Sunday, 5 October 2014

Review - Warhammer Quest

Warhammer Quest


Warhammer Quest
Designed by Andy Jones and Gavin Thorpe
Published by Games Workshop
For 1-5 players (or 2-4 if you believe the box), aged 12 to adult

Warhammer Quest box
Glorious gaming goodness, or an outdated dinosaur?


Some out of production games demand a reprint.

Some games deserve to be repackaged, updated, and made available to the masses so people do not have to pay obscene prices on eBay.

Some games are so timeless and superb that they should always be in print, and the world seems incomplete without them.

Guess what...?

Warhammer Quest isn't one of them.

Now, don't get me wrong; I would buy a new edition of Warhammer Quest in a heartbeat. But that purchase is grounded firmly in nostalgia, because I was there in 1995, when Games Workshop launched the game on an unsuspecting market. I was there when that barbarian first took up his lantern and strode bravely (foolishly) into the dark depths of the mountains in search of fame, wealth, and (most likely) a horrible death involving pointy things.

I was that barbarian.

For several years, I had some of the most fun that I have ever had playing board games thanks to Warhammer Quest. Every weekend, my group of friends would come over, and we would explore dank mines, unearth fabulous riches, and slay foul fiends, for no other reason than "they were there."

Warhammer Quest contents
The box is chock-full of stuff.


But eventually, something happened.

I went to university.

One of the last things I did before I went was to sell every board game in my possession, including classics such as Heroquest, Space Crusade, Warhammer Quest, and Necromunda.

If I think about that too much, the world goes a bit dark and I need to have a sit down.

I sold the games because I thought going to university meant growing up, and growing up meant I wasn't supposed to play board games about dragons and goblins anymore.

And I needed money for beer.

Like that barbarian and his dwarven ally, descending into the darkness of the dungeon, I was lost.

And a little bit tipsy.

But by the time I had finished university, I had started to realise that selling all my games was a mistake (as was drinking all that beer), and now I know what it truly means to grow up. I have a wife, a child, and a mortgage. I write about goblins and dragons for a living. I play with LEGO. I make my daughter laugh by doing monkey impressions.

I am definitely an adult, but I have no intentions of ever growing up.

So, since the "wilderness years" of my youth, I have spent a long time trying to reacquire the games I gave away, and Warhammer Quest was always top of the list. However, the copy I now own was not one that I paid through the nose for on eBay. It is not one that I managed to find incomplete at a car boot sale.

It is a copy I was given.

By someone I don't actually know.

"Out of the blue," a user on BoardGameGeek contacted me and offered to give me a copy of Warhammer Quest. He wouldn't accept any money for it (not even for postage). He simply wanted to do something for a fan of the game.

It is genuinely one of the nicest things that anyone has done for me.

So, bearing that in mind, I feel a bit bad when I say, Warhammer Quest isn't really very good.

I mean, the game has stunning miniatures, dozens of quests, stacks of replayability... and I love it. But I know it isn't very good.

I'm not blind.

The fact that nobody I introduce it to seems to like it makes it obvious that my love is rose-tinted with nostalgia. And I'm okay with that.

Whether you are is another matter.

Warhammer Quest rules
Rules and Adventure booklets.


Warhammer Quest arrived at a time when Games Workshop was going through a garish phase. The artwork was bright and cartoonish, and lacked the dark style that made Advanced Heroquest such a compelling proposition. Furthermore, Games Workshop was just hitting its stride for making everything over the top: The massive wings on the dwarf helmets, the barbarians wielding two-handed swords and battleaxes simultaneously... The skulls.

So many skulls.

A lot of the ominous, dark, despairing overtones that were prevalent in the Warhammer world were nowhere to be seen, and instead there was this slightly watered down cartoon style that was at odds with the gritty theme. A bit like that Saturday Morning Watchmen parody.

But while the style may not have been to everyone's tastes, one thing is certain: Warhammer Quest was pretty good fun. It created a vivid world, populated with bizarre creatures and equally bizarre heroes. It created adventure.

Warhammer Quest heroes
Our intrepid heroes. Also known as "meat."


It also helped to crystalize certain gaming concepts that now seem commonplace, but which at the time were far from the norm.

For a start, the game was fully co-operative. This was not a tagged on co-operative experience like the one seen in Advanced Heroquest. This was actually how Warhammer Quest was designed straight out of the gate.

Playing without a dungeon master was completely feasible.

Dying horribly due to the ridiculous amounts of randomness was also completely feasible.

