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Damnation: The Gothic Game, Revamp of the 90’s Classic Horror Game (for all the family?)

You walk alone down a dark corridor, footsteps muffled on an ancient red carpet. Candles burn in the gloom, their light muted by the cold and damp. You pause, as a familiar figure glides across an intersection – it was someone far worse than Dracula…

It was your friend.

The Gothic Game, a game of murderous mayhem for friends, is getting a revamp (pun intended) from the original game edition from 1992. Soon we will see Damnation: The Gothic Game!

What was the Gothic Game?

Originally dreamt up in 1966 by Nigel Andrews & Robert Wynne-Simmons, the Gothic game didn’t get an official release as a full board game until the early 90’s, when the game was published with full artwork board by Angela White. The game-play is described as a battle royale of player elimination.

The game took place in Dracula’s castle and involved fast paced action, with the last player standing as the winner. Much like a game of Cluedo, players travelled around the board using a maze of corridors and rooms, making discoveries and collecting items with which to kill others or defend themselves. Players could end up in the moat, stuck in the dungeon or in a bottomless pit of doom.

Each player started the game with 100 points of stamina, which were lost when another player attacked them, or they draw a card from a room they entered and set off traps or suffered supernatural events. If they were lucky, they’d find a weapon or armour of some sort.

To top it all off, Dracula could use an unfortunate player to roam the corridors of his castle draining others of blood and eliminating them from the game!

The Gothic Game had a great feel to it, from an age where the objective was to have fun with family and friends. It was easy to learn and fast to play, with scope to outwit your opponents or throw yourself into danger to not give them the satisfaction of killing you!

Even when Dracula assumed a player, that player had limited turns to kill and get back to his vault. The more Dracula killed the more time he got to roam and hunt, making a terrifying prospect a legitimate game tactic!

But all of this passed quite quickly, and the Gothic Game was lost to the annals of time. And that was it for decades – a limited edition board game that was popular, fast and fun.

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Until now…

We have been fortunate enough to play the old version of the game. But what about the upcoming revision by Black Letter Games (BLG)? BLG has assumed the rights of the game and plans on kick starting in late October (suitably, near Halloween).

I was even luckier, because Summoned Games invited me over to trial the revised version of the game, and I’ve got the chance to write up the review! There’s a chance to get your hands on the old version of the game, which I’ll give you the details for later on.

First though, let’s take a look at the new, darker and grittier Gothic Game, Damnation: The Gothic Game!

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What’s New?

First off, it’s a hell of a lot darker than it once was. Reading the top paragraph of the rule book makes it pretty clear:

“Damnation: The Gothic Game takes place on a plane of Hell where Count Dracula holds dominion. Here, a group of villains from the Victorian era find themselves damned for all eternity.”

It gets worse, as the introduction unfolds: each dusk the villains are both resurrected and cursed – cursed to have no memory of the day before, stuck in endless horror of stalking and stalked by one another, presumably for the terror and violence they caused in their lives.  Already this game sets the tone quite clearly: you’re not good people and you’re not getting out. It makes perfect sense for a board game where you pay the same game over and over again, and yet retains its charm!

The Artwork

You know we mentioned Dracula? Well the art for Damnation: The Gothic Game has been brought to life visually by two Romanian artists, that of Hue Teo and Anca Albu. We’re impressed with how much (un)life they’ve brought to the graphics and art of the game. We could go on and on about it, but you can see for yourself what they’ve managed, just read on!

Characters

Character cards did not exist in the original version of the game. It is a sign of game development over the years, as Gothic turns from board game for all the family to a game that is heaped in atmosphere. These nameless anti-heroes fit particular character archetypes from the Victorian era, adding layers to the dark and Gothic vibes.

We have the Gentleman – dashing, refined, but is this gentleman all that he seems? The dark Stranger from a foreign land, and the Mystic a traveller driven from her homeland who conceals a terrible power.

These are just a few of the six playable characters in the game so far. Frankly, these changes make the game more colourful and characterful (obviously), lending the game that extra personal dimension compared to the original which provided simple coloured, plastic meeple!

Characters have some special abilities and a wound tracker, and we’re told there may also be the introduction of a sanity tracker too – even more ways to die!

Extra Dice

Players would roll a dice and work out in what direction they want to move, but now there’s a special extra dice which can make the game harder or easier: roll a candle symbol and your character may move one space more or less, which can be the difference between falling into a trap or not.

Or roll the castle symbol and draw a card from the special Castle Deck… hoping to god you don’t uncover more horrors!

Or you could roll the dark circle, where you trigger the first trap you come across regardless of how far you could move past the trap space!

Card Decks

The new version of the game adds literal variety in the form of card decks. No, don’t get put off, this isn’t a deck building game. These new decks are used to create tense moments at the roll of a dice or provide solace as the night unfolds.

The obvious deck are those found in each room which are unique to that room. When a player enters the room they draw a card, which may be beneficial or utterly crushing. And be warned, these decks are not huge or countless, and cards drawn are placed back into the deck after use… it pays to keep your attention on the other players!

New to the game are the Heirloom deck and the best deck in my opinion the Death Knell deck!

Heirlooms are provided to the players at random at the start of the game. They are given three, which are made up of trinkets and curiosities to help you win the game.

The Death Knell cards are randomly placed face down on the board. When a player is eliminated a random death-knell card is turned over by that player. In rare situations they may be saved, but likely it will hinder those players still alive, such as Hunters Moon; a curse that means players to the left cannot use protection cards to prevent incoming damage. Nice!

Finally, the Castle Deck, which as mentioned before only gets drawn from if you roll the necessary dice. These cards are random encounters, such as a ravenous wolf hound (which may or may not savage you or an opponent, if you play your cards right).

Once again, the new edition is adding many modern layers to the older Gothic Game, but in doing so it’s not taking away some of the charm. It felt nice to play the game, but the feeling was improved by the breadth and depth of these new decks.

Don’t get me wrong, the old game is full of charm, but by today’s standards it lacks that personal feeling of involvement. According to the Damnation: Gothic website, there are in total 130 unique cards, presumably portioned out into the many various rooms and play decks. Layered up like an onion – prepare for tears!

