Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Designed by: Adam Sadler & Brady Sadler
This game was provided free of charge for review by Esdevium Games.
(Single-Player is a new series designed to review tabletop games that can be played solo, as well as with friends. While I do talk about playing the games with friends, these reviews will primarily focus on the single-player experience.)
Warhammer can conjure up a lot of different images when its name is mentioned, from the masses of detailed plastic figures being controlled by fiercely intent generals across wonderfully made and painted terrain to what I see; Space Marines marching across the map with Dreadnoughts in tow, seeking to destroy the enemy forces in Warhammer 40K; Dawn of War, one of the best RTS games of all time. A table full of cards and tokens, though, generally isn’t what springs to mind when Warhammer is mentioned, and yet here with are with Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game, an attempt to distill the original Warhammer Quest boardgame published back in 1995 into a smaller, modern package. It doesn’t replace that classic game, but contained within the small box is a very enjoyable card game in its own right.
In an entirely non-shocking turn of events for a game published by Fantasy Flight Games the components are nothing short of great, the many stacks of cards adorned with quality Warhammer art and made of lovely textured card stock that makes them satisfying to handle. The various counters and tokens are equally impressive, and the dice have a nice heft to them which makes rolling, which you’re going to be doing a lot, a genuine pleasure. Yes, I know, many of my readers may be unaware of the joys of rolling dice. Go grab four or five dice, give them a good shake and roll ’em. Trust me. There’s something almost erotic about it. Something sexual. Something…..um, ahem. Never mind.
The game boils down to a time-honored premise; you’re going to hack your way through some dungeons in the name of loot and glory because of largely unimportant reasons. You can simply opt to embark on a mission, or there’s the campaign that guides you through a total of five quests with persistent equipment, upgrades and even nemeses that will continue to plague you. A scenario card provides a brief story outline for what you’re doing while also telling you how to create the four decks (enemy, equipment, location and dungeon) that will be involved in playing, asking the player to put together certain enemy groups and locations along with randomly selected cards that match up to the current missions rating. This serves to both randomized each mission for subsequent play throughs while still giving the campaign thematic structure that’s enhanced by the flavour text on many of the cards. It tells a very simple story of a town that suddenly begins to fall ill due to poisoning of the water and sadly there’s no more campaigns for added variety, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless and it should be pretty easy to toss together your own custom campaigns. Grab a pen and paper and you could even jot down a storyline for friends to enjoy.
The campaign nicely allows for both success and failure. Successfully achieve the objectives laid before you, which usually involve fully exploring the final area and killing some baddies, and good cards will be added to what is referred to as the “campaign pool”, which essentially mean a collection of cards that get shuffled into the various decks for every missions. Generally these rewards are special cards that will let you get a random piece of Legendary gear for your character when drawn. Penalties typically involve having to shuffle a special Nemisis into the enemy deck, powerful foes with extra abilities that act as bosses for campaign quests who’ll follow you from area to area if you muck up. It’s good that the game let’s players trip up from time to time without instant failure because it’s actually pretty damn hard. On my first run-through of the campaign I lost a lot more than I won, and when I won it was by the skin of my teeth.
That quite challenging difficulty is mixed with gameplay that actual foster true co-operation between characters, as opposed to most games that claim to be co-operative but lack much interaction between players sitting around the table. Each player takes control of one of the four typical hero types included in the game, while a solo player takes two of them, although you could play as all four heroes if you want. These heroes each boast four basic action card; exploration let’s you explore the current location and draw special dungeon cards in the process, vital to completing most missions; attacking does the obvious and is the main method of dealing with the many enemies who will attempt to thwart your quest; rest, which lets you heal your character; and aid, which lets you generate success tokens for other heroes in order to shore up their turn. Each action has slight differences depending on the hero, but their basic premise is always the same. The Bright Wizard, for example, can take extra damage to make actions more effective. Here’s where things get interesting though; when used an action becomes exhausted and can’t be used again until its refreshed, and that can only be done by using the one action card each hero has that bares the Prepare Icon which lets them ready all of their exhausted actions. Which action has the Prepare Icon varies from hero to hero; the long-range Waywatcher has hers on her attack action, while the Warrior Priest has his on the aid action, for example. What this does is a create a cool dynamic where you need to very carefully plan out your actions between characters, so that one covers the other while they rest or aid is lent as needed. A hero under heavy assault needs to be saved by another hero engaging some of the enemies so they can heal up, or perhaps one hero will attempt to fend off all the most powerful foes while the other quickly explores the currently location so they can move on to the next area. Playing with four players each character gets one action per turn, but when solo they get two.
