Guns & Steel Review

GUNS & STEEL (Tasty Minstrel Games)
Take the technology trees of classic 4X video games like Civilization and turn it into a card game. That’s the easiest way to sum up Jesse Li’s Guns & Steel, but such a description doesn’t quite feel like it does the game justice. Important decisions must be made in each and every player turn. Often the true repercussions of such decisions do not manifest until much later in the game. For a $15 game packed into a box no bigger than two decks of cards, Guns & Steel offers an impressive amount of depth and replayability.
Each player begins the game with a hand of five cards. There is a technology tree of civilization cards available for purchase that begin with the Horse Age and progress through the Gunpowder Age, Oil Age, Earth Age, and finally the Space Age. Additionally, there are Wonder cards that players can automatically obtain by meeting certain criteria at the end of one of their turns. Wonders and the more advanced civilization cards are worth victory points that will determine the winner at the end of the game. All cards are double-sided. One side is a resource that can be depleted to purchase new cards, while the other side is a development that accomplishes a specific task. Starting hands include three food recourses and two steel resources. The development side of these cards execute basic tasks like replenishing a resource or attacking an opponent. Players take turns building their hands by purchasing new civilization cards until either all Space Age cards are purchased or every Wonder is built. It’s all fairly straightforward while boasting more tough decision-making potential than other much larger games.
While the title might suggest differently, Guns & Steel can be played (and even won) without focusing on military might. Strong attack cards are great at depleting opponents’ resources and even stealing their Wonders! However, a well-timed tactic played as a counter can leave an opponent desperate and playing catch-up. For such a little game, it truly features a wealth of options.
We tested Guns & Steel in both two-player and four-player sessions and found the most pleasure to be had in one-on-one duels. Again, every choice matters. In four-player games it can be a little too easy for one player to fall behind and get left in the lurch while everyone else advances. Cards are scarce (the entire game is played with 50 or fewer cards), so missing out on just a few purchases can make for a frustrating experience. Two-player games allow gamers to acquire most of the cards they want but still leave room for tactical purchasing and stymying of one’s opponent. The two-player experience also removes three attack and two tactic cards from the supply area (or tech tree), thus making it less likely for one player to achieve military dominance too easily or quickly.
Tiny games like this are a nice alternative to expensive tabletop games that take hours to setup and even longer to play. Guns & Steel isn’t going to replace a session of Civilization that lasts for months, but it doesn’t intend to. Instead, it offers players a laser-focused, small slice of that classic 4X experience in an affordable package. I’m impressed! (Tasty Minstrel Games) by Kris Poland