Have you seen the Tuxedo Mask meme? The one where he says to Sailor Moon: “My work here is done.” Sailor Moon replies, “But you didn’t do anything.” And then he waves his cloak, saying, “Didn’t I?”
That’s the perfect embodiment of this game.
You do nothing, and yet at the same time, you do everything.
Name: Dawn of Peacemakers
Publisher: Snowdale Design
Designer: Sami Laakso
Artists: Chad Hoverter, Sami Laakso
You are a peacemaker summoned to quell the brewing battle between the great Macaw and Ocelot empires. Over twelve differing scenarios you and your friends are thrown into conflict after conflict with the objective to stop it all.
To do this, you’ll need to lower both sides’ motivation without demoralizing them entirely. This can be done by killing off units of each army. Or prolonging the conflict, causing both armies to tire. Alternatively, the scenario may come with its own objectives and path to victory.
Given that description, you might imagine yourself a rouge operative secretly taking out battlefield combatants. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead you play it like an advisor, spending your turns whispering into the ears of warriors. Think Jafar – but like a good guy Jafar.
Hey, maybe don’t stab that guy. You’ll say.
Then the warriors think long and hard about not stabbing. But do anyway. Two turns later than they would have. And now someone else has been stabbed!
The tides of the battle have turned.
This kind of butterfly effect makes for a great puzzle to solve. But it feels largely inactive. You’ll have many turns where your best move is to pass and watch the two sides duke it out. Or more likely, posture like a pair of cats readying to strike.
When you do get involved, the actions you take aren’t immediately realised either. They’re also more defensive than you’d find in other games. For example, you can’t actively kill off a unit.
This lulls you into the idea that you aren’t affecting the battle, and your actions are meaningless. Again, that’s not true. However, it does take a couple of games to get the hang of this change of dynamics. And further games to understand the best way to get the armies to do your bidding.
Once you get a hang of this though, the game transforms. You’ll find yourself bouncing between armies, and slyly influencing both sides. Attempting to deescalate the situation. It’s a theme and gameplay I’ve never seen before, and it works incredibly well.
However, it can get frustrating.
Trying to simultaneously lower both armies’ motivation without it ever running out. Purely because of this mechanic, every game you’ll have of Dawn of Peacemakers will finish in a cliff hanger. It doesn’t consider how well you’ve been playing, or how efficient your moves are. You’ll always get this point where one wrong move ends the game in a loss. While this mechanic works to create tension, I find it cheapens the overall experience.
The best way to lower this motivation is by manipulating the order deck. And to do this, or anything else, you need cards. These are in short supply at the best of times. Putting strains on what you can and can’t do. This strain only grows larger when you add more players. Often leaving you with one or two cards in hand, greatly diminishing your effectiveness on the game state. Because of this I much preferred playing the game solo, or with only one other.
But before you throw out the idea of maxing your player count. There’s a mechanic introduced in the 3rd or 4th scenario which drastically changes the way you seek victory. So much so, it changes each player’s approach to the game. You’ll find some people making subtle moves that don’t make sense. So you’ll have to trust their heart is in the right place. They’re your friends after all.
Another reason I preferred the lower player count is being able to dive through the lore. It’s engaging. Each new unit introduced has its own backstory. And the scenario descriptions set up the scene vividly. It’s just great writing. Except for the self-indulgent naming conventions. Sure, it’s a trope of fantasy writing, but every time I can’t discern a name of a location from a cat scattering across the keyboard my immersion is broken.
Speaking of the scenarios, each one introduces a new battlefield, new mechanics, and sometimes new components. While I’m just over halfway in two campaigns. Everything unlocked has been a surprise. And there have been some fantastic mechanical additions to the game.
Not all though. As some of these additions cannibalise the elegance of the game. Adding a greater burden of rules than benefits they provide.
With these new mechanics, there’s a focus on building the world, rather than your characters. No asymmetric powers, no levelling up, no personalised story pieces – or very few. Meaning that by the time you’ve reached Matrix Revolutions, everything has changed but you’re still Neo following the white rabbit. Stunting any form of emotional attachment you have with your character.
Otherwise the game shares the same issues as other campaign games. It’ll never be as good as the first time you play it. As the surprise of the story unfolding, or the unwrapping of different packages can’t be replicated. Dawn of Peacemakers deals with this limited replayability by backfilling later introduced mechanics. Making it worthwhile to have a second run-through.
If we go back to our movie analogy. Dawn of Peacemakers is less a summer blockbuster, and more an Oscar worthy performance. The way Sami Laakso adds to and subverts genre conventions is one of the things that I admired about his design of Dale of Merchants. And he brings more of that same style here. Creating an experience like none other I’ve played, and one worthy of praise.
However, because of the inactive feel it leaves me in a weird position, where I both really enjoy Dawn of Peacemakers, and really feel lukewarm about it. In the end though, I’m looking forward to finishing both of my campaigns and following the story to its conclusion.
It’s finally arrived, and I hope it was worth the wait. Huge thanks for Sami Laakso for giving me a discount, allowing me to play this game. If my opinion changes in the last 5 scenarios, I’ll be sure to update this review.
According to Sami’s last update, he’s prepping for manufacturing of Dale of Merchants Collection. Which looks amazing, and I can’t wait for it to arrive on my doorstep.
Speaking of doorsteps though, this week will see the Hellboy game arrive on mine. I’m very nervous about this one, because IP games never tend to blow anyone’s minds. But it’s Hellboy… I just gotta!