In the last few weeks I’ve gone over some of the techniques for making battlefield terrain. The focus has been on buildings and structures and this week we’re going to finish that theme off by bringing it all together. I promised some multistory buildings too. Read on to see more of the good stuff and how I achieved the beginnings of some great results!
What am I doing?
I decided to make everything so that it would fit on convenient 15 x 15 cm tiles. This was so that I could orientate the same tiles to create different looking terrain, whether I’m playing Age of Sigmar, AoS Skirmish, Frostgrave or even some Dungeons & Dragons.
Similar tiles can be used to create urban scenery in Warhammer 40,000, which I’ll cover at some point in the future.
I also upgraded my hot-wire cutter. It was a little more expensive, in the £50-60 region, but the arm doesn’t flex, the wire doesn’t bend and it heats up consistently making its ability to cut through foam much better! Alarmingly, the wire does glow bright orange, which was a little disconcerting at first!
So how did I do, what did I do, and how did I do it? Read on…
A trial run…
I decided to test my formula for creating tabletop scenery with an unsuspecting volunteer. I quickly ran down the basic steps of creating the terrain piece, introduced the volunteer to a hot glue gun and Styrofoam, hefted a tonne of miniature bricks onto the table and allowed that person to run away with their imagination. This is the outcome so far (note, it still needs painting).
As you can see, it really doesn’t take much to get stuck in and have a go. Once again, there wasn’t a huge amount of planning involved in the creation of this quaint little tower – imagination provided the blueprints and away they went!
The Tile Set Blueprints
OK, so creating as many 15 x 15 cm tiles as required. To make my life easier, I got hold of some 1 cm thick black Styrofoam. It was an eBay purchase and cost me about £16 but may be cheaper in other parts of the world. Why did I buy these? It’s quite difficult to thin down thick Styrofoam on account of the wobbly nature of the hot-wire cutter.
So, not everything needs be to broken or derelict, no, there needs to be more so I’m going to build some complete structures which fit on the 15 cm tiles; watchtowers, tall walls, dead-ends, bell towers, warehouses, pig pens, shambolic defensive positions – you name it!
Because each tile is essentially 6 x 6 inches, I can fit four in a single square foot. Multiply this by four and you’ve got yourself an interchangeable, customisable and modular tabletop terrain system. I’ll go to town on some bigger open plazas with ruined columns etc in the future (to make it easier and give any missile troops a chance).
Footpaths & Plazas
From a design point of view, I’d like to build some footpaths, essentially narrow death traps that must be risked to get to different places on the map. Here are some images of the test pieces I worked on. It can take time to get it right, so give yourself an open mind when you’re trying out ideas – you won’t put pressure on yourself and get worked up by perceived ‘failures’ at the end of your crafting session.
The dirt footpaths are 5 x 15 cm. By applying a lot of pressure with some scrunched up tin foil to the centre of the Styrofoam piece, and lighter touches to the outer quarters I was able to create the impression that the path had been used for many years. I cut some 0.5 x 0.5 x 15 slithers of foam and cut them up, weathering and aging them with the foil to look like curb pieces.
In the future when I attempt larger roads, I will use the ‘crazy pathing’ idea and simply trim the pieces down to compensate for the curb. I’ll also impress the foam in places to make it look like carts had been through, wearing down the road over the years.
The roads should be at least 10 cm wide and up to 30 cm long (the extent of my purchased Styrofoam sheets) – they will look good running through the centre of the board, or alongside the boards on bigger battle arenas. Details are important here, so I need to think about how I’m going to decorate the pieces to make them believable.
It sounds easy, but it’s actually very hard to make simple open spaces and retain the feeling of interest and wonder. Because there’s likely no focal point to grab the eye, it needs to have a few extra details to keep the area ‘alive’ and quirky.
I’ve decided on a single gallows with some stakes rammed into the ground to keep people away from ‘justice’ being served…
I added some ‘crazy pathing’ for a bit more variety, weathering the whole lot with the tin foil method. To make the pathing stones I cut foam strips 2 x 2 cm then went over the corners, freehand cutting in irregular ways. I then cut the stones from the end of the strips at 0.5 cm, creating odd and mismatched but flat stones. In hindsight, I should have cut these narrow than 0.5 cm, maybe half that again to 0.25 cm.
Texture is also important, so I’ll likely be using some of the rolling pins from Green Stuff World. An example of my trial run with these can be found in the images below…
Ramping It Up!
Finally, I decided to have a go at the multistory building idea.
I wanted to make this bigger, but I also wanted to be able to use different parts of it at different times. To achieve this, I started with 4 tiles to make a jumbo tile and began building a wall which would interconnect. I added a ruined wall around the edges of the jumbo tile, leaving plenty of gaps and debris for cover and interesting features.
