Over the holidays, we played a ton of board games – a wonderful opportunity to come together while avoiding large crowds during a pandemic. We’re reviewing three of them right now, as we dive into World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, 7 Wonders: Architects and Gathering of the Wicked.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
For obvious reasons, we love a good crossover product between videogames and other media, and this particular one isn’t just a board game adaptation of the videogame expansion with the same name. World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King is also subtitled “a Pandemic system board game”, and thus takes inspiration both from Blizzard’s massive MMORPG and the ever popular board game from Z-Man.
This isn’t the first board game adaptation for World of Warcraft though, as it received the Small World treatment not too long ago as well. And as with that game, fans of the videogame will appreciate all the nods to the source material, but online experience with World of Warcraft isn’t a requirement at all – just as you don’t need to have played Pandemic before. Wrath of the Lich King explains enough of the lore about the Lich King, and supplies character bios for the players on the board as well – it’s familiar stuff for WoW veterans but easy enough to understand for newcomers.
We played with cooperative title with a mix of players – some were familiar with World of Warcraft, others with Pandemic, and one player wasn’t familiar with either. At the end of the day, everyone found each other and we had a great time playing. Our videogamers appreciated how elements from the game were translated to the board game setting though, with familiar heroes with their own abilities, quests to take on and the Scourge acting as the pandemic in this game. Pandemic players enjoyed that the mechanics were familiar, yet different enough to feel unique.
Everyone agreed that the visual layout was great though, with a detailed game map and gorgeously detailed figurines as well as a cardboard citadel you can assemble and place on the game map. It gives the game a “3D”-like feel, and the only thing that’s a shame is that the figurines come in blue and yellow rather than a pre-painted look. Great news for hobbyists who prefer painting themselves, but we think the majority won’t be doing that.
Every hero has a Hero sheet to get you up to speed, and you’ll also find Quest sheets, Hero cards and Scourge cards in the box as part of what you’ll need to play. In a session, you have to complete three quests in order to attack the Icecrown Citadel and defeat the Lich King, but the surging Scourge can also take you and your fellow players out before that happens. The game can be played solo or with up to four others, and everyone selects one of seven heroes to play with. Play then unfolds somewhat like a Pandemic game, with turns in which you perform action that include moving, battling, healing or performing quest objectives, with the cards you hold determining what you can do.
At the same time, the Lich King’s army spreads and grows, much like a disease would in a game of Pandemic, and you can fight back solo or even together with another hero. This’ll require players to work together, as does completing quests, since they’re spread across the map and you’ll need to coordinate moves to get them done in time. Quests also earn you special action cards that are a big help, so there’s some ebb and flow involves as well – much of which involves having to manage the health of your heroes, which is a videogame-type thing that isn’t a big part of Pandemic.
You can play Wrath of the Lich King at four different difficulty levels, which is nice because it allows everyone to ease into the rules and nuances, and combined with randomization through dice rolls and having to mix up Quest sheets for each game there’s plenty of replay value as well. A game typically takes about an hour to play once you’re comfortable with the rules, so while an initial playthrough might be a bit longer if you include reading the rulebook and setup, this is a game you can easily play two or three times during a game night. There’s enough fan service for World of Warcraft fans, yet it’s accessible enough for anyone to play – especially Pandemic fans. Very much recommended if you want a spin on a familiar theme.
7 Wonders: Architects
It’s always a good sign of a successful board game when you start seeing expansions and spin-off projects, and 7 Wonders firmly fits into that category. The latest spin-off is 7 Wonders: Architects, which is a “lite” take on the successful formula where a game can easily be completed within half an hour even though you can play with up to seven players (with a minimum of two). It’s definitely a streamlined experience, but that makes it much more suitable for younger players as well.