Game Board Revamp

Although the layout is similar, the artwork is vastly updated and improved. The addition of the cemetery adds a location outside of the castle itself, which carries with it risks and rewards of its own. Then there’s the Dark Tower, which can only be entered if you’ve claimed another’s soul (token)!

The board is littered with secret passageways, and trap points. What we found fun about the traps is that trap tokens are placed face down at random, so it’s unlikely you’ll have the same setup each time, unlike in the original. Step onto a trapdoor and find yourself drowning in the moat. Trigger a classic trap, the Pendulum, and lose half of your health. Or worse still, discover the Oubliette and end the game for yourself!

The artwork is second to none and instils the dark and seething dread that the game evokes so effortlessly: lonely narrow corridors and dark and mysterious rooms filled with thinly veiled threats all add to the atmosphere. This is a game for dark and windy winter nights.damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish anca albu hue teo

 

Fate Tokens & Character Talents

Characters now have some extra abilities with which to survive! Fate tokens are added to a character sheet, providing some universal one-off abilities. Each character has at least one unique ability. The extra layers provide a bit of variation to the game, which is never a bad thing!

Soul Tokens

Yup, not only can you kill each other with an array of weapons, you can steal their soul too… and use them in a certain place in the castle to unlock new cards, items and abilities… harvest them as much as you can, you’ll need them win! You can trade soul tokens for extra fate tokens, or as mentioned earlier, gain access to the Dark Tower.

Special Rooms

There’s a lot we could talk about here, so we’ll pick a couple to give you an idea of the mayhem and suffering you can inflict on your friends!

The first is our favourite – The Vault. This is the lair of Dracula. When a player enters the vault and Dracula is not already in play, they become the beast! This can be an entertaining venture for the players – Dracula has a limited number of turns to roam the corridors of the castle, hunting for the other players. If he passes over a character, he gains more blood and a little more time to keep hunting. If he gets back to the Vault in time, the player assumes their normal role, perhaps a little dizzy and unsure why their mouth is filled with the tang of blood!

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The Great Spiral Staircase. This bad boy is a slippery slope to death. If a player ends up in this room, they can only use their movement to travel down the staircase. At the bottom of the Great Spiral Staircase? Death, instant and inexorable! The only way to escape this room is by rolling a six on the dice, which you can then combine with your normal dice roll. You could be there a while!

“The Power of Adjacency Compels You!”

But why would you want to enter this room? Well kids, life isn’t always fair. A player can invoke the power of adjacency over players they pass in the castle corridors. This essentially allows them to decide the direction in which that player must move on their next turn… like a horrible pit of death!

Battle in the Darkness

When in possession of a weapon card, players may target each other to perform attacks, dealing damage to their victim. Of course, the target player can use items to defend themselves in the form of equipment or action cards. So be careful who you target – they may be more than they seem! 

Not all death comes from Dracula, traps and hidden rooms – the players are here to be the winner, the last player standing. Naturally, this will involve direct conflict with each other.

What we would like to see…

We played the prototype version of the game, but there are few things we’d like to see:

  • Reference cards, which may reduce the amount of rule book referencing.
  • More character choices, but in honesty, we’re just being greedy!
  • Sudden Death Mode for the final players (optional).
  • Someway of making doors more visible (a simple standee could add a bit more dimension!)
  • Some different ways to play or ways to win (which BLG say they may be looking into!)
  • Expansions: extra rooms to tag onto the board or replacement tiles for extra variation and playability!

damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish anca albu hue teo

Final Overview

This game is fast paced, amusingly adversarial and filled with graphic, bloody fun. It can be quite a quick game to play, although we found towards the end with just two players left it can become a face-off (later we learned we had not played some things correctly, however). That said, there are hundreds of ways to die in Dracula’s hellish domain, and he is just one of them!

Overall, we think the game is set to receive a lot of interest over the next few months. It looks great, it feels great and as we mentioned several times already, there’s so many layers of interest to keep even the most jaded tastes interested.

There’s a lot going on in this game, but it’s not too heavy to take the fun out of playing. It is definitely a game for friends and family, although some of the concepts are a little more grown up.

We still have access to the prototype, so if you have any questions, drop us a comment down below, or find us on Twitter (@FerrisWrites) or our Facebook page.

damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish hell

Want to Win a Copy of the one of the few remaining Original copies?

If you want to see some of the mayhem played out, you can check out Summoned Games on YouTube. They are offering an original copy of the game, from 1992 as a prize. To enter, you just need to subscribe, comment on the video and / or like their Facebook page. What’s more, it is open to anyone anywhere in the world – they’re willing to ship it anywhere in the world.

We’d like to thank Summoned Games for letting us take part in the early game, and of course, Blackletter Games, for creating an amazing revamp of the original Gothic Game, and having faith in letting us see, play and review the game before its release and kick start.

We’re reliably informed it will be available for pledges late in October, and be in the region of £40-£50 (though this is still to be confirmed).

That’s all from me, enjoy your weekend!

Ferris, CC

@FerrisWrites on Twitter

Apocalypse, Warhammer 40,000 – First Impressions

Ever wanted to recreate the crazy and intense battes of the art of Warhammer 40,000 Universe on your tabletop and still be playable? Well, we’re told Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse is the game that can help you do just that… assuming you have enough miniatures of course!

Recently Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse was released and with it a tonne of new hype and excitement that we expect from the community of the world’s best marketed distributor of fantasy & science fiction wargaming miniatures, Games Workshop.

In this article we’re going to take a look at Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse to see what all the hype is about and what the actual gameplay is like. We’ll address some questions regarding its accessibility to players and outline how hard or easy it is to play. Finally, we’ll look at the costs involved and whether the game is worth the effort and financial commitment to regular players.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

History

It turns out that Apocalypse isn’t a new thing at all; way back toward the end of fourth edition of Warhammer 40K (circa 2007) Apocalypse was first released. It was then updated a year later and then again in 2013. I was busy during much for this time, and totally missed anything to do with it!

What is Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse?

It’s pretty simple if you’re familiar with tabletop wargaming, but if you’re not, here’s the low-down:

Apocalypse is a game system that emulates large battlefields of miniatures and models set in a dark and gritty futuristic science fiction setting. Unlike the regular Warhammer 40,000 game, the system is designed to allow for a huge number of models to be placed on large gaming tables.

