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Subject: Do not go gently – a review of the full game rss

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Maik Hennebach
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Introduction and Overview
As an avid fan of Warhammer:Invasion, the announcement last autumn that further support and development would be stopped was not good news. It was not really that surprising, however, that FFG’s third LCG would be the first one to meet this fate, since the player base never really got off the ground (except for Poland, curiously enough). While this is probably the start of the end for the competitive scene, I think that this game is a still undiscovered treasure for more casual gamers, and a review is a good way to tell you why I think so. And, of course, luring you into playing it and, eventually, making you love it as much as I do. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, this will be a rather long read.

The second big incentive to write this review is that we can take a look at the complete game now, whereas previous reviews were mostly constrained to the Core Set. So the plan is to waste your time and mine by taking a trip from the very beginning to today, starting with the basic game engine and then seeing the game developing through its many expansions. This part turned out to be quite longer than I initially planned for, so you might as well skip to the end to take a look what the game offers you today and how to best get into it. As I’ve always felt that the unique design strengths of WHI (I’ll use that acronym from here on) tend to shine a lot stronger in casual games, this review will be devoted mostly to that style of play.

The Game Engine
As mentioned above, the reviews for WHI on the Geek mainly concentrate on the basic game privided with the Core Set. A lot of these present excellent explanations of the game rules (examples are here and here), and I won’t try to outdo them, but happily refer you to them for a thorough description of how the game works. The info text on the game's BGG page is also quite comprehensive and serves as a good intro. Here I’ll just give the basic facts to show why I think that it’s a great game.

It’s a card game, so let’s start with those, and their characteristics: You have units with their cost, power and hit points, supports (buildings, weapons and so on) with a cost and power value, and tactics (action cards, basically) with just a cost. There is a fourth card type – quests – but we’ll look at that later when we talk about the game expansions. So far, so simple, and quite familiar (and, frankly, unexciting) if you’ve played Magic or similar trading card games.

What makes the game special is that your unit and support cards do different things dependent on where you place them. How does this work? Each player has a capital board that divides his playing area into three zones: the kingdom zone earns you resources every round to buy units and supports and pay for tactics, the quest zone gives you fresh cards from your deck and the battlefield is where you gather your troops for attacks against the enemy capital.

The capital board itself provides three power in the kingdom and one power in your quest, and all cards played into these zones add their own power to this base values. At the start of the game, you’ll earn three resources and draw one new card per round, and for every card you play, you’re faced with the decision whether you want to strengthen your resource income to buy bigger and better stuff next round (kingdom), your card draw for more flexibility (quest), or your offense (battlefield).

The latter brings us to what you actually have to do to win the game, which is is neatly tied into the capital zones: your goal is to burn down any two zones of the enemy capital. Each zone has eight hit points, and you can damage them with attacks carried out by the units in your battlefield. Units in the attacked zone can defend it, so you’ll often have to compromise between your strategic needs and shoring up your defenses in a damaged zone.

The decisions demanded by this system are varied and difficult enough to move a lot of player skill from deck construction to the actual game play. And it easily fulfills a basic criterion for any card game, collectible or not: the engine has to provide an interesting game even before you start to introduce special card abilities.

We’ll get some of these abilities in our history of the game, but before that I’d like to take a small detour and look at another rule detail: developments. You can play any card face-down into a zone as a development, where it increases the hit points of that zone by one (from the base value of eight). This may not sound like much – especially since you’re limited to playing one development per turn – but it can add up over the course of a game. And there is quite a lot of cards, even in the Core Set, whose abilities depend upon having developments in their zone. This rule illustrates a design paradigm of designer Eric Lang that I appreciate a lot: no wasted cards. Even if a card in your hand is not very helpful in the current game situation or against the opponent you’re facing, there will be some use for it. In Call of Cthulhu, any card can be attached to a domain to generate resources, in Star Wars, you can plop anything down in the Edge Battle, and in WHI, there are developments.

The Core Set factions
Although the game has come a long way, it’s interesting to see how the basic traits for the first four factions were already defined by their initial cards, and how many of those cards remain as centerpieces of many decks. However, although the starting decks are good enough to get you acquainted with the rules and play some matches, they did not do as good a job of presenting the potential of the game as, for example, the Netrunner Core. FFG has gotten better and better with this with every LCG release, and WHI was at the very beginning of that road. The problem here is less that the cards are bad (except for Chaos, which got an inordinate number of weak Core Set cards), but that they don’t hang together very well.

That said, the game was off to a good start regarding the differentation of its factions. Orcs had a strong emphasis on units, which either came in the cheap and aggressive or the big and tough version. Apart from quickly rushing the enemy, the big theme was self damage: some of their units got better when other orcs were damaged. And they had the radical Troll Vomit, a tactic that kills all units on both sides and is still a central card for many decks today.

The Empire got a lot of neat tactics and several useful support cards, and its defining ability was movement from one zone to another – not only their own units, which is obviously useful for defense or shifting your strategy from economy to offense by moving your forces from kingdom or quest into the battlefield, but also the units of the enemy. Again, a lot of their cards are still mainstays in recent tournament decks.

Dwarves did not get such a coherent start, but they had several strong cards, and a couple of cards that hinted at themes that would be treated in more depth later on: runes, healing your capital, and getting stronger when things were going against them, either with abilities triggered by the death of their comrades, or when their capital was already burning in one zone. Toughness (i.e. the ability to ignore some damage when hit) and doing stuff with developments were two things that they were strong in right from the start.

Chaos was a hodgepodge of mechanics with no really clear direction. They got some units that were perfect for rush, a couple of cards dealing with corruption of your enemies, and quite a lot of rubbish. Which was a shame, and the frustration of having to deal with this inherently weak starting deck possibly kept quite a lot of gamers away from WHI.

A journey through time - Expansions
Due to the slightly problematic Core Set, the burden of realizing the potential of the game rested with the expansions. As we will see on the tour through the history of the game, it took a while for them to really carry that weight.

