This War of Mine is a unique gaming experience, and one I highly recommend to just about anyone. It’s also a hard game to review, because in terms of pure gameplay, while TWoM is solid, that’s not really the driving factor behind the recommendation.
TWoM has you controlling 1-4 people in a war-torn city, with each day broken up into two phases. The day phase confines your people to their house, where you have them do things like cook/eat food, build improvements, rest, or talk/trade with visitors. The night phase allows you to send one person out as a scavenger to a number of locations around the city for supplies, with each location having its own set of challenges, loot, and danger. The game ends when either everyone dies, or you survive enough days for the war to end.
Characters can die in a number of different ways. They can be killed by other humans while out scavenging, from being wounded in combat and not treated properly (bandages and rest), from hunger if you run out of food, from untreated disease due to cold weather, or from depression. One core aspect of the game is balancing against each of those factors. You need supplies, so someone has to go out and scavenge, even if the site is dangerous or requires you to steal supplies. But a bad run can depress the house, or get the one good scavenger you have injured and unable to help for a few days. The downward spiral can occur in a number of ways, just like a recovery can be performed in multiple ways (trader comes at just the right time and you have enough extra stuff to trade for what you really need, or you pull off a great scavenging run, or your homegrown food is ready at a key moment, etc).
Another balancing act is how you upgrade your home/base. Core comforts like beds or music keep everyone content, but producing alcohol means more high-value items to trade. Investing in food production pays off long-term, but can you take the hit early on for that gain? Weapons are important both for scavenging combat and for home defense, but they won’t help you much if your people are sick or hungry. Some scavenging sites require you bring certain tools, but producing those tools takes resources, plus valuable bag space.
What really makes TWoM great however isn’t the gameplay alone. That’s solid, especially how it keeps the survival aspect intact (until you really master/win the game, you won’t hit that phase after survival that is all too common in most ‘survival’ games), but the games atmosphere and ability to pull you into the setting is what is so expertly done. It’s almost impossible to play the game and not feel depressed often, and I say that as the highest of compliments. Whenever you think things are going well, something tragic often happens. You almost never truly feel safe or comfortable, and when things to really wrong (someone dies), its a huge punch to the gut. I think the game truly captures what it would be like to be a civilian in a war-torn situation.
The biggest key to fully enjoying TWoM however is to not give up. Don’t reroll and start fresh the first time something bad happens. Much like the people in the game, press on and try to make the best of things. Mastery of the game (knowing the locations, knowing the build order of everything, knowing how best to take advantage of trading and certain events) is when the game ends, honestly, but there is plenty to learn and deal with for at least 2-3 long games if you stick with them.
Highly, highly recommended.