I then started to make a second story of brickwork, which I could lock or lay in place and built this up a few times. Finally, I made a third story set of brickwork, but this time to accommodate half a roof.
The roof in these pieces was made from foam board, which is light and tough. I cut out rows of packing card (the sort of thin card your Amazon books are delivered in). Each row was 2 cm high with a cut 1 cm deep every 1 cm along the row. I then just cut and hacked out pieces to create the impression of roof slates. This was time consuming, but quite rewarding. You can see some of the details in the image below.
Finally, here’s a series of images showing you how to connect together.
OK, so its not complete yet (I mean, I did just complete an entire week of a UK LARP event!) So I’ll post some images next week.
That’s it for now, and the end of this miniseries for terrain and scenery. If you’ve learnt anything, or if you have some advice and tips of your own, please leave a message in the comments below.
There will be more on tabletop terrain in the future, but for now, I really want to get these pieces finished and have them lined up for some gaming!
Most of us have seen or heard of Forge World. If you have, you’ve likely stared in disbelief at the prices of some of the miniatures they supply – even compared to Games Workshop – a notorious money snatcher – the prices are pretty high.
But are we getting upset by the price for no reason?
I’ve been gaming for years but I’ve never actually looked into Forge World before. I’ve heard many things, but as a scientist and forensic student, I would not be doing myself any favours without investigating the facts myself.
So, here goes.
My current Project…
I’ve been looking for a nice centerpiece miniature model for this new collection, which had to fit the theme of the faction and the type of army I was hoping to create. Since most of the troops I’ve selected are essentially ghosts and spirits animating some (very cool) looking suits of armour, some random space elf dude wasn’t going to live up to the aesthetic. So I looked around – and stumbled upon a new miniature I haven’t seen before… the Wraithseer. But, oh no, you can’t buy this miniature from Games Workshop, no. You have to order it from Forge World. Hmm… there’s a risk there, I’m sure.
So I’ve looked into Forge World and I placed an order. I started to put this centerpiece commander together. These are my experiences and conclusions about the quality and worthiness of models bought from Forge World.
You’re gonna get some background on Forge World and I’ll throw in some images of how I went about the process of opening the box and putting it all together. Then I’m going to tell you if I think Forge World are worth it.
But First, some Background
Who the hell are Forge world? Forge World are a supplier of specialists model miniatures and conversion kits as well as specialist games. They generally use a type of resin for their products which is different from normal plastic. You’ll find they make all sorts of wondrous miniatures.
And to be perfectly clear, they are Games Workshop through and through. Same company. Same HQ. Same offices and same website design.
Games Workshop are a UK miniature war-gaming manufacturer. They are best known for their tabletop war-games such as; Warhammer Age of Sigmar (Fantasy Battle), Warhammer 40,000 and The Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game.
There’s a tonne of controversy with Games workshop and its various branch-off businesses, mainly; the pricing of their products, the way in which their new products are generally more powerful than the current stuff and the way in which they imply everything for Games Workshop has to be gold plated to be used. But despite all this, they generally do make some really good miniatures, to a good standard of quality. But if you ask the internet, they hate their customer base. I’m sitting on the fence of absolutes here – I enjoy the stuff they create, but I kind of agree that they are generally over priced.
My First Order from Forge World
Since May I’ve been an adult and started collecting miniatures from Games Workshop to play one of their main game lines, Warhammer 40K. Since childhood I enjoyed the setting and themes of GW’s universe, but I never really understood the concepts of some of the factions (armies) that are available for play. So, since I’ve had a little more free time in the evenings I started to collect miniatures for a faction known as the Aeldari (formerly, the Eldar). Think space-elves are you’re pretty much there. These guys captured my imagination from an early age and it’s taken me over two decades to start collecting them.
Here’s what I found with my first experience with Forge World:
You essentially get a normal product with extra components to create the specialist unit. Since the Wraithseer is a Wraith Lord, you get all the parts for the Wraith Lord, with some extra bits to make the model into the Wraithseer. GW’s Wraithlord = £28, FW’s Wraithseer = £41. I’m spending £13 on some extra bits. Is that too pricey? Well, we’ll look at the quality later and draw some conclusions.
The extra components are a different quality resin, lighter grey and more pliable. In the past, this resin was labelled as ‘Fine cast’ which suggested that the detailing on each model was of superior quality. It turns out, that wasn’t the case, so they ditched that marketing and decided to refer to the new range of products as simply, resin.
