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[Review] UWO

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Joined: 03/23/2011

As soon as I looked over the game UWO (Elven Ear Games, 2004 - Thomas Janson) and looked at the artwork, I was immediately reminded of the ancient computer game Lemmings. In that addicting computer game, a player is constantly morphing their lemmings into special-type lemmings who do a variety of tasks to win the game. UWO (which stands for unidentified walking objects) has a similar theme where players must morph their Pnorfs and Gnorfs into different fighting aliens, trying to make the best combination to defeat their opponent.

The artwork is humorous and light, and the game is actually quite good! It has some deep strategic elements and almost reminded me of an abstract strategy game. But only “almost”, because the theme and the humorous artwork constantly remind players that they are in a war for the planet Znorf. The units are particularly well-balanced, and while luck is represented in the game, knowing how to best maneuver your units as well as how to play cards at the right time is the key to winning. The game is funny, interesting, quick, and fun and makes for an excellent two-player game.

Each side takes an identical deck of cards - the Pnorfs (purple) and the Gnorfs (green). Six “energy” cards from each player are laid on the table, forming two boundaries of a five by six imaginary grid upon which the game is played. Each player places ten regular troops on the first ten spaces on the grid, leaving ten empty spaces between the opposing armies. The rest of the cards are shuffled into two decks, and players draw three cards to start the game. The player with the Gnorfs takes the first turn.

On a turn, a player can execute one action and/or morph one of their cards in either order. When morphing a card, a player pays one energy point (slides one of their energy cards out slightly to show the energy usage) and places a card from their hand on top of any card from their side on the table. A player can also discard a card from their hand instead of morphing. Either way, they immediately draw a new card from the deck. When taking an action, a player may move OR shoot with one of their aliens. When moving, the player moves the amount of spaces shown in the movement box, while paying the shown energy amount.

When shooting, a player starts a “duel” with the UWO they are attacking. The attacking alien must have the defending alien in range (shown on the card) and pay the energy cost. Some aliens are immune to certain alien types and therefore cannot be attacked by them. If the attack is legal, the defender is killed, unless the player can avoid the attack. If possible, they can pay an energy and morph the defender into an alien who is immune to the attacker’s attack, or they can play a “missed” card. Either way, the defending alien can then pay energy to retaliate, if possible, shooting back. This continues until one player’s alien dies or cannot retaliate.

The different aliens in the game are (and I’m making up names, because no names are included in the game - just different pictures):
- Basic UWO: Movement 1, Cost 1; Range 1, Cost 1
- Bazooka UWO: Movement 1, Cost 2; Range 3, Cost 2; Immune to UWO riders; When the Bazooka UWO shoots, they are “knocked out” (turned sideways and lose all immunity, movement, and shooting) until the end of the player’s next turn.
- Grenader UWO: Movement 1, Cost 1; Range 2, Cost 3; Immune to Bunker UWOs.
- Bunker UWO: Cannot move; Range 2, Cost 2; Immune to Basic and Laser UWOs.
- Laser UWO: Movement 1, Cost 1; Range 2, Cost 2; Immune to Bazooka UWOs.
- UWO rider: Movement 3, Cost 2; Cannot shoot; Immune to Grenader UWOs; As long as they end their turn on an empty space, may ride over opponent’s troops, causing them to be “knocked out”.
- Tank UWO: Movement 1, Cost 3; Range 3, Cost 3; Immune to UWO riders, Laser and Basic UWOs.
- Dynamite UWO: Movement 1, Cost 1; Can’t shoot; Can explode, killing themselves and all aliens in the nine spaces adjacent to their space.

Once a player has taken their action and/or morphed or discarded, play passes to the other person. When a player has used up all their energy, they must simply pass on their turn, until the opponent uses up all of their energy. Each player then gets all their energy back, and another round begins with the player who used all their energy first going first. As soon as a player destroys all the aliens of the opposing army or one of the players concedes, the game ends immediately.

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The cards are really nice with humorous artwork on them and a really nice layout. No text is on the card except for the name of the army (Gnorf and Pnorf), with symbols showing the movement and shooting statistics and pictures of the units that the UWO is immune to. With eight different units, the game sounds as if it would bog down, but the symbols and pictures really make the game clear and easy to play. The cards are of a good quality with a white border (all companies should do this) and fit in a small box - similar in size to the Adlung Spiel boxes.

2.) Rules: The rules are on two sides of a long, thin sheet of paper with a few illustrations - but mostly just the rules - repeated many times. Everything was clearly laid out, and the special abilities of three of the units, Bazooka, rider, and Dynamite were clearly explained. The game was simple to teach and learn with almost no learning curve, although making poor moves is probably the best way to learn. :)

3.) Balance: I was tremendously impressed by the balance of the units. The Tank UWO, on first glance, seems tremendously powerful, but it’s extremely expensive to move and shoot and therefore limited. The Bazooka units are cheap and powerful but then are fairly vulnerable. The UWO riders can run all over the battlefield, incapacitating enemy units, but cannot kill them. The blockhouses are good for defense but can’t move. One thing that’s a neat feature is that a player can morph any unit into any other unit - something that comes in quite handy during the game. The Dynamite UWO is a massively dangerous unit but not as powerful as one thinks. To move, morph, and explode costs five to seven energy - and takes two actions - so your opponent has time to respond. The only underpowered units are the basic UWOs, which are going to be upgraded as soon as possible anyway.

4.) Dodging: The dodging cards are tremendously powerful but must be saved until the right moment. In my first game, I got a lot of them in the beginning and thought that my opponent was in a lot of trouble, because I avoided most of their initial shots. However, they hoarded their cards, using them later in the game to my complete and utter devastation. Knowing how to use these cards is the key to winning the game, in my opinion.

5.) Fun Factor: The game runs quickly, only taking twenty minutes or so once players have the rules down. There is little or no downtime, and players have fun attacking with the unfunny looking aliens. Morphing a unit is just a lot of fun, and the combinations of armies make the game interesting. The game could take on a chess-like feel, but the pictures and the abilities take away from this. Unlike many games with different units and powers, the game doesn’t have that chaotic feel that most games of this genre have. The random element in the game is the cards that players draw, but this is minor compared to the movement of the UWOs.

UWO is a unique two-player game, having a “war” theme, but acting more like a simple game of tactics. The simplicity of game play will draw a lot of players, and the quickness of a game, combined with the humorous artwork, will keep people playing it often. I like the game, because it’s small, portable, and a lot of fun. It’s definitely a good value and easy to store. The game hasn’t gotten a lot of press, since it’s Elven Ears first game; but it’s a worthy entry into the market. If you’re looking for a two-player game that plays quickly, this is an excellent choice - no matter what genre of games you like.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games”

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