God of War: The Card Game | Designer: Alex Olteanu, Fel Barros | Publisher: CMON Limited | Category: Cooperative, Deck-building | Players: 1-4 | Year: 2019

Full of flair but not an ounce of staying power, God of War: The Card Game is a confusing adaptation that's far too easy to deserve its source material's lofty moniker.
God of War: The Card Game box art showing warrior Kratos and his Son Artreus standing on a longship

God of War: The Card Game

It’s been a long time since CelJaded last investigated another board game based on a video game, but with 2020 forcing the world’s leisure time indoors, I thought it the perfect opportunity to expand my collection of trashy licensed games in hopes of finding the next big hit. Everyone has a weakness!

And so arrives God of War: The Card Game — a cooperative deck-builder from CMON Limited that casts you as a norse warrior (or floating head) vying to avert Ragnarök by battling the gods themselves.

Whilst I’ve not played any of the video games from the PlayStation franchise in question, it’s not difficult to appreciate the flavour of Sony’s official art for this release. The hi-res artwork is rather stunning and comes very close to avoiding the usual awkwardness of seeing 3D character models represented in cardboard form.

God of War is a purely card-driven game with interactive cardboard scenes that create an impressive visual of the video game’s battlefields. Each scene features set pieces with elves, giants and even gods standing in opposition to the players. These scenes are awash with iconography that dictates how each battle behaves, and each card in the (typically) 4×4 row will flip over to shift the battlefield or positioning of the various characters depicted.

The upgrade cards that players use to enhance their personal decks contain little decoration aside from a static number and the occasional bland icon, which is disappointing, but the sheer clarity of these cards is certainly beneficial in terms of readability. Plus, the wonderful storage insert has ample room to store the game’s components neatly, even when the cards are sleeved (although just barely in that case).

However, just about everything that isn’t related to presentation is not so good with this one. Among the most serious problems here is the thin rulebook which remains light on detail and is frequently confusing. Even when armed with an official FAQ and a lot of research into common issues, God of War: The Card Game has so many rules quandaries per minute that it quickly becomes a frustrating experience.

A lack of care and attention was given to certain character abilities and when you combine this with confusing iconography and scene resolution, you’ll frequently get into trouble that the anaemic rulebook can’t get you out of. My first complete session with two players took twice as long as normal because of the constant referencing needed. The box advertises a game length of 90 minutes, which is what two experienced players can manage if they avoid using certain quests, but the play time is going to drag on much longer at higher player counts. It’s a problem because that sort of time investment isn’t justified for games which have such a simplistic gameplay loop like this one does.

So, how does it work? Well, using their starting deck of character-specific cards, players will position their hero standee in the scene before launching attacks from melee or at range. Special actions can be performed to bolster an ally’s health or hand size, and enemies will roll a defence die to keep combat from being a pure mathematics exercise. As players attack they generate Rage which can be consumed to trigger hero-specific powers. Rage is a good mechanic that provides benefit even if you roll poorly on the die. That is good.

Following this routine, whilst occasionally interacting with elements in the scene, players need to balance their resources and keep defence cards on hand for enemy retaliation. Once the scene has finished activating for that turn (and assuming players are still alive), the Upgrade phase begins. This phase is the highlight of the game because it allows players to expand their deck with new cards. Players are faced with a choice of gaining a new card or permanently removing one of their deck’s weaker existing cards, this being similar to heavier deck-building games like Resident Evil and The Big Book of Madness. Weighing up this option will give players a delightful pause as they consider what is the most synergistic option for them on that current turn.

God of War: The Card Game cards and tokens set up on a table ready to play

There are five heroes to choose from, each with their own set starting deck of cards and some that come with unique gimmicks to change how they play. The sheets for these heroes are large and pretty, but I don’t think they needed to take up so much space on the table.

With only one minor exception though, the quests your party faces are incredibly easy and feel very poorly balanced. Quests remain largely the same irrespective of when they’re encountered and irrespective of how many allied players are in the game. Player decks don’t need many turns of upgrading before they start to snowball, and the penalties that quests #2 and #3 bring are super weak. This makes all four of the final bosses also feel weak and super easy to beat, which is not good at all.

Part of the problem concerns that Upgrade deck which features some extremely powerful cards. There are cards which cancel damage; cards which multiply attack strength; cards that draw even more cards for everyone sitting at the table; all with no conditions and high frequency. Even then, most enemies don’t deal enough damage to be considered a threat, making it very easy for players to ignore defence cards and rely solely on healing and card advantage to achieve victory. The later game becomes really boring because of this, and it says nothing about how some scenes can be exploited to produce a near infinite number of safe Upgrade steps. Less charitable players would see this as a fundamentally broken feature, and honestly, it would be hard to argue with them.

Needing to complete three quests does allow players an opportunity to fully appreciate the construction of their decks, yet there’s no real thematic reason why that number needed to be three to begin with, and the generic nature of the quests means that everything has to follow the lightweight balancing. It makes me wonder if this release was primarily aimed at novice gamers, but good luck getting them to make sense of the horrid rules.

Aside from the low difficulty, some quests are problematic because they’re too long and boring. Repeatedly flipping scene cards gets to be incredibly fiddly too, and it’s really weird that melee attacks are less useful than ranged attacks because ranged attacks can target more enemies and trigger scene elements that melee attacks can’t. The cooperative elements are also not hugely satisfying. You can play special action cards to help out your teammates, but table-talk isn’t that necessary in the later stages when you’re steamrolling everything anyway.

Probably the single biggest problem with God of War: The Card Game though, is its pitiful replay value. The various scene cards, whilst attractive, run out of surprises quickly and there are not that many quests included in the box to begin with. There is little incentive to play any of the quests more than once and it’s made worse by the rules not including any additional difficulty modes. A huge missed opportunity.

There is a solitaire mode included in the rulebook, but lone players are locked into playing with Kratos and a couple of his chums only, making the replay value here even worse for 1-player enthusiasts who aren’t willing to shoulder the strain of 2-handed play.

Too easy, too confusing, and arguably too broken. God of War: The Card Game has a few bright moments, but nowhere near enough value to justify adding it to your collection.