Crafted by engineer Harry Mylonadis a tech geek in London, CPU Wars is a strategic take on War, the classic card game of streaky luck. Undoubtedly, CPU Wars is one of the nerdiest games of 2012 and has developed a cult following, proving that niche games can succeed in an overcrowded marketplace.
I first came across this game on Kickstarter several months ago and became a backer because of the low price point of owning the game and the intriguing features the game offered. The game was distributed in January and included one deck, four stickers and two buttons. The game consists of a pictured deck of real computer processors and eight statistics that define the power of each processor including: manufacturing year, max clock speed, max bus speed, die size and Max TDP. Each of these statistics has a relative value and while the relative worth is not immediately obvious, the more a person plays the game, the more apparent the value becomes in relation to the other computer chips, which adds to the strategy.Similar to War, CPU Wars feels very streaky and a bit powerless at times, however, unlike War CPU Wars adds minor tactical and strategic decisions that allow players to use their knowledge of various processors to their advantage. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the various processors allows players to gain a slight advantage over their opponents.
One of the soft spots of the game is a lack of dynamic strategy. The game lacks trade off or imperfect information that allows players to gain an advantage over their opponents. In fact, there is no strategy other than weighing the probability of relative statistics and knowing what cards your opponent has (counting cards).
Unlike War, CPU Wars contains no absolute trump cards . In War, aces are completely invincible unless another ace comes along, which makes the relative value easy to asses, however, absolute value is more important in CPU Wars and every card while powerful in half the statistics is vulnerable in the other half. The way the stats are set up, each of the eight statistics are given a high or low value. So while all cards compete for highest max bus speed, cards also compete for earliest introduction year, which makes the extreme cards the most valuable. Everything in the middle is terrible, right Pentium II?? This characteristic makes the game nearly impossible to win through strategy because the game creates scenarios where players have a 50-50 chance of winning with their “middle of the road” processors.
Also, the power dynamic between players felt a bit one dimensional. One player is always in control and the other player(s) is completely at their mercy until their luck runs out and are forced to relinquish control.
On the other hand, one of the strongest elements of the game is its culture. The creator of CPU Wars has done a fantastic job communicating with the game’s fans and supporters, which has become a major part of the game itself. Games with a culture last much longer than those without one (see: Magic: The Gathering, Settlers of Catan). Projects like CPU Wars prove that games that wouldn’t be picked up by a major publisher for being too niche can be successful on Kickstarter and can continue to gain support among its target audiences. CPU Wars continues to build its delightfully nerdy community on Facebook and I look forward to see what games are next for Harry Mylonadis, CPU Wars or otherwise.