Back in the carefree summer of 2016 news hit that put a bit of a wilt in my cucumber sandwich. It was the ending of the longstanding agreement between Fantasy Flight and Games Workshop that had seen the latter publishing board games based on GW’s various IP’s.
At the time we gnashed our teeth and wrung our hands with many taking solace in their credit cards as speculators and fans rushed to complete collections or grab these soon to be rare and precious items in a feeding frenzy of panic buying. Since then it’s all been a bit quiet, I suspect the new shiny or more probably the unrelenting bastard of 2016 as it kept churning spouting worrying worldwide developments between offing beloved celebrities with alarming regularity kept us distracted.
Well now it’s time for the hangover to kick in. February 2017 is about to pounce and with it comes the ending of the agreement and once the dust finally settles many beloved titles will be lost to us probably to never be seen again.
Chris from Unboxed approached me with the idea of picking three titles from the casualties and presenting in somewhat of an obituary what they mean to us and what our thoughts feelings are on the passing of them. Depressing though this idea was it felt proper that we should mark this event and so I had a really long think.
The choice for me wasn’t that hard I will admit that I never got around to trying any of the card games produced under this agreement but fortunately for you dear readers Chris did. So that left me with the big box hobby titles and I’ll broach now the soon to be pachyderm in the room missing from my choices.
Chaos in the Old World is without a doubt a fantastic I mean Eric “bloody” Lang designed it. My reasons for neglecting this masterpiece? Well I could have done it just to enrage the BGG crowd and get all punk and cool smash the system fuck yeah!! But actually my reasons are all a bit boring, if anything is going to get a reprint its probably this. I’d argue that Lang himself has returned to this particular well himself more than once with last year’s blockbuster hit Blood Rage and both his forthcoming Godfather game and the hotly anticipated Rising Sun sharing much of the same DNA. So while the theme of battling Chaos gods may have left us and for the record it was a great theme much of the mechanisms and games clever trappings are still to be found. And that is why Chaos isn’t on my list, although technically it is here (shh quiet back there).
This is the one title taken from us to have seen the least amount of tears shed in its passing among hardened hobby gamers. By modern standards, Talisman isn’t that great of a game. I produced a review/session report early in 2016 on this stately gentlemen and I stand by my opinions on it coming on as it is as the glorious bastard love child of Robert E Howard and Monopoly.
What did keep Talisman ticking during its tenure at FFG was a nostalgic glow of love for a period of hobby gaming consigned to history and a determination to explore every dusty corner of its world with multiple expansions. And it has to be said that FFG’s run represents the most complete and proper edition of this game that I believe we will ever see.
Talisman was a product of the 1980’s being the brainchild of Robert Harris and through all its various iterations it’s remained true to that first core game. It’s an unashamed roll and move adventure that sees’s you levelling up one of any number of heroic or not so heroic types as they race to be the biggest hardest most powerful wizard/warrior head to the centre of the board and try to best the game. Over its run, multiple expansions were added including four side boards that brought the wonders of a bustling city, mystical forest groves, deep dark dungeons or treacherous mountain slopes each successive one straining the capabilities of even the most expansive dining table. With these came bucket loads of unbalanced player characters and bustles of cards. FFG produced in total 14 expansions with the final big box version aptly named Cataclysm that saw the Talisman world we’d grown to love decimated in some apocalyptic end of gaming times.
Looking at GW’s current slate of boxed games it’s hard to see where there’s room for Talisman in it being as it lives in its own universe and not GW’s officially sanctioned corporate approved fantasy setting and the monumental task of competing with the amount of content FFG produced just seems at odds with the current GW business model. Perhaps it will find itself licensed out to another publisher but I really can’t see anyone else coming close to achieving what FFG did with this.
For me, my greatest regret is that I never completed my collection falling some way short of the multiple expansions although now in some way it’s all rather apt. I will continue my hopeless quest to slowly seek out the gaps in my collection a quest I feel may take me many frustrating years and is no doubt doomed to failure rather like an actual game of Talisman.
Farewell, old friend. We shall not see your like again.
Out of all the losses this one smarts the most. Forbidden Stars is a cracking 4x style of war game that introduced many subtle layers of game play and looked to have a bright future of multiple expansions to discover. Re-implementing FFG’s Starcraft game this was the perfect fit with GW’s 40K universe a bleak future that saw war a constant brutal affair carried out over a galaxy on fire.