Ulthuan
As for all LCGs, expansions either came as a cycle of six small boxes (Battle Packs) or as bigger deluxe expansions. The first of these, Assault on Ulthuan, introduced the High and the Dark Elves as additional factions and provided fully playable starting decks for both. Similarly to the Core Set starting decks, these decks have three copies of some cards, but only two or one copies of others. Both elven factions generally had and have to deal with units that are comparatively expensive, but have nifty abilities.

Right from the start, the High Elves were strongly themed with a lot of healing effects and ranged damage. The latter is tied to the mechanic of indirect damage, i.e. damage that is distributed by the opponent himself over his units and capital. Later expansions would add a wealth of other specialties to this, making the High Elves one of the most interesting factions in the complete game.

Conversely, the Dark Elves already got most of their sneaky tricks in the Ulthuan box, but only in small quantities, making for a somewhat incoherent base deck. These tricks would eventually make them the guys you love to hate, and possibly the most uncomfortable to play against. They force discards from your hand or your deck, disrupting your plans and possibly bringing you closer to defeat due to an empty deck. They weaken your units by temporarily reducing their hit points, killing smaller units right away. Or they steal them away from you for a turn to do with them as they please. And finally, their caring and gentle approach to life is demonstrated by tactics that let them sacrifice their own units (or the ones they snatched away from you) for the greater good. All of these capabilities would be expanded in later packs, often to the point where successful decks can be focused on a single aspect of their repertoire.

Corruption Cycle
The first cycle of Battle Packs, the Corruption Cycle, was also the last one to contain only 40 cards per pack: of the 20 different cards per pack, ten were provided with three copies each, but had only singletons of the other ten. While the uneven contribution in the Core Set and the Ulthuan expansion was a reasonable compromise between deckbuilding needs and immediately playable starter decks, such an awkward composition of the expansion packs was simply a bad deal for all players, and the switch to the 60-card format with a full playset of three copies for all 20 new cards was a very welcome change.

Contentwise, this cycle brought nothing radically new for the six basic factions, but mostly built on the existing strengths and strategies. What it did was to introduce the Skaven as a neutral race that could be enlisted by the factions of Destruction (Orcs, Chaos and Dark Elves). Their big themes are self-corruption for various effects and cheap but fragile units, making these swarming ratmen the ultimate choice for rush decks. Their playability was hindered immensely by the 40-card format – if you wanted to field a deck mostly based on Skaven cards, you could hardly avoid purchasing three copies of each Battle Pack from this cycle, and few people were willing to go that far. The revival of the Skaven will only come at the very end of our history tour with the final deluxe expansion Hidden Kingdoms.

Enemy Cycle
The second half dozen of Battle Packs, the Enemy cycle, further padded out the six basic factions without introducing anything radically new. It laid the foundation for some very enjoyable deck archetypes by giving most factions a couple of cards with similar traits and some cards that actually used these traits. An example are the Knights of the Empire: the whole cycle gave you six new knight units in addition to the Reiksguard Knights from the Core Set, as well as the Blessing of Mymidia tactic that strengthens all Knights in a battle and Higher Ground, a support card that gives them a temporary boost when they enter the battlefield. Similarly, the Dwarves were provided with runes, the High Elves got spell tactics, Chaos got diseases to harry your opponents units, and so on. As mentioned above, all Battle Packs from this cycle onwards had the far more useful 60-card format.

Morrslieb Cycle
This cycle was the first one to really expand the scope of the game, and not coincidentally, it was the first one to have an overarching goal: making developments more important. Every faction got a unit and a quest that do something nifty after you play a development, every faction got a support card that handicaps all undeveloped zones, and they all got a tactic to make good use of all those developments you had amassed. Morrslieb also introduced a second neutral faction that tied heavily into this theme: the Wood Elves.

Like the Skaven can be used in Destruction decks, the Wood Elves side with the factions of Order and bring a lot of units and supports into the field that get boosted by developments or bring more developments into play.

Apart from its general theme, Morrslieb was just an overall good collection of cards – it’s probably the first expansion that contains more cards I’m still happy to play than duds. It gave a significant push to Chaos, making it excel at targeted unit destruction. Plague Bomb and the Sorcerer of Tzeentch are the prime examples.

Furthermore, there was a new sort of card for High Elves and Orcs that forces you to align your whole deck with it in order to make the most of it. For the Elves, the Tiranoc Chariot and the hero Korhil can bring smaller units from your deck into the battlefield when you attack, so you need a lot of small elven units to maximize their effect. The Orcs got two goblin units that check the top card of your deck when they attack: if its cost is an odd number, they can damage the opponent’s capital or units, otherwise, they damage your capital or themselves. Obviously, you want to avoid even and zero cost cards with these guys, but since they themselves have a cost of two, you’ll not be able to play it completely safe.

March of the Damned
The second deluxe expansion entered the game right in the middle of the Morrslieb cycle, and it rounded out the quartet of neutral races with the Lizardmen (for Order) and the Undead (for Destruction). Like the Skaven and Wood Elves, these cards were meant as additions to decks based on one of the six basic factions, so the expansion did not have to provide playable starter decks and could implement the 3-copies-per-card format. Which was certainly good news.

And the cards were good, too, both regarding theme and content. Somewhat surprising for a faction on the side of Order, Lizardmen are possibly the most aggressive team in the game, excelling at killing the units of the opponent. A lot of them have the keyword Savage, which allows them to deal damage to another unit after they get hurt themselves. And the persistence of the Undead is well portrayed through the Necromancy keyword: this allows you to play a unit from the discard pile as though it were in your hand. The necromantic energies only allow it to stay for a single turn, though, before it disappears to the bottom of your deck.

In addition to a healthy amount of Lizards and Undead, the box also had five cards for each basic faction, and a lot of those saw a lot of play in decks and continue to do so today. Dwarven Slayers became a stronger theme, and High Elves got a couple of boosts to strategies based on indirect damage. Self-corruption started to emerge as a theme for Chaos decks with Blood Summoning, a tactic that allows you to reduce the cost of a big Chaos unit by corrupting units you already have in play. Something good is in here for everybody, really.