Edit (17/2/19, 17:30 GMT) – The above stricken text was later found to be incorrect. There is supposedly no link between Fine Cast and Forge World. However, this does not mean that GW dropped Finecast completely, as I’m sure there was overlap at some point between the manufacture. I’m open for more comments on this, so feel free to educate me!
Was anything bent out of shape or wildly irregular that it will not work? No, apart from a slightly wavy long narrow spear shaft, this model seems fine.
What did I have to do that was different to preparing a regular plastic miniature?
There’s a lot more flash (excessive build up of plastic / resin which you don’t normally get from the regular plastic kits) that needs cleaning and cutting away. If, like me, you’re haven’t done this sort of thing for years, you’ll really need to take your time and go slow. Look at, and think about, what you’re going to cut and how you’re going to cut it – these kits are expensive and you don’t want to mess it up! They’re also much softer, so any cutting risks cutting too deep! Resin kits need super glue to bond efficiently too, and they bond fast!
The Resin components: How does it look and feel, is the detail any better?
Hmm… yes I think it is. Some of that detail may be lost in the excess resin flash though. It certainly seems crisper in some places, but on areas of the blades, such as this cool looking spear, I had to re-carve the back of the blade so it looked less like a portion of cheese left to rot in Nurgle’s undercarriage. And check out some of those random bubble holes still!
It glues and sticks fast. Really handy when you’re relying on your heartbeat to not force your fingers to break the delicate bonds using a more brittle and fragile plastic.
It is more pliable. It feels smooth and clean, but there is a bubbling effect in areas which will require more modelling to fill in the gaps. More time required, I guess!
How hard was the model kit to assemble?
Actually, not too hard at all compared to the regular wraith lord (of which, I’ve made three since May). Some of the components are very small and fiddly but if you plan the assembly properly, you shouldn’t have any problems at all!
Am I happy with the product?
Yeah, I think I am, but let’s discuss some final thoughts. I did realise later on however that the bases provided for the Wraithlords are scenic, they have nice detail touches like cracked earth and debris. There is no such base for the more expensive Wraithseer. What’s that all about? Well, it’s either money, or laziness on the part of GW’s package planning.
Final Thoughts: Is Forge world worth it?
I think this all depends on the buyer:
If like me, you’re a regular war-gamer with limited funds, then I suspect Forge world products are not for you – simply put, you don’t need them to enjoy the tabletop war games produced by Games workshop.
If your sole attraction to miniatures is to assemble, convert and paint models, then actually yeah, I think it’s for you – I suspect you’ll buy one-off miniatures, paint them to a really high standard and marvel at them in a highly polished glass case. Or sell them on Ebay for a little bit of extra money.
Forge World is not for kids. They’re out-priced for a start – unless you have wealthy middle class parents, but also because they’re not recommended for anyone under the age of 15. Why? Well they’re fiddly, require you to use sharp points and blades… and apparently the resin is toxic as a dust. Perhaps most teenagers probably won’t know how to assemble the over priced miniature too – there’s no instructions provided!
Edit (14/2/19, 21:00 GMT) – Many of you have praised the customer services of Forge World. Apparently they are more than happy to offer replacement parts should your model not be usable, or even if any of its components are not usable. So much so, no one I’ve spoken can fault them for it. Seems they actually care!
And finally – you can’t buy the rules for these models or download them separately like you can for some products on the GW website. No, you need to buy a separate book for about £15.
HOWEVER – I have recently discovered a very cool app called BattleScribe.
BattleScribe is a free army builder app for Warhammer 40,000. It contains everything, which means you don’t need to have any of the books for any of the Warhammer 40K factions and this app even lets you download your selected army as an easy-print PDF with ALL the rules associated with the models and the choices you made for the army.
Yes, it is FREE.
So there you go – it is unlikely I’ll be buying anything else from Forge World in the near future (unless I come into a large amount of prize money for something). But if you’re a collector of interesting miniatures or if you like a challenge, then its good for you.
I’d like to hear your views and opinions on Forge World and their product line, so feel free to add a comment or message us. You can join our slowly building mailing list here.
We’ve been quiet on the social media and website front. We’re not lazy. We’ve been busy!
Four weeks ago I enlisted the help of an experienced RPG gamer and writer named Mr James, to bring some much needed energy and creativity. In that time we’ve packed a tonne of lore and story into the Godless Realm setting, making it meaty and plausible in equal measure.
We’ve decided to make the Godless Realm system neutral, meaning it is chock full of lore content, with plenty of hooks and ideas to create your own adventures in whatever RPG system you desire. We still aim to release adventures and story arcs to fit into the Godless Realm, and we have planned several evolutions to the Godless Realm setting in the future as the world populates and widens.
