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Reviews - World War 5
by Lee Valentine

World War 5World War 5
Published by Looney Labs
Designed by Andrew Looney
2-4 players
$6.00 for the gameboard only ($42.00 including three Treehouse sets)

World War 5 is a new Treehouse/Icehouse game by Andrew Looney of Looney Labs. It is a Risk-like area control game played on a simple world map using Treehouse pyramid pieces as armies. The game is relatively fast-paced compared to older versions of Risk.

World War 5 is a "3House Game", meaning that it can be played with the pyramids in three Treehouse sets. For players unfamiliar with Treehouse/Icehouse pieces, they are stackable pyramids (with four triangular upper faces and a square base). There are three sizes of pyramids that have small impressions or dots on their faces: pyramids marked with one dot are the smallest, two dot pyramids are mid-sized, and three dot pyramids are the largest. In other Icehouse games the stacking nature of these pieces are utilized to full effect because they can either be nested like Ukrainian dolls (with the smallest pyramid nesting in the mid-sized pyramid which in turn nests in the large pyramid), or stacked largest to smallest to look like a Christmas tree. Originally released as Icehouse, the pieces have subsequently been re-released as a stand alone game called Treehouse.

Included for your six dollars is a very simple full-color map of the world's continents mounted on a solid game board with black wrapped edges and back. No game components are supplied, and you are expected to supply six dice and three sets of Rainbow Treehouse pieces. While the game can theoretically be played with Xeno (neon-colored) Treehouse sets, the board is coordinated to match with Rainbow Treehouse set colors. Up to four players can play at once by using red, yellow, blue, and green Treehouse pieces.

The board is small, measuring a mere 7.5" x 10". The board is rather mundane in appearance, featuring rather inornate art. That said, it is in full color and of sturdy quality for the $6.00 price tag.

At the start of the game, each player is allocated nine units consisting of three pyramids of each size in the player's chosen color. Each player then picks one pyramid of each size and puts each of them down into the three different territories of his starting continent (which is color-coordinated with the colors of the playing pieces; for example, North America is yellow). Each territory can hold only a single pyramid at all times in the game.

In addition to the four player-controlled continents of North America (yellow), South America (red), Asia (Green), and Australia (blue), there are two non-controlled continents at the start of the game. They are Europe (purple) and Africa (orange).

The goal of the game is to fill up all three territories of a foreign continent with three of your Treehouse pyramids while keeping at least one of your Treehouse armies back in your home continent. Alternately, you can win if you are the only player left with pyramids on the board at the end of a turn.

Turn Options
Each player takes turns taking one turn option each. There are four possible turn options: Grow, Build, Move, and Invade. Grow replaces one of your small or mid-sized pyramids with a piece of the next size up (if one is available). Build creates a small pyramid on an empty territory in your home continent (if you have any of your three small pyramids still unused). You can Move one of your pyramids to an adjacent territory. For a Move action there are lines on the board which provide sea routes which render certain territories adacent for game purposes, even though they aren't actually touching. Lastly, you can Invade, which is an attempt to move one of your pyramids into a territory currently occupied by an enemy pyramid.

The first three of these actions are automatic (assuming that an appropriately-sized pyramid is available for Growth or Build actions). Invading requires a successful die roll. The attacker and defender each roll a number of six-sided dice equal to the number of dots (one, two, or three) associated with the size of their pyramid in the fight. Each side sums the numbers rolled on its dice, and the defender wins on a tie. Otherwise, the high roll wins.

Unlike Risk, World War 5 is not particularly bloodthirsty. If the defender wins, the attacker merely returns back to his previous territory. If the attacker wins the Invasion attempt, then there's still a chance that the Invasion attempt is bloodless. Typically, if a losing defender has a place to retreat his pyramid to, then he gets a free Move action for that pyramid, and the Attacker claims the Invaded territory. I believe that the defender cannot move into the Attacker's original space, although the rules are unclear on this.

Attrition only occurs when a losing piece is cornered. Only if there's no available Move for the defender does the defender lose anything - he downgrades his pyramid to the next smallest size that's available (or removes his pyramid if no smaller-sized pyramid is available). I believe that whenever a pyramid is removed from the board it is returned to its owner for reuse in subsequent Build and Grow actions, though this was not clear in the rules. However, a player is eliminated from the game entirely if, at the end of any turn, he has no pyramids on the board.

