Skip to content

Written Review – Puppet Wars : Unstitched

  • by

As I delve deeper into my love for tabletop gaming, I am finding that miniatures attract me to games all on their own. When the game said miniatures are featured in is fun, I call that a bonus. My attention was directed to the news of Wyrd Miniatures’ Puppet Wars : Unstitched, and with the brief description at its announcement, I was determined to own it. Who doesn’t like the idea of animating puppets and ripping other puppets apart? While I have not played Wyrd Miniatures’ Malifaux or the original Puppet Wars, I felt that the visual appeal of the game was enough to make me want it. Puppet Wars : Unstitched hit the market – and my gaming table – this year, and has earned itself a place in my top best games, and very close to one of my best miniature board games. Let’s get to it!

Out of the Box

A very sturdy box decorated with some of the puppets you will encounter opens to unfold the beautiful components of PW:U.  A rulebook and the battlefield board are the first to come out. A sheet of “Exhausted” tokens lie inside, and then underneath, the stars of the game. 4 “sheets” of plastic miniatures wait to be assembled, before you rip them apart in games, that is. Also included are tokens marking Workbenches and Impassable Terrain, 2 Puppet Wars Fate Decks, and a pile of Puppet Stat Cards.

Since the miniatures in PW:U are not assembled or painted, this can be a daunting task for players that may not be used to, or fans of, assembling miniatures. While I have had a year’s worth of experience in assembling miniatures, the set took me many hours over the course of 3-4 days to cut, glue, and base the 44 minis. The results, however, were worth the time and effort put into this step. Once the miniatures were assembled, we went to war!

Playing The Game

First, we will cover setup. Players must first choose a game type.

Shoebox : 8 puppets per player
Chest : 12 puppets per player
Wardrobe : 16 puppets per player
Puppapocolypse : 32 puppets per player (core set does not contain enough puppets for a 2 player Puppapocolypse)

Once a game type is chosen, a map must be agreed upon. The rulebook provides many map setups for new players, in addition to a plethora of map options on the Puppet Wars website. Set up the board according to the chosen map, and then assemble your armies. Each player chooses a Master Puppet (Seamus, Pokey Viktoria, or Lady Justice) and a Workbench color. Puppets are then selected to create your Toy Box, a collection of puppets you may choose from to animate. There are two types of puppets that can be recruited : Pawns and Sidekicks. You may have no more than 1 of each Sidekick, and they may only make up 1/4 of your army total (example : in a Shoebox game, a player may have 2 Sidekicks). Players may have no more than 3 of any other puppet type. These selections are not kept secret, and the Master Puppet is not included in the number of Puppets in your Toy Box. Players then randomly choose a starting player to claim their starting Work Bench. That space is marked Friendly with their color’s token, and the Master Puppet is placed in an adjacent space to that Work Bench.

Note : Impassable Terrain markers, are, well, impassable. These will block Line of Sight (LoS) and must be moved around. Work Benches can be overtaken, whether they belong to another player or are neutral. When taken over, a token of that player’s color is placed on that space. An important note is that if a puppet is standing on a Work Bench, Puppets may not enter play through that Work Bench, as it must be open.

Now, let’s look at the cards available to players. Each player has an identical Puppet Wars Fate Deck, which is a 54 card deck, including Jokers. Think of the black Joker as a critical fumble, as it is worth nothing and no suit when played. A red Joker acts as a 14, and double the suit chosen by a player, making it very valuable. The four suits you will see in the game are Rams, Tomes, Crows, and Masks.

At various points in the game, players will draw their “Control Hand”. A Control Hand Size is determined by the following formula : 4 + 1 card per Work Bench controlled by the player.  This deck of cards is used for multiple things, from determining the first player to animate puppets, to affecting your puppets’ attack and defense values throughout the game.

Next, we will look at the Puppet Stat Cards. Cards for the Pawns and Sidekicks list the Puppet type, animation cost, how much damage they can take (Stitches) movement, attack, defense, and how many attachments/upgrades they can have. Also, many puppets have abilities that can be activated, but sometimes at a cost. On the flip side, if a puppet is destroyed, their card is placed Upgrade Side up in a scrap heap. These cards also have attachment costs, but can be added to other puppets to pump them up. The three cards for the Master Puppets have similar stats to the Pawns and Sidekicks, however, once a Master is torn apart (the friendly word for “killed” in this game), it is game over.