The extra help from Mr James has given me time to rewrite the Pulp Core rules in two important ways; firstly it is streamlined and the probabilities now work properly. For a success, a dice roll now requires a single score of a 6. Secondly, we realised that the Core Pulp system has flaws and lost its direction. Based on the feedback we received, I’ve really hit the system hard and cut out irrelevant details and mechanics to tighten everything up. The development process, based on your feedback, has really helped us get this right. I am now much happier with the system and we’ve developed some interesting mechanics.
Pulp Fantasy, as it is currently called, comes in three documents which we are releasing to our reliable readers and testers soon. These will be a Player Guide, a Games Master Guide and a tome of Creatures & Inhabitants. We felt this would help keep the attention and excitement for players new to the gaming world, and keep some of the secrets for the GM.
The magic system has had a complete overhaul and now works in a fashion more inline with a ritualistic and narrative style. It is based on ritual preparations but also allows for desperate unprepared spell casting. We hope this makes it flexible and adaptive with countless possibilities for players and GM’s to create their own spells. We’re even encouraging the players to write down their spells as they think of and use them, essentially creating a tome of personal spells which will help them improve with character advancement. Best not lose that spell book, eh?
Monsters have been a bit of a bugbear but we’ve settled on some nice ideas to break the mold of typical gaming habits. The biggest change we’ve implemented is the size and actions of larger creatures.
Larger monsters, though rare, will not act at a single point in the combat process each turn. Instead they will be able to act as several individuals, making special attacks based on the number of limbs and special abilities they posses. Now, a player will have to think twice about charging forward to get stuck in, because that Dragon hasn’t blown all its actions targeting the warriors in the party just yet, so getting too close is still dangerous. Players will have to think about their actions and weigh the chances of getting too close too soon.
On a little side project, we’ve been seeking artwork to help bring the world and documents to life and poke some imagination back into our minds. This has been difficult. We are not in a situation yet where we can pay artists to bring our world to life, so instead we’ve been relying on stock images and editing what we can get our hands on.
We’re working hard to make sure that the images we use are properly credited – we’re the Creator Consortium, we want people to be recognised for their hard work.
One problem we have encountered is the over sexualisation of female adventuring style stock photos. While this may prove titillating to some, it isn’t very inclusive. Since we’re looking for more realistic fantasy stock images, we may have to dig deeper to find something less bosom-heaving for something like more gritty realism. Watch this space!
We’re focusing on a process which will allow us to take any stock images and create some cohesion to make it less jarring to look at. Hopefully some nice black and white water colour effects will help the mystery blossom too. There’s a couple of examples dotted throughout this article, and we’re accepting criticism if you can show us a few tricks!
But we realise that people may want to print our documents at some point, so we’re going to be supplying some print easy options too. No one likes to spend a fortune on inks!
There’ll be a blog post this week to show how we’ve been editing our chosen stock images and I’ll go into detail about how to credit and reference people correctly for their hard work! It’s been a fun learning curve.
Thanks for reading, I’ll be back with another update soon.
A new game of Dungeons and Dragons is always a nerve-wracking event as a Dungeon Master. There is so much to do, especially if you want to write your own adventure. Then you have to consider your players, you never really know what they are going to do, or if the content you’ve written will be “enough”.
Well last night I embarked upon a new campaign, written in about a week, using a digital tabletop which I’d never used before (I also haven’t ran many campaigns online), with an entire party of players I didn’t know. I don’t think it’s possible to present a DM with more of a psychological or physical challenge.
And frankly it was one of the best sessions I’d ever had.
This article is an attempt to get more people into DnD online. As a DM, you invest so much time and effort that it can be hard to step out of your comfort zone, but this session reminded me why that’s important.
We used Roll20: the free virtual tabletop which provides an absolute ton of functionality and really brings you as close as you can possibly come to being around a table. The dice roller even lets you roll big 3D dice!
As the DM, I found that every little need I had was met: I could set up encounter tokens, NPCs, new maps, handouts and even track initiative on the tabletop. This allowed me to involve the players in every part of my preparation. They could see the gears in motion so the session never really stalled or lost pace when I was setting up the next encounter.
For tracking characters we used DnD Beyond. An amazing official website by Wizards Of The Coast, which basically gives you every tool and rule to set up a campaign and actually play it. The site requires an entire article of its own, but suffice it to say that as a DMs and character’s toolbox, this site has it all.
Then lastly we come to my players. I was so nervous about these guys, I’d never met any of them before, we just set up the game on a discord server I frequent before christmas then last night, there we were, confronted by a whole slew of new experiences.
