Warhammer Quest – Shadows over Hammerhal review (board game)

Warhammer Quest – Shadows over Hammerhal is the latest board game iteration in the Warhammer Quest franchise. You know how sometimes people say the book was better than the movie? In this case, the board game is better than the videogame.

A while ago, we reviewed the Xbox One of Warhammer Quest. Solid but unremarkable, it played as a simplified strategy game not suitable for fans of videogames like XCOM and most likely not as deep as the latest board games bearing the same name. It turns out we were right – Warhammer Quest – Shadows over Hammerhal is a far deeper and more rewarding experience.

The Shadows over Hammerhal moniker doesn’t signify an addon package to the original game, which was discontinued almost twenty years ago. Hammerhal isn’t even an addon to the recently released Silver Tower version of the game – it’s a standalone game and experience with (or even knowledge of) previous Warhammer Quest games isn’t required. Having playtested this with an entire group of players for whom this was their first Quest outing, I can confirm this is indeed true.

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That doesn’t mean it’s as easy to get into as, for example, the Warhammer Quest videogame or other board games. Obviously part of this is due to the initial setup which requires you to assemble the miniatures that come with the game – there are 31 miniatures to assemble (and optionally paint), and we found out the hard way that this is something you want to do well in advance of your first playing session. If you don’t, then you’ll spend a ton of time assembling everything and reading the guidebook before you even get started – sucking the energy out of the group if they’re not fans of miniature assembly.

Luckily, subsequent setups are a total breeze – and you can be ready to go (or start over) in a very short time indeed. Of course we played with a few videogamers who are more used to being spoon-fed their game mechanics through tutorials, but the 70+ page guidebook is easy enough to digest and does a good job of explaining the base mechanics. Having an experienced player with you is a lot of help as well – though his role will likely be that of the “gamemaster”.

The gamemaster in Shadows over Hammerhal is the person who crafts the adventure for the other players in the game – the personification of the dungeon and enemies you go up against, if you will. He sets up the dungeons and its obstacles, unfolds the story and controls the bad guys. While the game allows for you to play it as a ‘one on one’ game with just two players, it’s far more enjoyable if you have a few more players trying to compete – and you can have up to four adventurers playing with a single gamemaster at once.

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As for the adventure you’re undertaking, it takes place inside and underneath the city of Hammerhal. There’s a plot in place that revolves around a dark presence intent on corrupting the city, and there is a great deal of lore involved with a ton of names that will be hard to remember for first-time players. Luckily, a short novel is provided that managed to condense the relevant lore to just over 30 pages – and it’s a great read that adds an extra layer of depth to the game once you start playing. It’s too bad there’s only one copy and that makes it hard to share when you’re playing with a group of newcomers – but it’s worth the time investment.

Once you get into the actual game, it’s hard to miss how similar some of its elements are to some of the great RPG examples in videogames – to the delight of our group of players. You accumulate gold on your adventures, and are able to spend it when you exit a dungeon and find some time to upgrade your character’s stats. You can wager some of your money to try and get more, buy items or try your hand at prize fighting as well. Of course this isn’t as visually depicted as you’d see it in a game like The Witcher, but this is where the wealth of background information in the novella and guidebook comes in handy. Even for new Warhammer players, bringing the universe to life is easy and a good part of the overall enjoyment.

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Your selection of heroes isn’t your usual Barbarian, Sorcerer and Priest lineup – you can play with a cogsmith of pirate captain instead, and it’s great for providing a novel approach to the RPG genre, as each has its own unique attributes. This makes for some decent amount of replayability, although the ways in which the story and its dungeons unfold will lose some of their surprise elements if you play with the same group multiple times.

Being successful in going up against the gamemaster is a mix of cunning and luck – the latter being determined by your roll of the dice. Getting high rolls means you get access to more powerful moves and attack, but you have to be careful to not forget about resting and exploration – both of which require action points (or dice rolls) as well. This makes the dynamic between the gamemaster and the other players extra interesting, since you can’t help but think that you’re engaged in a battle of wits as well as an epic adventure.

It’s probably clear that we thoroughly enjoyed played Warhammer Quest – Shadows over Hammerhal. The majority of our group had already played the videogame adaption of the original Warhammer Quest, and we were unanimous in our (overwhelming) preference for the new board game. There’s a bit of a hurdle to get over in setting up your first game, but after that you’re in for a treat with a multiplayer adventure with a level of engagement we haven’t seen in any RPG videogame yet.

Score: 8.5/10

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