What the game mostly boils down to is trying to fully explore locations by rolling dice so you can stack tokens on them. Campaign missions feature randomized locations, with the final location always being a specific area for that mission. But complicating matters are plenty of monsters intent on turning your insides into your outsides and your outsides into mush. Whenever you gather up the amount of white dice indicated on any given action card you must also grab a black dice for every enemy currently engaged with that hero and then roll the whole glorious lot. The white dice contain a few icons; successes explain themselves and do various things depending on the action – so when attacking they indicate damage done to enemy, for example – while shields let you fend off incoming damage. That’s where those pesky black dice come into play because enemies can attack you while you’re performing actions, and then they also get their own separate turn afterwards where a series of keywords makes them behave in certain ways, creating a sort of A.I. It’s actually pretty cool because these keywords create a sense of personality for these horrible monsters, so a Giant Wolf lacerates you for bleeding damage and goes after the most wounded player, focusing on the weakest member of the herd, while another creature retreats to what is known as the Shadow Zone after attacking, while others perform different actions according to their type. In other words while exploring locations tends to be the key to victory, you also have to manage the enemies busy trying to cave your skull in, especially since any actively engaged with heroes will move on to any new location where fresh enemies will spawn.
But let’s go back to those white dice because they contain one of the things I love the most about this game. No, it’s not awesome artwork or good mechanics that keep you focused on planning and making heroes work together. No, it’s critical hits. You see when you roll one you get to add a success token to your existing successes, and then you get to re-roll the die. If you roll another critical hit you just add another token and roll again, and so on and so on and so on. It’s bloody awesome! I know, it’s such a simple thing, but there’s a great pleasure to be derived from magically hitting a series of critical hits, stacking success upon beautiful success. Oh, and just so you know this specific mechanic is known as exploding dice. Which is awesome.
And that’s the basic tenants of the game. Lately FFG have opted to include both a quick-start guide and reference book in their products, a fantastic idea in theory that is again let down by some very shoddy explanations and questionable layouts that seem to delight in making you flip madly through the pages to find rules that often seem to differ from their full counterparts in the reference book. Although it’s actually a very simple game to learn and play I admit that I actually struggled to get most of it down pat, constantly stopping because certain things weren’t clear in the rules or simply weren’t mentioned. A Youtube video later I had it all figured out, though, and was pleased with how easy it would be to teach to someone else how to play and yet how strategic it actually is. The best games are usually easy to learn but contain within their relatively straightforward rules a good degree of depth, and Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game is just that without ever becoming bogged down in nonsense. Every turn has to be contemplated in order to figure out which hero should do what and who should engage the enemy. Moves need to be considered and planned in advance so that no action is ever wasted.
There are some other things going on, too, though. Equipment cards have enough interesting effects and work with items to mix up the gameplay, and between campaign quests you can visit a settlement to do things like increase the amount of gear you can equip, pick up new equipment cards and improve one basic action to its advanced version, which obviously provides some handy benefits over its weaker predecessor. Meanwhile the location cards being “explored” ( a loose term because all you’re doing in reality is placing tokens on it) also boast their own effects that come into player toward the end of every turn, while a Peril track on every quest card initiates a variety of effects depending on its position, from a nemesis spawning onto the battlefield or a toxic gas becoming stronger and doing more damage. Again, this is a clear mechanic aiming to bring extra flavour into the game.
And flavour it really does have. I don’t tend to view card games as generally very thematic bar some exceptions, like the rather excellent Elder Sign which I fully intend on reviewing at some point, and yet Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card game, which really needed a shorted name, manages to bring a reasonable amount of flavour to the table through its artwork, enemy behavior and storytelling. Sure, it’s nowhere near as thematically strong as much larger games, but for a card-based title this does surprisingly well.
One of the things that I find the most impressive about the game is just how little book-keeping and faffing around there is to be done. Aside from stacking tokens for wounds, successes and exploration and having to exhaust cards there’s very little to be done during a turn. Everything you really need is on the dice and cards. I love games like this because it makes them easier to bring out when a group of friends are round without scaring them away.
In case you hadn’t already guessed, then, I don’t have much to complain about. Played with a group of four the gameplay mechanics foster a lot of camraderie and pretty much forces true planning and co-operation, or else failure is almost a surety. Meanwhile solo plays works beautifully, too, obviously lacking that group decision making aspect but otherwise retaining all the strategy and planning, making it a very enjoyable way to spend a hour or two of your time. In other words I’m pretty impressed with the clumsily named Warhammer Quest: An Adventure Card Game. It looks good, feels good and plays good.