The differences between regular Warhammer 40,000 and Apocalypse are a little subtle to new gamers. The games run in a very similar fashion, in that each player takes turns to move and attack with portions of their armies. Armies are drawn up using a points system, with better “veteran” or command type models costing more points than regular or less experienced models. A typical game of Warhammer 40,000 can range from 1000-2000 points. For Apocalypse, the potential points values of the armies can exceed 5000 points or more, depending on the physical size of the gaming table.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

What are the Key Differences between Warhammer 40,000 & Apocalypse

Playing a game of Warhammer 40,000 can take several hours, not including the time taken to draw up a points compliant battle force or army. To be fair, few tabletop wargames are quick to setup, and often entire afternoons or evenings are required to play. Looking at these new rules, it seems that a small game of Apocalypse should take no more than a 1-2 hours.

Apocalypse only uses the alternative points system called power level to draw up an army list. This version takes out much of the detailed choices of picking and choosing a force to play. So the footwork to setup a game is reduced in one aspect, but perhaps more if you take into account the much larger forces required to play.

If we’re to believe the game runs faster as detachments of units, instead of individual units or character models, then we can assume that the game has the potential to be very quick for smaller sized as well.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

Six and twelve sided dice are used to determine when units successfully attack and wound their targets. Interestingly we think power playing antics are removed here, because the game is about huge battles where the individual models do not necessarily make much difference. Thus, most units possess only 2 wounds, which is unheard of for regular Warhammer 40,000 where commanders and huge aliens may have 5 wounds or more all to themselves (now, a commander character has a single wound, as we discovered during our play test).

T wound a successfully hit  target, each unit has a required number to roll on a dice, which is found on the unit data sheet. Cutting out all of the extra work from Warhammer 40,000, the data cards give two very important weapon statistics: Strength Against Personel (SAP) and Strength Against Tanks (SAT). These represent the number you need to roll (or above) to successfully wound your target. Even the smallest weapon has the potential to cause damage to a tank… it’s just very unlikely… or 1 in 12 chance, perhaps!

Players will have to be careful where they place their comanders and warlords (commanders who are specifically character models), otherwise their detchment may find itself without leadership, potentially suffering more losses.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

Orders are a way of telling your detachments what to do. They are given in secret at the start of the turn sequence with facedown tokens (to whole detachments instead of to units and characters, one at a time). This implies a level of forward thinking is required by the player to second guess their opponents, and practice their poker face. Where one unit goes, the others in the detachment must follow.

Wounds are given in the form of blast markers, which may increase in size the more a unit receives, for example, two minor blast markers go up to one large. Interestingly however, damage is not calculated until the final phase of the turn sequence, meaning both players get to take actions and execute their plans before wiping each other out in sequence – this is a HUGE selling to point to regular players who have ever experienced defeat before even taking a turn! Units are permitted a save and, if at the end of the damage phase, they have more blast markers than wounds, they are removed from the battle as losses.

The game system looks promising. Are we perhaps going to see more of this style of game system from Games Workshop? I suspect that a similar version for Age of Sigmar, Games Workshop’s fantasy tabletop wargame, would sell pretty well…

All gaming elements so far suggest fast-paced action and a balanced gaming system…

aspect warrior warhammer warhammer40K

So, is it?

We set up a small game power level of 101 (don’t ask us why!), which equates to somewhere in the region of 2000-2500 points. This isn’t the scale that Apocalypse is designed for, however we felt it’s probably a good size to learn the core concepts of the game and see how smoothly it runs. We had in mind that if all goes well, we could ramp up the power level to somewhere in the region 200 or more another time.

Setup. Play. Findings.

Marines Force:

  • Battalion 3 units of Intercessors lead by a Primaris Lieutenant with a Redemptor Dreadnought.
  • Spearhead detachment of 3 units of Hellblasters and 1 unit of Aggressors lead by a Primaris Captain.
  • 2 Auxillary super heavy detachments; a Knight Errant and an Armiger Warglave.

Ork Force:

  • Battalion of 5 units of Ork Boyz lead by a Big Mek with a Shock-attack-gun
  • Spearhead of 2 units of Flashgitz and a unit of Killakans lead by Captain Badrukk.
  • Auxillary Superheavy stompa, Da Hunger of Gork.

As the marine player, I had in my force 3 warlords: the big mech, the captain and the leutenant. This was important for assets, which are cards drawn at the start of each turn depending on the number of warlords in your force. Three cards (to a hand size of 10 maximum) seemed like a good thing.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse games workshop tabletop war game miniatures citadel

Setup Time

It took us mere minutes to setup up the game board and deploy our detachments. Since detachments have to always be within 12 inches of their commander, the choices are limited by the space you have on the board. We used Games Workshop’s Battle Board, 4 pieces by 2 (about 8ft by 4ft) with a heavy scattering of scenery from some KillTeam box sets.

Playing Time

Starting, including all the rules checks and doublechecks, it took us 2 hours to play a game with a power level of 101. If this was regular Warhammer 40,000 it would equate to a game of 2500 points, which would have taken double that time, in my humble opinion. Once we are comfortable with the rules however, I think we could have compressed this game into an hour if we pushed it.

This timing is important, as not all players are capable of devoting 4-5 hours for a game (family, work and life get in the way!)

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse games workshop tabletop war game miniatures citadel

Frequency of rules checks

Not as frequent as we initially thought. There was some discussion and checking up on close-quarter fighting and shooting, along with some clarification on the separate rules for large targets (apparently on the order to Charge gartangs and the like are allowed to shoot as well as use melee weapons). But otherwise we got on OK.

Game Feel

Quite good. It took a while to get out of the regular Warhammer 40,000 mindset.

Having won 4 out of 5 initiative rolls, I’m not convinced it’s such a great advantage, which is good because theres nothing worse than getting out maneuvered twice in a row! The players take it in turns to activate detachments meaning the initiative is only gained from certain parts of the battlefield – essentially I got to shoot first, which isn’t a great advantage as all damage and moral checks are carried out AFTER all detachments have been activated. But this doesn’t mean the mechanics is useless. Sometimes moving closer or ruther away can be usefull if you move a unit out of enemy range, wasting their Aim order!

