Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Which GW-based game to get from FFG before they're gone!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

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No more GW games from FFG

What has long been suspected by the community has now been confirmed by Fantasy Flight Games; they no longer has the license to produce games based on Games Workshop properties and will stop selling any of their current GW based games on February 28th 2017. So... panic and pandemonium among the (rather large) crowd who really like what FFG has managed to do with the different GW IPs. Still, we have about five months to stock up on what's missing and if we're lucky FFG will run some juicy sales before pulping their remaining stock next year.

There has been a lot of speculation as to why the split happened. Since FFG didn't show any sign of stopping the production of new GW-based games until earlier this year when they released the print on demand character expansions for Warhammer Quest. This seemed like a really odd move to me, as the game was a great success both commercially and critically. After that there were no new anouncements except for the current cycle of Warhammer 40k Conquest that was already set in motion. Then came Gencon and I thought "if there is no GW-based game announced at Gencon the relationship is over" and there wasn't and it is. So what happened?

It will probably be years (if ever) until what actually happens leak out, but my guess is that this was a decision made by GW, not FFG. Maybe because GW have been moving into board gaming themselves the last couple of years, and want to create their own market. Or maybe they took affront to the new Runewars miniatures game that is in direct competition with their own Age of Sigmar (neo-Warhammer). I actually read an interesting rumour that FFG had approached GW about making accessory pieces (markers? Terrain?) for both Age of Sigmar and 40k but got told to pretty much fuck right off, upon which FFG decided to make their own fantasy wargame. Just a rumour though. Or it could have been the other way around of FFG making Runewars and GW taking offence and yanking the license. Either way... no more great Warhammer games from FFT.

Now, there are a few months left so which games are worth getting and how should you prioritize and try and squeeze them into that already too small gaming budget? Fear not... I've made a lists...

Board games

1. Chaos in the Old World
Yep, I put this at number one rather than Forbidden Stars. It's not that CitOW is actually the better game (I'd say they're both equally brilliant!) however, it is quite a bit cheaper, has a more unique theme (you get to play as the actual Chaos Gods!!) and it can be played in 90 minutes easily. Those are going to be some mighty tense 90 minutes as the knife fight in a phone booth-type gameplay really amps up the action from round one. Highly, highly recommended!
What about the expansion? Get it if you can, but it's not essential unless you often find yourself with a group of five players. It does add some cool stuff and it's nice to have a completely alternate way of playing all the gods.

2. Forbidden Stars
Had it been cheaper and more accessible (read, shorter) this might have made the top of the list but it is nonetheless a superb game of space warfare with beautiful sculpts of all my old 40k favourites. I don't think I need to talk much about its merits as Forbidden Stars has received praise from all corners of the community. Get this is you prefer 40k over Fantasy and especially if you have a hard time getting together a group of four players. While you can play less than four in Chaos in the Old World the game really suffers from it, whereas Forbidden Stars work great with two and even three players! Of all the games we're loosing because of this deal, not seeing an expansion (with Tyranids!) for Forbidden Stars might be what I'll miss the most.

3. Fury of Dracula
Another sign that points to GW cutting ties - Fury of Dracula was released around the time of Gencon 2015 to much praise from the community who had longed for a reprint of this classic game. This has nothing to do with Warhammer but is simply a fantastic deduction game of many against one as you race through Europe trying to corner the most elusive and dangerous of prey - Count Dracula. The theme is marvellous and the components and board (as always) beautiful. I've also heard that in this latest edition FFG has fixed the combat system that sometimes felt a little clunky. The only, potentially, negative point is that Fury of Dracula can often run for two, three or sometimes even four hours which might be an issue for some people. I just find it a great way to spend an evening though. Hehe!

4. Blood Bowl: Team Manager
This is a small card game that kind of snuck up on me. I was certainly interested in it but didn't expect it to be as fun as it is! It plays quickly at around 60-90 minutes and it works well with two, three or four players. While naturally abstracted quite a bit from the gritty matches of the original Blood Bowl it nevertheless manages to capture the feel of the game. It's usually quite a bit of back and forth during the tournaments as you use your different players, and often a clever way to use an ability can turn a certain defeat into a win! For this I'd recommend getting both of the expansions as they add not only new teams but new rules as well, which might be needed to keep the game fresh for as long as possible.