Games Workshop had created a game that presented a series of random events without the need for a dungeon master. It most certainly had not created a game with artificial intelligence. A brave party of adventurers could enter the first room of the first game and get smashed to pieces by three rampaging minotaurs, or the same party could wander empty hallways until accidentally stumbling on their objective without getting so much as a scratch. A random encounter could create a cave-in that brought the game to a premature end, or it could unearth a magical weapon so powerful those three minotaurs were nothing more than walking hamburgers.

The game was as wild, ridiculous, and unpredictable as the world in which it was set.

For someone who enjoys a heavy dose of theme in any game, that is absolutely perfect.

And absolutely frustrating.

Warhammer Quest cards
Random treasure, random events, random dungeon... Random.


Another thing that made the game stand out was the modular board, with individual room and corridor tiles linked with plastic doors. Modular boards were not unique to Warhammer Quest (again, Advanced Heroquest had got there first), but determining which tiles and monsters to place based on random card draws made it all seem fresh and exciting, while the doorways and visually appealing tiles made everything pop.

But what really made the game stand out was its generosity. The kind of generosity you wouldn't see from any company these days, let alone Games Workshop.

It shipped with over 90 incredibly varied miniatures, the doorways were huge chunky bits of plastic that clipped the lavishly illustrated tiles in place, and there were five different objective rooms, each with six different missions. Combining those different missions with the random dungeon generation system, and the random monster allocation, meant you could play Warhammer Quest every day of the week without ever seeing the same game twice.

Warhammer Quest snotling
Snotlings and spiders were always my favourite.


Furthermore, you could play it solo, or you could play it with up to three other friends as a co-operative game. Get bored of that? Then introduce a dungeon master player, and flip open the included roleplaying book: An epic tome almost 200 pages long, with rules for linking games into a campaign, visiting towns, and levelling up your characters. It even had complete rules for including every damn creature that Games Workshop ever made a miniature for... except fimirs...

I miss fimirs.

Warhammer Quest roleplaying book
The roleplaying book: a game within a game.


Back in the day, most of our time in the Warhammer world was spent Warhammer Quest roleplaying. I was the dungeon master, and I took my friends through a series of elaborate stories that I spent hours creating. I have never played a "proper" roleplaying game, but Warhammer Quest was just the right dash of roleplaying in a board game setting, and I embraced it totally. And even now I think this is probably the best way to play the game, because the purely co-operative game out of the box is so random it can get to the point of farce.

Right from the start, randomness is ingrained in everything you do. You roll a dice to determine how many wounds your character has, and the wizard rolls to see how many power tokens he gets, so you could get hosed before you even set foot in the dungeon.

Once the game is underway, each turn you start by rolling for the "winds of magic," which could make your wizard a super-powered monster-killing badass, or could result in your wizard's wand going droopy while a horde of monsters ambush you (yes, just at the point you need the magic the most). Then you move (thankfully there is no rolling involved), and whack any monsters that are loitering (more dice rolling). Next, the monsters get to whack back (even more dice rolling). Finally, heroes adjacent to unexplored doorways have the option of drawing a card from the dungeon deck to generate a new bit of the maze.

Warhammer Quest spells
Just a few of the spells your wizard will fail to cast.


Exploring is fun. Rooms start empty, but when the heroes step inside you draw a random encounter card. This usually results in the arrival of some monsters; however, sometimes you get an event instead. It is all very slick and fast-paced. It is also dice heavy, and almost completely devoid of real choices.

That's not to say there are no choices at all. You pick the monster you want to hit in a fight. You pick where you want to move. You pick when to explore. If you have special items you pick when you use them. And yes, as the game goes on, and you get more special abilities and more items, the choices become more interesting. But let's face it, this isn't Chess, and it doesn't pretend to be. This is fast-food gaming at its best.

It is also very much a product of its time. There aren't even any female characters.

Ultimately, the game is nothing more than a string of random encounters and dice rolls. You draw a card to place a room, draw a card to populate the room, roll on charts, roll to attack, roll to determine if you are ambushed, roll to determine how much magic power your wizard has for the turn. You roll, and you roll, and you roll.

And nine times out of ten, you get rolled.

But if your heroes beat the odds and survive for a few adventures, they start to power up. They get some good weapons, and they boost their statistics. Suddenly the dungeons seem less dark, the monsters less fierce. At that stage, you aren't exploring dungeons anymore, you are pillaging them. You have to start feeling bad for the monsters.

Warhammer Quest monsters
One of many monster charts.


The game flip-flops from one extreme to the other. Balance, after all, was never Games Workshop's primary goal. The aim here is to create stories; to generate wild campfire tales to entertain your friends while you chug mead. This is a game where the journey is more important than the destination, and where the excitement of a dice roll is more important than any deep strategic thinking.

