Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Dawn of Peacemakers from Snowdale Design.
What is this game about?
Dawn of Peacemakers, designed by Sami Laakso, is one of the most interesting games I have encountered in a long time. While most board games focus on fighting and winning battles, Dawn of Peacemakers is about deescalating armed conflict between opposing sides and bringing the hostilities to a halt. This game is a "green legacy" campaign with twelve different scenarios, and in most cases the main win condition is for both sides to mutually withdraw from the fight. In other words, your goal is to prevent both sides from winning, and to lead them to a frustrated stalemate.
The opposing Macaw and Ocelot armies (with some later surprises!) are not, however, going to sit and listen to you. They have their own marching orders and will be controlled by AI decks that you cannot always influence. You can, however, play your own cards to the best possible effect. Each card in the game can be used for multiple purposes, so you can either take the action on the card or spend it for movement, fortification of locations on the map, or—most importantly—on influence. As you spend influence, you are able to peek at and reorder cards in enemy decks, which allows you to manipulate upcoming AI turns as effectively as possible.
As the game progresses, new rules, terrain, goals, enemy units, and outcomes reveal themselves. This game definitely has some fun surprises in store!
How does it play solo?
Dawn of Peacemakers is a cooperative game that can also be played solo, i.e. with a single character and hand of cards. It works well either one- or two-handed. I personally prefer one-handed play so I can draw a bunch of cards and have one big hand of them to work with!
Thematically, Dawn of Peacemakers is one of the most interesting games I have seen in a while. You are attempting to make peace, but even peacemaking is dirty work. In order to deescalate the conflict in each scenario, you need to decrease the motivation of each army—meaning that units have to die (well, technically, be "defeated," but this is a war we're talking about). They just have to die in ways that are most advantageous to you. Many of your own actions are pretty sneaky. You can weaken units you are staying with by poisoning their food, you are manipulating the orders of commanding officers, and you can literally move units into the line of fire so that they will die in the service of your ultimate goal. There is a lot of moral weight to this game, if you really think about it. Are your machinations right, even if they are in service of the greater good? Also, haven't your "friends" on both sides of the conflict realized that things seem to go haywire whenever you and your adventurer pals are around?
This game is also mechanically fascinating. You have limited actions and resources, and you're doing your best to control the aggression of opposing armies who have their own ideas. It's a fascinating and frustrating experience.
That said, get ready for a little bit of luckiness—sometimes you will not be able to get the right cards to come up in your favor, and you will lose a scenario. (The game accounts for this in various ways, so you can keep going, although with some penalties.) Alternatively, you can have occasional pacing issues when you need a specific card to appear in the AI deck, but have to wait a frustratingly long time for it to appear. The game also gets a bit finicky in later stages of the campaign, when there are almost too many new rules and mechanisms in play.
None of those criticisms, however, make Dawn of Peacemakers less worthy of your time. If you want to play a game that is truly thought-provoking, as well as mechanically unlike games you have played before, then Dawn of Peacemakers might be for you. It is clear that a lot of love went into this game, as well, and the art and flavor text are engrossing.
Do I recommend it?
Yes. Dawn of Peacemakers doesn't offer the smoothest or snappiest gameplay of all time, but it's an engaging and unique experience. You shouldn't miss it if you are interested in board games that push the thematic envelope.
Overall Rating: 4 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.