Capital Cycle
At first glance, this should have been a cycle that was as excellent as Morrslieb, since it shares a lot of things with it: there is an overarching focus on a previously underused facet of the game’s mechanics (loyalty), and there are many examples of excellent cards, both regarding theme and the gamey stuff. And to top this, quite a lot of card illustrations are really amazing. WHI had great visuals right from the start, but I feel that this is one area where the game steadily improved, and this expansion was where I sat up and took notice.

So why did this expansion almost make me quit the game, at least regarding tournaments? Infinite combos, that’s why. For those of you who are lucky enough to never have been exposed to something like this in a game, this is what happens if you combine the abilities of several different cards in a way that lets you execute them again and again and again. And again, ad infinitum, or at least ad nauseum, which tends to happen a bit earlier. For example, if you have one card that lets you discard a card to gain one resource and another that allows you to retrieve that card for one resource, you have an infinite combo. Which does not do anything useful, obviously. But if you’d gain two resources from the first action, you could use this loop to get as many resources as you want. And break the game in the process.

Although a few persistent and creative minds had managed to squeeze out a couple of those from the earlier card pool, they all required so many cards that they did not threaten the balance of the game. The Capital cycle, however, gave each faction a Tactic that you could place on top of your deck instead of discarding it after playing it. Since card recursion is the central part of any infinite combo, this was a loud and clear invitation to construct infinite combo decks. This culminated in the Worlds 2012 finale where two decks with the same High Elven combo faced off each other in what was possibly the most boring WHI game ever played. Luckily, FFG noticed that this was not a good thing to happen, and managed to rectify it later on with a couple of card errata.

For now, let’s concentrate on the good things about the Capital Cycle, since there are quite a lot of them. One was a little twist to the card distribution: whereas the six basic factions were represented more or less equally in all other Battle Packs with three or four new cards per faction, each pack in this cycle was dedicated to a single faction that got more than half of the cards. For casual players devoted to a single faction, this was a great way to expand your possibilities with just a single pack, and even if you intended to buy them all, anyway, this was a nice shake-up of things.

It also was a good fit to the increased emphasis on loyalty, which was broadened from just a potential additional cost to play a card to something you might actually want to have. From units that get better if you have cards with high loyalty in play (the Savage Marauder for Chaos gets additional attack strength, whereas both the Dark and the High Elf unit get Counterstrike), to tactics that make use of high loyalty cards, this was a direction that made you rethink your approach to building a deck. Every faction also got a Capital Centre support card with five loyalty and a strong effect that only kicks in if you manage to keep it on the table for three turns.

And this cycle managed to increase the overall quality of the cards by yet another notch, apart from the dud with the six recursive tactics. There are very few weak or boring cards, and a whole lot of brilliantly creative ones, of which I’ll just present three examples.

The first, Khorvak Grimbreath, is a Chaos Hero that allows you to circumvent two basic, almost idiomatic rules of the game. Normally, only uncorrupted units in your battlefield can join an attack, but once this guy is on the table, your corrupted units can attack, and they can attack from everywhere. This is obviously strong, especially since Chaos got a couple of new self-corruption tricks, but it is also a bit risky: once you’ve corrupted your whole team to make use of Khorvak, you really depend on him staying alive and well.

Baby Squigs, on the other hand, are not as clearly useful, and at first glance may seem to be overpriced even at zero cost. They don’t do anything at all except damaging your own units, after all. However, damage can be in high demand in some Orc decks, and cheap units are often welcome as cheap fodder for sacrifice effects. The possibility to get another loyalty icon on the table for free is also attractive, and accordingly, these cute little guys show up in a lot of decks.

That’s not true for the last example, where I seem to be a rather lonesome admirer. Whenever something noteworthy happens with your quests, the Teller of Tales will embellish it to such heroic proportions that one of his listeners will find new courage in his dwarven heart. Or, to but it more bluntly, one target unit gets a temporary power for every action on a quest. Great theme, interesting gameplay, and as the cherry on top, a simply awesome illustration of a dwarven poet in action, swinging a big stein around while sweet poetry flows from his lips, as well as some beery spittle. How anyone can not love this is beyond me, although I admit that these struggling artists are a bit too fragile to build a tournament deck around.

Legends
The third deluxe expansion arrived in the midst of the Capital cycle, and introduced a new type of card: the legends. More powerful and definitely more costly than normal units, legends are placed on your capital itself, and they lend their power to all three zones; kingdom, quest and battlefield. Once you manage to bring one of these powerful leaders onto the table, your opponent can decide on every attack whether he aims to damage your legend or, as was the only option up to now, your capital. This means that legends can be fragile in spite of their power, because unlike units they can be attacked directly in normal combat. On the other hand, pretty much all tactics and special abilities that threaten units are useless against legends, so it kinda evens out.

This would have been an intriguing new facet to the game just by itself, but the developers managed to give a lot of the dozen legends presented in this box (two for every faction) really interesting abilities that, in some cases, made whole new deck archetypes possible. Kairos Fateweaver changes all your developments into quite powerful units, for example, which is obviously very powerful if the game has already gone on for quite a while and you used that time to seed the ground. Both dwarven legends the hurt against your side into problems for the opponent: Thorgrim Grudgebearer will severely damage an enemy unit for every dwarf that leaves the fray, while Grombrindal will strengthen all of your units once a zone is burning (he's not picky, so this could also be a zone of your opponent's capital). The orcish warlord Azhag prevents the use of nasty spells and tactics and elven tricks against those of his units that already were bloodied in glorious battle, which is a serious boost for any Orc deck based on dealing out a little friendly fire. Their high cost mostly kept them out of tournament play, but they proved to be a great addition to more casual games, especially if two legends faced off against each other.

Of course, this new card type fit well into the Capital cycle and its emphasis on loyalty, because the legends tend to have high loyalty in addition to an equally daunting base cost. Some of the other cards in this box directly tied into its main component – a unit for every faction that gets significantly better once you have a legend in play, for example – but mostly they were just more excellent cards for a game that had reached a high point. Especially noteworthy are two units for the Undead that were good enough to crop up in a lot of tournament decks: the horribly hard-to-kill Swarm of Bats and the Blood Dragon Knights, a keystone of many control decks.

