Rivet Wars: Eastern Front
Time: ~30 minutes
Times Played: 25+
How familiar with the Rivet Wars are you exactly?
The thing people don’t realize about the Rivet Wars is…that it was never really about the rivets at all!
Rivet Wars: Eastern Front is a miniature wargame that takes place on a modular map with differing scenarios to provide unique goals and challenges for two players. Rivet Wars was a successfully funded Kickstarter but my review will look at the retail version of the game.
NOTE: There will be no other photos included in this review as the hard drive that was storing them became corrupted and the game has since been traded away. My apologies.
Cool Mini or Not is known for their component quality and Rivet Wars fits the standard the company has set. Each unit has a matchless feel to them and the special units have some character to their sculpts. Whereas both armies have infantry, they are designed to look completely unique to the army that they’re representing. Not only that, but the individual models differ within the same unit. The attention to detail is top-notch and honestly some of the best miniature work I’ve seen in any board game.
As the game deals with a heavy subject (war and death), the characters and models themselves are cartoonish and thumb/potato shaped so the supposed violence seems more G.I. Joe than Saving Private Ryan. Miniature games can look intimidating, with the hulking displays and grey plastic that might need assembling and/or painting. Rivet Wars does away with that fear and trepidation by leaning into its design and custom world.
The world is fleshed out and there’s an excellent article that dives into the world building done by Christian Donlan from Eurogamer here. I appreciate the new world as not everyone wants to play as the Nazi-regime or as a conscript in Stalin’s Red army. While history should be taught and preserved, sometimes I just want to play a game and not be reminded of the atrocities of regimes past (or regimes current, for that matter).
Some units can be upgraded by the rivet system, which has players adding a piece to their character miniature that gives that model an added bonus (in case you were wondering why they were called the Rivet Wars). This will give players stronger models that are particular adept at a certain phase of the game. They will be powerful, but they won’t be over powerful and the opposing player will have a unit of their own to rival the upgraded ones.
The gameplay is incredibly easy to pick up and follow. Players need to be aware of how much units cost, where they can be deployed, how they move, and how they attack. That’s basically it. The game includes stat sheets for both sides of the army that detail exactly what each unit does. This is a great resource as the two sides are asymmetrical and each unit, while fitting the same category (say infantry) will have differences (like their range).
As far as tabletop miniature games go, this is by far the most streamlined that I’ve ever encountered (but to be fair, most of my wargame miniature gaming is done with Warhammer 40k). Make no mistake though, Rivet Wars sits comfortably in the board game family as opposed to the tabletop miniature one.
If you’re used to playing similar but deeper games, the rulebook might cause confusion as you try to over-analyze what you’re reading (or better yet, what you’re not reading). I remember my first time through I spent a few minutes looking for information on ‘cover saves’ because clearly these units wouldn’t be destroyed just by being hit, right? Wrong. They are. Your troops are meat for the grinder and if targeted and hit, there’s no way for them to protect themselves.
Besides the ease of play, the rulebook has exceptionally large font. I personally love this as it’s easy to find what you’re looking for and the amount of photos and graphics allows players to visualize what they’re reading more easily. It adds some pages to the rulebook but I’d personally rather have too much information than not enough.
The simplicity of learning and ease of play is also the greatest limitation of Rivet Wars. The game doesn’t feel ‘complete’, for lack of a better term, after players manage to get through the initial scenario offerings. As each army has only four base units (excluding unique characters), gameplay revolves around the deployment and dice rolls more than the strategy of the player or depth of resources. The maps, while beautiful in their design, are not large enough for players to position flanking maneuvers or other position based strengths.
There are a multitude of expansions that introduce more units but I understand the low base game amount. Introducing more units would provide more complexity and a steeper learning curve, as well as longer play time, that might hinder players looking to get into what is a light miniature game. If Rivet Wars is something that you enjoy though, there is an absolute ton of components and added gameplay to hunt down.
The scenarios also don’t build upon one another. They’re meant to be played in one-off style situation instead of back-to-back. There’s nothing wrong with this and it does keep the gameplay short and succinct but it’s worth noting in case someone thought there would be an epic clash where wins and losses truly matter. For a game with such a well-developed world and back story, it’s disheartening that all your doing to impact the story is one-off skirmishes.
