You may be somewhat familiar with World War I. You probably know a thing or two about World War II. What you may not have known, however, is that the atomic holocaust of World War III knocked humanity back to the Dark Ages. Centuries have passed since and people have regrouped, and thus begins World War IV.
You are a king, and you command the forces of one of the five countries of this new world, with capitals in Buenos Aries, London, Shiraz, Nanjing, and Nairobi. You must either wipe the other countries from the map with the strength of your arms and the daring of your spies, or be the first to have your wise men rediscover nuclear weapons, and thus force your rival kings to lay down their arms and accept you as the one true sovereign.
World War IV is a game of dice rolling, territory acquisition, strategy, and attrition. It is played on a game board representing the Earth more than a thousand years in the future. Nuclear winter created a small ice age that has just begun to pass, and players will find the landscape familiar, yet different. The board is divided into geographical regions across the continents (Iberia, Dixie, etc), and each region either belongs to one of the five countries or to the vast, unorganized barbarian masses. Each player begins play in possession of a small army surrounded by hordes of barbarians.
On your turn, you will draw an event card from a common deck, tally the resources of your empire, and then move to attack. Event cards affect the supply of food somewhere in the world, signal the advent of some new technology, or herald natural disasters. The deck itself also serves as a sort of clock for the game, for when depleted, nuclear weapons will come into play.
The next step is to count your territories to determine their worth to your empire. Each territory yields a certain amount of cash and food. Cash determines how quickly and deeply you can restock your army, and food measures how many troops you can support in a region. Each region begins with different quantities and types of troops. Troop types run the gamut from simple militiamen to regular army soldiers, up to artillery, destroyers, and more. Given enough time and resources, bombers and tanks can be built.
Next comes moving and attacking. After moving all your troops, combat is resolved by rolling six-sided dice in a system of attacking, rallying, and maneuvering. The attacker rolls one die per attacking unit. Depending on the unit, the value rolled will result in a miss, the defender being routed, or the defender being destroyed. Remaining defenders get a chance to counterattack.
Attacking requires only a single successful strike to kill the opposing unit, but the more heavily armed troops can downgrade ‘killed’ status to 'routed'. A routed unit is effectively removed from combat, but during the rallying phase, it can roll to become reengaged. The simple cycle of attacking makes combat easy and fun.
What really separates World War IV from other games of territory acquisition is the spy unit. Each player begins play with spies, and they can easily produce more over the course of the game. Spies are a highly mobile troop that serves two purposes. First, they have the ability to assassinate kings. Kings are mobile as well, and will usually be well protected, so this can be difficult. Second, the presence of spies in combat allows the spy's controlling player to assign damage to their choice of enemies, not the other way around. This adds an extra level of control over combat, and is often the very key to success.
Although there may be multiple ways to achieve victory in World War IV, there is only one strategy to win: be aggressive. Are you not the type of player who launches the offensive in strategy games like this? Well, you had better learn. Want to build up your defenses, and entrench your king behind walls of defenders? Sorry, but the land only produces enough food to support so many troops. Would you like to hoard your resources and wait for your opponents to commit missteps? Natural disasters and spontaneous technological advances will level the playing field. If you want to win, you'll have to fight. World War IV is not a cold one.
So what's the bottom line? World War IV is a rich, inventive game that requires a lot of strategy, not just in where you choose to place your attacks, but how you attack and with whom. The spies make the whole experience more nuanced and are a welcome addition. With over four hundred detailed plastic models for all the troops in the game, there's a lot to love.