Fooling your opponent can be a great feeling: at one point the relentless green horde was getting closer, and the marines had done a good job of aiming and shooting in previous turns. In the following round I expected the Orks to be in charge range so I gave the detachment the order to move… falling back and reorganizing the firing line was not expected and gained the marines a further turn of rapid fire next time around.

A minor bad point: If a unit misses, all the models in the unit miss if they share the same weapon type! Several times the Hellblasters were useless, by missing completely. However, if we had less but bigger units the marine units would gain 2 dice instead of 1 to roll to hit. Must remember that next time!

Battle Results

The marines won, but only after taking a pasting. It felt one sided until the gargantuan was destroyed. Even then, the Dreadnought was not very effective at taking out infantry with its huge load of automatic weapons. May have to see if Games Workshop errata some of the stats!

Blast markers are not the end of the world, but for infantry a large blast marker means they use a single 6-sided dice to roll for their save. This means marines, the tough human monsters in implacable armour have a 1 in 6 chance of surviving, even it was a hail of Gretchin shot! It did make them feel paper thin, but then it was likely worse for the Ork boyz! Balanced still, so not a negative point as such.

And I had a stack of useless asset cards applicable only to the destroyed Knight Errant!

Quick to Learn?

As regular gamers, Warhammer 40,000 Apocalypse is very quick to learn. To master the game may take a couple of attempts but we found that second guessing your opponents choice of orders brings a level of cunning that you don’t often get to see in tabletop war games. If you’ve ever played Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing, you’ll get what we mean… sometimes you second guess too far! However, the anticipation and excitement has certainly been more frequent in the Apocalypse games we played.

Accessibility for Players

We found the game is very reminiscent of the old Epic scale Warhammer 40,000, only at the 28mm scale, which means if you want to harness the power of this quick to learn game, you’ll get the most out of it with a lot of miniatures. HOWEVER we’ve found it’s actually very fun to play with smaller forces as it cuts out a lot of the shenanigans you can get from some less reputable players. For smaller games, it also makes each game VERY quick.

So, accessible to new players? Only if you can borrow a lot of miniatures, otherwise quite good fun and impressive if you’re trying to get a friend into the hobby.

To regular players? Yeah, its not bad (see Cost & Worth below).

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

Cost & Worth

Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse will set you back £60 in the UK. This buys you the rulebook, six and twelve sided dice and some 300 command cards. You also get 6 sheets of tokens which act as your blast markers and issued orders. We’re going to say this now: for essentially paper and card, this seems overpriced. Dice are cheaper than a bag of chips online, even twelve-sided ones, and massed produced card isn’t going to break the bank. So purely on a boxed goods scale, you’re not getting much if you compare it to say, a regular adventure board game complete with miniatures.

That said, if you’re the sort of player who has spent hundreds of pounds creating a large battle force of miniatures bought from Games Workshop, this isn’t exactly going to break your bank either. Personally, I think GW could have gone down the same route as they did with Age of Sigmar and provide the basic rules for free with optional physical purchases, but I’m not here to make money.

 

 

That said, the data cards required to play your chosen forces are actually free to download, so you don’t need to go out and buy any army specific literature to play.

If you have a gaming gang or group, £60 spread across 4 players is only £15 each… some people drink that in an evening! And to be fair, playing this game with mulitple allied forces could be quite good fun as friendly players can take charge of a detachment each.

As for the worth. If you have a lot of miniatures already and want to use absolutely all of them at the same time, or perhaps you and a few friends want to play a game pitting 2 vs 2 players, this is likely to be a good choice because the game is much quicker. It’s much more tactical from a birds eye view too, perfect to play if you’re into hushed combat analysis and poker faces around the gaming table.

To Conclude

We think the game is good, but not amazing. It addresses some of the issues that slow down the regular Warhammer 40,000 game system and honestly, if you have the miniatures to make it up, it would be ideal to play as an introduction for interested friends. That said, it’s quite an investment by nature of the huge amount of miniatures and models required to play, but as we point out, you can play it on a much smaller scale if required.

So, I say this, as I say about most Games Workshop products: If you’re already a fan this game will be worth playing, especially if shared across a gaming group. If you’re not into the hobby yet, this is an easier sytem to learn but with much more outlay financially.

Otherwise, this game system is a step forward for Games Workshop!

Now, if they could just address the high pricing issue… 😉

Ferris, CC
If you’re interested in creating your own terrain, I’ve got a few links to some how-to articles, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, along with an article on where to get materials and tools for terrain building (more beneficial if you’re based in the UK but helpful for the US, Canada and most of Europe).

You can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter,

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(All images borrowed from Games Workshop and Out of print products, unless otherwise stated.)

The 9th Age: A New Warhammer Fantasy Battles?

A month ago I wrote an article on why I was giving Age of Sigmar (AoS) a second look. The response was brilliant – we managed 9K hits with a variety of reader interaction. Some of that interaction was, understandably, hateful. I addressed the comments, which seemed to suggest I was being paid to paint Games Workshop (GW) in a brilliant light.

In the same section of comments however, I was approached by Piteglio, founder of Veil of the Ages, one of many 9th Age supporting companies. I was asked, assuming I was impartial, whether I would review the 9th Age, a community created by not-for-profit groups of tabletop war-gaming fans.

The 9th Age website has just been published with its new, atmospheric and well presented website, so it makes sense to take a look and see what all the fuss is about.

So, welcome to what will be a 3 part series reviewing the 9th Age. In the first part I’m going to be looking at the game association as a whole, discovering its foundations and ethos. I’ll also be looking at the rules and judging them for how accessible they are to veteran and new war-gaming players.

In the later articles of this series, I’ll be looking into the theme and world lore and taking a look at some of the army lists available. My focus there will be comparing Games Workshop’s old High Elves to the Highborn Elves of 9th age, and the old Empire to that of the Sohnstal Empire.

Finally, I’ll get a few games under my belt and draw some comparisons to the old Warhammer Fantasy Battles in the last episode. This should be the culmination of the mini-series and maybe somewhere along the way I’ll convince you to try a few games for yourself!

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

What is 9th Age

In some western cultures, if you cannot find exactly what you’re looking for, you should have a go at making it yourself – this is the core of the foundation of the 9th Age. When GW shut down their much loved Warhammer Fantasy Battles the gaming community around it had an emotional time. When Games Workshop introduced Age of Sigmar many of the players felt aggrieved, and to some degree I agree with them.