As a DM, you always hope that your players are going to “get” your game, and certainly I was worried that my game style wasn’t necessarily going to be compatible with how they wanted to play. My fears turned out to be completely unfounded, as they really got their teeth into my session in a way that made the effort totally worth it!
This proves to me, that playing DnD online, with strangers is not such a daunting task as it used to be. The free tools are so good these days that you hardly feel divorced from the table. It certainly opened my eyes and I hope you give it a chance too! Especially if you can’t give up the time and effort it takes to get together with people on a particular day. As a 29 year old who works odd hours, that’s become of great concern to me in recent years, so last night’s session was almost a weight off my mind: As long as you have a computer, you can play DnD.
Prior to the Festive period we got our hands on a box of Games Workshop’s Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress. So far we’ve been loving the game. Some of us have had reservations about Games Workshop in the past, their ability to piss their hardcore fans off – which seems to be normal for any company in the 21st Century, but more so because of the blatant greed. I digress, I actually enjoy the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K universe.
Over the festive period we’ve managed to get in three solid gaming sessions; the first to get to know the game and try to figure out the rules; another to start a proper campaign and see how far we could get; and the most recent session to take on the first of several strongholds in the game. Allow me to explain…
In Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress you play characters from a band of adventurers in the 41st Millenium, investigating an ancient and monolithic structure drifting in space. Access points to this fortress allow you to gain entry into different parts of the fortress, where you seek clues to find the much sought after Hidden Vault.
In game terms you need to find clue cards from your expeditions into the Blackstone Fortress. At first glance we thought this could take a good number of games, and now after a few more sessions we have a better understanding…
In session 2 we ploughed our way through a regular expedition, taking some heavy fire but actually finding a total of 5 clues, 1 more than we actually needed. This allowed us to gather the information and put it together into locating one of several strongholds which held a higher echelon of clues, to eventually permit us deeper into the fortress (we guess). So in actual fact, we don’t need to play hundreds of games as we at first thought. No, you can get all the clues you need in a single nights session of gaming.
So in session 3 we blitzed the run-up to this stronghold, the Descent, where the players must traverse a two layered dungeon map (sorry, Combat map) and then get to a focus point and access it several times to end the game. Whilst this was happening, the monsters and bad guys were spawning 50% of the time, because reinforcements in Strongholds happens on a 1-10 of a 20 sided dice.
But we cheated..!
Ok, so we had 6 players this time round (usually its 4 characters tops), so it was much easier. But in our defence, we still nearly lost several characters in the process which would have crippled our chances of completing the game as a whole and never opening that secret envelope for the Hidden Vault.
So, to the naysayers on reddit who told me that the price of the game (even discounted to ~£70) was not worth it because, on average, people would maybe play the game 4-5 times a year: your loss. Even if you hate Games Workshop for being the money making powerhouse that it is, they’ve actually hit upon a good game, that has more depth and story than any of the current or previous games they’ve made.
You see, the game relies on players not always being present every gaming session, so that the characters they play, which are persistent throughout the gaming sessions, get played by other members of your gaming group. If that character dies, there’s no chance of them coming back, they lose all of their equipment, focus and abilities not only of themselves, but of the adventuring group. That adds up to quite a loss.
Why is this a good thing?
Because it adds a sense of realism and makes the game harder challenging.
We’ve felt challenged by this game each session, more so because there is no genius mastermind controlling the bad guys. Cooperatively, we were still getting our buns handed to us by an insubstantial entity that is the games master.
A bit like a omnipresent entity in the form of a floating space fortress…
Our advice for the average gamers with families (thus limiting your game time) – play Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress with less Exploration Cards. Normally you create the deck of Exploration cards by taking 4 from the challenges and 4 from the Combat decks. This, in our opinion, can take more hours than are fair in an evening.
Three cards from each can take you 3 hours, you just get less chance of finding clue cards, but then you just play an extra session later. It’s pretty straight forward!
Blackstone Fortress is the latest adventure board game to come from Games Workshop set in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, Warhammer 40K to most nerds. It is labelled as Warhammer Quest. For those you in your thirties this will take you back to the glory days of heroic ineptitude – the golden age of adventure. For everyone else, it’s the latest in the Warhammer Quest Series. Alongside Blackstone Fortress in the Warhammer Quest series are Silver Tower (currently discontinued) and Shadows of Hammerhal both of which are set in GW’s fantasy setting, Age of Sigmar. All of these games follow similar game styles and mechanics, so if you’ve played one you should be able to pick up the others with relative ease.
Blackstone Fortress promises exploration and adventure in the grim darkness of the 41st Millenium, a vast void of horror and terror.
