I’ve been eagerly awaiting this game’s arrival, so needless to say I was slightly excited when I found out that it was being released last week. Fantasy Flight Games put the rulebooks up on their site as pdf files the day before the game showed up, so I’d had a chance to read through them even before getting my hands on the game. Over the latter half of last week I was able to get quite a few games done, including a complete playthrough of the campaign, so I thought that I’d take the opportunity to do a review.
I’m pleased to report that it’s up to FFG’s usual standards; in my opinion, very high. For anyone out there that either owns or has played Blood Bowl: Team Manager, it’s pretty much exactly like that; decent quality cards, nice dice and tokens of a sufficient thickness.
The box itself is adequate, but under the assumption that there will be expansions (and it’s FFG so you can be fairly sure there will be) an alternate storage solution will be needed to accommodate them (and also to prevent the disorganised mess that the cards will be if just left in the box). To me, this is a minor issue, but I know some people out there love their box inserts. For a good example of how you can slightly modify your box to make storage a bit better (for the moment), see this thread on Board Game Geek and have a look at RayLancer’s picture. I’ve done that to my copy as well and it works great.
Each player controls one character from a selection of four; Bright Wizard, Ironbreaker, Warrior Priest or Waywatcher. Each character has four abilities, one each of Attack, Rest, Aid and Explore. These actions at their core do the same thing (Attack action does damage to enemies, Explore action adds progress to the location, etc), but the characters have additional modifications to those actions often unique to that character.
Each turn you are going to use one or more of your actions (depends on the number of characters as to how many actions each one gets) and you exhaust that action when you use it, and you don’t ready that action until a card effect tells you to do so. Every character has one action that readies all of their other actions. In addition, characters can use the Aid action on each other to give them success tokens and also allow them to ready an action card.
Provided with the game is a complete campaign comprised of five quests, as well as a Delve quest that is a repeatable standalone quest. Each quest will have a specific list of enemies that make up the enemy deck (as well as telling you to add a few random ones appropriate to the level of the quest). Along with the nemesis card (the unique enemy that is the ‘boss’ of the dungeon), this helps convey the theme.
The quests will have a peril track at the top (basically a turn tracker), and when the token reaches certain parts of the peril track, scripted events occur. This really helps add a sense of urgency to the game, forcing you to strike a balance between keeping on top of enemies and exploring the dungeon before time runs out. Anyone familiar with any MMOs (World of Warcraft is a great example) might make a comparison between this mechanic and the enrage timer on a boss fight; it doesn’t end when the boss is enraged, but it becomes incredibly hard for everyone to stay alive.
The basic mechanics of the game are fairly straightforward. We had a few hiccups with the rules, but nothing major. One of our group made a good point regarding the rules of the game; if you are very procedural you will not have any trouble at all. The rules are very well written, with little ambiguity, the trouble you might be having probably stems from preconceived notions of game-term references. For example, at first we got the enemy ability Prey incorrect. Some of our group are former Warhammer tabletop gamers, so when the ability said that it now goes after the character with the most wounds, we thought the one with the highest maximum health. If we had instead read the ability literally, we would have got it right and the enemy would have moved to the character with the most wound markers (i.e. has taken the most damage so far).
Players really need to work together to plan how best to proceed each turn. At the start of each turn we spent a couple of minutes talking about how we wanted to try and get things done that turn. We would each say what we wanted to do that turn, then work out if that was best for the group. Sometimes we had to make compromises, but this is a co-operative game so we win or lose together (no room for loot-whores or glory-hogs here!).
I haven’t mentioned the dice so far and that’s because although the results of a dice roll are random, they didn’t feel too ‘swingy’. Obviously, if someone rolls nothing but the critical success result then they can complete whatever they set out to do, but this is very unlikely to happen. What I mean about the dice not being too swingy is that even with ‘bad’ results you can usually still make some progress towards what you were trying to do. Your dice rolls can also be mitigated/augmented with success tokens, something you mainly get as a result of receiving an Aid action. Basically what I’m trying to say is that while the dice are a part of the game, it’s the action selection that matters more.
How well does this capture the theme of the original Warhammer Quest and also the Warhammer world (pre-Age of Sigmar)? Pretty well, in my opinion.
The game mechanics simulate the often cramped conditions of the tabletop version; ‘engaging’ enemies (or in MMO terms, taunting them) is easily done because all of your characters are tightly bunched. The constant unknown threats are well represented by the various different decks you use to generate them during the game.