To challenge the absence of a much loved tabletop war-game, a small group of self-motivated players decided to revive their fondness of WFB by creating something of their own. 9th Age was born.

In a nutshell, The 9th Age is:

  • a tactical, rank and file tabletop battle emulation in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world,
  • maintained by hundreds of passionate players from all over the world,
  • totally free to get your hands on the rule-books and supplements, forever!
  • designed with precision for tournament gamers, yet easy to access for casual and narrative.

Initial Misconception

When I first heard of 9th Age, we played Warhammer and Dungeons & Dragons (among other games). When we realised that the 8th Edition WFB was going to be the last, we started looking for something alternative. One housemate stumbled upon 9th Age. 

The documents and rules were still in their infancy and there was a quick series of changes which made us feel the game was not yet stable. We dropped 9th Age and investigated different ideas (or in fact, kept playing 8th edition WFB).

Looking back, we should have realised that 9th Age was still in its infancy and going through a series of developmental changes, some of which I suspect was hindered by in depth balancing and potentially some copyright laws.

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

So, who are 9th Age?

The 9th Age was created and developed by 6 competitive fantasy battle enthusiasts, coming from 5 countries around the globe. That was 2015, now 270 members work towards developing the 9th Age across 29 countries. That’s pretty staggering.

What is most remarkable is that this association of like minded enthusiasts work for free. No one, at any level, earns money or fame for their hard work. There is no formal company and members are not expected to work to hard deadlines. Of course, some of them have experience in their particular areas, but as a whole, the association is free running, headed by an executive board who put the whole lot into one efficient package.

Why is this important, I hear you ask?

Unlike like most war-games, 9th Age is not run for profit – they don’t even supply miniatures for the game they created and develop which, importantly for the players of this game, means the tabletop war-game is balanced: there is no need to create better or tougher armies to sell alongside newly released miniatures. No power creep here (looking at you, Games Workshop!) It also inspired a huge run of small independent miniature model companies, creating a staggering amount of new and unique looking tabletop miniatures.

Best of all, it means the army book / army lists are inspired by the background, the world setting. Imagine, a world rich in lore and strife with well represented armies and politics? Seems too good to be true doesn’t? Well, it took a number of years for Warhammer Fantasy Battles to develop its own rich lore, so why can’t 9th Age? In fact, 9th Age has more people working on it than probably ever entered the boardrooms of Games Workshop HQ (uncited opinion).

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Armies & Factions

Enough about who and what, let’s take a look at the game itself! I’ll address some of the questions I have or have been asked:

Can I play my favorite fantasy army?

Yup. Totally.

Currently 9th Age have 16 “army books” to play with. Each one is free and available from the 9th Age download page. They are currently all black and white, and mostly easy-print PDF documents with a couple of more detailed files as optional downloads. Did I mention they were free? Check out the Sylvan Elves full colour PDF – its big, but there is some seriously good artwork and background information there!

The list of available army lists include (in no particular order):

  1. Daemon Legions
  2. Sylvan Elves
  3. Undying Dynasties
  4. Warriors of the Dark Gods
  5. Beast Herds
  6. Dread Elves
  7. Dwarven Holds
  8. Empire of Sonnstahl (think state troops)
  9. Highborn Elves
  10. Infernal Dwarves
  11. Kingdom of Equitaine (think knights & peasants)
  12. Ogre Khans
  13. Orcs & Goblins
  14. Saurian Ancients (think lizard nations)
  15. The Vermin Swarm (think rats, rats everywhere)
  16. Vampire Covenant

On top of this list, there’s also the Asklanders and the Makhar which are supplementary armies (currently I believe they are under review). There’s also a quick guide to playing your first game, spell cards, printable terrain and an arcane compendium among other helpful and totally free downloads to get you started. Finally, you can get everything in one solid document, but I wouldn’t recommend you print it out…

Are the different armies up to date or will they change quickly?

With the exception of the last two (Asklanders & Makhar) all of the books are up to date. More importantly, they will not be changed for around 4-5 years, meaning tournament players can rely on stability and casual players benefit from being able to collect and use only what they want.

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Game Mechanics

So this is for me where the nostalgia really started to kick in. You remember when you first picked up a book for Warhammer Fantasy Battles and you had no idea how it worked, but you had the feeling that you were holding something esoteric and world changing?

That’s what I got from perusing the game mechanics. From what I could tell, everything was there that a much younger (90’s) version of myself became totally enthralled in. Armies are built based on a points system (or an amount of gold, if like me you prefer a more narrative theme), with elite troops costing more than standard troops. The design of the army starts around the leader and their entourage, with a percentage of your points allowed for certain types of troops.

The commander type characters are faceless compared to Warhammer, because the 9th Age tries to keep them realistic. They even point this out in their design statement: characters should be “folklore heroic” and not literal monsters of the battle field, something which unbalanced the later editions of Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

How hard /easy is it to learn?

This is a good question. If you are or were a player of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, you will feel totally at home. 9th Age harkens to the days where Warhammer Fantasy Battles was still balanced and made sense to the majority of its players. With the exception of names and phrases in the rule-book, I would argue 9th Age holds all the robust parts of Warhammer, with some better modifications for clarity and brevity on the tabletop. And of course, the game follows a clear turn / round system which most tabletop gamers will be comfortable with.

For totally new players, it can be quite a steep learning curve, but then so too were most tabletop war games of the time (with the exception of games like Age of Sigmar Skirmish, which I believe is a great introductory game to tabletop war-gaming). If you’re totally new to war-gaming, I suggest you read the next section.

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How accessible to new players is it?

Fortunately, there is a 9th Age beginners quick-guide, which talks you through the basics in easy to digest chunks. All you need is some paper, pencils, measuring rule and dice to get your started. This really appealed to me because you don’t need to spend any money before you start the game. You could set a game up on your bedroom floor or kitchen table with some cut-out squares and some random items to act as terrain. So long as you label your paper and cut them to the right size to represent units, you’ve not got anything to hold you back.

Running alongside the quick start guide there are some example army lists which you can print out and use. All the choices are made for you, so if you don’t know how to create a balanced army, you can use these. It’s a bit like using pre-made characters in Dungeons & Dragons – everything you need is there.