Utilising a smart hidden action selection and tile activation system along with asynchronous races and the shiny gem in its crown the unique battle system that introduced a comprehensive dice and deck building mechanism to resolve conflicts.
It’s just a really solidly designed and deep game, bemoaned by some that it was slow going and that the conflict resolution was drawn out and ponderous. But this is more a victim of one of the biggest issues with modern board gaming of players chasing that next new shiny object and not stopping to smell the poses and let a game and its design truly breath over multiple plays. And with those repeat plays came the realisation and understanding of those subtleties in the combat the fascinating differences between each faction, and the astounding amount of emergent strategies and nuanced game play that was waiting to be discovered.
What’s heartbreaking is that at one point a large boxed expansion was being developed and Sam Bailey one of the designers let slip some of what they had planned. More races that would have given us Necrons, Tyranids, Tau, and Dark Eldar. Relic worlds, that would have offered extra bonuses in battles when captured. More boards for the game and the potential for massive battles or even to stage separate games out of the one box. Alas the plug was pulled the moment that the split was announced and its unknown just how far along development these were.
This was one of the best titles to come out under the agreement and despite us wishing for what could have been the base game still represents for me one of the greatest uses of the 40K license and one of the most satisfying war games out there.
Fury of Dracula
I’m a big fan of hidden movement and deduction games they have been responsible for some of the most nail-biting and tense tabletop experiences I’ve had. Fury of Dracula originally published back in 87 reappearing under FFG’s banner early in 2006 and then much sought after falling out of print had been one of my grail games. When it finally arrived in its swish new 3rd edition that polished up the components and ironed out some niggles leftover from the 2nd edition I was first in line.
What I love so much about Fury aside from the gothic drenched theme is the unique experience among these style of games in that it tilts the idea on its head by allowing the hunted to turn the tables on his pursuers and take the fight back to them.
I love the chance to play as the count sneaking about after hours, setting traps for the hunters or even leading them on a merry chase before striking when they least expect it. There’s such a lot of delicious fun to be had in this box.
The third edition tweaked quite a bit but its highlight was streamlining the clunky fight system with a very cool element of rock paper scissors to the running battles that really added a brisk but satisfying punch to them.
I’d heartily recommend that anyone interested in the theme grab this while you can, unlike Peter Cushing in the myriad Hammer movies GW have done the unimaginable and finally staked the count once and for all consigning him to a permanent restless end in an unshowy grave. And that dear readers is a tragedy.
It was the summer of ‘99, high school was done for another year and I finally had that copy of Warhammer Fantasy Battle I’d been drooling over for months in my hands. Bretonnians vs Lizardmen, snap fit minis with cardboard heroes and terrain. It was my first forray into the true games workshop hobby. After that I started snapping up anything which had those legendary initials on the front, be it Heroquest, Dungeonquest, Space Crusade or Blood Bowl. I even picked up a copy of Games Workshop’s Cosmic Encounter which was way beyond our comprehension.
My obsession with GW continued through the next decade as I played my way through three editions of Warhammer and four editions of Lord of the Rings. The final straw however came with the release of 8th Edition of WFB, a mighty tome with a hideous price tag that felt like a money grab (at the time they had yet to finish re-releasing all the army books for 7th edition). I downed tools and my love for the Old World fizzled.
Enter Fantasy Flight! Here was a company that was picking up the banner for Games Workshop, taking the Old World and the 41st Millennium, like a curate in a museum of antiquities, caring for these treasured properties, nurturing them and introducing them to the generations to come.
My first experience of FFG’s tenure with the GW licence was the wonderful Warhammer: Invasion. A beautiful blend of Eric Lang’s mechanics with the art and flair of the Old World. Once again I was able to experience the rush of cavalry charging across the battlefield but at a fraction of the price. In the core set you could experience playing six completely different factions that were fun to play, right out of the box. It was an exhilarating rush and Warhammer: Invasion doesn’t make my list of games I’ll miss only because FFG had already decided to retire the line a few years before the split was announced. Invasion, however, remains one of my favourite games of all time and still has pride of place in my collection.
So, to the list.
Blood Bowl Team Manager
BBTM was first announced during the deckbuilding haze of the late 2000’s when everyone was scrambling to bring out the next dominion. However by the time the game actually released it was a different beast, the deck building mechanic had been retired (recycled into the much underappreciated Rune Age) and replaced with a hand management system.