Bloodquest Cycle
As its name implies, quests and questing were the focus of this set of Battle Packs. Quests, the fourth type of card in WHI, were only briefly mentioned above, so here's a short explanation. Unsurprisingly, they are played into the quest zone, and represent tasks that a unit can undertake. The questing unit keeps all of its normal abilities, including the option to defend the zone, but in addition, it activates the effects of the quest.

For the first couple of quests, these effects tend to be powerful, but they usually kick in only after a couple of rounds. Since the questing unit has to survive for all this time, it can be quite challenging to make the early quests worthwhile. While every expansion cycle had included one new quest for each faction, Bloodquest doubled down on this, and added units that got better while questing and supports that helped them along on their perilous paths.

Another addition that had quite an impact on the game were artefacts, items or weapons so mighty that they could only be carried by heroes or legends, not by just any ordinary unit. Tying both themes of this cycle together was the Heroic Task, a special neutral quest that you can set yourself at the start of the game with a valuable card as the reward. Fulfill the quest and you get the card - in most decks, one of the new powerful artefacts.

All of this clearly showed that the developers were trying to push the game forward instead of just rehashing card abilities from former sets. This was also apparent in many new themes for the core factions: the Empire got a bunch of cards that emphasized their ability to move units between zones, High Elves elevated the juggling of resource tokens on units and other cards to a strategy that could carry a deck all by itself, and Dwarves got grudge cards. These nifty support cards strengthen all dwarven units within a zone and are normally quite costly. However, you can play them from your hand for free whenever the enemy is damaging your capital in combat. Apart from being nicely thematic, the great thing about these cards is that they make the game more interesting for both sides. While you have to decide whether you want to play them right now or hold on to them in the hope of getting them on the table for free, your opponent has to try to launch few, but decisive attacks instead of nibbling away at your capital over many rounds.

The factions of destruction did not get comparably cohesive cards, but they got a special type of aggressive quest that you can play into an opponent's zone to mess up his plans. Until and unless the opponent devotes a unit to get rid of that quest, it will continue to be a nuisance. Especially noteworthy are the insidious Pleasure Cults of the Dark Elves, causing all units that enter a zone to be instantly corrupted. Playing this into the opposing battlefield is a very effective way to severely slow down strategies based on many cheap attacking units.

Eternal War Cycle
This turned out to be the last expansion cycle, and it had the stated aim of bringing the battlefield phase back to the fore of the game again. At least for the tournament scene, too many games had been focused on either making two decisive mega-attacks or winning by other means (indirect damage or milling down the deck of the opponent), which decreased the interaction between players. All in all, this was a good decision, even though it turned out to be a somewhat bumpy ride due to a couple of overwhelmingly powerful cards in this pack.

The most overt means to emphasize battles were two new keywords, one of them useful for the attacker and the other for the defender. A unit with the keyword Raider X will give you X resources after it has survived an attack, and while the timing structure of the game prevents you from using these additional resources for more units or support cards, they are perfectly suited for tactics and actions with a resource cost. The defensive keyword, Ambush, is a good deal more creative and nicely ties into a unique feature of WHI, the developments.

Any card with the Ambush keyword can be normally played from the hand for its printed cost. However, when it has been placed as a development and its zone is attacked, it can be flipped and brought into play for its Ambush cost, which tends to be a good deal lower than its normal cost. What’s more, units with this keyword tend to do something nice when you manage to ambush with them; the orcish 'Idden Boy deals more damage, the dwarven Iron Defenders get Toughness, and so on. A small counterbalance is that units have to defend when they ambush, but since this is usually exactly what you want them to do anyway, it’s not much of a drawback.

A lot of the cards of this cycle were devoted to fleshing out these new mechanisms, so they had an immediate impact on the game. They were, however, not the only cards that promoted combat: every faction got a quest that gets placed in an enemy zone and does something good when you manage to put 3 damage points on it (by choosing to damage the quest instead of the attacked capital zone). And six new legends entered the stage, each of which only costs 3 resources and has a strong ability that only works when the legend attacks. Such a lot of power at such low cost is balanced by a dramatic change to the victory conditions: once you’ve played one of these legends in a game, you have to burn three zones of your enemies’ capital instead of two to win. Even if the legend is defeated in combat or leaves the game in another way.

In addition to these standout cards and all the ambushers and raiders, this cycle also rounded out some strategies to the point that viable decks could be based on them (Dark Elf enslavement, High Elf token juggling) or brought entirely new themes to the front: the Empire got experience, where units get progressively better if the survived combat, Dwarves got a bunch of cards that depended on them keeping their resources instead of spending them (this paired well with ambush cards, of course), and Orcs got several ways to perform more than one attack in a turn.

Although this was possibly the most creative expansion cycle over the history of the game, it was also one of the more problematic ones balance-wise. Apart from the new cheap legends, which were promptly abused in power decks that coupled them with the artefacts from the previous cycle, the resource influx from the Raider keyword made some powerful tactics a lot easier to play. And to exacerbate the problem, there were two neutral tactics, Muster for War and End Times, that turned out to be very overpowered and, ironically, pushed the kind of unfun combo deck that this cycle had set out to deflate.

It was only after the game underwent a massive rebalancing with FAQ 2.0 in early 2013 (which, among other things, limited Muster for War to a single copy per deck) that the Eternal War cycle had accomplished the goal of enriching the game, and this rang in the (very shortlived) golden age of WHI: a lot of different and interesting decks cropped up at tournaments, and occasionally even managed to win them. It took a bit more refining in the months to come, but the meta of the game was healthier than it had ever been before.

Cataclysm
So, the announcement that Eternal War would be the last expansion cycle, and that new cards would only arrive biannualy with deluxe boxes, came at a high point in the history of the game. My initial disappointment was tempered by the content of the next deluxe expansion: multiplayer rules. In spite of this initial excitement, it took quite a while for me to give them a try, mostly due to the lack of a local player base. I’ve tried them by now, and they are very well done, but I’d like to focus here on the impact the new cards had on the 1vs1 games.

Generally, few cards in this set broke new ground, but instead they fleshed out a lot of interesting faction specialties that heretofore were not quite strong enough for center stage: high elven healing, orcish self damage, chaos diseases, and so on. This was not as blazingly creative as some previous expansions had been, but it significantly increased the variety of decks that were tournament viable.

