Monday, January 02, 2006
World of Warcraft Board Game review
The World of Warcraft Board Game is published by Fantasy Flight Games, and comes in a huge box. Over the holidays I had the opportunity to play it twice, so here is my review.
The game is for 2 to 6 players, with 4 or 6 working best. Every player plays one or two characters from the WoW MMORPG, with equal numbers of horde and alliance characters on the board. The goal of the game is to win as a faction, players of one faction have to work together against the players of the other faction. The game is decided either after 30 turns in a big PvP battle, or by one faction vanquishing a big overlord boss mob, who is chosen randomly out of three possibilities at the start of the game. One game takes around 4 hours.
Surprisingly the board game manages to feel very much like World of Warcraft. The board depicts the northern part of the Eastern Kingdoms, from Tirisfal Glades to the Plaguelands, and from Hillsbrad to the Hinterlands. The 16 different characters cover all 9 classes and 8 races. The game play is quest-based, and features many of the spells, abilities, talents, monsters, and items from the online game.
The character you are playing is represented by a plastic figurine on the board, and a character sheet in front of you. Items, spells or abilities, and talents are represented by cards on your character sheet. Every character has 12 possible spells or abilities, and 12 possible talents, but can have only 4 of each in play, forcing you to make some choices. Just like in WoW, you can for example either specialize your priest in healing, or go for a shadow priest, or mix. You start with level 1, and can reach a maximum level of 5, but level 5 in the board game gives you powers you would only get at high level in the online game.
To advance in levels, you need to gather experience points, and these are usually gained by quests. At the start of the game each faction gets 5 quests, and whenever somebody finishes a quest, a new quest opens up. Every quest card places one or several green and red quest monsters on the board, which you have to slay to finish the quest. Quest cards can also place blue "independant" monsters on the board, which you have to kill if you want to get past them, although they don't give any rewards. When you finish a quest, you not only get experience points, but also gold, and often some items. Quests can either be soloed, or tackled in a group, in which case the reward has to be divided between the group members.
The game is organized in faction turns, and in each faction turn each character of that faction has two actions, out of 5 possibilities: Travel, rest, fight, train, or do a bunch of things in a town. Traveling is done by moving up to two spaces on the board, with the possibility of taking a flight path in one of these two moves. Resting restores some of your hit points and energy (mana). Training is possible everywhere, and consists of buying spells or abilitys from your character deck, provided your level qualifies you for it. In the town you can do both resting and training at the same time, plus you can buy items from a merchant.
Fighting is done with 8-sided dice of three colors: Blue dice represent ranged attacks, red dice represent melee attacks, and green dice represent defense. You start with only few dice at level 1, but your spells and abilities, talents, or items can add more dice to your dice pool, up to a maximum of 7 of each color. Other spells and abilities, talents, or items might give you ways to modify your dice rolls, like rerolling some of them, or added effects for good rolls. Every monster has a "threat value" of 4 to 8, which represents the minimum you need to roll with your dice for a success. Different monsters have different special abilities, and some damage, curse, or stun you for bad rolls. The combat system is fun, a represents well the different character classes. For example a hunter would mainly roll blue dice and do a lot of ranged damage, while a paladin would roll lots of green defensive dice.
At the end of each faction turn the turn marker advances, and that can cause new items to appear at the merchant, or events can happen. There are a range of events, from "wars", where a faction can gain extra xp and gold by holding specific regions, to auctions where players bid for rare items like mounts, to a range of miscellaneous random events. After turn 30, playing with standard rules, the game ends with a big PvP battle between the two factions, unless one side has killed the overlord first.
Unfortunately PvP using standard rules is a very slow affair, as hits neutralize each other. I recommend to play with the "deadly PvP" rule variant from the rules book, which speeds up PvP considerably. Or even better, use the "defeat overlord" rules variant, where the game has no PvP and can last longer than 30 turns, ending only when the overlord is defeated. You might say that by having a bad PvP system the board game accurately represents the online game. :)
I really liked the board game, but I also have to mention its disadvantages: It isn't cheap, you need a huge table to play it, and it takes 4 or more hours to finish. There are hundreds of figurines, tokens, and cards to set up at the start of the game, and preferably sort into separate boxes at the end of the game. And reading, understanding, and explaining the rules for the first time will take some time too. The game system is pretty well balanced, but it has a lot of luck elements, so you might find your faction losing because it has quests too far from each other, or because of bad dice rolls.
But if you have the friends at hand and the place and time available, it is a lot of fun. The rule book mentions that expansions for the game are planned, but even without that, the different characters and options give the game a lot of replayability. And there is no monthly fee. :) Recommended!