5. Space Hulk: Death Angel
I was going to put Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game in spot 5 as I think it is probably a more fun game, it might even be better than Blood Bowl: Team Manager. But, and this is a big but, it was obviously made to have lots and lots of expansions providing more than the measly three included in the base game, and that is the crux of the matter - with no new quests how long will the base game actually last? I've heard people getting kind of bored with it after playing the same quest just two or three times. So even though I think Warhammer Quest is a better game as such, I'm going with Death Angel as it simply has a lot more replay value (and it's cheap!). The game is tense and really difficult (hey, it's Space Hulk!) with difficult tactical choices getting thrown at you every turn.

You'll see your nice big squad of marines systematically and unceremoniously being torn into little bloody pieces by the hordes of genestealers who simply love to camp out in abandonded old spaceships. It can at times run a little long for what is essentially a filler, but that might be down to me agonizing about my (Sophie's) choices each turn! It's an excellent solo game and very good for two players although I'm not sure how well it holds up with more players than that (besides becoming increasingly difficult!). As for expansions, get them if you can but they're certainly not needed to have many hours of fun(?) with this game.

Joker: Warhammer: Diskwars
Yeah... I have no experience with Diskwars, at all, and kind of discounted it when I first read the announcement from FFG - "this looks silly, I bet it is silly". Except, it seems like a lot of people really like it and that it might actually capture a lot of the feel of Warhammer Fantasy Battles without any of the hassles of miniatures painting or headache-inducing rules. Just read this review by Geosphere over at BGG called A Metric Ton of Fun in a Box! It also sits at a comfortable rating o 7.4 which is more than both Death Angel and Team Manager. Since I have no personal experience with it I can't recommend it myself, but do some research and see if it's your kind of thing.

Runners-up (or, left-overs)
There are some more GW-based games that didn't make my top five, namely Talisman (and its endless expansions!), Relic and Chaos Marauders. I really don't like Talisman as I find it just an endless affair with no interesting decisions and even if Relic improved on this slightly, it's simply not my cup of tea. No recommendation from me. Chaos Marauders I haven't actually played but from reading quite a bit about it a few years ago it seems like an ok filler, but not anything unique enough to warrant emergency funds.

Living Card Games

I'll talk briefly about the LCGs as I'm not that well-versed in them. I've played Warhammer Invasion a few times and while I surely enjoyed it it didn't give me that wow-feeling like Netrunner, or even Star Wars the Card Game, did. I guess if you are really into Warhammer Fantasy and LCGs it might be a good fit, but then again if that was the case you probably already own it.
Warhammer 40,000 Conquest is another matter though. Again it's a game I haven't played myself, but I have watched it played and enough people, whose judgement I trust, recommend it that I think it might be worth considering getting before the plug is pulled. Have a look at how it plays (plenty of videos on youtube) and read some reviews to see if it is for you.

Now, there's something to be said about a "dead" living card game. There won't be officially organized events, no new cards released and a much smaller community than, say, Netrunner. But in the same way these issues can be drawbacks for some, they can be boons for others! If you mostly want to play casually with your friends it might be liberating, in a way, to know that there aren't new packs to pick up each month and that the game is, in a way, "complete".

Roleplaying Games

FFG took up the reins after Black Industries were shut down and I think generally they did some good work, even though all of their rpg products are unessecarily wordy and can be a real slog to get through simply because the sheer number of pages and the very meticulous language with lots of repetition. Still, the background material is overall good and it's hard not to get inspired when flipping through the books. All of the core books are meaty beasts, so if you are strapped for cash but want to keep yourself covered, just getting these (and maybe the first sourcebook released for each line) would go a long way! Now, here is my personal list of recommendations:

1. Dark Heresy
Unless you have a very specific interest in Rogue Traders, Space marines, Chaos or the Guard just get Dark Heresy. It gives you the most freedom on both how to run your campaign and how the players can create their characters. You can play trench warfare or courtroom intrigue or anything in between and you rarely feel stuck in a rut with Dark Heresy. The sourcebooks released for the game (1st edition) are overall good, although I think Ascension and Daemon Hunter ups the power level more than I'm comfortable with. Scenarios has also often been a problem area for FFG - as a rule of thumb the first adventure book released for one of their roleplaying games (usually just after the core book, and usually containing three linked scenarios) is quite good, but then the longer, three-part campaign is kind of bad. So go for Purge the Unclean, but hold off on the Haarlock Legacy if you don't want to put in the extra work to get it up to snuff.