The cards that broke the mold are all connected with burning zones: the Empire got four cards that are considerably stronger when residing in a zone that is not yet burning, Chaos got some cards that get better or cheaper with every burning zone in the game, whether yours or an opposing one. And finally, Orcs got something that could be dubbed ‘victory feast’ cards, with abilities that trigger only when you burn down an enemy zone. This will happen at most once in a 1vs1 match, so it’s obviously not that powerful outside of multiplayer games. For similar reasons, the Chaos cards fueled by burning zones are not worth your while in two player decks. Only the Empire cards see a lot of play, especially in rush decks that count on having won before the enemy has coordinated their attacks.

All in all, even though the creativity in the Cataclysm box is mostly found in the multiplayer rules, this is a valuable addition to the ‘normal’ two player game. It entered a rich and stable meta, and managed to further enrich it without causing new upheavals.

Hidden Kingdoms
The next, and final, deluxe expansion set out to bring the Lizardmen, Wood Elves, Skaven and Undead to full-fledged faction status. Along with a wealth of new units, supports and tactics, each of the neutral forces got a legend and its own capital, with a nifty special ability in lieu of the loyalty icon that normal capitals provide. These abilities tend to play into the strengths of the faction, so Wood Elves start with one development per zone already in play, Undead have five cards in their discard right from the start, and so on. Regrettably, these new capitals are just cards instead of the sturdy and beautiful boards from the Core Set.

Although the neutral factions are well-balanced and extremely interesting to play, the lack of depth to their card pool does not allow as much creativity in deck-building if you stick to pure decks. Such decks tend to build themselves with just a few variations, especially if you center them around the legend. This has its short-term benefits - you can more or less get playing a couple of minutes after you open the box - but it would seem to threaten the long-term fun.

However, the neutral factions are a lot better suited to multi-faction decks due to their lack of loyalty costs, and fortunately, the developers were clever enough to double down on this aspect with a set of special support cards for the six basic factions: called embassies, these cards have a cost and, more importantly, a loyalty cost of zero, so you can always play them for free. However, they add loyalty themselves, and so obviously make it easier to include other factions in your deck. You can even chose to sacrifice one of these embassies to reduce the loyalty cost of the next card you play to zero. These cards blow the whole deckbuilding aspect of WHI wide open, and not just if you play with the new neutral factions: dual-faction decks were always on the cusp of working properly in the history of the game, and the embassies are very likely to be the final push they needed.

The news that this was to be the last expansion cast a bit of a pall over my enjoyment of Hidden Kingdoms. After quite a lot of plays with all four new factions, however, I can say that FFG did at least choose to end the game on a high note - all in all, this might be the very best deluxe expansion, with oodles of great cards and very few duds, plus another round of excellent illustrations (the pyramids of the Lizardmen are a personal favorite). And pretty good balance, from what I can say so far.

Tournament game
Although the focus of this review (insofar as such a long and rambling block of text can claim to focus on anyhing at all) is on the casual game, a few words about the tournament scene, now that the game has been discontinued by FFG. Since the lack of a solid playbase, especially in the US home market, has handicapped the game throughout its history, it would be foolish to think that things would get better from now on.

However, if there is already a healthy community in place, I don't think that the lack of new input will have that much impact. I'm pretty sure that the potential deck-space was nowhere near to being exhausted even before Hidden Kingdoms, and the neutral factions plus the embassies have expanded that space significantly. And for local tournaments, you can shake things up by introducing new tournament formats, slight rule changes or fiddling around with the list of restricted and banned cards. The lively Würzburg scene, for example, has held tournaments where you're playing with somebody else's deck, or with 65 card decks and 16 hit points in a kingdom zone instead of 8, and so on.

Weaknesses of the Competitive Game
Mentioning the rather small fanbase in the context of a review about my favorite LCG does, of course, beg the question why so few people appear to share my sentiments about the game. In my opinion, the problem is two-fold, and only one half of it was corrected to some extent. Both problems are tied to the game engine and, more specifically, to the possibility to significantly increase your card draw by placing units and supports in your quest zone. As far as I know, draw power is a rare and precious thing in most other card games, and notably so in the grandaddy MtG. In games with limited draw, the potential power of card combos that require 4+ cards is greatly diminished because games tend to be over before you've assembled all your combo pieces.

This hurdle is a lot easier to clear in WHI, and sadly enough the developers were not always aware of the risk of infinite combos. I'm saying risk, because this style of play is really the anathema of interactive and fun games - once you've built or copied a deck based on one of these combos, you just play stuff into your quest and wait for the right cards to appear in your hand. And playing against it, you usually can not do a lot except to try to win faster. FFG recognized this and tried to turn back the tide by putting the puzzle pieces of the most egregious combos on the restricted list. A short aside regarding this list, for those not familiar with it: when building a deck, you can not use more than one card from the restricted list, although you can include up to three copies of that one card.

This correction took a while and three iterations of the game's FAQ (from version 2.0 to 2.2), but at the end, it worked: while they did not get rid of every possible combo, the ones that remain are mostly too slow or fragile to win tournaments. So that's all good.

However, there is a deeper problem with how the card pool for the game evolved in time, and it partly ties into the power of combo decks. Let's take a step back and consider how each of the three capital zones could be used as the backbone of a playing and deckbuilding style: if you are mostly playing units into your Battlefield, you're trying to everwhelm your opponent before your lack of economy turns the tables against you. Concentrating on your Kingdom allows to play big and expensive cards - you won't draw a lot of new ones, though. Finally, focusing on the Quest means that you'll have a lot of fresh cards at your disposal every round, which allows you to play a lot of cards, provided they are not too costly.

Of these three basic possible approaches, only the last one has proven to be successful in tournaments. Rush decks see a small resurgence every now and then, but they are very vulnerable to dark elvish tricks like Pleasure Cults. And big units are effectively removed from the meta game by too many cheap tactics and abilities that can destroy them, no matter their cost or strength. Tournament decks only play the big guys if they can bring them into play by other card effects instead of paying for them. While there is still a good variety in what kind of decks will compete in tournaments and win them, they are mostly played from the Quest. And so, large parts of the card pool are just not suitable for competitive play, not because they are intrinsically weak, but because the meta is focused on rather harsh control.

