Review: World of Warcraft - The Board Game
Like any planned event, we started late, but we were pretty excited. Fantasy Flight Games was kind enough to send us a review copy of their World of Warcraft boardgame, and if there's anything we love as much as computer games, it's boardgames.
Right about now you're probably wondering what a World of Warcraft boardgame would be like. Is it a rebranded Monopoly? Does it play like Risk? You'd probably be surprised. Here's the concept: Two teams of 2-3 characters, balanced evenly between Horde and Alliance, spend 30 rounds exploring Lordaeron, completing quests, gaining levels, training skills, gathering equipment, and generally preparing for a large battle. There are two ways to win - either one team manages to kill the overlord, essentially a boss mob, or there is a final PvP battle to determine the winner.
Before we dig into the gameplay though, let's start at the beginning. It all started at 9:30 pm, on Friday...
The first thing you'll notice about the game, before you even crack open the box, is that it's big. Really big. In fact, it's easily twice as large as any game I have on my shelf, and once you open it you realize why. The box contains a board, two large stacks of cards in different sizes, dozens of different punchout markers spread across four different printed cardboard sheets, several more printed cardboard character and reference sheets, a bag of 21 colored d8 dice, and a giant bag of molded plastic figures. Oh, and an instruction manual.
When I first checked out the game online, I was rather shocked at the price. As soon as I got the box open, it made perfect sense. Everything in here is top quality - the figures have a great solid feel to them and the molds are clean and recognizable. Everything that is printed is gorgeous, chock full of color and WoW-styled artwork, and on high quality stock. The punchout markers, though there are a lot of them, were easy to pop out of their homes and everything lined up correctly. Before you even get into studying the gameplay, the game is an impressive sight.
Before beginning, everyone needs to choose their characters. To make things a bit easier, all the characters are pre-created, and are printed on their own character sheets. Each sheet is double-sided, with both characters of a class on the same card - this also means you can only have one character of any given class in the game (though this isn't specified in the rules, it's just not possible). The Paladin and Shaman have their own cards, with the WoW logo on the back. In addition to the character sheet, each class also has a small deck of cards representing their class skills and talents.
The character sheet and cards combination is a brilliant solution to making RPG-style characters a part of a strategy game. On each sheet there are card-sized slots for characters to 'equip' skills and items, which are limited in different ways for each character. For example, Warriors can use mail, leather, or cloth armor cards, while Priests can only place cloth cards on their sheet. Skills are either active, and cost energy every use, or passive, and cost energy only when equipped.
Given the complexity of the different characters and their skills, it's obvious that a lot of research went into the game. The characters in the boardgame end up playing a lot like their online counterparts, including the different builds that are common. My priest, for example, ended up as a shadow priest, but if I had chosen my spells and talents differently I could have been healing focused instead. The characters match up so well to their online counterparts that our knowledge of how the classes play in WoW helped us figure out how they were supposed to play in the boardgame.
Each faction starts out together in their home city - the Horde start in Brill, while the Alliance start in Southshore. Once the characters are on the board, each side draws a total of five quests and lays them out. These cards contain instructions to place creatures on the map, both quest targets and random monsters, and fill out the starting areas rather nicely.
This is how the character selection played out in our game. The Alliance side ended up taking single-purpose characters, while the Horde chose a set of hybrids. As an aside, all six of the players have played WoW substantially, but only five are experienced with strategy tabletop games.
One thing to keep in mind is that quest cards are the driving force of gameplay; They're the only way for characters to earn gold and experience. To complete a quest, a character (or group of characters) must get to the quest creature/group and kill it - when it's done, the quest is completed and the character(s) get the rewards printed on the card. When a quest is completed, the card is discarded, and a new quest card is drawn. Quests come in four difficulty levels: grey, green, yellow, and red. Each side starts out with four grey and one green, but as quests are completed more difficult ones can be chosen.
Each round, which alternate between factions, gives each character two actions, which can be any combination of move, attack, rest, train, or town. The quick start suggestions on the back of the game manual suggest that the players spend their first action on a 'town action,' which allows them to train their skills or purchase items from the merchant. All the players in our game agreed, making this their first move, and we all ended up spending most or all of our starting five gold on two level one skills. The second action was universally a move action, taking our characters towards quest mobs.
Interestingly enough, both teams decided to stick together, and they stayed that way for the entire game. Only one battle was fought the entire night without the a full group present. In retrospect, this was probably a bad decision, as we could have handled the early quests solo and we would have been able to complete more in the 30 rounds alotted.