So you really don’t need to spend time buying, gluing and painting anything until you’re absolutely sure you want to get involved. It also means you get to try out different army compositions or entirely new factions. For me, this is great because there was nothing worse than buying into a Warhammer army and then realising they were completely under powered and your chances of success were limited based on your poorly informed decision!

I may need help creating one those army lists…

It has been pointed out in the comments that the 9th Age is fully compatible with BattleScribe (we reviewed Battle Scribe a while ago, here). BattleScribe is community driven and contains data for just about every tabletop game that requires army building lists. If you’re new to war-gaming, check it out, it’ll make you 9th Age army lists much quicker and likely more accurate too (and you can export and print out those lists for ease, with all the data you need).

Is it a tournament game or a casual game?

It seems, from what I can tell, to be a game designed for both. As I mentioned previously tournament players will enjoy the precision of the game, while not locking out new or casual players. You can play small games and large games wherever you are.

Where can I buy miniatures for 9th Age?

The other great thing about 9th Age is that you can use whatever miniatures you like, so long as they fit the scale, which is around 28mm miniatures. As I mentioned earlier, there is a tonne of new businesses creating miniatures in the glowing wake of 9th Age’s comet. I’ll link you to their community created list of potential sellers and distributors.

Their online magazine also has a spot-light for gamer’s armies, in which it shows how some players mix and match from different model companies to create their own unique looking forces. That said, if you have a preferred supplier of miniatures, then feel free to buy solely from them. That’s the great thing, you don’t have to buy from a monopolized supplier – you get to shop around to fit your own budget. This is doubly so for old Warhammer players, since you’ve already got your armies so you don’t need to get more!

Auf deutch, mo poppet, grazie!

English not your first language? Don’t worry – I forgot to mention that the 9th Age is translated in several languages, including:

English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Polish…

With work being carried out for translations into Chinese (presumably Mandarin), Russian, Serbian and potentially Korean. Again, this is staggering because all this work is being done for free – it’s amazing what people can do when they share their passion for something.

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Final Thoughts

  • So far I’m getting a good vibe from 9th Age.
  • It feels much more robust than it did several years ago.
  • There is a tonne of intra- and inter-faction choices, meaning you can build an army up that fits your play style or preferred narrative theme.
  • It’s completely free, and despite this, has a very solid feeling to it, which promises fair, balanced and a fun gaming experience.
  • It seems to have the finesse for tournament or competitive players.
  • It’s accessible to brand new players
  • The quick start guide is easy to follow and you’ll be playing your first game(s) within an hour if you put your heads together.

So, will the 9th Age still have me keen to learn more? Do the factions suitably feel like the much loved armies of our youth? What does the game actually play like, how long and quickly can you pick it up..?

That’s it for part one! If you’ve got any questions for the next article, where we’ll be looking at the world lore and the factions in more detail, leave a comment and I’ll try to address them as much as I can!

Here’s a sneak peek to some of the Lore we’ll be covering…

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All questions for part two and three. I’ll keep you posted!

If you’re interested in creating your own terrain, I’ve got a few links to some how-to articles, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, along with an article on where to get materials and tools for terrain building (more beneficial if you’re based in the UK but helpful for the US, Canada and most of Europe).

You can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter,

Our Facebook Page!

Controversial Age of Sigmar article here Give Sigmar a Chance: Why I’m giving Games Workshops ‘Age of Sigmar’ a Second Look…!

Veil of the Ages 9th Age wargaming

And finally, as a thank you for providing information and a bit of impetus to keep writing, I’ll provide links to Veil of the Ages by Piteglio! 😉

Veil of the AgesSuccessful Kickstarter, Facebook group!

 

 

 

(All images taken from The 9th Age website and forum, they do not belong to the Creator Consortium or their writers and contributors, July 5, 2019)

Themeborne: Those Rising Dark Stars…

If you’re familiar with Themeborne and Escape the Dark Castle, you can jump straight to the section entitled “Escape the Dark Sector!”, there’s a nifty banner to help you find it!

A couple of years ago I was cruising through Kickstarter town when I came across some great looking, creepy and nostalgic artwork. I investigated, sipping my breaktime tea to find a small tabletop card game… a very simple, pleasing to the eye game.

I read deeper into this game, Escape the Dark Castle (EtDC), and fell in love with it – at this point I hadn’t even played it, or read the rules enough to fully understand them… because it did something that most new games these days fail to do…

Create an immersive atmosphere.

Fast forward a year or so and the box lands at my door. I was surprised, because the game fit into a relatively small box, but that didn’t matter, not all great things come in huge packages (know what I mean?)

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EtDC was made and published by Themeborn. Who are Themeborne, and what about their game makes it so engaging?

Themeborne are a small design studio located in Nottingham, UK. They have a small portfolio of games on their website, but it is one that is growing. Three individuals, each with very different skills as either a writer, artist and musician make up the studio. Whoever they are, it seems to create a perfect blend of creativity. Thomas Pike, Alex Crispin and James Shelton put their heads together and created this atmospheric and easily engaged card game.

They’re exploding onto Kickstarter again, this time for a space themed game, a spiritual successor to their first, with Escape the Dark Sector – more on this later!

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So what is Escape the Dark Castle?

Imagine waking up in a cell, in the dark. Perhaps you’ve been there for months or years suffering torture and starvation. One day, the door to your cell is open. Several others blink as they walk out of their cells. Now, how do you escape?

With this premise, player’s characters encounter situations as they flee, sometimes given choices and other times being forced to fight monsters or jailors. The game is based on a deck of well presented cards, with the players either taking it in turns to reveal the next card or deciding amongst themselves who should draw the next.

These cards acts as chapters in their escape, detailing the story as they sneak, run and fight their way through various chambers and obstacles.

Specialist 6-sided dice are used to determine survival, with each character, such as the Bishop or the Cook, having their own character cards and special dice. When fighting or struggling to overcome an obstacle, the dice are rolled against the “chapter dice” which act as a randomised challenge. If your dice roll matches one of the chapter dice, you can remove it, hopefully whittling the monster away to move onto the next chapter… or die trying!

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Not equal, however – the dice are spit into might, wisdom and cunning and each character will have a better chance at rolling one or more of these attributes, meaning some combinations of characters can hinder the escape.

