Saturday 26 May 2012

Review - World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game

World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
Designed by Corey Konieczka (I can't pronounce his name, but he's a damned good designer)
For 2-4 players, aged 12 to adult

World of Warcraft (the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game) is a bit of a cultural phenomenon, so I should probably be a bit embarrassed to admit that I've never played it. I played some of the early stuff, when it was just called Warcraft and it was all about building cities; but I've never ventured into the online world. Maybe I'm frightened it might suck me in, and I'd lose my family and my house and not even notice.

Whatever the reason, I've never played the roleplaying game (putting me in a minority of one); but that didn't prevent me being interested in the various Warcraft board games that were released by Fantasy Flight Games under licence from Blizzard. Their first effort didn't tempt me to part with my money, but when they released World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game, which attempted to take the questing and adventuring of the roleplaying game and convert it into a slightly more complicated version of Talisman (a game I had loved in my youth), I was sold. Luckily, I didn't have to open my wallet; my beautiful wife bought the game for me for my birthday. God bless her.

Fantasy Flight Games have now lost their licence with Blizzard, and this game is out of production. That means, even though it isn't particularly old, it qualifies for inclusion in The Vault.

Okay, that's enough preamble. Let's find out what the game is all about...

World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game box
World of Warcraft's box art, depicting exactly zero characters from the game

First of all, it has to be said that this really is a wonderfully produced game. The first thing of note is the beautifully illustrated, large board. Well, I thought it was beautiful; but there are more than a few people who think its design is quite ugly. The problem is that, rather than looking like a traditional map of the world (of Warcraft), the board is actually rather abstract. Major locations are represented in circles, and linked with paths of different colours. It looks very "board-gamey," and is perhaps not quite as thematic as some people would like.

World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game board detail
Close up of the World of Warcraft board.

Aside from the board, the game also ships with a number of different tokens for tracking health, character quests, monster locations, and other events. These tokens are very thick and durable, and they are well illustrated. Anyone who has played a Fantasy Flight Game will know what to expect with these.

The bulk of the game mechanics are driven by the draw of cards, and these cards constitute most of the other game components. There are decks of large cards for each character in the game, representing skills that can be utilised at certain points to gain advantages; and there are four decks of smaller cards which represent challenges (with the reward for defeating that challenge on the reverse). There are also mission cards, and some trophies.

World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game yellow cards
I like tigers... Not this tiger... Other tigers.

I'll talk about the cards in more depth in a moment. Before then, I want to talk about one of the major faults with the game. The number of characters.

It is very normal for an adventure game to give players a selection of characters to pick from, but World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game only ships with four characters. That means, if you have four people playing, someone doesn't really get to pick a character - that person just gets lumped with the character nobody else wanted.

All of the characters are interesting, with their own deck of unique skill cards to play during the game, and all four have very nice plastic miniatures to indicate their positions on the game board; but there really is no excuse for not giving a few more to pick from.

World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game base game miniatures
The four characters from the base game.

Fantasy Flight Games very quickly released character expansions, each consisting of one new character with all the cards and tokens needed, plus a few extra encounter cards. I bought five of the eight they released, and that really does make all the difference. Some of these new characters are much more interesting than those in the base game, and they add loads of replayability. I wouldn't mind getting the other three characters too, but of course, they're out of production now; and as they were never sold in large quantities they aren't easy to find.

World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game expansion miniatures
Five of the characters from the character pack expansions.

World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game Tauren miniature
You call that a knife?

The game itself is really rather simple. Each player is given two missions to accomplish, and completing a mission will earn a certain number of valor points. Missions vary from killing a certain type of monster, travelling to a certain location, or fighting another character. Each time a mission is completed, it is also replaced with a harder "elite" mission. The game continues until someone gets eight valor points.

Of course, between you and completing your missions, there is a world (of Warcraft) of vicious monsters to fight. Usually, stopping at a location will result in you drawing one of the challenge cards that matches the colour of the location you are on. Most challenge cards have a monster printed on one side and a reward printed on the reverse. If you kill the monster, you flip the card and take the reward. Simple.

There are a few other rules: You might go to a city, or encounter a discovery token placed by another player, or you might draw a card that has an event on it; but generally speaking, your turn will involve moving a number of spaces (determined by dice roll), and then having a fight. Even if you draw an event card, after resolving the event you keep on drawing challenge cards until you find a monster; so you really have to expect that on most of your turns, you are going to end up in a scrap.

