupid moves so to everyone else this just looked like I had no idea what I was doing. After that I focused on the other clans and made sure they were doing what I needed them to.
It was close, just as games of this usually are and I won. It wasn’t the win that drew me in. What had hooked me was the fact that you could make clever plays like this, the sneakiness, the manipulation, the idea that I could win a game by getting everyone else to do the work for me. All of that and it had been done without that “take that” style gameplay.
Don’t get me wrong I love a good area control with some fun back and forth and a good scrap, but I love the idea of having a game like this in my collection that still scratches that area control itch but one that I can potentially play with more people who maybe aren’t big fan of the genre.
A War of Whispers is a simple yet strategic and clever game that has rocketed into my top ten games and is definitely worth shouting about rather than a whisper.