Luckily, each game is short enough that these issues don’t become bothersome until the fifth or so time playing the same scenario. Rivet Wars has a right and wrong way to tackle its tactics since not all units can damage other units. The first two games or so, players will learn what doesn’t work before they start to lean into what does. Once that happens for each scenario, the game becomes more about the action cards and the dice rolls than about what units you send to the front lines (minus the grid placement, which I’ll touch on in a moment).
The two sides, the Allies and the Blight, seem well-balanced and most advantages were only ever present when the scenarios called for them. On one hand, this was nice as players could play as either army and understand the intricacies very quickly. On the other, neither army really differentiates itself from the other in any meaningful way.
After extended plays, I personally believe that the Allies have a slightly easier go of the game but that’s only due to their infantry. The Allied infantry is better at destroying infantry units than the Blights infantry are. This is important because only infantry can hold objectives. This imbalance regarding infantry forces the Blight player to mix and match their units at a quicker pace than the Allies and almost puts them on the offensive, as Allied players should typically build infantry and then react to what was built by the Blight player.
Regardless of whether or not this is a true imbalance, this difference sets the tone for the game and give players a launching off point for each play, recruitment-wise.
The unique characters (known as Heroes) are interesting and do provide a difference for the armies but I never felt like they were a goal of my army composition. By the time they would stroll out onto the battlefield, the game typically was leaning one way over the other and the Heroes just solidified the victory. They never turned the tide of the battle when we played. That being said, they are fun to use as their abilities are unique to themselves and some miniatures are just a blast to see out on the table (such as the Sturmpanzer).
Like most miniature wargames, Rivet Wars ultimately comes down to the dice rolls. The action cards can provide some value and help mitigate the dice rolls but to say they’re going to power a army would be a mistake. Players that don’t like or get easily frustrated by the randomness of dice rolls may want to avoid this as you may move units into ‘superior’ positions but lose them or waste their effectiveness as the dice don’t cooperate.
The benefit I mentioned earlier regarding short game lengths make the dice rolls all that much more important (and painful when they don’t go your way). For a game that has a very WW1 trench warfare style motif, losing one unit has much more impact than imaginable. You are churning units in and out of the game at a high rate (and is typically cheap to do so) but you still have to get those units into position on the board to be of use and that’s the crux of each round.
What does add strategy to the game is the grid attack system. I believe this is the saving grace of the game and where the depth of strategy will come from regarding repeat plays. In typical tabletop wargames, if something is in range and you can see it, you can attack it. That’s not the case in Rivet Wars. Each grid is made up of four squares and to (normally) attack a unit in square two, the unit in square one must be defeated first. What this means is that a player might have an advantage against a certain unit but may not be able to successfully attack them due to the way the units are organized in the grid.
Another aspect worth talking about are the secret objective cards available to both players. Personally, I love secret objectives in all games. I think they’re great as they add a hidden element to the decision making and it helps keep the game fresh as you never know what objective your opponent(s) has or what you will be receiving. However, I’m not a fan of the objectives used in Rivet Wars: Eastern Front. The game is already incredible short as players vie to reach ten points that the imbalance of the objective cards can easily throw a game in a players favor.
Some cards require players to destroy a particular unit (where you may have to just wait and hope your opponent builds that unit). There is no mechanic to filter or discard these cards so being saddled with a poor one just means you’re stuck with it.
Whereas Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne are gateway games to more complex hobby board games, Rivet Wars: Eastern Front is a gateway to meatier miniature games. I think Rivet Wars, with it’s simple gameplay, soft view of warfare, and impeccable miniatures would be an excellent game for younger players. The box says 14+ but there is no reason that most middle school aged children couldn’t handle, and more importantly enjoy, this game. It can also be used as a jumping off point for players curious about the miniature side of board gaming. While the base game has some flaws, there is an absolute staggering amount of content that can be added to the base game that might improve on the issues.
I personally had a lot of fun playing through Rivet Wars the first time we played each scenario. The game is quick and fast and if you’re in the right mind state, it’s fun to just chuck dice and move potato-shaped war mongers. Even when we started a second time through, the game kept its charm as the world building, model sculpts, and grid system are so well designed. I may sound overly negative with this review but that’s with nearly thirty plays (or each scenario three times) completed (and honestly, probably more). I definitely have gotten my monies worth from the box and would recommend this game to someone looking for an aesthetically pleasing two-player skirmish game that plays in under forty minutes.