Bring the ‘Hammer down! It’s time for a Warhammer adventure!
I must admit that I have no idea what a Warhammer is, so this new card game from Fantasy Flight could have passed me by completely had I not been told that it bears many of the elements of one of my most played games of the last few years, Lord Of The Rings: The Card Game. This time however without the deck-construction and insane difficulty that the brilliant Lord of the Rings game admittedly includes. The endless deck-tinkering has sapped my enthusiasm for LOTR, especially as it falls into Fantasy Flight’s Living Card Game model, which more or less obliges you to keep up with new releases (and all the new rules) if you want to win the latest challenges. Warhammer Quest promises to play like a streamlined version of that, with fewer exceptions to the rules, fewer timing intricacies and more immediate play.
The Warhammer logo and the promise of what awaits you…
Like Lord Of The Rings it is a cooperative card game that can also be played solo, but it will accommodate up to four players, and only very minor adjustments need to be made for the different player counts. With fewer heroes in play they begin Warhammer Quest with more health points, and players have extra actions per hero to compensate, so the total number of actions available is always four. For solo games it is recommended to take two heroes (who activate twice each), but there is no reason at all why a single player should not take on all four. The designers, Adam and Brady Sadler, have a decent pedigree with Fantasy Flight and are now specialising in designing cooperative games and Warhammer Quest was nominated for two Golden Geek Awards in 2015, for Best Card Game and Best Solo Game.
The description on the back of the box is suitably atmospheric.
Open the box and enter the dungeon!
Well, this is a card game, so you get two large packs of cards and tokens for tracking things such as peril, progress and damage. The cards come in two sizes – the larger ones are the character cards and abilities, locations and enemies, while the smaller cards are dungeon related such as items and events, gear and special abilities. There are also six Quest Cards, five of which outline a campaign while the sixth one is a standalone dungeon explore. Cards may not seem like a particularly effective way of making a world come to life, but Fantasy Flight are at the top of the tree when it comes to this type of game, so the artwork and flavour text are spot on, as you might expect. Unfortunately some of the standard Fantasy Flight issues are also present – the generic single-trough insert, which is near to no use at all, and a rule book that is nowhere near clear enough for a game with such important issues involving timing and keywords. Fantasy Flight have taken the two-book approach, so one is the “Learn To Play”, while the other is the “Rules Reference”, and there is a short and sweet Tutorial Game in the former which is useful for outlining the main flow of Warhammer Quest, but omits several crucial matters which are key to the full game. New players are strongly advised to read both booklets thoroughly, and it will take at least a couple of slowish plays for matters to begin to tick along properly.
The two rule books – and you’ll need them both!
You’ll need HELP to play this game…
The main flow of Warhammer Quest is easy to grasp, each round consisting of four phases, which are the Hero, Enemy, Location and Peril Phases. These can be abbreviated, appropriately enough, to HELP. This economy of design means that players can focus entirely on one area at a time, so their heroes will activate first, after which the enemies activate, then location cards take effect and progress can be made, and finally the peril marker is advanced and any associated effects applied.
The Heroes each have four actions to choose from, each of which has a basic and an advanced version you might be able to access as your heroes progress, which are:
- Aid – allows a hero to add success tokens to another hero’s actions.
- Attack – attack an engaged enemy.
- Explore – make progress along the quest and search for items that can be equipped.
- Rest – recover in order to lose wound tokens and recover health.
The Waywatcher’s four basic actions.
For each of these the player follows the instructions on the action card, rolling white dice to determine their success or otherwise, and one black die for each engaged and non-exhausted enemy. White dice have symbols for success, shielding and a success/reroll combo, which always feels good. Black dice have attack symbols, the strongest enemy always attacking first, and a nemesis symbol. This is bad news, as it means that all Nemesis cards in play have their abilities activated, and these can be particularly unpleasant. Ah yes, the Nemesis. Enemies come in two main flavours, Normal and Elite, and there are also Nemesis cards that hide in their lairs and only emerge late into the various scenarios.
Normal, Elite and Nemesis enemies.
Actions or refreshment? You need balance!
There’s an extra twist in a hero’s actions, because three of them, once used, remain exhausted and cannot be used again, but each of the four characters has one ability that not only never exhausts, it also readies all the other exhausted actions. With this little tweak Warhammer Quest can become a real balancing act between getting the important actions done and finding time to make sure that they can stay available.
The arrows on the bottom of the card show that using it also readies all this hero’s used actions.
Once the heroes have had their chance then the enemies get to attack. Heroes take it in turns to activate enemies either engaged with them or in the shadows, and choosing the right order to do this can be important. There is no dice rolling here, as the activation process is detailed on the card and runs left to right, the text on the card giving a helpful explanation of what to do in many cases. A Clanrat will Advance and then Inflict 1 Damage for example, while a Giant Wolf will Lacerate (making you bleed), then Prey (engaging the most wounded hero) and then Inflict 2 Damage. It is all smoothly thematic, and Warhammer Quest soon begins to growl along as things become second nature.