Where the fun is - casual games
Once you set your aim towards maximizing fun and not just power, Warhammer provides an incredibly rich environment for deck-building. And when I say fun, my goal in a deck is that it's not just fun to play, but also fun to play against. While each of the basic six factions has their very own feel, they all have many deck archetypes you can build a deck around. Taking Orcs as an example, the Core Set themes of rush and self-damage have blossomed into many different aspects of being green and mean:

While rush with cheap units remains a staple, you can now add the flavor of multiple attacks per turn. Self-damage is enriched by a couple of cards that 'heal' your capital by moving its damage on your own units, and by the legend Azhag. I've mentioned odd decks when I talked about the Morrslieb cycle, and they got some more cards in later expansions. Lovely squigs come in a wide variety, complete with some goblins who are experts in rustling them up. And if you want to expand your zoological interest to other creatures, there are two great cards that make this possible, along with big and mean wyverns and spiders. Big units are another orcish staple, even though only I am playing most of these heavy hitters. Apart from the classic Troll Vomit, there are also a couple of other destructive cards that make orcish control decks possible, and many tournament decks are based on swarming the enemy with Snotling Invasions on every front and killing every unit that attempts to stem the grreenish tide. Finally, every single one of the four legends is more or less its own archetype, especially Wurrzag.

Although orc decks can go down just one of these paths, the more entertaining approach is to mix'n'match them. To give some practical examples, the three orc decks I've currently got on my shelf are all such mixes: Creatures and multi-attack, big units and self-damage, and Wurrzag with odd goblins. The other factions provide at least as much room to play around as the orcs do, and all this is before you start to throw different factions together. The latter has become a much more viable option with the embassy cards from Hidden Kingdoms, and it is where the neutral factions from that expansion really start to shine.

Another nice thing about decks that are not built for maximum effectiveness is that they are not only more interesting to play with or against, but also tend to satisfy more from a narrative standpoint. In other words, cards whose effects go together often fit well together regarding their theme. Which, in turn, increases the chance that a match will not just provide you with an enjoyable game, but also with a fun story. As a somewhat involved example, here's something that I recently managed to pull off in a local tournament:

After a couple of rounds where I had been busily developing my dwarven hold, the orcish hordes I was up against managed to burn down part of my capital. So it was time to bring out my plans to Rebuild the Hold and, with the help of a friendly Enchantress, put all those developments to good use. The spirited tales of this glorious deed, as told by a trio of dwarven bards, awakened such heroic courage in a young warrior that he single-handedly set the enemy kingdom alight with the flames of vengeance. And on his way back home, lured out a huge Troll and kicked his head in. In spite of doing quite badly at the tournament itself, this one game made me walk around with a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

Readymade decks
So we've hopefully established that WHI is pretty damn good if you like building decks, and if you're into fantasy as a theme, it'll be even better. In my experience, it can also be a very enjoyable game if you're interested in just the playing, not the preparation beforehand. So let's see what you can do to find enjoyable decks, first looking at your options if you already have a pretty big WHI collection, and afterwards discussing at length what the ideal fresh start into playing WHI might look like.

Assuming that you have most or all of the cards, right now there are two sources for deck ideas: the WHI articles on the FFG homepage and deckbox.org, the biggest online collection of WHI decks. Looking at the latter, it's pretty clear that the problem won't be that there are too few decks available online, but rather that there are far too many. Almost all of them lack any commentary from the creator, and the majority is geared towards tournament play. Finding interesting decks instead of powerful ones is an almost hopeless task, but here are a couple of tips:
• all decks from the FFG articles are conveniently gathered by their author Mallumo under the folder 'Featured' in his deckbox account
• To toot my own horn a bit, here are 19 decks intended for casual play, using all expansions up to the Bloodquest cycle. My current decks under my deckbox profile are also mostly geared for fun, but unlike the 19 decks, you'll need to switch cards between them.
• A good way to hunt for unusual decks on deckbox is to look for cards that you like and that are not tournament staples. The webpage for each card displays the decks that include it.

A call for deckbuilders
Nevertheless, there is not a lot of deck discussion for this game, and sadly enough, things are only getting harder once you start from a more limited card pool. There might be ideas on deckbox for exactly the combination of Core Set(s) and expansions that you have, but there's no chance you'll ever find them between the flood of decks. Accordingly, I'd like to turn the question on its head: instead of asking how a fresh entrant might go about finding good decks, let us fans of the game ask ourselves how we might best provide them. To this end, there are two propositions I'd like to make to breathe some life into this game before it is unjustly forgotten.

First, if you happen to have a deck, or better yet, a couple of decks that, in your eyes, really bring forth the strengths of WHI without necessarily being tournament winners, don't be shy about them. Open a thread in the strategy section here on BGG, and to make it easily identifiable, preface the thread title with [Deck] or [Decks]. It's probably a good idea to list the necessary ingredients (e.g. Core Set x2, Ulthuan, Legends) near the top of the post.

Second, I would love to see balanced deck lists for very small card pools, with the most basic option being a deck for each faction from just a single copy of the Core Set and Ulthuan (this probably would mostly consist of a reasonable distribution of the neutral cards). Such decks would give everybody the opportunity to treat WHI as a normal board/cardgame with fixed decks, similarly to Summoner Wars. Ideally, you could lure somebody into the wooly world of Warhammer by presenting him with a Core Set and some expansions as a birthday gift, and putting a list with cool decks on top of that package.

To find out whether there actually would be an audience for this, I'm putting a little poll in a seperate thread with a couple of possible combinations of Core Set(s) and expansions. Vote early, vote often, as they say when the UN officials are not looking. Once there is enough interest for a given package, myself and hopefully others will have a try at creating decks for it. I'd advise to have them comply with FAQ 2.2 to make it easier/possible to play them online or at tournaments, but it's not a necessity, of course.