This is a game where your elf is down to his last hit point. He is bleeding, desperate, alone... The wizard is already dead (the wizard is always dead), his fresh blood staining the flagstones in the flickering light of the fallen barbarian's guttering lantern flame. And the dwarf is in a heap of broken chainmail, tangled in his own beard.

The enraged minotaur lunges. The elf dances out of range. He notches his arrow. He draws aim.

He fires...

You roll the dice...

Warhammer Quest minotaurs
There may be trouble ahead.


It doesn't matter what the outcome is. You may snatch victory from the jaws of a minotaur, or the minotaur may be chewing on more than the cud tonight.

But it really doesn't matter. Because winning doesn't really matter.

All that matters is having fun, creating stories, laughing with friends, and rolling dice.

This is not a game about winning. This is a game about adventure.

This is THE game about adventure.

Sometimes those adventures are brutal, always they are random and chaotic; but only very rarely are they boring.

But if you can't get into that mind set, if you sit at the table looking for the tactics and strategies that just aren't there, you are going to be disappointed.

And if I'm totally honest, if I was sitting down today to play for the first time, I would be disappointed too.

Warhammer Quest in action
A staged game in progress.


But I don't want people to get the wrong idea. I love Warhammer Quest, and I would love to see a new edition hit the streets. I would throw money at my computer so fast the screen cracks. This is the dungeon crawler to which all other dungeon crawlers are compared, and with good cause. This game was groundbreaking in some ways. It was exciting. It gave you exactly what you would expect from a game of high adventure in a world of magic.

Warhammer Quest orc
He has a lovely smile.


I have never found a dungeon crawling game that fills me with such a sense of childlike wonder.

But do I really need a new edition?

Do I absolutely, positively need it?

No.

No, I don't.

Blood Bowl, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter...

12 comments:

  1. This post is absolutely spot on! I agree that WHQ is not that great of a game and most of its popularity boils down to nostalgia. I would also snap up a high quality reprint, even if it was nearly $200.00.

    I also sold my copy and I am currently debating buying an expensive copy on eBay. Part of me wants to pull the trigger on a copy and part of me keeps saying "it isnt that great of a game". However, my daughter is nearly five and I think she can handle the simple rules of the base game and I think it would be great fun for her and I to run around the WHQ world killing snotlings, spiders and orcs together.

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    1. Thanks for reading. I don't think there is any other game on the market at the moment quite like Warhammer Quest. There are other dungeon crawling games, but not anything you could introduce to a five year old.

      Dungeon! is a good (bad, but good) game for introducing young children to dungeon plunging, although obviously it is a very different style of game to Warhammer Quest, and it is competitive rather than cooperative.

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    2. By the way, it is worth noting that Fantasy Flight Games has recently announced a card game based on Warhammer Quest. It isn't going to be something a five year old could play, but it might satiate the wanderlust of frustrated adventurers reluctant to buy the original game for inflated eBay prices.

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    3. My daughter loves Dungeon! We have been playing ti since she was about three. I have a hilarious video of yelling at age three (with card in hand) "MOMMY!! IM FIGHTING AN OGRE!! AN OGRE MOMMY!"

      Dungeon! Was one of the first games I remember playing as a kid. It was around 1980 and I really wanted a copy of the D&D Basic set as I had been playing it for awhile at school. My mother had gone to the store one day and promised to buy a copy of the D&D Basic set. I was incredibly let down when she got home with the Dungeon! boxed set. However, we played the heck out of that game and I still enjoy playing it with kids.

      I am anxiously awaiting the WHQ cardgame.

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    4. That's a great story. Thanks for sharing. Some of the best moments I have had with board games involve my daughter.

      The Warhammer Quest card game looks great, which is good because at the moment there isn't much else on the horizon that has me particularly excited.

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    5. I play Mice & Mystics with my little girls. It is (disguised) dungeon crawling, simple and kid-friendly. Girls enjoy playing mouse RPG archetypes battling evil rats and spiders and other monsters. Good production values, lavish campaign book.

      Mantic's Dungeon Saga is the new dungeon crawling hotness for teens and adults. The modified Dwarf King's Hold rules are great rules. I haven't played enough to evaluate the leveling mechanics.

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  2. "But do I really need a new edition?
    Do I absolutely, positively need it?
    No.
    No, I don't."

    I do!

    I never had the chance to play this, and as you've said, "I don't think there is any other game on the market at the moment quite like Warhammer Quest." That's true. It's utterly true. And I'm just not okay with shelling out $250+ for it.