With character choices ranging from outlawed Artificial Intelligence robot, rogue trader and Imperial Navigator to fanatic, Ratling snipers (who are twins) and alien hunters, there should be something for anyone who has an interest in grim and gritty science fiction.
A few of you older players out there who have not ventured in table top adventure games in some time may be thinking ‘is this just Hero Quest in the modern era of gaming?’ I think it’s a fair and realistic question. So is it just Hero Quest in space? Well yes, at least in concept.
The whole point of Blackstone Fortress is to find your way into the Hidden Vault, deep inside the drifting hulk of the mysterious Blackstone Fortress. To do this, players need to discover clues during their expeditions. These clues will lead to special scenarios called Strongholds, which will eventually lead to the hidden vault. Even when a stronghold attack can be mounted, the players still need to get to them, with a 4 card expedition, purely of combat – more of this later. Getting to the hidden vault will take a lot of gaming hours, but I am certain that it will be a challenge and a worthy one at that!
In the game fluff, the Blackstone Fortress learns and adapts after each incursion of adventurers. Legacy cards add to the danger in this aspect, increasing the threat level for some monsters, such as the Spindle Drone. They up the ante during the expeditions. Once in play they stay and generally add flair and layers of danger to the expeditions. Once there are no more legacy cards in left in play, you’ve run out of time, and lose the game, no matter where you’re up to!
Let’s take a look at the goods first though…
The important bit to most gamers and war-gamers: are the miniatures any good? Yes. The miniatures are amazing and better still, they clip together – no glue required. You just need something to cut them from the plastic sprue. This took me a couple of hours whilst watching a series on Netflix so anyone with more experience may get it done in half that time.
The miniatures are constructed in such a way that they appear seamless, which took a bit of jigsaw magic to see how they fitted together – but as previously mentioned, no glue is required, so you can take your time. The same great GW quality of miniature manufacture is found throughout. I think my Kill Team just got bigger too – the models are in hot demand, check out ebay if you don’t believe me.
The game tiles are a really thick and good quality card. They pop out easily, which reduces tearing of the precious printed sides. They’re double sided but unlike Imperial Assault by Fantasy Flight, there’s not a million small pieces to get lost or confused with. The game counters are all pretty unique, with the majority of them being wound tokens (which are double sided for critical wounds). The rest are for game effects and inspiration points, which I’ll mention later on.
There are three rule-books.
Each one is written chronologically for each section of the game as you progress. They are written to the usual standard for GW, guiding you through in simple steps. The terminology may be a little different if you haven’t tried GW games before, so take your time. If you are familiar with any of the GW games, such as Warhammer 40K or Age of Sigmar, you’ll find the turn sequence and rounds familiar.
Once you have the turn sequence in your mind, it’s pretty straight forward from there. There is a bit of juggling with the game on the first play through, as you consult different books to figure out when you can heal or how to carry out certain actions. This is a minor point, however it does highlight the importance of reading through the rules before the gaming session!
Blackstone Fortress is split into two game sections by exploration cards; challenges and combats, which are drawn randomly from the Exploration card deck. The exploration deck is large, 36 cards, so it should always be a different combination. You randomly pick 4 challenge cards and 4 combat cards which make up the Exploration deck for the Expedition. When combined, these are like a campaign story arc. These are shuffled and placed on the Precipice board, which is like the character staging area.
There are 18 cards each for both challenges and combats (36 cards in total). By drawing 4 of each randomly, you’re looking at 1 in 18 chance of drawing the same cards each time you create the exploration deck. The chances of drawing the same 8 cards are something like a 1 in 105,000 chance, by my shoddy calculations. That’s a lot of gaming before statistically you get the same play-through.
The challenges are narrative encounters which do not make use of models and board pieces. They are usually a way of grabbing gear and tech (treasure, clues to future explorations), usually by causing damage to assailants. They include short narrative pieces such as ‘Get them all!’ where the players are required to inflict as much damage as they can to a fleeing group of hostiles – anyone who can deal 4 or more wound gets to draw a card from the discovery deck. Simples.
On a balancing note, these may be to help characters build up with less risk than combats or offer special cards for future explorations.
Combats involve board pieces and miniatures and are the biggest portion of the game. Each combat exploration card shows how the map tiles are set up so anyone can setup the board while others are chasing through the rules books or determine where the bad guys and monsters are placed. They also mark where certain mission specific specials may be placed.
Keeping track of the game during combat is achieved with the Initiative tracker. The players get the option to attempt to help each other by swapping places with allies or attempting to swap their place with the enemy to get the drop on them. This all happens in the Initiative phase, followed by the Gambit phase. The Gambit phase can be costly as an action dice has to be spent, followed by an ability roll to determine success. These mechanics help to really bring the tension to the game, forcing the players to plan ahead. The players feel the pressure when the cards are redrawn each round, as their plans will likely need to change.