As a stopgap measure, I've found that a good compromise between deckbuilding and playing right away is to start with the Core Set decks, but allowing the loser of a game to exchange five cards for new ones before having another go. This method, inspired by the excellent Scarab Lords, is also a good way to slowly introduce the content from expansions and, incidentally, works just as well for about any other LCG. And a last small tip if you're an experienced player and want to get somebody on board who has just the Core Set: give him one of your tuned decks and pick a starter deck for yourself. This way the new player immediately gets a glimpse at the real potential of WHI, and it'll be a challenging game for the both of you.

Where do we go from here?
Although WHI has run its course regarding further development, I think that it is too good a game to die. Whether it gets a new lease on life now that it's concluded and complete depends on how many gamers are willing to take a chance on it. My point of view is that its inaccessability, caused by an overwhelmingly large card pool on the one hand and a somewhat lackluster Core Set on the other, is its main handicap, and maybe the ideas presented above could help a bit with this.

Once you've taken the plunge, a game that manages to be fast and intricate at the same time awaits you, along with a nearly inexhaustable potential for deckbuilding, if you're interested in it. Its multiplayer variant is very well done, even though one should probably test the waters first with the normal 1vs1 game.

And even though official support has ceased, there's at least one fan effort that might slake your thirst for new cards: Forever War. Even though I'm generally sceptical about homebrewed expansions, especially at a point in time where they might further splinter a community that already is fragmented, I got involved in this project as a playtester. This is mostly due to the quality of what I saw, but also due to a very sensible mission statement: the aim is to pad out strategies and groups of cards that have been underutilized in the game, with a deliberate effort to avoid new power cards and auto-includes. The first pack of twenty cards is online, and I think it has turned out very well.

So although it might not look like it, right now is an excellent time to get acquainted with this somewhat hidden gem, or re-acquainted if you only tried out the Core Set and were underwhelmed. Hopefully, the community of its fans can do their part to provide better entry points into Warhammer Invasion than the original starting decks.
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Herwig Riedl
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great review.
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Steve O'Grady
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As a relative newcomer to WI, thank you for this in depth overview...something I have been looking for, for quite some time, to acquaint me with the themes behind each cycle and each deluxe expansion. I knew from reading that there were some broken combos, but did not know where they were until I read your article. I have the Corruption cycle, Ulthuan, Legends, and Cataclysm. I hope to also get the Enemy cycle, and the Morrslieb cycle. The Bloodquest cycle also intrigues me. After that, we will see what is still available in the marketplace.


I play almost exclusively with my 22 year old son, and occasionally when I can convince my wife to play. Frustratingly, my son beats me handily virtually every time we play. But I enjoy the gameplay so much that I am always ready to try it again.

Again thank you for such a thorough and informative review.
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Maik Hennebach
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Thanks for the comments and thumbs - this turned out to be a lot lengthier than intended, so wading through the whole thing must have taken some resilience.

Regarding the deckbuilding poll, I've decided to post it in its own thread for better visibility. Hopefully, I'll get round to doing it today or tomorrow, and I'll update here with a link when it's done.

Update: the thread for the poll is here.
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Thomas De Wolf
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I applaud your excellent review! It sparkled my interest to play this one again. You nailed it with the part about the draw/combo galore, it should be played with casual fun decks. The group I played it with saw 2 problems: lack of multiplayer rules, which is now solved and that some decks were just to powerful, to quick and non-interactive to play against. I thank you for directing me to your decks, I'll surely copy some of them and try to reintroduce the game into my gaming nights.
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Sonja Reznikov
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wow
such a cool review. I would have loved to play one session against u.
I wonder how my Dark Elves team would do against your team.
What faction do you play the most ?
 
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Phantastic review!
You already told me that it is long but this... wow! Must have taken you a long, long time to write it!

So it's just good to see, that it really shines: Good writing and it includes everything a (new) player must now about this great game!
Let's hope that this review will help in a way to bring the game a bit closer to people, so that it gains some more players. It really deserves it!

Keep up the good work! (and sometime in the near future I have to sit down and build all those decks I'm talking about for month.... )
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David Lowry
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Great review. Very well done. Thanks for taking the time :-)
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Sonja Reznikov
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It is obvious that you are extremely experienced in this game.
The following are my top 3 questions for you and other BGG veterans of
W.I;


Question 1:

if the Publisher/Designer would have not ended this LCG, what would you have looked forward to a future expansion (Deluxes or Battle Pack) ?
-New faction ? New system ? e.t.c..

Question 2:

With regards to Hidden Kingdoms,
we all have voiced our opinion about lack of Capital Boards for Neutral factions which has already been resolved by couple of talented BGG members
and we can print and glu their design to have our own home made capital boards but what makes me puzzled is why did they not provide some Quest cards for the 4 Neutral Factions ? I would have liked to see each Faction have its own Quest cards i realize i represent a minor group but what would have been so wrong with adding 6 Quests for each Neutral faction ?

Question 3:

What is your opinion on Promo cards ? did you ever use them ?

Thx

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We usually allocate the 3 Quest cards from the Core Set in which do not show Race Icon on them (the 3 random one`s not the other 8) to the Neutral Factions.

This way the Neutral faction deck does not carry any other race faction.


as for the other 2 questions, i am not a veteran so can not answer them.
 
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Once again, thanks to everybody for the kind comments. Retracking the history of the game during the writing would have been fun anyway, but I'm certainly glad to see this resonate with so many folks.

Regarding Sonja's questions:
1) I don't know what future expansions would have looked like. Personally, I think that the game is pretty complete regarding the main ingredients, so I would not have wished for something as radically new as the Legends, for example. Putting a bit more flesh on some ideas like diseases or the experience mechanic would have been nice, though, but it's hard to make satisfying deluxe expansions with such a general approach. As I've said, I regret that the market for the game wasn't there, but they really closed down on a high note with Hidden Kingdoms.

2) Quest cards for each of the four neutral factions are in the Bloodquest cycle, something which I've neglected to mention in the review. You can see them here.

3) None of the promos for LCGs by Fantasy Flight have new content, they are just normal cards with alternative illustrations. Which is a very sensible thing to do, in my opinion. So using them does not change the game in any way, and some certainly look very nice.