In Risk, armies can shrink and fade off the board during a bloody battle. By contrast, in World War 5, an army (pyramid) is more often than not merely shoved around to a new location of the defender's choice, like a game of musical chairs. While this game of musical chairs is actually quite interesting from a tactical perspective, it is anathema to the expectations some players may have after playing other area control games. The relative incidence of shifting pieces around versus destroying or downgrading them is heightened when there are more empty spots on the board. Thus the game becomes more bloody when the board is filled (either by more players or through repeated use of the Build and Grow actions) and is a dance in two-player play.

Game Play
The level of strategy is low for two players, and may be deterministic depending on the starting continents chosen. Frequently, attempts to attack can actually benefit your opponent more than you, by giving him a free move which could be used, for example, to move his piece into a neighboring foreign territory to fulfill the victory condition of fully occupying a foreign continent. Also, in two-player play, it can be nearly impossible to uproot a player's last piece from his home continent, as he will merely Move the attacked piece from one empty territory to another. A better option for two players would be to play the 4 player game, giving each player two colors which have to be separately played. This was not suggested in the rulebook, and the two-player play as proposed is lacking compared to other area control games.

Three- and four-player play are the real (rather than advertised) number of players for this game. A player's initial map position can have an effect on his overall strategy because two of the player-based continents have more routes of travel to empty, neutral continents, while the other two continents have more routes of travel to attack player-occupied continents.

The rules of World War 5 are a bit murky in a couple of spots, but an experienced gamer can probably intuit what Andrew Looney meant to say even if he failed to say it. While I've seen better looking games, there aren't a lot of full-color game products in the $6.00 price range.

World War 5 is an interesting, fast-moving area control game for three to four players. It will be fun as long as you recognize that there may be more position shifting and less bloodshed than a typical area control game, particularly with fewer players. If you already own three Treehouse sets, then this is a nice game board for the price. I wouldn't recommend the game enough to outlay the $42.00 required to buy the board plus three Treehouse sets just to play it, unless you have interest in trying out other Treehouse games while you are at it.

This game is theoretically playable with gamestones or coins instead of pyramids, as long as the rule of no more than three armies of any given size is obeyed. In practice, this is more intuitive with pyramids, but entirely workable with colored game tokens of any kind. Surprisingly, the rules don't mention this, and instead advertise that the game requires three sets of Treehouse pieces to play.

This is a tough product to position. Icehouse/Treehouse games tend to be purely abstract games and this is the first entry that I've seen that is so obviously an area control game instead.

The $6.00 price point is fantastic for consumers. Icehouse players and Looney Labs fans are also often completist collectors, and some of them will likely pick up this product if you carry it. At the end of 2008, Looney Labs mailed out a free paper version of the game board to over 8000 registered fans of the company. Hopefully that means that some of those fans will want to upgrade for an inexpensive, higher-quality game board.

The game board will present a problem to retailers, though. It's merely shrinkwrapped with a rules/ad sheet instead of coming in a box. So unfortunately, if you carry it, you will have to display the product face out, as it has no spine view to speak of.

Unless you tell gamers who aren't Treehouse aficionados that World War 5 is playable without Treehouse sets, there is no way they'd guess it given that the product's face specifically tells them that it requires three sets. Moreover, that bit of advertising will effectively convince them that the MSRP is de facto $42.00 ($6.00 for World War 5 plus $36.00 for three Treehouse sets). At that price, a player may want to consider buying into the newest version of Risk (at an MSRP of $24.99) with its revised rules and faster play time or some other area control game.

Treat this as what it is: a nice, inexpensive expansion product for fans of Treehouse and Icehouse.


Lee's ratings:
Overall: B (compared to other games at $10.00 and less)
Game Play: B+
Rules: B-
Components: B+ (not overly attractive, but a good value board for the price)
Appearance: B (mundane, but good for the price)
Retailer Salability: B- (Looney Labs has lots of fans that fanatically buy Looney Labs stuff.  I think other people will give this a miss.)


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