The chapter cards are drawn at random during game setup, meaning there is almost limitless possibilities in the escape story. Expansions to the game, which came out this year, means there are even more cards to randomly create the story.

And finally, as your make your get-a-way, you will encounter one of several special end of game enemies, each acting differently to immolate, terrify or devour the escapees.

The chances are you’re not going to make it, with less than  25% of our stories resulting in the characters escaping the dark castle! Why? Because if one of the characters dies, everyone loses and chances are that by the time you get to the ultimate encounter, you’ll be struggling already! The odds are not stacked in your favour… and it’s great!

etDC Kit

How does it feel?

Escape the Dark Castle has many great features, which I’ll go over briefly here. The important bit is that combined, these traits create a wonderful, narrative and enjoyable game play reminiscent of Knightmare, a UK kids TV show.

Easy to learn

The rule book is slim and easy to read with direct examples of how to play. The nature of the game focuses on getting started as a group and jumping into your first game. The storytelling aspect of EtDC means that just about everyone and their grandma can learn to play. Each player is encouraged to read out the chapter card they draw and are written in an old sword and sorcery style.

Quick as you like Pace

They say that the game takes 2 minutes to setup and around 30 minutes to play. I disagree with the 30 minutes but only because the game can be played as quickly or as slowly as you like. We’ve played many games of EtDC and frankly, when you’re sat around a table in a dimly lit room, the atmosphere suggests you take it slowly… but as you near the last chapter card, the pace quickens… almost as if you’re running blindly through a dark castle and can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Social, Inclusive, Cooperative

This is a game for everyone (assuming they can read, and even then, others can help). Because it is truly a cooperative game, where everyone or no one is a winner, it’s very easy to get involved. Who draws the next card can be decided democratically, people can look at the state of their character and think: I can’t survive another round of fighting! Others will openly declare that they can take whatever happens next, effectively ‘taking one for the team’ so there’s room for limelight too.

The inclusion of ‘equipment’ cards adds an extra dimension to the escapees: who will take the rusted sword, or who needs to eat the stale bread?

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Even Grandma can learn to play…

Variety

There are 45 chapter cards in the basic game, of which 11 are randomly drawn to create each story. The chances of drawing the same 11 cards each time are so astronomically low that you’d have to play thousands of games to get an exact same combination. But worry not, there are several expansions already out for EtDC and each one adds even more chapter cards, end of game bosses and even starting cards to the story. Cult of the Death Knight, Scourge of the Undead Queen and Blight of the Plaguelord are great additions, each one bringing more themes and story to your escape.

Value

With 3 expansions, a collector’s box, play mat, card sleeves, a book of character deaths (I know, right?) a story book and even an 80’s style musical cassette you’d be forgiven for thinking that the prices are going to match the likes of Fantasy Flight Games. Except that they’re not.

The Core game is priced at £30 – and this is truly all you need. The expansions, which you could buy several years down the line, are priced at £15 each and everything else is £20 or less, depending on what you want – Themeborne have made a great little game that is affordable and so re-playable you’ll never get to experience every possible combination of game.

And now they’re going a step further and taking us into the timeless void of space, where no one can hear you scream…

Escape the Dark Sector!

Escape the Dark Sector

ETDS Logo

Escape the Dark Sector is a science-fiction adventure, pitting the beleaguered crew of a ship against a detention block space station. Again, if anyone dies, the game is over, presumably because the ship can’t be flown without a full crew!

Themeborne suggest that the story and game-play comes from popular science fiction of the 80’s, including Alien, Startrek and Star Wars combined with the literary adventures of the amazing Fighting Fantasy novels and classic Dungeons & Dragons – much like Escape the Dark Castle!

Whether you like all of those titles or not, it seems there is something for everyone.

What’s different?

The core storytelling concepts from EtDC still run through Dark Sector, but Themeborne have introduced several new and easy to learn mechanics to the game and its setup. They make sense too, creating cinematic shootouts with aliens. So what’s new?

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The Setup

The characters are familiar to those who played EtDC – each character has a dice specific to them to roll during actions and combat. However, adding onto the basic character concepts, players can choose ‘cybernetic implants’ which give their characters an edge in certain situations.

The story aspect has been developed to include not one single stack of story chapters and instead is now made up of three acts which, we’re told ups the tempo and intensity the deeper into the escape story the players drive their characters.

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The Gameplay

Since the theme of Dark Sector has catapulted the story into space, so too has the technology level, introducing tactical combat actions and  ranged combat.

Tactical combat actions include shooting, charging, reloading. re-equipping, and flanking, giving the game a much more tactical feel without detracting from the flow of the game. As is the way of Themeborne games, the action to charge is carried over for each character, meaning when one of you declares a charge, everyone has to go with them! It’s all or nothing!

Further, the action to heal some wounds can only be taken by one character at a time. No one gets to sit out for more than a round either. This seems to have upped the challenge! To balance this, certain actions such as reload or flank mean your character is not targeted by the enemy, but at least one character has to choose to fight or shoot. Actions come in the form of cards, where the character dice are placed in order to keep track more easily.

Ranged combat involves equipment and dice specifically related to the weapons, which, we’re told are not always positive effects for the characters. They seem to include ballistic, beam and explosive symbols, so no doubt each one comes with risks!

Some monsters and enemies are affected by or deal special damage depending on the type of ranged attack being made, so teamwork is still at the centre of the game mechanics – pile it up together or decide who should be shooting what weapon and you’ll crack the chapter and be able to move on!

If you want a copy of Escape the Dark Sector you’ll need to back the Kickstarter, there’s less than 40 hours left! Otherwise you can wait for the official release online, sometime next year!

Alternatively, you can grab yourself a copy of Escape the Dark Castle!

You can find the Kickstarter here

Themeborne website and shop

@FerrisWrites for Twitter and our Facebook page.

Killing in the Name of: Dungeons & Dragons and the unbridled passion of slaying the adventuring party – A few lessons learned

For the last three gaming sessions, I’ve been guiding my players as they attempt to uncover and solve the mystery surrounding the small fishing town of Sharholme. People have gone missing. There’s a taciturn lighthouse keeper who no one likes. Weird and exotic fish are turning up in the nets of the fishermen. What did it all mean?