Abilities on cards may have an Action value and/or Additional Cost to use, and will include a Range and the effect of the ability once paid for. Any effects triggered this way go away at the end of the 5th Animation round.

When a puppet is torn apart, a player may choose to attempt to attach its flipped Upgrade side to the puppet that dealt the final blow. If the upgrade is suitable for the selected puppet, you must meet the the Attachment Requirement to successfully attach. Otherwise, the card returns to its owner’s Scrap Heap.

Now that the basics have been covered…we fight!

Step 1. Drawing cards. Each player draws their Control Hand (with the formula mentioned above : 4 + 1 per friendly work bench. At the start of the game, this will mean 5 cards total)

Step 2. A series of 5 animation rounds take place, which can be tracked on the Animation section of the game board. The starting player in each animation round is determined by a card. Each player will draw one card into their hand, and then choose a card to play face down. These cards are then revealed at the same time, and the player with the lowest numerical valued card takes the first turn. Then, with the card played, a player may animate a puppet. Keep in mind that some puppets do not require a suit, only a number, but both numerical and suit costs on a card must be met to animate the puppet. Once used, the card is discarded. At this point, the chosen puppet may move its allotted movement and perform one action. This action may be taken at the beginning, middle, or end of its movement. Once a puppet has taken an action, an exhausted token is placed on that puppet’s card. You may choose to animate an exhausted puppet, but it will suffer one rip at the beginning of its turn.

When performing an action, place an exhausted token on that puppets card. Once announcing the action, check for costs. If an action (ability) has a cost, a card is flipped from the Puppet Deck face up : you may then choose to play one or more cards from your Control Hand to affect the result. For example, an Ability costs 3 and one crow.  The card flipped from the deck is a 3 of rams. However, if you have a crow card in your hand, regardless of number, you may play it to combine the crow suit with the numerical 3 to successfully pay its cost. Apply the effect if the action succeeded to its target, and move the cards played to the discard pile.

When attacking, instead of flipping one card, the number of cards flipped are equal to the attacking puppet’s Combat (Cb) number. Select one of these cards to use for the action. If an attack value was equal to or greater than its target’s Defense (Df) number, the attack goes through and the target suffers 1 rip. If a puppet you control is the target of an attack, before their cards are flipped, you may declare a Dodge. To do this, play a card from your Control Hand (face up), to make the puppet’s defense the numerical and suit value of the flipped card.

Actions include : Attacking, Scrounging (attaching upgrades from your own Scrap Heap), Mine! (claiming a work bench), and attaching upgrades from enemy puppets (this does not cause exhaustion)

Step 3. Once all 5 animation rounds are through, players resolve the turn. All effects for this previous turn are gone, exhausted tokens are removed, players discard down to their Control Hand Size, and discard any unwanted cards from their hand (nice time to get rid of lower numerical cards or that black joker!)

Step 4. If at least two players have Master Puppets in play still, a new turn begins at step 1.

If at any time, your Master Puppet is torn apart, or you have no friendly work benches, the game immediately ends! If combined with other expansions and sets and there are still at least two other players playing, you remove your cards from the game, and all work benches that were friendly to you are now neutral for the remaining players to fight over.

Final Thoughts

To me, the most difficult part of picking up Puppet Wars : Unstitched and playing was the miniature assembly. I am looking forward to painting my set, but the game is fun without painting them as well. Based on some reading I have done, it sounds that having knowledge of the original Puppet Wars is beneficial to game play, but from my experience it is not necessary. Parts of the rulebook indicate that there may be more expansions and add-ons to the game coming in the future, and I am curious as to what may come of it. I think that PW:U will please fans of miniature games and board games, as it has a wonderful blend of components from each. The optional rules and army-building suggestions in the rulebook help tremendously for new players, and will give them ideas as to what puppet combinations may work best. I think that those wanting to have fun and experiment with various puppets will still find this a great deal of fun. PW:U retails for $75.00 MSRP, and due to the quality of components within the box and the fun waiting to be had, I feel is well worth that price tag.