The War of the Roses is what is being played out here, with either player representing the houses of York and Lancaster. The Cousin’s War comes in a tiny box, but has a decent amount of game in it.
The small board goes face up with a cube from each house in the three regions. Players choose which family they will be and are dealt six cards plus two cubes of their colour (red for Lancaster; white for York). Over five rounds play proceeds as follows: swap a card, play a battle card, play remaining cards until each player has just one card remaining.
Swapping a card allows you to manage your hand a little – passing your opponent a card that may potentially help you. There are only two types of cards – Battles and Events – and which card you play and when is really key. Having swapped a card, players both play a Battle card: whichever battle took place earlier in history is then the battle for this round (the other battle card is discarded). Players then take turns playing and activating cards, in order to fight the battle and/or move their cubes around on the map: Events allow you to either take the action described on the card, or take the command points which are shown in the top right. Command points can be used to manipulate your forces – either gaining more cubes into your reserve, or attempting to add/remove/move cubes on the map itself. There’s an element of chance here though, as success or failure is decided by rolling some tiny dice!
A battle is considered won when only one player has cubes on the card – they keep the battle card and add any cubes to the region the battle was contested in on the board. If all cards have been played, then there is a dice-rolling face-off to force removal of cubes from the battle card. This part of the game is markedly different from the rather dry card-play; involving bluff, double-bluff and the option of luck-pushing.
When a player has the most cubes in a given region, it’s considered under their control. At the end of the fifth round, if a player controls two of the three regions, they have won. If there is a tie (i.e. one or all regions have matching forces in them) then the player who won the most battles wins. The game can also be won before the fifth round – if any round finishes with one player controlling all three regions, they win instantly.
There’s much to admire in how much The Cousin’s War packs into that little box, and it’s great that mixed into the tactical cardplay is the very different flavour of dice-rolling and bluff. For my tastes though, despite the flavour text and historical theme, it all feels rather abstract. No criticism of the game though, which is well-constructed; just a disconnect with my own preferences. Some will love it for the same reasons I didn’t.
The whole game is an ongoing battle.
Once you're familiar with what the cards do, there's very little down-time here.
Moderate. Playing cards randomly is very unlikely to seal a win, so it's really a question of hand management and timing when to play which card.
The cards and dice both ensure variety, but the Cousin's War is for a specific player who enjoys a dry, tactical battle.