Regarding your earlier question which faction I'm playing the most: I've currently got about two dozen decks in rotation, and would find it damn hard to pick a favorite. Maybe dwarves are a hair's width ahead.
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It is a great article for Warhammer: Invasion.
Would you mind if I translated it into Chinese? modest
 
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cchopman wrote:
It is a great article for Warhammer: Invasion.
Would you mind if I translated it into Chinese? modest


As long as I don't have to proofread it
Seriously, though, I'd be flattered, so please go ahead.

Is there still a WHI scene going on in China or Taiwan? I've played a couple of OCTGN matches with a very nice guy from Shanghai, but that's the only point of contact I've had so far.
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I know the object of the game is to burn 2 of the opponent`s Zones.

I have to ask:

Once a zone is burnt, is it still produce items ?

a} Kingdom still produces Resources ? Can i still put down a card in my burnt Kingdom zone ??

b} Quest still produces Cards ? Can i still put down a card in my burnt Quest zone ??

c} Battlefield still can attack oppoent if it is burnt ? Can I still put down cards in my burnt Battlefield zone ??

Very sorry to throw this at you but I can not picture the answer.

My girlfriend & I had serious argument today over this

 
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Yes to a, b, and c.
The first time my friend showed me how to play this game, he burned my battlefield in short order. I thought that I couldn't win now because I will no longer be able to attack my opponent. Thankfully, he explained that this was not how it worked so there would be no need to evacuate my bowels in frustration and we could continue playing...I've been playing ever since.
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Very nice review.Can you please spend few minutes and provide us with your opinion of the Warhammer: Invasion – Cataclysm for multiplayer.

I understand your main review is to target 2 player game (Player vs Player), I am just curios given your experience for this game what was your opinion highs and lows for 4 player game and the 6-fulcrum cards.

when we get our gaming group together we always play the 4 player game and we truly appreciate you taking the time to write down this amazing review.
so far we have discovered there are not enough Fulcrum cards to support extending replayability other than that it is our favourite 4 player game.


 
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ageofconan wrote:
Very nice review.Can you please spend few minutes and provide us with your opinion of the Warhammer: Invasion – Cataclysm for multiplayer.

I understand your main review is to target 2 player game (Player vs Player), I am just curios given your experience for this game what was your opinion highs and lows for 4 player game and the 6-fulcrum cards.

when we get our gaming group together we always play the 4 player game and we truly appreciate you taking the time to write down this amazing review.
so far we have discovered there are not enough Fulcrum cards to support extending replayability other than that it is our favourite 4 player game.


Thanks for the kind words! We've just had four attempts at Cataclysm so far, and all were with just three players, so my experience is definitely limited. However, we liked it a lot, and of course, replayability is not a problem for us so far. I would think that the variety will come more from different decks - just like for the 2 player game - rather than from the fulcrums.

A potential problem I see with Cataclysm is that dedicated multiplayer decks (probably using a lot of cheap attack units) might make it go a bit too fast and less fun than it is with tamer decks. Accordingly, a fun tournament mode I could envisage is a kind of Warhammer Biathlon, where you play multiplayer rounds to determine the finalists, who then have to face each other in normal 2 player games - using the same deck (obeying both restricted/banned lists) for all your games.

So, those are my 2 cents on that, and at least for the moment, there's not much more I can usefully add. Hopefully, we'll get in a couple of more Cataclysm games, because it sure is an interesting change to the dynamics of the normal game.
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ageofconan wrote:
Very nice review.Can you please spend few minutes and provide us with your opinion of the Warhammer: Invasion – Cataclysm for multiplayer.

I understand your main review is to target 2 player game (Player vs Player), I am just curios given your experience for this game what was your opinion highs and lows for 4 player game and the 6-fulcrum cards.

when we get our gaming group together we always play the 4 player game and we truly appreciate you taking the time to write down this amazing review.
so far we have discovered there are not enough Fulcrum cards to support extending replayability other than that it is our favourite 4 player game.



While I wasn't asked this question I'd like to comment anyway. Cataclysm night for me is my favorite night of the month. I wish I could say it was my favorite night of the week but time between me and my friends doesn't work out that way unfortunately. Games can occasionally be run away with by someone but that just means you can play again and get your revenge asap. And those games that go too fast seem to happen less often as your group gets used to building decks specifically for the idiosynchrocies of Cataclysm.
My only complaint is the low number of fulcrum cards. But we overcame that. I started a thread on the FFG forums about homebrew fulcrums.
http://community.fantasyflightgames.com/index.php?/topic/949...
We've been using some of these and are loving them. Feel free to give them a try if you get bored with the 6 fulcrums from the box.
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Hi- you had indicated in the Capital Cycle each
faction got a Capital Centre Support Card
with five loyalty.
Did the Netural factions receive similar support
cards at some point in this or the following
expantions?
I am aware the Neutral factions did not have
loyalty icons but I would think it is essential for the
neutral factions to have Capital centre support cards to be competitive?
Thank u in advance.
 
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darkelfmage wrote:
Hi- you had indicated in the Capital Cycle each
faction got a Capital Centre Support Card
with five loyalty.
Did the Netural factions receive similar support
cards at some point in this or the following
expantions?
I am aware the Neutral factions did not have
loyalty icons but I would think it is essential for the
neutral factions to have Capital centre support cards to be competitive?
Thank u in advance.


The Capital Centres are very fun cards from a thematic viewpoint, but they are not found in competitive decks (apart from the High Elves centre, which is used for resource token shenanigans with the legend Eltharion). So regarding competitiveness, the lack of them should not be a problem for the neutral races.

Plus, they did get some nifty support cards in Hidden Kingdoms that are exclusive to their faction (e.g. the Lizardmen pyramids), so one might view these as the equivalent of the Capital Centres.
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Just coming back to check on this game after it sat on my shelf for several years unplayed. This review/summary of the game is arguably one of the best pieces I've read on BGG, ever, and the postmortem is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for taking the time to write it.
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FFG is having their Christmas sale. WH:I Deluxes are $10 and their chapter packs are $3 if anyone is looking to round out their collection, or even to start one.
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