Well I’m not going to give you all the details, where’s the fun in that? No, I’m going to give you an insight into when the adventuring party were fooled and the Dungeon Master commits to running the adventure to its inevitable end, whether that’s the final encounter or much sooner!

‘Some of your characters may die towards the end of this adventure – I’m testing the adventure on you guys.’

These were my first words when describing the adventure idea I had to my players, a week before they started. Perhaps subconsciously I was giving them a clue to play tougher or optimised characters, or perhaps I was trying to defend myself from any fallout that may occur if it all went wrong. Whatever the reason, the very next gaming session we started the adventure.

The beginning was cryptic – they were called north, along  the Sword Coast by a voiceless whisperer who would not allow them to rest unless they were moving. A brief stop at Candlekeep is all they needed. Get there, and perhaps some clues could give them answers.

But they will never know.

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Photo by ahmed adly on Pexels.com

The first adventure was to warm them up. I was going to let them be goddam heroes and throw small hordes of easily defeated monsters at them. I was going to give them hostages to break out in a daring escape, maybe face off with the enemy leader and thwart the even stranger, deadlier nemesis who defines the backdrop of the narrative.

Alas, it was not to be. They believed they had reached the final encounter. They had not. The Prince Under the Reef was not the monster’s commander as they thought. I’m chuckling as I write this because some of them will only realise as they read this… yeah, it gives me an amusing tingle.

The adventuring party had, in fact, only reached the third to last encounter in the natural dungeon setting. They had suffered some terrible wounds and faced some unsightly horrors, many of them surprises. Up to this point they had advanced in a somnambulistic way perhaps thinking that, being the first part of a what was promised to be a long running campaign, they would have it easy. To some degree this was right.

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Photo by Renato Danyi on Pexels.com

Allow me to explain:

As a DM I had done my research, read endless articles by other DMs & GMs, consulted the oracle that is Reddit and gone back to basics. I even wrote this article, which, if any of them had read it, may have given them a clue into what to expect. I threw low-challenge creatures at them, made the monsters act in a fantastically pulp manner, unthinking but not to be mocked.

Then I hit them with a monster whose challenge rating was a single point higher than their party level. He was a large humanoid, fighting on even terms. He didn’t even rush them, instead he paused and waited to see if they would parley, to see if they could talk to him and see if they could find peace. They outnumbered him but they seemed tired – his minions had carried out their task of killing the adventuring party with a thousand paper cuts. All he had to do now was thrust his trident into the open wounds and finish them off.

What followed was five rounds of bloody mayhem.

The bird-man monk fell first, the priest next, followed by the halfling rogue who couldn’t quite dash into cover, leaving the archer as last-elf-standing. It was a bold gesture to cast away that bow and draw a long sword, after-all, the enemy had thrown his trident at them previously, disarming himself in the process. Both combatants were heavily wounded.

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Taken from media-waterdeep.cursecdn.com 6/2/19

The elf stood little chance.

While the fight continued, his comrades bled to death on the wet subterranean sands of the oceanic grotto. Some would stabilize but be useless to sway the flow of battle. As the sun’s final rays set against the turbulent waves above, my heroic adventuring party slumped to the ground in a final gasp below the waves.

As the DM, I had defined my dungeoneering destiny and finalised the characters fates by not holding back. I had lulled them into a false sense of security and then pounced upon them with a well calculated challenge. Or so I thought.

The daft thing is: I expected them to get to the final encounter and then suffer tremendously through a terrifying race across an underground, underwater grotto ala Indiana Jones’ cinematic dash, avoiding natural traps and pitfalls as they barrelled along heroically.

In a nutshell, the DM did not hold the player’s hands and guide them through. I realised that if there is to be any fun in the game, it has to be risky. I knew this already, but the temptation to guide the players through the story had flattened the experience for me… it had simply lost some of its fun.

As for the players, well the fun reached a happy height above our gaming table. Although they were getting ripped to pieces, bleeding all over the place and possibly facing death (well, actually they did) they all seemed happy to go along with it.

Here’s the kicker for the players though – that challenging encounter left the monster with just twelve hit points. TWELVE! That’s one good or two average hits with a long sword… but the dice rolling was poor, and I was using my specially reserved Dungeon Master Dice. They never let me down.

So there you have it:

Dungeon and Games Masters, don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and kick their arses if it’s all going wrong, you’ll all enjoy it!

And Players; never trust the DM. Ever.

We’re sly a bunch.

J.D. Ferris

Warhammer Quest, Blackstone Fortress – Hero Quest in Space or More?

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.

It delivers.

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 Goal

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!

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The Precipice section of the board game, from Games Workshop’s Blackstone Fortress, with the character ships, two varieties of the Grav-lifts and the Leader token.

Let’s take a look at the goods first though…

Manufacturing Quality

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.

Don’t despair.

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Five books from Games Workshop’s Blackstone Fortress. One is fluff, one of rules for Warhammer 40K and the other three are for game play.

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.

Challenges

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.

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The Precipice section of the board game, from Games Workshop’s Blackstone Fortress, with two of the character ships, the Destiny dice, Exploration cards and Discovery cards.

Combat Setup

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!

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The Traitor Guardsmen for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop

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!

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The Traitor Guardsmen for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop. The reverse side shows how the AI results on a dice roll.

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!

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Game tiles for Games Workshops Blackstone Fortress. Double sided and durable for all your grim and gritty science fiction adventures in the hopeless voids of Warhammer 40K!

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…

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The Kroot Tracker for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop

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!

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The ‘Inspired’ Kroot Tracker for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop

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.

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Dice, lots of six-sided dice, with the special ability dice, from 6, 8 & 12-sided dice. The 20-sided dice is the Blackstone 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.

Value Ratio

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!

In Conclusion

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.

Enjoy!

 

*Edited 24/12/18 to reflect some feedback from our gaming group and affiliates.

 

The devs play the first ever session of CC’s new game: Pulp RPG

Today’s undertaking saw the completion of our first ever session in what we hope to be many more in the development of our game, Pulp RPG. It saw us chasing shadows and half rumours through the countryside of Panama, attacked by unholy creatures and confronting Hitler himself.

Brew you darkest French Roast and have a listen to the aftermath as Fozzy and Ferris excitedly ramble about what this means for role-playing games.

Download Link (25MB)