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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: One Stronghold Down & Still Learning

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.

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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.

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Mmm, secrets…

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!

Let’s see if we can get that envelope opened!

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.

warhammer blackstone fortress sci-fi horror gamesworkshop
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)