Thursday, 16 February 2012

Memories of: Warhammer Quest

This is the Advanced Heroquest (AHQ) usurper. It benefitted from improved visuals, better character miniatures, better (or more explicit) introduction to role-playing rules, better gameboard pieces, a good layout system, great inter-game events tables and focused character packs.

It suffered terribly from sticking Warhammer Fantasy Battles mechanics onto a character led game, the cost of the additional character packs and the simplicity and complexity of some of the rules, and finally it is all very, very random.

So to start off then with the good:

The whole visual package was much improved this time. The AHQ cover was particularly cartoon-y unlike both Heroquest and WQ, the rule books where better constructed, illustrated, thicker and just felt better.

The WQ board pieces, where AHQ suffered from utilitarian pieces, had bright, detailed rooms with scenery illustrated right on them, making a game out of the box look a lot better. Perhaps this was the start of the style over substance feeling I got with Games Workshop, who knows.

The game boards themselves had separate playing-style cards which were drawn to indicate which piece came next rather than rolling on a few tables as you did with AHQ. This made the game board itself smaller (and more focused, or more unrealistic?).

They did away with the small plastic doors and went with whopping 2 square doorways, they felt more substantial and perhaps reinforced the underworld feel better. Again no furniture to speak of though, although this would have represented a problem, more on that later.

After the dungeon your woes weren't done there, you had random events. First you had random travel events, you had planned your ingress but your egress was chaotic, you did not know where you would come out and this replicated stumbling through the wilderness back to civilisation. I think this is a wonderful idea (to a degree), OK so you may not totally know where you are when you resurface but it adds a little to the experience. I'm not sure it occured to them that certain items, like horses and carts, that aided your travel time, and therefore the amount of random events, wouldn't be at your exit point and would, in theory, be worthless. Unless you somehow managed to find them - but that would mean you would be back on familiar territory, rendering the random events a nonsense.

Once you reach civilisation you then have more random events, some of which are very funny, but you do start to lose patience with them, many of which are almost 50/50 tickets to instant death with no relation to the skills of your character, out of the book anyway. While I appreciate the events, the randomness is wearing and we can't have been the only ones to play out the encounters rather than roll a 1 and die.

Even the character advancement was random, you had to roll for a new skill rather than simply pick the one you wanted, this lead to characters you weren't totally happy with, and then you can start to lose interest in them so your game can go to pot.

This time GW actually included a 'role-playing' rulebook. It was a touch simplistic, and hideously complicated at the same time, for example it touched upon having a GM, but also included a long, and I mean really long, list of possible actions characters could undertake, which in itself is fine but it then gave individual modifiers to all of those actions based on the character type. For example a dwarf was good at finding traps, while a barbarian was good at starting fires (forgive me if these are wrong, I'm writing from memory) and they were both good at bashing down doors, while the elf had good hearing, and so on ad nauseum, a modifier for every possible action they could dream up. I had a friend who insisted (even on pain of death) on having to look through the list to find 'the right' modifier, quite why they couldn't have given simple guidelines I don't know. A lot of these rolls relied on a character's Initiative stat too, now in WFB Initiative details who goes first, it was never intended to be an arbiter for 'intellectual' tests, so a fast acting barbarian could be as brainy as a fully fledged wizard!

I believe the idea with all the modifiers was to differentiate the characters more then AHQ did, but WQ also had separate rules for each character type, a noble had a family heirloom which struck terror in the heart of a certain race, and the Witch Hunter an Amulet of Solkan which I can't actually remember what it did, but do know it had its own rules. I thought these added enough variety without resorting to a shopping list of skill modifiers.

Overall though I liked the character packs, they were well put together and really did differentiate the characters (without the numerous modifiers), the downside was the enormous expense of getting one, OK the models were exquisite (in the GW way) and each came with a booklet with that character's rules, a random selection token and a few item cards, but if memory serves me right they cost almost twice to three times as much (if not more) as a regular blister of minis which in total would give you 6 to 8 minis. But that's OK you only need to get one or two, well yes in theory, but the models were soo good it was like crack cocaine, I think between the three of us regular players we got all of the available characters, which meant I spent far too much getting to my un-local GW, handing over cash for one and then not paying my Mum the weekly rent I was supposed to give her from my Saturday job. It was exciting and depressing at the same time, something which lives with me still whenever I see a GW.

But do you know the worst thing? The mechanics. Rather than the WFRP light system that AHQ had, WQ had a Warhammer Fantasy Battles plus system, 'but that system's fine isn't it?' and yes it is, if you are fighting a battle! For character led combat it is far too random, it is basically a 1d6 system, which apart from the d4 you can't get a less spread of results from, this means that high level characters are insignificantly different to starting characters, apart from one respect, hit points wounds. Yes it is the D&D 'I am a meat mountain' principle of character advancement, you can't beat me, well OK you can but you'll have to beat me three times as often as when I was but a young whipper snapper. I hate it.

Coupled to this every character had to be on the same board before a single opponent appeared! I always envisaged them dropping from the ceiling, and when they did drop they dropped randomly! You had to pick a character token and place the toughest monster first, then another, then another etc. it was completely absurd, your wizard had to go toe to toe with the toughest monster because of a random draw, and ranged weapons were next to useless, all sorts of tactics went out the door. I know people moaned that there were specific tactics you could use in AHQ but this wasn't a solution, it was a computer game, if I wanted to play one of those I'd go and bloody do it, not sit with my friends trying to get them involved in a story before having a minotaur land on their toes.

Basically it didn't take me long to dismiss WQ, I still have it, the minis are useful and the boards more colourful, but the rules stank. Unfortunately I couldn't get those particular friends to try AHQ (not flashy enough), but I did get them playing WFRP so maybe it was a good stepping stone for them after all.

Finally I should say I just love the Warhammer setting (befire it got screwed, don't get me started!).

Until next time Steve

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