Hostiles and bad guys are drawn from the Encounter cards deck and placed in the starting positions according to the combat exploration card, which are given a specific place on the board and the tracker. The number of hostiles on a card are determined by where on the tracker they are, for example, you may get 2 drones on position 1, or 4 on position 2. Hostiles gain reinforcements each turn and are spawned on their turn in the Initiative track with a roll of a 20 sided dice, called the Blackstone Dice (which is black and looks like a stone if you’re not familiar with 20 sided dice). This adds threat, because even if all the bad guys are dead, they can keep re-spawning as happened with our test games!
Hostiles in the game are given over to an AI system, where they react depending on a dice roll. It is not completely random, as each action they are given depends on a set few variables which allows them to act organically. Each set of rules for the monsters appears on very handy cards, giving you everything you need to know in a single place. So much easier than consulting multiple books!
Hostiles are terrifying in their own specific ways; if they’re not ripping you to ribbons with frenzied claw attacks they’re punching through your armour and ignoring your save rolls with shocking power! Case in point, UR-025 (or Mr Robot man to you and I) is a heavy duty fighter, with a better chance of rolling saves against wounds, with an added re-roll too – then he gets hit by a Negavolt Cultist and suddenly he has no armour saves. Surprises await those unprepared!
Characters in the Game
At the start of each combat round Characters are allocated action dice, regular six sided dice. The dice are stored on their character card with whatever score they rolled. These dice are used / spent on actions which require a set number on one or more of those dice. Moving require a dice with a score of 1 or more, other actions may require 4 or more on a dice etc. There are standard actions and character specific actions, which are found on the character cards, usually weapon actions.
Explore with caution. When you are wounded the dice you roll at the start of each round are blocked, covered by wound markers, meaning the potential number of actions you can make are severely impaired! Fear not however, each round an extra pool of destiny dice are rolled which any one can use – but the power of the warp means that any duplicate scores on these dice are removed, so you better roll fresh to get the most out of destiny! A lot of dice multiples came up during our game, causing tension and nail biting in equal measure.
A second type of dice rolls are attribute dice which are used to evade damage, carry out special tasks and try to recover wounds. There are wounds and then there are critical wounds – wounds can be recovered during the combat part of the game, whereas critical wounds require a trip back to your ship to try and heal. As with Warhammer Quest back in the golden age, however, there’s always a chance something may not heal fully…
The dice rolls are easy to interpret: you either fail, succeed or critically succeed. Each of the ability dice (6, 8 and 12 sided dice) are colour coded to match the information on the character sheets. These dice rolls are not always friendly, you can feel like the end of times can result from a failed roll. On the plus side, there’s very few calculations as in some GW games – just check to see how many symbols you rolled and away you go. GW have followed Fantasy Flight in this – so don’t lose those dice! Otherwise you could end up paying for more specialist dice in the future…
Toward the end of the combat sections, characters need to escape by summoning the escape lift, usually under duress. There’s no way out otherwise! When the remaining characters get to the escape lift, they have to decide to carry on fighting the growing horde, or to head back to their ships to lick their wounds. Heading back restarts the exploration so if you really need to finish you’re gonna find it hard to do!
When a character kills a number of monsters on their turn, they can roll the Blackstone Dice to see if they gain Inspiration points, where they are required to roll under the wounds they caused on a 20-sided dice. Inspiration points are used to re-roll some dice throughout the game, usually the activation dice at the start of the round, or give flip your character card over to increase their effectiveness. A bit like leveling up!
At the end of each round of the game, in combat or otherwise, a leadership token passes around the table, allowing each player to call the shots in equal measure (with a discussion, of course).
First Impressions & Thoughts
In a single evening gaming session, including learning how to play the game, we managed to get through 1 challenge and 2 combats. Assuming we don’t have to relearn the game, we could probably manage drawing 4 of the Exploration cards, which equates to half an Expedition. At this rate, in theory, we could spend hundreds of hours playing this game. So unlike Hero Quest, there is a seemingly limitless combination of events from challenges, combats and encounter (monster) cards. There’s probably scope for fan made or self made encounters too, let’s watch the internet pensively for these.
The game has a very nostalgic feel to it, similar to previous board games from GW decades ago. The hostile creatures are just as deadly as you’d expect, in their own ways. Players without prior knowledge will make mistakes which make the game intense and ups the challenge rating greatly. In this way, very much like Hero Quest!