    Your concerns about randomness? I don't mind. I'm certainly in it for the adventure.

    There is a startling lack of games where miniatures-based play meets role-playing elements (leveling up, unique player abilities, etc.). You have either:

    A) The paper-and-pen RPG with minimal support for miniatures (or if there are miniatures involved, they are used representationally and aren't really the focus)
    B) A board game with miniatures with very little in the way of campaign systems that involve leveling up and scaling opponents
    C) A board game that does hit the right balance but requires a Gamesmaster

    The perfect balance/blend of "RPG" and "co-operative miniatures board game" is something I have yet to find in a board game.

    Descent? Too rules-heavy and analytical. Requires a Gamesmaster.
    Dwarf King's Hold? Not sure, worth a look. Sounds like it hits the right notes but I'm not sold on the fluff/flavor.
    Space Hulk? No RPG elements at all, no leveling up.
    Necromunda? It's not a board game and the learning curve/granularity is steep.
    Inquisitor? Heck no, very loose rules a la Rogue Trader, requiring a Gamesmaster to put all the pieces together.

    I could go one, but suffice it to say that I've scoured the web and the game that appears to come the closest to the "perfect balance" I seek is Warhammer Quest.

    Here's to hoping we see it again someday...

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    1. Thanks for reading.

      You might want to check out the Kickstarter campaign for Darklight. I have no idea if it's any good, and I am not affiliated with the designers, but the game is quite clearly inspired by Warhammer Quest.

      Shadows of Brimstone is also heavily inspired by Warhammer Quest, just with the weird West setting.

      At the end of the year, Super Dungeon Explore: Legends comes out. I Kickstarted that and I am pretty excited about it.

      Of course, there is Kingdom Death: Monster. Everyone seems to rave about that, but I have no interest in the body horror theme, and there seems to be too much rolling on charts and sucking up the punishment.

      Also, rumours abound that there is an Age of Sigmar game coming out this summer. Will it be a dungeon delve?

      Not a clue.

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    2. Yo,

      Darklight's theme is way too dark for my taste. Skipping that based on theme alone, unfortunately.

      Shadows of Brimstone has been on my radar for a while. I'm pretty so-so on Flying Frog games, but I'm eager to give it a try. One of my buddies will be buying it soon - I'll try it with him and see how it goes.

      SDE: Legends is another theme thing. Not too keen on chibi anime. I played SDE once and liked it. It just won't be the magical game for which I still seek...

      Right there with you on KD:M.

      As for the AoS game... I've read that! It's interesting for sure. (We're in the same BGG thread about Lost Patrol - I'm bryanruhe on there)

      We shall see...

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    3. I should have realised by your name!

      Chibi goes down well in my house. My five year old daughter loves that stuff.

      It would be interesting to know how you get on with Shadows of Brimstone, based on your desire for a Warhammer Quest style game. It was a game I was really interested in for a long time. I went off the whole idea because everyone says the campaign bit is the good bit, and I have found it increasingly difficult to get enough time to run campaigns for anything. I would love to get an ongoing saga running for something, but I can't see it happening anytime soon.

      Fireteam Zero, Deathwatch, Assassinorum, and Betrayal at Calth are just right as they give me the narrative without the campaign, and they are seeing a lot of table time.

      Oh, and if you haven't tried it, give the Warhammer Quest card game a go. I wasn't thrilled with it (I need to review it at some point), but it has a campaign, and character progression.

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  3. I read your review for Fireteam Zero and I have to say it piqued my interest.

    I own Deathwatch: Overkill but am still assembling all the miniatures. I fully intend to paint them so I'm cleaning all the mold lines... It is taking a very, very long time for 50 miniatures. I'll play it eventually.

    I'd love to own Assassinorum and Calth but the prices! I'm getting a board/cards/dice set for Calth tonight from a local seller. Looking forward to trying it with proxies (I may, like you, end up trying, loving, and buying the full box).

    Not keen on trying the WHQ Adventure Card Game. I used to own the LotR card game and I understand it's similar in many regards. Moving cards around a table doesn't feel at all like a miniatures game to me, and I'm a little bitter the WHQ name got put on a card game when I have been jonesing for a reprint of the board game for so long now... ;)

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    1. Getting Deathwatch: Overkill assembled is a mission. Worth it though. It is my next painting project, and I treated myself to a brand new set of The Army Painter paints to do it.

      I think the Warhammer Quest card game does the best it can at simulating a dungeon plunge through cards; but you are right - it just isn't the same as positioning your little painted dudes on a board.

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