This is a cooperative game from France.

The French name is “les Poilus”, which roughly translates as “the hairy ones”. It became widely used as a term of endearment for the French infantry of World War I, which dragged on from 1914 to 1918. “Poilus” carries the sense of many an infantryman’s rustic, agricultural background … and bushy beards.

“Grizzled” may better describe the unfortunate soldiers after they were some months into the ghastly experience, since it means “streaked with grey”.

So what about the game? 🥱

Grizzled can be played by up to five, and their joint goal is to survive long enough to reveal a card that shows the dove of peace. Each player takes on the role of a French infantryman, such as Charles Sauliere. Apart from their good looks, the main thing that sets them apart is the lucky charm that each carries.

To do their bit in the war, the Grizzled must undertake a series of challenging missions, during which they will be assailed by various trials many of which are direct threats – hazards of the battlefield.

They also will be affected personally, being hit by hard knocks.

And all the time, the pile of cards that’s an indicator of their morale level keeps on dropping away.
Will they see peace before they catch a glimpse of their own monument?

The hazards are frequent – as they were for the men in the trenches of Northern France, of all nationalities.

There were attacks using gas, for which masks were needed, and the dreaded sound of a whistle signalled an assault across no-man’s land by the enemy.

Hard Knocks awaiting the unfortunates include such curses as Phobias, along with impacts upon their personalities, such as becoming Frenzied, or Tyrannical. The traits or circumstances of any individual impact upon the whole team, of course.

At the start of each mission, the mission leader (who changes in turn) has to appraise its chances of success, and this will depend on the threats and hard knocks that are on show at the moment. The leader deals each Grizzled the number of cards he (at that time and in that place, all were “he”) feels is sufficiently brave, but adequately cautious.

These trials cards have to be played one at a time, and in turn during the mission. Every card laid down will reveal either threats or hard knocks.

Worse, some of them have traps embedded in them, which call for an extra trials card to be played immediately. In kindly and considerate fashion, the designers suggest that “rookies” defer using these for the first few games.

There’s only one card in the fifty nine that’s a pleasure to receive. That’s one to remind us of the cease-fire that permitted everyone a few hours’ freedom from fear and fighting,
and brought fraternising instead.
🎅

The Grizzled can become a tense game, despite the fact that players are not against each other.

Whilst it’s cooperative, there’s not much opportunity for useful game-communication.

Grizzleds cannot reveal what’s in their hands, of course. At their turn, they may decide to withdraw from the mission, in which case thay can extend support to one of their colleagues, but they can’t say which one. The recipient of support can dispose of two of their accrued hard knocks, or they can retrieve their personal good luck charm if they’ve used it to fend off a threat to the mission. Each has just one charm that can be used against a threat.

Getting support from colleagues can make or break the Grizzleds’ mission, then.

But, only the Grizzled that gets most support can put it to use – if more than one has the same high level of support, nobody gets any! How hard a knock is that!

Players need to ‘read’ what’s on the table and in their hand. It’s quite likely that a little bit of lucky guess-work, too, will help them play their cards in the most efficient way. No matter whether it’s a stab in the dark or a reasoned decision, just one choice can wreak havoc for the mission ~ but the player mightn’t know it until it’s much too late to pull back.

One reviewer wrote – “other players will hold their breath as they wait to see what you do on your turn, knowing that your single decision could ruin their turn or lead to a narrow victory – as could theirs.
At the same time, because the game is so tense, when The Grizzled succeed and the final trial card is played, there is universal joy and relief at the table, and players truly feel like they’ve survived something incredible.”

A WW2 solo game from Sideroom Games is Maquis

In a nutshell …

  • has a respectful approach to those who served and died
  • takes little to set up
  • the guide makes things nice & clear
  • decisions matter but ill-fate plays a big part
  • replayable
  • can get thrilling, tense, exhilarating – with plenty of “oh dear” (or worse)
  • don’t expect a high win rate – but there will be a very high “we tried” rate
A brief overview – but one of the more bearable games videos.