Board game review: Cry Havoc

Cry Havoc arrived on a tidal wave of hype, a situation which was magnified by the game receiving unilateral adoration and praise from every high-profile reviewer ahead of its release.

Then, shortly after getting into gamers’ hands, negative opinions began to flood in, and the once bright star burned out in a matter of weeks.

Now that the dust has settled nearly a year after its release, where does this fallen giant stand today? Click through to find out if this one is a misunderstood genius or a flawed has-been.

What is it?

Cry Havoc is a card-driven, asymmetric area control wargame. What the hell does any of that mean?

You are one of four unique races fighting for control of a planet rich in resources. You’ll be playing cards from your hand in order to take actions – building structures, moving around the map, getting into fights and improving your tactical knowledge of the terrain in order to get the edge in battles.

Known loosely as a “Dudes on a Map” game, Cry Havoc is all about fighting for control of valuable areas and leveraging your position. If you’re not interested in direct conflict, this isn’t a game for you.

A pretty package

You may have clicked through to this review just based on that picture of the board – Cry Havoc carries it’s sci-fi theme very well, and looks impressive sprawled across your dining room table.

The board is huge, and with each faction having their own custom miniatures attached to a colourful base, the struggle to exploit a planet’s resources has never looked better.

The card art is pretty generic sci-fi stuff, but the illustrations are excellent. Everything is brightly coloured to match your faction, and the whole package carries this cool, slick feel that matches the divisive box art well.

The graphic design on the cards is clear, and looks good as well.

Asymmetry done right

Cry Havoc has the best kind of asymmetry – the rules are the same for each faction to cut down on teaching time and complexity, but what each faction can do is wildly different thanks to their unique structures, cards and individual skills.

The Humans are versatile and greedy, looking to spread out to multiple areas on the map and win battles where they’re outnumbered with superior tactics and structures.

The Pilgrims are a super-advanced alien race, who are looking to exploit the planet’s resources in the most efficient manner possible thanks to superior technology. Knowledge is power with these dudes, who’ll be drawing their decks and beating you down with their superior firepower rather than superior numbers.

The Machines are the classic AI-that-went-sentient, a group of robots that are slow, clunky and unstoppable as they move their death-dealing structures across the map.

Finally you have the Trogs, the native race of the planet who just want you to get the F out of their house. They may be primitive beasts, but are capable of easily overwhelming unprepared opponents with sheer numbers and an intimate knowledge of the battleground.

With each race having variable powers and a lot of room to explore, you’ll want to play each one repeatedly in order to master them – which means a ton of variability in the box.

A unique battle system

Arguably the most innovative feature in a deeply original game, Cry Havoc’s clever way of resolving battles has been described as “area control within area control”.

Each player will take their units and place them on the board in one of three different battle objectives – region control, capturing prisoners and attrition. Region control will let you do exactly that, while taking prisoners will get you your very own POWs which score you points every round. Attrition straight up kills your opponent’s units and earns you some points.

There’s a lot of room for cleverness in how you place your units on the board, and this is coupled with the ability to play cards from your hand which can swing fights in your favour.

What really works well is that it’s not simply about winning or losing the fight – you can lose control of the area but still feel like you’ve won the battle. Battles in the game happen every round, so you’ll have plenty of time to flex your tactical muscles.

In the center there you can see a battle in progress, as two players vie for control of the three objectives.

So what’s the catch?

Well, really, there isn’t one. The game got a lot of flak when it released for three primary reasons, with each one having since been addressed. Let me break these down.

  1. A crappy rule book

That’s a little disingenuous. The rule book is laid out well, and does an excellent job of teaching the game. However, on your first play you’ll notice small corner cases come up, and the rule book does a very poor job of addressing these. Luckily, publisher Portal Games and designer Grant Rodiek have since put out comprehensive FAQs (here and here) that’ll answer any question you may have.

  1. A feel-bad round-shortening mechanic

When the game came out, a rule existed that would reduce the number of rounds from five to four if one player raced ahead in scoring. This turned out to be a bad idea, as it didn’t allow the slower races to catch up in scoring. Due to negative feedback, the current printing of the game’s rule book has changed this to an “advanced variant” and removed it from the main game. Problem solved.

  1. Humans are overpowered

This one was actually kind of true. Specifically, one human skill card (Scouting) was errata’d by Portal following negative feedback, but many have taken the far simpler option of just removing it from the game entirely. This has no significant impact on the game, or the Humans, so I recommend doing just that.


A lot of people who wrote this off at release would do well to revisit it. While the game suffered some issues at launch that soured many on it, these have all been resolved and what’s left is a unique, deliciously asymmetric war game that isn’t getting nearly as much respect as it deserves.

Cry Havoc is available at Raru right now for the absurdly low price of R999.