An enemy’s attack follows the boxes in the centre of the card, left to right.
Location, location, location…and peril!
In the Location Phase any text on the current location will take effect, and any fully explored location can be discarded and replaced with a new one. When revealed a new location also causes new enemies to be spawned, some to the shadows and others to the heroes’ engagement areas, so there are always pros and cons to making progress. After this, in the Peril Phase the game timer moves onwards, sometimes triggering events, and the starting player marker is passed round. In the middle of all this you will be resolving Events, equipping Items and dealing with Status cards, so your heroes will become weaker and stronger as they work their way through each story and there are plenty of choices to be made. A generous flagon of stuff to get your adventuring teeth into.
Status, Item and Dungeon cards.
Synergies and levelling! Dare you delve?
There is a lot that is good about this game. The way the Quests progress and your heroes level up is clever and involving, and it really gives Warhammer Quest a strong narrative. If you have the time you can play through the Campaign, gaining items and abilities between the various stages depending on whether you succeed or fail, or you can have the whole experience condensed into a single Delve Quest, which feels a little like a dungeon ramraid in comparison to the full experience. Either one is a challenge, even if there is a little wiggle room around the edges for mistakes, and you do not even need to succeed at any of the first four stages to win the Campaign – it just means that the final battle is that much tougher. Satisfyingly, while you get to grips with Warhammer Quest you will have several “Aha!” moments as you realise where the synergies between the different heroes and their actions lie, and how best to approach a specific quest, learning whether it is better to explore or to fight enemies.
The Quest Card and Peril Marker – when it next moves it will trigger the green box.
Is this tricky? Accept that the exceptions have exceptions!
It is not a good sign for a game’s rulebook when an official FAQ is released only a few months into its life, and there are enough fiddly moments to have elicited many questions from curious players. Veterans of games such as Space Hulk or Lord Of The Rings will have become hardened to the whole issue, knowing how to treat keywords and to be careful about the order in which they activate cards and tokens. In this game, for example, success tokens need to be applied before you roll your dice and defeated enemies still get a chance to strike back even though your hits are applied first and they are presumably dead by that stage. Admittedly, these issues are all covered (somewhere deep) in the rules, but it is a bit of a pick-and-mix for the first few games, and you may well find yourself printing out a third-party turn sheet to make things easier – in fact, that’s positively recommended.
The play outline covers only the barest essentials.
While there is a decent amount of variation in the box, with the Campaign and the Quest, time will tell how much life is in these cards. Even at this very early stage it seems that this is a game crying out for new scenarios and cards, and I am surprised that this does not bear the LCG logo. Perhaps Fantasy Flight did not want to add it to that particular roster, but I do hope that does not mean that this is going to remain a single box product. This feels very much like a world ripe for exploration, and I would imagine that most players who get past the initial learning curve would find themselves craving an expanded Hammerverse sooner rather than later.
Is the pain worth the gain? Know what lies ahead!
Aficionados of these games will know that the initial pain can be well worth it, that all the fiddling around with the rules and internet forums can be the price of entry to a thrilling and immersive world, and that is certainly the case here. Rats will scurry, Goblin Archers will attack you from the shadows, and Spiders will hinder you in their webs – it’s all in here – and once you are past all that grinding while the cogs of Warhammer Quest begin to mesh together it can be fun and smooth as you get emotionally involved with your intrepid party and see them grow into their adventure.
You’ll learn to curse those black dice…
Warhammer Quest is not overly easy and certainly not for beginners. It is a cooperative game and feels best with the full complement of four players, but I’d recommend intermediate steps before leaping straight here from something like Hanabi. On the other hand, if you are a more experienced gamer after that LCG feel without feeling locked in to the purchase cycle (see James’s great recent article to see if LCG’s might be for you) then this might just do the trick, whether you are a Warhammer person or not. That universe means nothing to me at all, but I know this four-folks-in-a-dungeon kind of world well from computer games and this is as impressive a recreation of that world as you’ll get with the console and TV turned off.
The Warrior Priest hero for different player counts.
Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game is yet another impressively polished product from Fantasy Flight. I never cease to be amazed at what can be achieved with a couple of packs of cards and a few tokens, and Fantasy Flight have managed to create entire alternate universes out of the barest essentials. In previous games you could be a computer hacker, a galactic rebel, a Hobbit, and now Warhammer has had “The Card Game” treatment, and the best thing is that, like me, you do not need to be able to tell one end of a Warhammer from the other to be able enjoy it. Like the dungeons in Warhammer Quest, for the curious adventurer this is well worth exploring. Expansions, please!
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I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and i'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.