WAR! Needs More Skill


War essentially plays itself, as soon as the players shuffle the deck the game is predetermined.  In order to make this game more compelling and skill based we need to change the rules to allow for skill.

The main problem is that the players have no idea what card they are going to play next and every battle is decided by pure luck.

Thinking Out Loud

In order for the outcome to be determined by skill, we need to make the players make more meaningful decisions.  Instead of completely redesigning ‘War!’ and getting away from the core mechanic, I have a few ideas on how to keep that core with a some few rule changes.

I think the core of ‘War!’ is to become the victor in a battle between two people by presenting a better card.  In order to give the player some choice in picking which card he wants to play in the battle we need to give them a pool of cards they can see and choose what they want to play.  However, rather then playing one card at a time, I think that players should play between 3-5 cards per ‘battle’.  If we were to only let them play one card, the players would only be playing their highest card and there would not be much strategy involved, and the player that lucked out by getting higher cards in their part of the deck would have a huge advantage.

Gameplay Changes

By having more cards in each battle we can add special rules to give added value to lower cards to balance the gameplay a bit.  For example, players can play a variation of poker hands in each battle like sending armies out to a battlefield.  The type of army sent would be the poker hand.  For example, a group of pikemen can be represented by a 4 and a siege unit can be represented by a Jack.  If that battle were to play out the player with the Jack would win and then claim the others card in his pile.  However if the other player played three 2’s against the other players 1 Jack, the player that played the triple two’s would win because a triplet is stronger then a single high card.

Rule Changes

In order to accommodate the need for a pool of cards to play, the players must be able to create armies to send out.  The players should also get their own 52 card decks to make sure each person starts as an equal and no one has a clear advantage over the other.

Players should start with 5 cards, and then draw 3 every turn.  Players should also be allowed to discard any number of cards per turn only once to draw from their deck.  This rule would eliminate the positive feedback loop if one player continues to win in battles while the other player gets garbage cards.

One of the only rules that is the same from the original ‘War!’ is the resolution.  When one player runs out of cards he picks up and shuffles his discard pile and plays using that as his main deck, if the player completely runs out of cards he is the loser.

Rank of Poker Hands

Why This Will Work

By giving the player the freedom to play their own cards we allow them to estimate the value of each card and also let them weigh the risk or the reward for each battle.

When playtesting, I found out that people would not normally send out troops as cannon fodder for the other players stronger hands.  Instead they would discard them so that they would be able to use them later for a better hand.  People felt that this rule needed some tweaking but I personally felt that it was good the way it was.  Since the task was to make the outcome determined by player skill, drawing from the deck of cards seems a bit random and picking any card from the deck would put obvious choices in the game.  Players would obviously pick the best cards and it would be really easy.  However discarding cards  takes out winning by pure luck since every player can modify their hand each turn.

When playing the original ‘War!’ game, one of the great things about the game was how fast the gameplay was and it had a great flow to it.  This version slows down gameplay and makes the game last a lot longer for new players and people who like to create very deep strategies.

I also thought about adding the jokers in the game to act like super cards.  I debated on giving them either:

  1. If you play the joker you automatically win the battle
  2. The joker increases your combination rank by one.  If you have a flush and you use a joker, it ups it to full house.
  3. A joker is a blank card and can be used as a substitute
I thought 1 was pretty overpowered and 2 and 3 seemed to be viable options.  The third one seems fair like the white space in Scrabble.


  • Use two decks instead of one to balance the start of the game
  • Rather then playing one card at a time players can play a maximum of 5 cards
  • Battles are won using poker hands
  • Players draw 3 cards per turn and can discard and pick up cards equal to what they have discarded
While the hiding of hands and the flipping of cards is still considered random from the other players perspective, removing this element of slight randomness would make the other decisions meaningless.  Having an open hand would provide for obvious decisions.  The skill aspect of the game is knowing how to read your opponent and looking at their discard pile to see what cards they could possibly play.

Thank you for reading,

– Moose