The knight crested the ridge, out of breath from lugging his heavy suit of armor up a steep hill. But his people needed protection, and duty outweighs comfort. As he regained his strength, his eyes focused on a small pair of soldiers in the distance. One soldier seemed to light a torch and touch it to the large metal tube next to the men. Before the knight could even realize what was happening, a cannonball exploded the knight into pieces. The End.
Pretty gruesome, I know, but imagine that the cannon was a nuclear submarine and the knight was a warrior armed with a spear and loincloth. The knight had it easy.
Guns and Steel is a small game for 2-4 players that spans the beginning of civilization to the Space Age, all in less than 45 minutes using only 50 cards. Just with that pitch, I want to play Guns and Steel, don’t you? If you need more convincing, I can help.
Civilization sure loves its pyramids so at the beginning of the game, cards from different ages are arranged in layers to form a triangle with cheaper cards at the bottom and expensive cards at the top. Along the edge of this pyramid are impressive buildings or achievements, like the Eiffel Tower or the International Space Station, which can only be claimed by reaching their requirements, but more on that later. The important part is that players take on the role of a fledgling society fast-forwarding through time, gaining resources and purchasing stronger cards.
Each tribe starts with the same 5 cards, with each card having a special action on the front and a resource on the back. On a player’s turn, they must play one card facedown as a resource and one card face up for its action. Every card has a tough choice that goes along with it. The more powerful a card is,the more valuable it is if played as a resource. It is a real struggle trying to decide which cards to play as what and requires a bit of planning, but don’t worry because those cards will come back to you in time. If at the end of your turn you have only one or no cards left in your hand, you pick up all of your face up cards and will get to play them next turn. The resources you have in front of you remain if you want, especially if you want to purchase some cards later on.
After playing your mandatory two cards, you can purchase a card from the pyramid array on the table. Any card is available for purchase, no matter where it is, but cards cost more resources if the other cards below it have not been bought. To purchase a card, simply flip face up the resources you have in front of you equal to the cost on the card, plus one for every card connected to the desired card. The wonders on the side of the pyramid can also be bought for lots of points, but have different costs, like a certain number of owned cards or a strong military presence.
True to its title, there is combat involved in a few of these cards that can disrupt other players that adds interaction in what would otherwise be a solitary experience. Some cards have military strength on the side of them and are active when played, acting as a defense or attack value. If a card lets you attack your opponents, compare your military strength to the other players and if you are stronger, you can steal wonders or raid resources, slowing the progress of your enemies. It is something players definitely have to keep an eye on during the game because ignoring it may send you back to the Dark Ages.
As the game progresses, you will be gaining more and more cards to play. At one point in a two player game, I had around 12 unique cards in my hand to choose from and it was a lot to take in. There are a lot of important decisions to make, which is both wonderful and time-consuming. If I play this card as a resource, I won’t be able to use it later, unless I use THAT card, but then I won’t be able to use THAT card as a resource. WHAT TO DO?!? It wasn’t a huge issue, but you should definitely use the downtime during other player’s’ turns to plan out your own moves.
The game ends when the last wonder is claimed or when all Space Age at the top of the pyramid have been purchased. Each card gives its owner a number of points, with more points coming from higher level cards and wonders. Players total up their points and the civilization with the most points wins. Simple, simple, simple. Guns and Steel gets major credit for having complicated decisions using basic mechanisms and it is very easy to teach.
Overall, Guns and Steel probably has the highest decision-to-card ratio of any game I own. With only 50 cards, it feels like Splendor if the cards you bought did so much more than just give resources. Your cards can flip other cards, activate spent cards, or give wild resources that can be used as anything. Guns and Steel is a fantastic game that may drive some away with military attacks, but has depth that is a fun challenge to tackle. If you are looking for a tiny game that feels anything but, Guns and Steel can’t steer you wrong.