If you like games with negotiation, variable player powers, take-that, and hand management, you'll like this game.
If you additionally like well-produced games, you'll really like this game. If you additionally like fantasy games, you'll totally like this game. If you additionally like Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn books, you'll adore this game! It is a solid game in its own right even if you haven't read the Mistborn books. Having read them will deepen your enjoyment of Mistborn: House War.
Theme and What is it?
This game has several mechanics that make it enjoyable, but the primary mechanic with which the players will interact is Negotiation.
Players play as Great Houses — the nobles of the world. They’re evil, scheming, and manipulative people, and to do well in this game, you must embody these characteristics.
In order to solve the problems that cascade across the board and intensify each turn, the players must work together (semi-cooperatively) to pool their resources. But playing a resource enables the players to negotiate for advantages throughout the game. Maybe the negotiation is for points (each Problem card has a point reward when it is solved), or maybe it is negotiating to not be included if something bad happens, or anything else. Alliances can form, whither, and die — or be betrayed. Negotiations flows very well if everyone is into it, and are quite enjoyable.
There is a hearty helping of “take that” in this game (which is consistent with the world of the novels), so if you’re not a fan of that mechanic, this may not be a game for you.
Once the game is set up, which doesn’t take long — shuffle and randomly deal a House sheet to each player, put out Resources according to the number of players (and put the Favor, Disgrace, and Ruined tokens nearby), sort the Problems deck (inserting the Vin card as directed) and place it in its spot on the board, do the same with the Personalities deck, place the Kelsier pawn on the Unrest track, and give the Inquisitor pawn to the first player. Each player takes starting resources. And you’re off.
Each round, each player does the following, starting with the first player (as determined by their House) and continues clockwise.
1. Collect Resources and Cards: Collect resources and draw the number of cards shown on your House sheet, ignoring Ruined or Destroyed resources. If there isn’t enough of a resource in the supply, steal missing resources from other players!
2. Problems Worsen: Move each Problem card on the board 1 column to the right. They can be moved in any order, but each must be moved, skipping columns that are full. Any problem that moves past Column IV immediately Erupts. Eruptions may cause Disgrace (which is stored face down in each player’s area) or other badness.
3. Add new Problem(s): Draw one new Problem and place it in the column matching its starting Urgency. If this column is full, the Problem moves to the right into the next available column. If at any time there is only 1 Problem on the board, another Problem is added.
4. Pass or Deal: Pass and collect one resource of your choice or draw one Personality card. OR place the Inquisitor pawn on one Problem card. All players negotiate with you to pay the resource cost and solve the Problem. If an agreement is reached, split Favor as agreed in the deal. Favor is stored face down in each player’s area.
5. End Turn: The Inquisitor pawn passes to the player to the left.
After playing semi-cooperatively throughout the game, it all changes at the end. At the end of the game, players reveal their face down Favor/Disgrace piles to determine one winner. There are a few ways to win, as listed below:
* If the Vin Problem is solved, the Final Empire is saved and the player with the highest score wins.
* If the Vin Problem Erupts and the ending Unrest score is 7 or below, the Final Empire is (just barely) saved and the player with the highest score wins.
* If the ending Unrest score is 8 or higher, the Final Empire collapses and the player with the lowest score wins. Thematically, the player who is furthest away from the Final Empire when it collapses emerges victorious.
These different win conditions lead to interesting strategic choices. Very often, players tend to keep their scores fairly close together until determining how the game is going to go, then make their plays to adjust their score appropriately.
My wife is a massive fan of Brandon Sanderson and the novels he’s written. When she learned that Mistborn existed as a board game, we immediately got her a copy.
Let’s answer this question right up front: Do I need to have read the novels? The answer here is “no”. I haven’t read them (actually, I am about 10% of the way into the first novel) and my enjoyment of the game isn’t hampered. This is a solid game design even if you haven’t read the source material. But my wife has said a couple times, “ah… that’s what they would do!” when certain Personality cards come out. So, reading the novels will enhance your enjoyment of the game, but it’s not necessary to have read them since the game works on its own.
The game is impressive on first impression. A colorful box (see above) with spot-UV treatment. It’s got a nice weight. The back of the box shows the game set up (a touch I always appreciate) and has explanatory text and artwork.
Opening the box, the first thing you’ll notice is there is a “READ THIS FIRST” sheet on top of the rule book. I recommend you read that sheet first — even before you punch any of the cardboard — and follow its instructions. It’s a nice touch that explains the base mechanics of the game and eases you in to the world’s setting.
Next, you’ll encounter the 24-page rule book. Full color, nicely printed, and free of any apparent typographical errors. It also includes plenty of examples, which I appreciate.
Below that is the game board itself. A long rectangle, it’s well-constructed and has nice full-color printing. It’s also very well designed with a place for everything.
The theme of “well designed with a place for everything” carries on through the insert in the box. There’s a place for everything (and room for expansions) in this well-thought-out insert.
Speaking of expansions, a small-box expansion (called Siege of Luthadel) for this game is expected sometime in late 2020 or early 2021.
Game Build Quality
The quality of the components is good overall. The box and gameboard are sturdy. The insert isn’t flimsy and holds everything well. The cards are glossy and a bit on the thin side. Some folks might want to sleeve them since there is a decent amount of shuffling during setup, and I think the insert will accommodate sleeved cards (though I haven’t tried). Personally, I prefer linen finish cards (and slightly thicker card stock) over glossy, but they’re perfectly fine.
There are several artists associated with this game, and the art style still manages to feel consistent throughout. There is flavor text on the Problems cards and some descriptive text on the House sheets.
I like the art style of the game. It is evocative of the Victorian, pre-industrial revolution setting of the books. The two included miniatures are detailed enough (they’re not super-detailed), and my wife (a big fan of the books, as stated) was able to identify them correctly without referencing the rule book.
There is clear iconography. The tokens and icons appear to be color-blind friendly. The printing is colorful and rich.
Artistically, it is consistent and well-presented and provides a nice peek into the world of Mistborn.
The negotiation aspect of this game cannot be ignored, and should not be underestimated. If you enjoy negotiation games with a healthy dose of take-that, you’ll enjoy this game. If you don’t like those things, you won’t enjoy it! Plain and simple.
We’ve played several games with the physical copy of the game, and a few games via Tabletopia (by the way, there is a Tabletopia version of this game which you can play free). I prefer playing in person, because you can stare at each other & read body language while negotiating. Once people lean into the mean (in a fun way) nature of this game, it’s really enjoyable with plenty of table-talk, alliances, and backstabbery (a new word!) with very little downtime, since everyone can be involved in every turn.
An additional piece of coolness… Because of the successful Kickstarter for this game, the Great Houses expansion — 22 unique Personality cards based on characters in or inspired by Mistborn — is included in every game. And also cool, the Great Houses expansion is built-in on Tabletopia.
I think this game will fit well on a standard card table with 3-4 players. It might be a little tight when trying to play with 5 players.
Age Range & Weight
14+ on the box, 12+ per BGG, but I think it requires adults to really enjoy the negotiation and backstabbery (there’s that word again!).
If you like games with negotiation, variable player powers, take-that, and hand management, you’ll like this game.
If you additionally like well-produced games, you’ll really like this game. If you additionally like fantasy games, you’ll totally like this game. If you additionally like Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn books, you’ll adore this game! It is a solid game in its own right even if you haven’t read the Mistborn books. Having read them will deepen your enjoyment of Mistborn: House War.
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