Luckily, fighting is very quick. You roll a dice and add your attack value (you can also play skill cards to boost your value or reroll dice). Your opponent does the same. If an attack roll beats the target's defence value, wounds equal to the attacker's current damage stat are inflicted (and monsters on challenge cards only have a single wound, so even a weak hit will kill them). Ranged attacks are calculated before melee attacks, otherwise attacks happen at the same time; so that means you might get hurt even if you kill your enemy.

The game really does only have a very basic set of rules, which may seem surprising considering the rule book weighs in at 32 pages. However, the rule book is very thorough and heavily illustrated and that accounts for a lot of the space.

World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game rules
Does equipping an item really take a full page of explanation?

Fantasy Flight Games often get a lot of stick for badly written rules, but I think in this case they did a really good job. The simplicity of the rules may have been a big factor in that, but I still think it is worthy of note.

In the process of completing missions, it will be necessary for characters to go up levels. All characters start off grey, and can only access grey paths on the game board. Levelling up (usually done at certain locations by defeating challenges) will change the character's colour to the next in sequence (green, then yellow, and finally red), and this will unlock areas of the matching colour on the board. Higher level characters will also get better stats, such as more hit points.

World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game character card
One of the characters from the base set.

The levelling system is really quite interesting. Most of the "elite" missions will involve venturing into the red areas of the board, and that means the characters need to level up first. This makes the game very much a race. You are not casually strolling around the wilderness killing time (and monsters) until you are eventually strong enough to fight a big boss. In this game you must push and push as quickly as possible to go up the levels so you can complete those missions. If you aren't going at full speed every turn, then you will probably lose.

Misunderstanding the nature of the game is one of the reasons I wasn't too keen on it at first. I spent a lot of time having low level encounters in the hope of winning some fabulous weapons, only to discover there are no fabulous weapons. The game dragged on, nobody's stats got any better (because nobody was levelling up), and everybody had a ton of low-value weapons and armour that didn't seem worth having. However, purchasing a few of the expansion characters and then playing a few games in which everybody raced to level up as fast as possible really changed my opinion, and this is now one of my favourite fantasy adventure games.

What really brings the game to life is how differently it plays depending on the character you pick (which highlights what a mistake it was only including four characters in the box). The game itself is very simple - almost too simple - but by giving each character a unique deck of skill cards, every game presents different challenges and tactics.

Each skill card has a power value. The movement dice is printed with power symbols, so when you roll to move you are also determining your power level for the turn. Interestingly, the sides of the dice with lower movement values have higher power values, so you will usually end up with a result you can do something with. The skills themselves give you combat boosts, movement boosts, or other special abilities to help you complete your missions. They really do add a lot of variety to a game that might otherwise feel very dull and repetitive.

World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game action cards
Skill cards. Nicely illustrated, and clearly set out.

It is worth noting that, as this is a race game, there are plenty of ways for the players to interact. Many of the skills are useful against another character, and many of the missions will involve killing an opponent or taking his stuff (or even allowing an opponent to beat you up!). This is not a game that can be accused of being "multiplayer solitaire," which is an insult that can be thrown at other adventure games such as Runebound.

Overall, I find World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game to be thoroughly enjoyable, but it did take a few turns for everything to "click." I had the rules down and memorised after a few turns, but it took a little longer to realise what kind of game it was, and how it should be played. I can guarantee that if people sit down to play this game at a leisurely pace, everyone will get bored. Just remember, this is a game where the players dictate the pace. It only takes one person to start levelling up, and everyone else at the table will start to rush as well; and before you know it, the game has come to life. I try to level up from grey to green on my very first turn whenever I can. That really upsets my opponents and sets a blistering pace that results in a huge amount of fun. This is clearly the way the game was intended to be played, and it really benefits from that tension.

The one last thing I do have to mention is regarding the theme: Having never played World of Warcraft online, a lot of the theme is wasted on me. There are many places where the designer has assumed you know the computer game. For example, every mission is based on something from the computer game, and the name of each mission is sure to mean something to people who play online. But there is no flavour text on the mission cards to explain to those of us who don't play online what those missions mean. As a result, the game can sometimes feel a bit mechanical, as I am simply chasing objectives without knowing the thematic reason behind doing so. It's not a deal-breaker by any means, but it is a shame that the theme wasn't implemented in a way that would make it accessible to everyone.

Even if a lot of the in-jokes and game references are wasted on me, I still hold World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game in high esteem. After all, what's not to love about playing a backstabbing troll who roams the countryside in search of fame and monster heads to mount on his wall?

And no, before you ask, playing the game hasn't made me want to try the online version. Not one bit.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Go on, leave me a comment. You know you want to.