The characters themselves play exactly how you think they should. The Ironbreaker is as tough as nails, able to engage and attack many enemies at once. Being a dwarf, he is also one of the best characters to explore the myriad dangers of the underground realms, and this is represented by his ability to ignore the negative random events that sometimes come up.
Another example is the Waywatcher, who attacks enemies at range and is generally the controller of the skirmish. Their Attack action may be their weakest action, but it readies itself immediately afterwards, effectively representing their ability to rapidly fire lots of arrows. Their other abilities are about misleading their enemies (with the aid of spites) and other control effects.
One of the best things about this game is the preset abilities of the enemies. During the enemy phase you activate each enemy and resolve their actions from left to right. These actions accurately represent how they would act in a hostile environment (it’s basically their A.I.). For example, a Night Goblin Archer will attempt to hide in the shadows and pepper his enemies with arrows. On the other hand, a mighty Black Orc will seek out the strongest enemy, challenging them to a fight. In my opinion the designers of the game have managed to accurately capture the essence of how the various enemies would act with just a few keywords.
Finally, the artwork is fantastic. I think that it is in keeping with the theme of existing Warhammer art, and best of all, John Blanche was allowed nowhere near any of it! (I think only Games Workshop gamers will get that reference. To those that don’t, let’s just say his artwork is quite polarising.)
Despite having only just finished the campaign, I’m eager to try it out again, but this time with a different character. That being said, because of the customisation options and which actions you choose to primarily perform, it is possible to ‘build’ characters in different ways. For our campaign I was using the Ironbreaker. I focused on engaging enemies off of the Bright Wizard and Waywatcher, as well as exploring. However, I could have gone for pure killing potential. In our group we made the decision that the Warrior Priest would be the primary killer, receiving the majority of the Aid actions and the success tokens (and action readying) that they bring.
With multiple directions for each character, I can see it being a while before we are bored of the first campaign. With regards to the Delve quest, I haven’t had a go at it yet. The concept seems fun and it will be good for groups that just want to play a one-off game. However, I much prefer campaigns and character progression, so personally it doesn’t seem that appealing to me.
The game lends itself well to expansions. More quests, more characters, enemies, etc. More of everything! I would be very surprised if the game’s designers were not already working on some stuff, even if FFG haven’t signed off on any expansions yet.
A complete playthrough of the campaign took us between five and six hours. I’m going to be starting at least one more campaign this week, maybe two. Overall I can see myself getting nearly thirty hours of gameplay out of this before I start thinking about alternate builds for characters or home-brewing my own campaign/enemies. For the £30 price tag, that seems fair to me.
Comparisons have to be made to Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (where this game perhaps gets some inspiration for its name) and the Lord of the Rings LCG. Unfortunately, I have not played the LotR LCG so cannot comment about similarities to the gameplay, but I can tell you that this is currently a standalone game and not a living card game, so the expansions (if/when they come) are not going to be fired out on as regular schedule (which, as a fan of the LCG business model, is not something I would be opposed to).
As for Pathfinder, Warhammer Quest does not have a deckbuilding aspect, but I think it simulates a group of adventurers much better. In Pathfinder the first thing you do is split up. Yep. Try that in something like Dungeons & Dragons and you’d be dead quicker than Admiral Ackbar can shout “It’s a trap!”. In Warhammer Quest you stick together and work as a team. I enjoyed Pathfinder ACG to a certain degree, but splitting up the group always felt like a major disconnect between the rules and the theme.
Comparisons to the original Warhammer Quest, a tabletop miniatures game, are perhaps not fair. If you enjoy moving models around a board then you might want to look at other games such as Descent, or the recently-released Dungeon Saga game. Personally I’ve been moving away from board games that have a lot of miniatures in them because although the models are often fantastic (Imperial Assault and Blood Rage spring to mind), I don’t always like spending extra money on what are essentially glorified tokens. I know that may be a double-standard with regards to actually caring about the presentation and artwork on cards, but there we go.
Overall I would rate Warhammer Quest: the Adventure Card Game very highly. For those of you that found the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game slightly disappointing, I recommend that you give this a try. In my opinion this is the superior game. Time will tell how FFG handle expansions, but with this great little rules system I’m sure the fans will be home-brewing all kinds of stuff already. For the price point I think that this game is a no-brainer, but then I’m biased towards FFG products and anything Warhammer-related that isn’t done by Games Workshop, so take that with a pinch of salt! Hope you enjoyed the review, any questions please ask!