The maximum player number of seven is of course tied to the seven ancient wonders of the world, one of which you get in an unfinished form at the start of each game. And while you’ll still battle, games play out a little differently from a game of 7 Wonders. There is no set number of rounds, and instead of playing hands you have three piles of cards to draw from – there’s a deck in the middle with its faces down, or you can pick an open-faced card from the decks of players to your left or right instead.
Cards come in five varieties, and many are resources you can use to complete your wonder – which you do layer by layer from the ground up. Other cards represent points that are important at the end of the game, and cards with a cat symbol let you peek at the next card from the shared deck in the middle. When you don’t have the required resource, you can also use gold as an alternative. Science cards allow you to “progress” through the ages, which translates to perks that let you score better, and then there are of course military cards. When enough have been drawn, conflict emerges and players check to see how their military might compares to that of others – beat them, and you gain additional points.
Wonders have individual bonus opportunities that are unique to them as well, and get triggered when completing a layer of the building. When a wonder is completed by someone, play stops and scores are tabulated – and having a completed wonder wins you the game in case you’re tied for points.
While that might sound more complex than you’d expect for a game that can be over in twenty minutes, 7 Wonders Architects can be learned in just five minutes, and on your second play sessions you’ll find that games have a great flow to them – partly because of the simplified card drafting system that does away with rounds. You also don’t have to deal with resource costs or special abilities, which makes it much easier to grasp than 7 Wonders, especially when playing in a family setting with younger players. Putting cards down on layers also means you can more or less forget about them until the end of the game, which makes for an easier overview of what you have to play with as well.
7 Wonders: Architects is a wonderful looking game and packs a lot of artwork and stuff in a small box. Each wonder has its own box, and you literally build them up over time. A lot of visual design is recognizable to 7 Wonders players, so veterans of that game will feel instantly at home. At the same time, they’ll probably miss some of the elements that make the original game so much fun, as Architects has less of the trading, warfare and round-based gameplay they’re used to. As a result we could see Architects holding less of an appeal to them, but the game’s streamlined approach makes up for that by being more inviting for newcomers and families – so those with kids can see this as a great way to introduce them to the 7 Wonders universe.
Gathering of the Wicked
Sometimes a really fun game for a ton of players comes in a small package – Gathering of the Wicked, which stars several Disney Villains, is one such game. About the size of a deck of cards, it can be played by up to 12 players at once, and it’s a social deduction/roleplaying games based on a familiar formula, but with a few unique twists.
The videogamers among us recognized Gathering of the Wicked as a take on Werewolves Within, which we still consider to be one of our all-time favorite VR games. Of course that game was based on Asmodee’s Werewolves of Millers Hollow as well, which has been popular ever since it launched over twenty years ago.
The principle in both games is the same though, and it translates to Gathering of the Wicked well – each player gets a secret identity and personal objectives and it’s up to the group to figure out who’s the traitor in the group. If they succeed, they win, but if the group is tricked into banishing one of their own then the traitor wins that round.
It’s a game of trust and distrust, and in Gathering of the Wicked everyone’s a villain – so there’s quite a bit of natural distrust to deal with as well. If you’ve played Werewolves before, then rest assured there are no innocent villagers here. Characters like Maleficent, Captain Hook and the Queen of Hearts do all have a henchman in the game though, which can give you the opportunity to align – although when a round starts no one knows the other players’ identities.
This Disney-themed version has unique role types and powers, so it’s not just a re-skin of the game we were already familiar with. While “Werewolves” is about rooting out the werewolves, here everyone is pretty much a werewolf, and the alignment with a henchmen creates an interesting dynamic as well. We did think that Werewolves felt like it scales a little better though, because there you just get more werewolves when more players join a round whereas in Gathering of the Wicked it feels like the game gets better the more players (and thus roles) are in game. This is probably the biggest downside for the game, as it requires a minimum of six players and you’ll ideally want to play with more than that. An awesome option for a game night with friends though, as a game typically only lasts 30 minutes and we guarantee you’ll want to go again after you wrap up a round.