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August 13, 2003

Favorite Games XXVII

One entry today, which straddles the line between board games and roleplaying games to great effect...

Warhammer Quest is the end of a fairly short series of games from Games Workshop (sometimes in cooperation with Milton Bradley). These games played on the popularity of Dungeons and Dragons, but instead of being roleplaying games themselves, they were made up of pre-set adventures with pre-determined characters, then supplemented with low-cost but reasonably high-quality miniatures and detailed board art. Heroquest and Advanced Heroquest (which actually had very little in common as games went) were the first real generation, and they found a bit of a market, but were flawed in their implementation and required lots of repeat purchases (or home-brew game design) to expand the options of play beyond the published adventures (some of which never made it out of the UK, much to the disappointment of US-based fans). AHQ introduced a detailed random dungeon generation rule set, but suffered from several clumsy rules and limited expandability.

WQ was a second full go at the idea and was much more successful at achieving its goals. This time, rather than just giving us game-mastered adventures with rules balancing play (as HQ had done... the GM role was very thankless), a heavy emphasis was placed on GM-less adventuring, with random tables, card decks, and monster behavior rules serving to replace the "creative" portion of the GM's role... and with surprising success! There were 30 plots provided (6 each for 5 objective rooms), and the rules randomly generated the dungeon from entrance until the objective was found. And, with that many plots before you started repeating, it was fairly easy to replay several times without boredom setting in. Add to this a "Roleplaying Book" that expanded the monster lists, spells, and treasures, plus adding wilderness events and town events for things to do between dungeon adventures, plus options for even more once you add a GM (a GM is needed to open the possibility of doing things there aren't specific rules for, as that takes an intelligent arbiter... and the GM can design custom adventures rather than just using random ones!). Characters were thin, based around a miniature and progressions of abilities by level, but numerous expansions added more and more interesting options (including a delightfully comic Ogre PC in one of GW's many magazines). Expansions also added even more treasure cards and other fun variants.

Warhammer Quest isn't really a full-featured roleplaying game, even with a GM (it's too limited in what it provides mechanics for, so it remains just more than a miniatures game with pretensions... but, then, Dungeons and Dragons was originally rules expansions on Chainmail, so there is a precedent), but it's great fun to play, and completely addictive. It can also serve as a good stepping-stone from board games to full RPGs, particularly if you start off with the simple game, slowly (over several adventures) add more and more complex rules options, then a Game Master... In the end, you're almost all the way, and you've been having fun at every step. Is there a better way to learn?

Sadly, GW found far more of a market for their miniatures battle games than they did for this delightful hybrid product, and so it's been out of print since the late 90s, with pretty much only fan support (of which there is quite a bit, if you look).

Posted by ghoul at August 13, 2003 06:08 AM

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