Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back to the...past

Remember this one?
No painting to speak of since the last time.  Instead I got in a bit of gaming.  I have a non-gaming friend who causes me to be locked in an eternal debate: whether or not to try and bring him into the hobby.  The benefits are obvious, while the drawbacks are less so, but in the end I decided to give it another shot over the weekend.  To that end, I pulled out an old gem: Warhammer Quest.  I've tried a toned-down version of Uncharted Seas with this guy before, who I'll go ahead and acronymize as NGF, with a modicum of success at the time, but no real retention afterwards.  I thought Warhammer Quest might work a little better as it's a familiar game type, being Diablo the board game in effect, plus the various little gribblies that need paint would be an easy introduction to painting should things get that far.

We played two rounds on Saturday, with a healthy yard work break in between.  Both games ended in the same way, with the heroes worn down by a string of random encounters and finished off by a minotaur(s).  While we were playing I was reminded of all the things I like and dislike about the game.  It is, for good or bad, a well-defined system.  Everything has a rule or procedure, from what monsters attack what heroes to how to divide treasure.  While I'm sure these rules were implemented to avoid arguments by the younger part of GW's target audience over who got what loot or how the minotaur splats first, they keep the game moving regardless of player age by minimizing rules interpretations.  It's a pretty simple game and the basic mechanics are quickly grasped.  Much as I love Warmachine, and even regular Warhammer, the complex interaction of rules (I'm looking at you, Watcher + Bulldoze) can make both learning and playing a time consuming thing.  Warhammer Quest just rolls right along once you know what you're doing.

That ease of play is also one of the problems though.  At its core, Warhammer Quest is a simple and repetitive game: kill monsters, explore new board sections, kill more monsters, explore more.  While there is more depth to the game via the Roleplay book, we weren't getting that deep into it and ultimately said book just has different monsters to kill and an advancement system to let you kill them better.  During our second game I got the feeling that NGF was looking for more depth, or at least more options, but there wasn't much more I could do.  The lack of options was stood out the most at two points: character death and repeated 1s in the 'roll a 1' phase.  When refreshing myself with the rules, I was at first surprised that there's no first aid option, no real way to heal your character outside of magic, let alone a Raise Dead sort of spell.  On reflection this fits in well with the grimdark feel of GW fluff, but at the same time it seems harsh in what is meant to be an introduction to the hobby in general.  The extra encounters are a different sort of problem, and one that is easier to fix.  Once in each game we had a string of 3+ rounds of extra encounters, with predictable results.  While the rooms quickly filled with cannon-fodder, which was just as quickly cleared by ax and sword, inevitably the big boys showed up and finished the party off.  While some of this is the vagaries of luck and dice, it's a problem that doesn't have to exist at all.  The fix is pretty simple: one extra encounter at a time, or two, or however many.  There are a finite number of monsters in any dungeon, even one randomly generated.  The worse part of these extended encounters is that you can see the end when the card flips.  A mountain of goblins or skaven is a roadbump, something that slows you down and maybe forces you to use an item or stored power before you want to, but ultimately nothing to really be concerned about.  When the minotaurs hit the table though, you can make a very quick assessment of what resources your part has and how many monsters there are, then come to the conclusion that you're boned and there's nothing you can do about it.  That's how these things work, you don't win all the time, but knowing that doesn't make it any less deflating.

I think Warhammer Quest succeeds in the goal that (I imagine) it sets for itself: it's a fun game that's quick to learn and serves as a gateway into the hobby for the uninitiated.  While it has a campaign system, I don't know that it's necessary.  Whenever I got to wondering how said system would work, I ended up thinking I'd be better off just playing D&D, especially with the new direction the fourth edition took.  Then there are the direct competitors like Descent.  I also found myself cursing GW for making Space Hulk such a limited run as it's the perfect counterpart to Quest.  Ultimately this game is a good way to introduce someone to the hobby, and a fun afternoon for a veteran gamer, but lacks the substance to satisfy in the long term.

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