I genuinely don’t know why my wife bought me Warhammer: Invasion this past Christmas. The fantasy setting is the opposite of pretty much everything she loves, resonating with all the allure of a slimy toad. These wonderful games cross over from “interesting board game” to “geek crap” the instant pictures of dragons are added or miniatures shaken out of a box. It was with some hesitation, then, that she sat forward at the table last week to listen to me badly explain the rules to this big lump of cards.
Even at this early stage it was painful, not least because the rulebook included with Warhammer: Invasion is about as useful as aluminium loo roll. With the help of a Headless Hollow gamesheet I was all prepped and ready and we worked through the concepts, and started out. With no cards. Turns out the no cards thing was a critical error – I was supposed to deal a hand of 7 to each player, who then get the opportunity to shuffle and redraw should they wish to.
Tl:dr – we started a card game with no cards.
In incredibly broad strokes, Warhammer works like this (skip past if you already know, you’ll die of boredom and and pick out all the errors I’ve made otherwise):
You have a capital board. This is the city that your opponent is trying to destroy, winning the game by inflicting 8 damage points to 2 of the 3 sides they can attack. Each of these sides also serves a mechanical purpose tied to a game turn.
In the Kingdom Phase, a player is able to collect resource tokens equal to the number of power icons on the Kingdom side of their capital board. This has a base of 3, and increases with each card played (as per the power icons on them) from your hand to that side of the board.
In the Quest Phase, a player is able to draw additional cards equal to the number of power icons on the Quest side of their capital board. This has a base of 1, and increases with each card player to that side of the board.
In the Capital Phase, a player can play cards from their hand to any of the 3 sides of their capital board, but at a cost. They must be able to buy it with resource tokens AND must have enough loyalty points in their play area. Loyalty points are basically created by the base of 1 on the capital board and other race cards being played (each of which generally has 1 as well). This means that as you play more cards, you earn more resources and loyalty points and can then play more powerful cards.
In the Battlefield Phase, a player can attack any of the 3 sides of their opponents capital with units they’ve deployed into their battlefield. These are the only units that can attack, but units can be deployed to any side of a capital board to defend.
All of this is relatively simple. With a choice of card types – units, support (which may be buildings that give bonuses) and tactics (which enable a player to complete actions at multiple points through any phase of a turn) – things get very tactical very quickly. An opponent may deploy some fortifications (or developments as they’re called, which are like extra hit points for the capital) and I may have a card that allows me to destroy them quickly. Or they may decide to attack and I could play a card that wipes out all damage that turn – provided I’ve got enough resources to deploy that action at that point.
You don’t just take a turn and they take one – you’re constantly looking to respond and adjust. There’s literally no downtime.
As this was our first game we were actively looking at each others’ cards and trying to figure out what it meant. This was our first problem (aside from the rules and me not dealing out any cards): every explanation kind of assumes a massive familiarity with the terminology and how the game works. I mean, look at that card on the left. Instead of a deployment cost it just cites “X”, and then tells me to destroy “X” developments. How do I define X? I hadn’t seen it in the rules and had to read an explanation on BoardGameGeek to figure it out – I can play as many resource tokens as I want to when using this card and can then destroy the corresponding number of developments. Thanks for making that clear!
My wife struggled more though, and we had to work through a bit at a time and talk through the strategic options to make sure we were both seeing the best outcome. While it made for a stale game, it meant that after a few turns we were getting pretty good at it.
Unfortunately, a few turns was all she lasted. Having amassed a huge army in my battlefield which was, from her perspective, literally unstoppable I rolled over 2 sides of her capital in successive turns.
It was a night drenched in exasperation. Only after the game did I realise the error of having not dealt any cards, we both really struggled to play the game and understand all the card effects and some aspects seemed needlessly convoluted. There was the nugget of something there, however, and that we ended up playing a few days later – and more competently to boot – is testament to this. That’ll be the subject of a separate write up, as the game becomes very interesting once you get past the mechanics and can focus on the narrative of the battle you’re having.
I’m very much a fan now, though.