In BBTM you will take on the role of a manager of one of six teams (12 teams with all the expansions and there should have been more!). At the start of each round the players will draw 6 cards from their starting deck of 12. In turn each player must commit a player to a match, going around until all players have committed all 6 players. Each match is then scored awarding bonus players and upgrades to the winning teams as well as Fans which were essentially victory points. The team with the most fans after 5 rounds wins.
That sounds simple, taking it’s lead from games like Colossal Arena or Battleline, but BBTM was so much more. Every team was distinct, having it’s own flavour, Dwarves were tough, Elves were fast, Humans had ball control. Upgrades and Star Players added more flavour as well as fixing your team’s shortcomings or maxing out their power. This game was, for me, the game Blood Bowl should have been.
Space Hulk: Death Angel
Death Angel was a little like Marmite, players either loved it or hated it and I have to say I experienced a lot of the latter. For me I feel that a lot of the hate came from people expecting the game to be something it wasn’t. This one was based on the hugely popular Space Hulk, a tense two player game of cat and mouse and it was coming from the mind of Corey Konieczka, at the time one of the hottest designers on the planet.
Licence and Designer combined here to produce a maelstrom of expectation that just couldn’t be fulfilled and so a great game in its own right was poo-pooed by the weight of expectation. Now, I will admit that the rulebook is not well written, it’s difficult to follow and turns a fairly simple game into a quagmire of complexity. However, once you get past that the game is a lot of fun.
Death Angel is a cooperative game in which each player takes on the roles of two Space Marines exploring a derelict wreck infested with genestealers. You have to accept that not everyone is going to make it out alive. Once you accept this the brutality of the game becomes a strength. You run and gun your way from objective to objective, never passing up the opportunity to escape the outstretched claws of the enemy, always looking for that final goal, for the game to end, for the torture to stop.
As brutal as the game is and as much as it tries to kill you and everyone you love, it always feels like, if I get lucky, there’s a chance I can make it through this. It’s not often that a cooperative game inspires such a selfish, self preservation instinct, but this one does it in spades and it’s great!
Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game
This was the game that died too young. I remember the excitement when this one was announced, finally, Warhammer Quest was coming back. You could taste the anticipation, smell the excitement, finally, after all these years…
The game came out to great reviews, to endless speculation about the expansion format, six months went by with not a word from Fantasy Flight, the expansion powerhouse, people began to worry, things were looking suspiciously quiet. We began to question if Warhammer Quest had not been the success it had first appeared to be, or if perhaps we had done something wrong to not be treated to new adventures and new heroes.
Then a ray of hope! New heroes were coming… they were coming out as Print on Demand…??? But why? Why not a full box release, why no new scenarios, monsters and locations? We didn’t have long to wait after that, the announcement of the split, mummy and daddy were getting a divorce and FFG had lost their visitation rights. The Old World was done for, the Age of Sigmar had begun and FFG’s tenure as the curators of my childhood was over.
Oh right, you wanted me to talk about the game?
Warhammer Quest is the bastard child of Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and Space Hulk: Death Angel. The two combine here to create a hellishly hard dungeon delve as 2 to 4 heroes work together to defeat an evil nemesis. Players must balance making progress through the dungeon with attacking enemies and healing each other. Once you play an action you can no longer take that action until you refresh it, limiting your choice from turn to turn.
Between adventures you have the chance to level up, adding new action cards to replace your old ones or accessing new equipment with which to face the long dark.
Warhammer Quest had a bright future ahead of it, each scenario was challenging but different. The heroes too offered different play experiences and sure you can replay the base game’s five scenarios with different heroes, you might even win one now and again but you’ll always know that there was supposed to be more, that your adventures should have continued…
About the Authors
Chris Bowler is the lead author at Unboxed The Board Game Blog and The Duke of the Blood Keep. He also runs the UK Gaming Media Network and in his spare time he likes to… yeah… like he gets spare time!
Gaming since birth Chris enjoys a vast collection of Board, Card, Miniature and Role-Playing games, with eclectic taste in both Style and Theme.
Mike B is the founder of Who Dares Rolls, Host of the sporadic Who Dares Rolls Podcast that nobody listens too and occasionally produces videos on the WDR You Tube channel that nobody watches.
Mike displays almost no taste or appreciation of the finer points of game design despite this potentially debilitating personality defect he continues to critique board games.