Monday 18 November 2013

Review - World of Warcraft: Miniatures Game

World of Warcraft: Miniatures Game Horde faction

World of Warcraft: Miniatures Games
Published by Upper Deck Entertainment
Designed by a whole bunch of people
For 2 players, aged 14 to adult

It's about 2:30pm here in Merry Olde England. Time to sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit and review something. Unfortunately, Mrs Never Boring has eaten the last custard cream in the house. Fear not, I am a warrior, and that sort of minor set back isn't going to stop me.

I'm having a Bourbon biscuit instead.


Collectable games... I've probably mentioned this before, but I'm not a fan. I'm not a fan because such games are a money sink. You are constantly spending money, and the stuff is usually blind-packaged, so you aren't even sure what you are spending your money on.

Call me old fashioned ("you're old fashioned!") but when I buy a game, I want to buy a complete game that has everything I need to play right there in the box. And then, if I like the game, I am happy to buy expansions later on.

One of the biggest problems with collectable games are the starter sets. I don't think I've ever seen a starter set done right. You see, the publishers have to walk a fine line: They want you to have enough bits and pieces to play and like the game, but they also want to make sure you aren't satisfied with just the starter set and want to buy more. These two aims are in direct opposition. If the publisher includes enough stuff for a truly engaging and satisfying game experience, you won't immediately feel the need to buy more bits, and the publisher really wants you to buy more bits. However, if you don't have an engaging and satisfying game experience right out of the box, you aren't going to feel compelled to buy more.

So, what you end up with are boring starter sets, that only give you a sample of what the full game experience has to offer.

And that's why many collectable games don't do well.

I honestly have no idea how well World of Warcraft: Miniatures Game did, but it was first released in 2008, and is no longer in production. I think it got through two waves of releases, which seems to be about the average life expectancy of this sort of thing. It's a bit of a shame really, because the game (while being very simple), is actually okay, and the pre-painted miniatures are large and impressive, and painted relatively well.

World of Warcraft Miniatures Game Alliance faction
The Alliance fellas... Seem friendly enough, don't they?

I only recently acquired this game, because I saw a basic starter set in a clearance store and liked the look of the miniatures. I also liked the fact that the box stated "everything 2 players need to play."

This statement is, of course, a lie.

What the starter set gives you is "some of the bits 2 players need to almost play."

Now, I only have the starter set, so I'm pretty much reviewing that starter set on its own merits. There was a deluxe set which had more figures and a proper board, and that probably was a much better way to get involved in this game, but... I can't find one. If I ever get one, I'll review it.

So, this starter set...

You get four miniatures (not a random allocation): Two evil dudes from the Horde team, and two guys that look just as evil, but actually aren't, from the Alliance team. These guys don't like each other. I don't know why, I've never played the computer games. Could be a dispute over who got the last custard cream for all I know.

Each character has an associated card that lists all stats and special powers, and each character also gets two additional power cards that can be used once per turn.

World of Warcraft Alliance cards
Alliance character cards.

Besides the characters, you get a double-sided paper map, (which only has one side you can use), six very groovy custom dice in two colours (which isn't enough to play), and six "U-bases" (which are crap).

Sigh. Where to start?

Okay, first things first. As I've already said, the miniatures are pretty good. The paint quality is average, but definitely better than something like Dungeon Command, but they are a nice size (too big for using in other games unfortunately), and they are sturdy. The problem is, you only get four, and this game is designed for fights between teams of three or six miniatures. As a result, the paper map (and I really hate paper maps) has two sides: A start side, designed for battles between teams of two, and an advanced side, which you can't use until you have purchased some additional miniatures.

World of Warcraft game map
Paper maps are rubbish.

Fighting on a limited map, with a limited force, can give you a solid idea of how the game mechanisms work; but it sucks out most of the fun. Strategy is limited, turns are repetitive. It's all a bit boring. Like Bourbon biscuits.

