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Friday, April 29, 2016

Another Review of Warhammer Quest by Fantasy Flight Games

Though it's been out for a while (See Scott's previous review!), I only recently managed to get my mitts on a copy of Warhammer Quest The Adventure Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games. As many of you reading this will remember, I am a big fan of both card games and cooperative games. My favorite card game is hands down the Lord of the Rings card game, and this game seemed to share a similar concept. Because I am so well versed in the Lord of the Rings LCG, my review of this game will be colored largely by that. Spoiler alert: This game is very very good!

The Concept
Warhammer Quest is a cooperative dungeon crawler card game. Unlike Fantasy Flight's Living Card Game. the game is meant for 2-4 players, and scales accordingly by ensuring the heroes always have 4 actions between them. Unlike a bulky board game, the entire game is done through cards which makes setup relatively simple, and the playing space relatively small. Still, the game feels like an epic dungeon crawler complete with everything you'd hope to experience: loot, leveling up, and glorious combat.

The Mechanics
Each game turn consist of 4 phases: the hero phase, the enemy phase, the location phase, and the peril phase. Before I describe those phases, let's go over the quest setup.

Quest Setup
The game offers 2 game modes: a robust campaign mode that strings 5 quests together into a linear narrative, and a "delve" which is one long, epic, mostly randomly built quest. In either mode, heroes can gain new loot, and "level up" their abilities. A quest will have a number of location cards that you must travel to and explore, and may have a villain's lair at the end of those locations. Quests will have one (or more) nemesis enemy hindering the heroes, and leading a deck of enemies that is partially chosen by the quest and partially random.

The Hero Phase
Each hero has 4 action cards: attack, aid, explore, and rest. Using 3 of your 4 actions causes the action to exhaust, while the fourth will never exhaust and performing it readies your other actions. There's an interesting balance mechanic in that each hero's "refresh" action is different, and is also generally their weakest action.

On a hero's turn, he or she chooses one action to perform, and follows the instructions on that action card. Every action card will require a die roll. For example, an explore card that instructs the player to "Explore 2" means the hero will roll 2 white dice. White dice have 3 symbols: Successes, critical successes, and shields.

For locations, each success puts one progress on the location. When attacking, each success lets you deal one damage to an enemy (usually engaged with you unless the attack is ranged). When aiding one of your compatriots, each success lets you give them a success token to allocate to an action which they can later spend to count as an automatic success. Finally, when resting, each success lets you remove one damage from yourself.

A critical success adds one success token to the success pool and lets you re-roll the die. If you keep rolling critical successes, they keep piling up!

However, while rolling these white dice, you also must roll one black die for each enemy engaged with you. The black dice have (in addition to blanks) two faces: one with a claw mark and one with a skull. For each claw mark you roll one enemy attacks you and deals it's associated damage. That damage is negated by shields you rolled.

The skull effect will trigger that quest's nemesis (and any other nemeses that might be on the board!) ability which is usually quite nasty.

The Enemy Phase
Once the heroes have finished activating, it's time for the enemies to do their thing. Starting with the first player, each hero activates one enemy prioritizing enemies engaged with them first. The heroes continue doing this clockwise until all enemies have been activated. Enemies mark their activation by exhausting, and thus enemies that were previously exhausted get no actions.

Each enemy has a little "AI" section where they perform actions left to right. The Orc Boys above have only one action "Advance". The three standard actions are "advance" (an enemy will leave the shadows and engage a player), inflict (the enemy deals their damage number to the enemy) or retreat (the enemy will disengage from the player and return to the shadows). There are other effects as well, such as "disease" making a player sickened, "prey" an enemy will engage the hero with the most wounds and other, equally nasty things.

The effects are done left to right. This rat, for example, will advance to engagement range, then inflict its damage on a hero.

The Location Phase
Like the Lord of the Rings card game, there is an active location. In this game, however, there is only ever one location. When the heroes reach the location phase, if they have placed exploration tokens equal to the exploration value of the location, the heroes may choose to move on. When heroes move on, you discard the location and draw the next location from the location deck (which has been previously setup per the quest's instructions). Mercifully, when moving on to a new location, all enemies in the shadows are discarded.

When a new location is reached, new enemies are spawned. First, a number of enemies are placed face up, engaged with players. Then, enemies are placed face down in the shadows. Dealing damage to face down enemies in the shadows will reveal them, otherwise they will not be revealed until they are activated in the next enemy phase.

Finally, many locations have an "at the end of the location phase" effect. Sometimes good, sometimes bad.

The Peril Phase
Finally, each quest has a tracker to put pressure on the heroes. The longer they delay, the more dire the consequences. During the peril phase, the peril tracker is advanced and any ill effects are applied.

That sums up the main game round. There are other cool things like "dungeon cards" that get resolved while exploring which often let you find gear or spring a trap. Gear itself is pretty awesome, especially if you can find your classes special "legendary" gear which is quite powerful.

If playing in campaign mode, your heroes get to "go to town" at the end of each quest, allowing them to improve their skills, improve their gear carrying capacity or to look for better gear.

The Good
Let me unequivocal here. The game is great. I adore the Lord of the Rings cardgame (and again, that is largely my frame of reference for this game as they share a very similar concept), but it's got some issues that are hard to ignore now. Namely, it's fairly complicated. I don't consider that a flaw, necessarily, as that complexity gives it the space to be a very cerebral, crunchy experience. However, it makes getting new players into it daunting. This game is far more elegant to the point that by their 3rd turn, most players will fully understand how it all works and start devising strategies.

The quests are fun. The fluff is all tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top Warhammer goodness. If the Warrior Priest in your group isn't shouting "By Sigmar's Hammer, I smite thee!" at least once per game session, you're not doing it right. The peril mechanics add a real sense of urgency, and as enemies pile up you must choose your actions wisely.

I really feel like they started with the Lord of the Rings LCG concept, removed the deck building portion (which IS one of my favorite parts of that game of course!), and slimmed down the other mechanics to make a much more accessible game that feels very much like the spiritual successor. Frankly, that probably means this will replace the LOTR LCG for casual cooperative gaming for me, though I don't think it will ever provide the same satisfaction as a well-built LOTR deck that conquers a difficult quest.

The Bad
The game doesn't have any glaring flaws that I've noticed in my several playthroughs. The rules are well laid out, and the standard Rules Reference Guide is easy to navigate. Much like the evolution of the Lord of the Rings LCG, I could see future expansions needing to add new mechanics to keep the concepts fresh, but out of the box this game is fantastic.

The Final Word
For the price of one deluxe LCG expansion, this game is a great value. It's simpler learning curve while still providing a deep, crunchy, cooperative experience makes this a product every gaming group should own. Another home run by Fantasy Flight Games!

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