We picked up Master of Wills from Stormcrest Games a few months ago. It’s the publisher’s first offering and originally debuted in 2017. If you haven’t heard of the game, or its publisher, I’m not surprised. It seems to be a publishing house with only about 1500 followers on Twitter and Instagram combined. A small operation for sure, but you don’t have to be big to be good. And Master of Wills is good. It’s very good.
Master of Wills features a cyberpunk theme and is set in the distant future where factions seek to manipulate the community to build public support. Players align themselves with a faction of their choice and do everything they can to pull the most powerful collection of community members to their side.
Gameplay extends over eight rounds, with a turn for each player (or team if playing two against two) during the round. Each turn begins with a move phase wherein the active player selects one of the cards from the community zone of the board (the neutral section in the middle of the board) and moves it to its designated location (Allies, Loyalists, or Recruits area) on their side of the board. Allies are those in the community that you’ve so successfully manipulated, they won’t ever fall away and so their position is locked in place on your side of the board. Loyalists are just a step away from Allies but can still be persuaded to side with your opponent through strategic moves. And Recruits are barely committed, just one step away from the neutral community zone. All community cards reference other community cards that must also be moved from their current location as a consequence of the first move action. These other cards are referenced by the type of community group they belong to using icons and colors (such as religion, activist, union, law enforcement, etc) and also by how many spaces that type must be moved and in which direction. For example, the Learned Shamon card below indicates that when it is moved, members of three other community groups must also be moved. The first type must be moved from its current position two steps toward the opponent’s side of the board (presumably because they don’t want to align themselves with the Shamon), the second type must be moved one step toward the active player’s side of the board, and the the third type must be moved two steps toward the active player’s side of the board. If a movement greater than 1 is specified for a community type, players can split the movement up between multiple cards of that type.
After the move phase is complete, for every community card that has the draw card icon on it and was moved out of the community zone (either as a primary or secondary move action), the active player must draw a community card and add it to the community zone.
Finally, if the card selected and moved out of the community zone for the primary move action has the faction icon on it, the active player must draw a new faction card to add to his hand and then select a faction card from his hand to play. Some cards are played face up while others are played face down on the board for delayed effect. These cards give a player strategic advantages over their opponent, either through empowering the player or crippling the opponent in some way.
Once each player has completed a full turn, the round is over, the round marker is moved to the next round, and the new round begins.
Seems simple on the surface (and the concise 4 page rulebook evidences this), but the strategy is in the details and there are a lot of decisions to be made. Which faction to choose? Which faction cards from the pool available should be used to construct the faction deck? Which community card to select for the primary move action and which card (s) to select for the secondary move action? Which faction card to select from those in hand to play? Over the course of several games, I was able to hone my strategy a bit as I moved through these decisions, but I have yet to win a game against an opponent. There’s enough variability here, even with just the two factions that come standard in the base game, to offer great replay value.
The game is not subject to much analysis paralysis and we found the turns progressing quickly with only minimal pauses for evaluating decisions.
The artwork is clean and edgy and carries the theme well. My only criticism is that in this cyberpunk future, there doesn’t seem to be much diversity in terms of POC (people of color) and that’s a needless oversight. I would hope that Stormcrest might consider addressing this when publishing future editions. UPDATE: I took a second, thorough look at the cards, at the prompting of some of my readers who provided concerned feedback on this review. They had listed several cards they thought I missed that featured POC in the faction decks, so I looked at those specific cards and the consensus in my group was that about half of them were not at all visibly white and the other half appeared to be biracial which we can count as non-white. I guess I was focused mainly on the community cards when I wrote my review and I was glancing too quickly at the faction cards and didn't pick up on the biracial portraits. Also, in hindsight, it's more accurate to say I noticed there weren't many single race POC in the decks.
Win Condition: amass the largest value of community members by game’s end
Inputs: community member movement and final positioning, bonuses provided by faction cards
Strategy Tip: A consistent focus on selecting community cards that have the faction icon during the primary move action will keep your hand populated with powerful strategy cards that can give you the winning edge.
Components include plastic coated community and faction cards; the central game board, and a wooden meeple used as a round indicator. All components should hold up to frequent use.
Master of Wills is fun to play. It’s a solid two player game. It’s also quite unique. We’ve got nearly 900 games in our collection and I can’t think of a single other game that provides a tug-of-war feeling the way this game does. I will be keeping Master of Wills and looking to add new factions or expansions as they are released.
Publisher: Stormcrest Games
Players: 2 or 4 (We played with 2)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 30 minutes
Game type: Area Control/Area Influence, Deck Building, Take That
Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me