You can't even customise the characters you get, because you only get two power cards for each character, and they aren't interchangeable.

The custom dice are quite cool, but you only get three in each colour. A lot of the attacks involve rolling five or six dice, so you technically need 12 dice (six in each colour) to avoid constantly re-rolling.

And then there are the "U-bases." Good grief...

The game is played out in rounds, and each round is divided into 10 measures of undefined time which are marked on a chart printed on the map. Of course, there is no token to use with this tracker, so you need to use a penny or something.

Each character also has a personal clock. These come in the form of the "U-bases" which are attached to the bottom of the miniatures. They are kind of like Heroclix bases, but more complicated. And rubbish.

If you rotate the bottom of the "U-base" it advances the character's personal clock by one point. If you rotate the bottom of the miniature, then it adjusts the character's number of hit points instead. This means everything is tracked right there on the character's base. Sounds neat.

I thought it sounded neat.

It's not neat.

The "U-bases" are utter crap. They don't fit onto the miniatures properly, so they keep falling off. And of course, when you go to put them back on, you have to remember how many hit points you had so you can reset the base properly. Constantly picking up the miniatures and fiddling with the bases is also just... well... fiddly. You have to be careful to twist them the right way, and careful not to knock them off, and careful to put the miniature back where it came from, and... you know... just careful.

This is stupid, over-engineered nonsense. The same thing could have been achieved by including a team tracker sheet in the starter set, and then packaging each character with a little token. Every time you activated a character, you could advance its token on the team tracker. Does the same thing as the stupid bases but without all the hassle. There is no need to over-complicate things.

Anyway, the game round marker starts at "1," and characters whose personal clocks are at "1" take it in turns to activate. You can make a free move, and then do one action (normally an attack or a heal spell). Doing an action costs time, so attacking might make your personal clock advance by three clicks. This is clever see. You do a big attack, advance your clock, and then... You have to wait. You can't move that character again until his personal clock matches the round marker. In the meantime, every other character on the board gets to pummel the stuffing out of him.

It's a very clever system. I really like it. It's just a shame it was implemented through the "U-base" concept.

The dice combat is equally clever, and is implemented well. The custom dice have three shaded faces, and one face with a critical hit symbol. When you attack (physically, or with magic), you roll a number of dice equal to your attack value. Each dice that turns up a shaded face is a miss, and everything else is a hit. The critical symbol may invoke a special power specific to the kind of attack you are doing, such as causing an additional damage. Your opponent then rolls dice equal to his defence (for a physical attack) or resistance (for a magic attack). Anything but a shaded face on the dice successfully blocks one hit. Hits minus blocks is the total damage caused.


World of Warcraft custom dice
Custom dice... I love custom dice.

Of course, the point of the game, as with so many other games, is to collect victory points. Oh yes, that nebulous, ephemeral concept that rears its head in so many games. Victory points. Who knows what they really are? An abstract concept? Medals of valour? Custard creams?

You get these victory points by being on or next to a victory point space on the board at the end of the round (when the round marker resets back to step "1"). You also get victory points for killing enemies.

There really is nothing more to the game than that: It's super-streamlined, easy to teach, and hangs off a very clever timing mechanism. But the component issues really hurt the game experience. It makes what should be a very fluid game clunky and cumbersome, and really just not as much fun as it should be. And of course, you absolutely need more than what you get in a starter set to experience the full game.

I think this game really needs a do-over. They need to make a proper base set, with a good board, and two balanced teams, and then release several team factions as expansions, like the new Krosmaster Arena game. They need to replace the "U-bases" with simple tokens and tracker bars. And finally, if they made the miniatures smaller, people could use them in other games including roleplaying games, which could only help to encourage sales.

World of Warcraft: Miniatures Game rules
The rules book.

Man, I should totally be a games designer.

Now, you must excuse me. I have to pop out to the shops. I don't know why, but I have a real craving for custard creams...

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