I haven't read the new second edition, but from what I've heard it is more of a revised edition than a complete overhaul. I'm not sure I would bother with it if it would make it harder for me to use the material in the old books.

2. Rogue Trader
This is my personal 40k rpg favourite! I love the grand scope of things and the freedom you can give your players to explore and create their own adventures, in a sense. The tricky bit is that it can be hard to get this grand scale across. When you have a ship with a crew in the tens of thousands it just feels silly for the captain to have a shootout in a dingy bar. Don't have a shootout, have a war! This was also a problem that plagued the official scenarios released - while they at times get the scale right it just as often feels off. This is also why I'm not putting it at number one, Rogue Trader does require more work from the GM. Or perhaps not more work, but it requires a flexible GM that can run a kind of semi-sandbox campaign with only a general skeleton framework that the players themselves flesh out. Or that is at least my take on it. I guess you could play it in a way similar to Star Trek, where the captain and the most important officers keep beaming down everywhere personally to take care of stuff even though they have a huge crew! But that would defeat the purpose of the insane scale of Warhammer 40k!

I think the different sourcebooks for Rogue Trader are of high quality and worth getting if you like the setting. The adventures might seem a bit lacklustre if you run them straight from the book, but could make for a good framework for a more player driven campaign, so don't discount them.

3. Deathwatch
For me, Deathwatch was really when the kind of giant-on-clay-feet that is the 40krp system started to show both its age and its cracks. With so many different mechanics layered on top of eachother it made the game... cumbersome to run. And keep in mind, this is coming from a person who likes crunch in his games! If I were to run Deathwatch again I think I would use a different system that fits the heroic, almost superhero, style better. Perhaps FATE. However, I still think it is worth getting the books simply for the lore and the many ideas you can get from them for your own campaigns, if you want to run a space marine game that is.

4. Only War
I was kind of excited for Only War as the Imperial Guard has long been a favourite faction of mine, when it comes to 40k. And although the game is certainly not bad by any means it doesn't really stand out as anything all that special either. Yes, there are tons of info on the imperial guard and the military machine of the Imperium. But so much of it is simply WWI/WWII/Vietnam in space it's rarely anything that actually feels new. If Deathwatch is a superhero game then Only War should be the gritty, down in the mud game about the stories of individual soldiers and how they fought and died. Sure, you can use the 40krp engine for that, but I immediately want to run it with the awesome USCM (Aliens colonial marines) hack for Torchbearer instead! It is also crunchy, but in a completely different way - instead of trying to be a bad simulator it instead goes full on gut punch and gravel in your eye while still having a laser focus on the personal stories. Again though, the FFG books can be good for the lore.

Jokers: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 3rd edition and Black Crusade

WFRP3 is a bit of an odd duck, both brilliant and flawed, and certainly intriguing. You might remember that we played through The Gathering Storm campaign back when the third edition was released in 2010, and while we had a lot of fun with it, toward the end we (or at least I) felt quite a bit of token/card fatigue as it kept growing with each expansion introduced. The system is really quite good, but a little rough around the edges - which FFG now have polished with the Star Wars rpgs. The cards are brilliant in the sense that you have all the rules right in front of you, however the drawback is that the players often sit and stare at their cards to try and figure out their next, most optimal action, rather than just going with the flow and simply describing what they do and asking what to roll. So, at times, it felt more like playing World of Warcraft than a pen and paper rpg. Part of me really like it and want to play it again, but another part of me just want to cut out the core bits and get rid of the cruft (like with Star Wars!). Or... I'll just use the first or second edition, or even Torchbearer for my Warhammer games in the future. Again, if you want to go for it, consider skipping the adventures as they are so-so. Certainly not bad as such, and they can absolutely be salvaged, but I think getting the source boxes (the different chaos god boxes, Hero's Call and Signs of Faith) would bring you more in the long run. Besides, there are so many really good adventures for the first and second editions to use!

Black Crusade gets put as Joker simply because I haven't read any of it and I don't really know if it's good or not. It didn't really interest me when announced, but I could see playing as a band of chaos marauders if you go with the much weirder, old-school chaos from the Rogue Trader era instead of the current spiky skull demon style. Still, check out some reviews and see if it's something for you.

I think that about covers it! Now get going as there is sure to be a rush...

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