The open form and random generation of each Expedition is a similar mechanic used by other games and it works just as well in Blackstone Fortress. It will take some serious play testing to get through all of the different combinations. In our initial play-through we had four players and one person acting as the games master. We felt this worked best for our first game so we could focus on the different parts of the game – just like in Hero Quest! You can play this game solo or without a games master, as the monsters follow an AI system, meaning all you need to do is move the pieces around and roll the dice.
What we did wrong…
We went wrong in some parts, missing the exploration round which would have made the combat a little easier if we had rolled on the event table. Although, the table isn’t all good – sometimes it can go horribly wrong… So it’s not all bad!
Why did we miss this section? It’s right at the end of the combat book, and there’s a lot in some sections. As we frenziedly played through the rounds we completely missed it! No one said nerds were thorough. So be sure to have all books to hand and refer to them often.
It is a thorough and playable game. It has the same high quality of most Games Workshop products, but you will pay through the nose for it if you don’t shop around. I was lucky, I found an ebay seller with about 20% off the RRP, I then applied a free 10% discount from ebay to get it even cheaper.
If bought from a third party retailer the price becomes a little more affordable for a game of this type. The miniatures are worth a heavy bit of gold. The card tiles are sturdy. Even the box is sturdy (I mean, it has to be, it’s a heavy one). You get all the dice you need.
Edit: This may look like a silly thing to say, but £95 is a hefty price tag for any board game. Shop around, GW will get their money, so it helps smaller businesses if you go through them!
Since this is a complete game (£95.00), there’s no expansions as far as we know, and given the replay ability of expeditions is very high, it is feasible to play over a hundred games. Maybe even twice that. So you’re looking at about £0.5 – £1 per game. Let’s be conservative and say each full expedition takes 4 hours. You’re looking at £0.25 to £0.50 per hour of play. That’s really good money for a game that should be different each time. You’re snacks will cost you more to eat!
The Feels – a dark, desperate setting with mechanics that fit those feelings. Thrilling, because when you do score a critical roll it feels like the cosmos is backing you up – any other time it’s trying to eat you!
No silly measuring distances, just count the hexes. Can you draw a straight line from the centre of a hex to the hex your target is standing in? Then you have line of sight, roll your dice. It’s that easy.
Edit: Downsides include what some players have described as ‘chaff’ play. This means that a few players think the amount of combats that are required to complete the game can get a bit samey. GW, do we need to go through quite so much to complete the game? On a personal level, I think it’s important to understand that the fighting during the combat sections are not about clearing the board – it is about surviving the battle and gathering the clues before time runs out. Perhaps GW could do with giving us more information on the bigger picture of the game earlier on.
So is it like Hero Quest? Yeah I think it is, it certainly has that heroic quality to it, and I’m sure it will one day be one of those nostalgic games we all reminisce about.
If you’ve got any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear them! you can find us on our discord server.
You can get a few more articles by us on other Games Workshop products here or here.
*Edited 24/12/18 to reflect some feedback from our gaming group and affiliates.
In the late Seventies, when the boardgame landscape was dominated by Risk, Cluedo and Monopoly, two enterprising British Chess nerds set out on a quest to invent the game that they had always wanted to play.
This game became Kensington. Named for the park in london where they met and where the game took shape. In their own words (from the extensive story on the back of the vinyl-record style packaging) “On a bench in Kensington Gardens in the spring of 1979 and over a period of four months in london, the game took shape.” You can tell that these guys are top-class nerds, as they then go on to say: “Satisfied at last that they had invented the greatest board game in a thousand years, Kensington, dreamed up for you by a peculiar pair of originals.”
Well, it’s certainly orginal. It’s also the most mensa-nerd, smell-your-own-farts, middle-class looking/sounding game and packaging I’ve ever seen. What they are trying to get across for this endeavour is very intellectually presumptuous for an insanely colourful, almost Tron-looking game. They basically state that this is an innovation that will rival Chess.
While the game is very easy to play and quite easy to learn, I don’t think it has enough staying power to even land on the same shelves as most of the abstract games out there. Speaking of the rules, you basically place discs on the vertices of the board and turn by turn you move your discs in an attempt to out-maneuver your opponent and surround a hexagon of your colour with your discs.
There is also a capture mechanic, if you surround a triangle or square with your colours, you can reposition one of your opponents pieces anywhere else on the board, but that’s really it. A game can however take a surprisingly long time as play passes back and forth without one side really gaining the upper hand.
It is however a decent distraction that doesn’t take forever to set up and takes a minuscule amount of space on the shelf, and if you really do love abstract games (like me) then it’s an interesting and fun addition to your collection. Cheap too, you can pick it up for a few dollars on ebay.
The biggest positive though is the old guy in the middle spread image with the corncob pipe.