Here’s the thing; if Warhammer Quest were released today, with all its main systems and rules unchanged but absolutely clarified, it would be rightly buried. As soon as you stop to actually look at how it plays, you realise how clunky, unfun and downright stubborn it is.
Take the game I had on Sunday, for instance. The first room we started in was a dungeon room, meaning it immediately triggered an event. Rolling some dice to determine who gets attacked, 12 scorpions jumped all over my wizard. Having swatted some away, and taken into account how “tough” he is, Geoff immediately took 4 damage.
Geoff then started his very first turn – the first turn of the game, in fact – and rolled to see how much power he had. Then Missile Blow the barbarian (the boy’s 7) ventured to the doorway of the room, with us following, before electing to explore the room beyond. Another dungeon room, another event.
This time, 4 orcs with swords and 4 orc archers appeared. We’re immediately pinned in combat by the 4 orcs with swords, and enter combat.
Geoff rolls to see how much power he has. Then Missile rolls to see if he’s hit the orc attacking him, checking a table to do so. Having hit, he then rolls again to see how much damage he does, adding his strength to the die roll he gets using his sword. He takes that total and subtracts the beasts toughness, plus an modifiers, from it – the remainder being the number of wounds actually inflicted. If it’s something but not enough, a small die is placed next to the orc indicating the damage.
Then each of the other 3 players does the same. Roll, check, roll again if hit, subtract, place dice if hurt. The wizard may cast a spell if he has enough power, the elf may heal someone if they need it. Otherwise, the only other option is to roll a die to see if one of them can become unpinned and advance upon the archers, who are a safe distance away.
Having done that, it’s the monsters turn. For each monster, the same rolls and checks are made – there are 8 monsters, so there are a total of 16 rolls to make and 16 checks against tables.
Now, what happened was nothing got killed the first time round, which means that all of the above is worked through again. Remember, were 2 rooms into the dungeon and all we are now doing is rolling die. Over and over. Some of those checks went wrong – the barbarian went mental and hit his companions in his rage, or the dwarf tripped over his beard. As if it wasn’t hard enough already.
It took many turns – dozens of checks, if not hundreds, once you subtract all the misses – to whittle that group to one monster. By the end, only one hero remained alive. Only two tiles were explored.
Then, as the wizard was dead and the elf had to do a power check himself. He rolls a one, which immediately triggers an event. 2D6 Skaven – he rolls a 10 – materialise and surround him in the dungeon. The elf can only kill one Skaven per turn, as he only has one attack. Even if he manages this, it will be dozens more checks, assuming another one is rolled on another power check, before the elf is able to progress to the third room of the dungeon.
This isn’t fun. At all.
Most dungeon crawlers since has focused on one or two of the mechanics. Descent improves the combat, streamlining it as the players become a finely tuned medieval SWAT team playing against the Overlord player. The D&D boardgames focus almost purely on the events, mercilessly destroying adventurers stupid enough to venture into the dungeon. Dungeon Saga, an upcoming game from Mantic, may tickle the same belly but we’ve yet to see.
Yet, for all this, Warhammer Quest is bizarrely alluring. I can’t see anybody new to the hobby enjoying it all. It’s a throwback to when this was exclusive, segregated and elitist. It’s GW at their absolute height of power when, along with Blood Bowl, Space Hulk and EPIC, they ruled living rooms the world over. I already want to break it out again, hoping that the cards are less cruel or that I fare much better with my dice rolls.
We’ll see. It’s a weird one.