Iwarii: Spotlight Series

There are a lot of forgotten classics in the board game hobby’s long and dense history. With new games coming out in such volume as they do, it’s easy to forget about that one game that you actually really enjoyed. Fortunately some of these underappreciated gems are remembered by the right people, and get awesome updated versions.

Case in point, the new game Iwari is a reimplementation of a 20-year-old game called Web of Power. The new version Iwari has the benefit of 20 years of game innovation, and the designers have leveraged some good ideas to improve their already great light strategy game.

Be Fruitful And Multiply

Let’s take a look at the core gameplay that Iwari preserves. Iwari is actually pretty straightforward; its strategy and gameplay isn’t cluttered with lots of different systems. Players play cards to add either Tents or Totems to the different territories on the board. This is governed by a convenient 3-2-1 rule: players can spend up to 3 cards to put up to 2 features on 1 territory per turn. Then the player fills their hand back up to 3 cards, and their turn is done. Drawing cards uses a simple queue system like Ticket To Ride.

When games have such simple turn structures, the complexity and strategy usually comes from the scoring system. In Iwari, there are three different sources of points: majority presence in the board’s different territories with Tents; connecting Tents by roads results in Settlements; and connecting different territories by having majority control of Totems. This gives players three different races to participate in. When a player finds that they’re falling behind in one territory, they can divert their efforts to another territory.

For most territory-control games, there would be a big unwieldy chunk of combat rules. In true Eurogame fashion, Iwari eschews combat entirely. Once a Tent or Totem is placed, it’s there for the rest of the game. This simplifies the rules, sure, but it also removes a fair bit of potential negative player experience as well.

All in all, Iwari and its predecessors managed to pack a lot of strategy and tension into a slim rulebook. For many hobby fans, the gameplay’s the thing, and Iwari preserves top-tier gameplay.

Expansion and Refinement

So from Web of Power in 2000, to China in 2005, to Han in 2014, and now Iwari in 2020, this core gameplay stays intact. Fortunately, Iwari not only keeps what made its predecessors great, but also improves on the formula as well.

China and Han didn’t implement the mid-game scoring round that Web of Power has, but it’s back in Iwari. The first half of the game is described by one playthrough of the deck of cards, then players score their Tents (but not Totems or Settlements). The second half is another trip through the deck, then tally up their final score including Tents, Totems and Settlements. This adds more tension to the game, as players have to balance playing a strong early game versus playing to long-term strategies. Also, the queue of cards that players draw from is up to 4, where China and Han had 3, and Web of Power only had 2. This evens out a lot of the variance in the game, allowing players to play more strategically.

A welcome addition to Iwari are a few rules that allow Iwari to play only 2 players. And these 2 player rules work out excellently, too. It’s a simple tweak that includes a third tribe that both players control, without adding any more variance to the game.

Lastly, Iwari includes an all-new addition that its predecessors never had. This new addition, called Feats, adds a few new pieces and a few new rules to Iwari. Feats give players a score multiplier for being the first player to complete specific tasks. They tweak the strategy of the game interesting ways, reinfusing Iwari with excitement if the base game grows stale. And, to top it off, Feats are optional. Players can play a regular version of Iwari (or any of its predecessors for that matter) without Feats. Feats are like a mini-expansion included in the base game.

Reaching for the Horizon

Iwari inherits a tried-and-true design from an award-winning designer, and rolls in a few improvements along the way. In addition to that, Iwari is swathed in wonderful new art. It tells the story of early human civilizations settling a primordial world. It’s lovely and easy on the eyes, while still being clear and readable so it doesn’t distract from making effective strategic decisions. Iwari is a satisfying light strategy game that preserves a great design.

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