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Robert Fox
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Chandler
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Southshore's docks are a place I've frequented many times in the online game World of Warcraft. As a relatively young Alliance level 30, Southshore represents a transition in your character's leveling career. Before, one would complete quests in relative safety ... except for the occasional outbreak of gankers (enemy players who attack you while you are weak, usually after fighting a tough creature, AND who are usually many levels above you). Starting with Southshore, your quest locations bring you close to many Horde traveling paths and leveling areas. Every trip out of Southshore could result in frustration as you try to avoid enemy players of all types while attempting to get to your quests complete.

Which brings us to Fantasy Flight Game's (FFG) newest release, World of Warcraft: the Boardgame (WoW:tB). Set in a small area of the World of Warcraft universe, players are asked to assume the role of one of the nine different classes from the online game and embark upon an adventure of defeating hostile creatures, collecting treasure, and gaining power by obtaining experience points. This review will cover the initial impressions, gameplay, then my impressions after a few 2 player games.

Initial Impressions
What can you say? This game was constructed to scream "look at me!" from the ground up. The box is the same size as the "Twilight Imperium 3" box and has a very noticeable heft to it when you pick it up. On the FFG web site, they have a picture of WoW:tB setting on a scale showing it weighs 10 pounds! Inside you get a large map of the northeast part of the WoW universe; it covers the areas of Hillsbrad, Tiristfal Glades, the Eastern Plaguelands, and everything else in-between. Two massive decks of cards: the smaller sized cards contain all the possible equipment and character abilities while the larger cards contain the events and quests that you'll be tasked to complete. There are 4 counter sheets full of counters to punch out, and many various player mats and reference sheets. Then there are the miniatures.

There are over 120 miniatures with 29 different miniature types, covering all the possible player characters and the 13 different hostile creature types that will populate the countryside. All the different models are very detailed, with the massive Doom Guard easily being the best model I've ever seen packaged in a boardgame. The Doom Guards stands as tall as 2 or 3 regular character minis. Each of the 16 possible player characters are also individually sculpted.

Overall, it rivals the recent "Lord of the Rings" game for number of bits while edging ahead in the coolness factor of its minis. My only disappointments are that the playing cards feel like they are of average quality (since you only shuffle each deck once per game, they should hold up for a long time), and the three game-ending boss characters are only represented by chits ... no mammoth minis to dominate the board with. I'd love to see those three in mini form! Sure they probably wouldn't fit into one area ... but who would want to voluntarily get close enough anyway?

Gameplay
WoW:tB attempts to bring the standard pillars of roleplaying (starting off weak, adventuring to gain treasure, earning experience to become more powerful) into a single session boardgame format. The basic goal of the game is to have your team either defeat the Overlord or kill the other team in a large player vs player (PvP) battle after the end of the 30th turn. What's that ... Other team? Player vs Player?

WoW:tB has taken a different road than many adventure boardgames of the past. Here they divide the players into two factions, the Alliance and the Horde. While adventuring and gaining levels, you are also in a race against the other team. There is only one Overlord per game, and the first team to kill him wins. One team can also attack the players from the other team. Clearly defined teams in a race and PvP combat intertwine to create the central theme of the boardgame. You cannot win on your own, so you have to coordinate each turn with your team in an attempt to out pace the opposing team. It is in this theme that a person will find if they like WoW:tB or not.

The different player professions are fully fleshed out and vastly different from each other. Each profession runs off of two basic stats, health and energy. You need health to survive hits, and you need energy to activate your skills. True to the computer game's roots, each character has a completely different set of possible powers and talents available to them. In WoW:tB, these skills are each represented by a separate deck of cards for each of the 9 different professions. Powers are situational and take some amount of your characters energy to use while talents are given free each level you gain and either make powers more useful or give additional unique benefits. With this basic system, each profession retains it's own unique flavor while allowing for different variations within the same profession. For example ... depending on how you choose your powers and talents, you could have a warrior that blocks a lot of damage, or you could have a warrior that dishes out a whole lot of melee flavored pain. The amount of variety is amazing, and retains the flavor of the online version of each profession.

From theory to implementation
The Good:
For me, the game is a success. I've gotten a chance to play 2 2-player games so far. Many people will see the game as a dice-fest. For me, the luck becomes a lot like the luck from a game called "Can't Stop". The game develops as a series of risks. The larger a risk you take, the quicker you can level and the better chance you can stay ahead of the other team ... but if you die, it is a major setback as you lose a few turns trying to recover.

As the game progresses, each teams' quests (the primary way to gain experience) start to pop up right next to each other. At that point you need to keep leveling, but getting close to an enemy player invites the risk that they'll attack you when you are weak. This adds an odd element of "the dance" as both sides fight their way around each other. Since PvP combat can hurt either side, usually the first team to an area forces the other team to quest somewhere else (if possible). There's safety in numbers ... but taking on quests as a team slows down your development.

I've played many types of roleplaying boardgames (there is my old, played to death copy of Magic Realm and Runebound to name a few), and the character development in WoW:tB is the best I've played. My major gripe with Runebound was how similar each character seemed to play. In Magic Realm there is great variety, but how you grow is completely dependent on what loot you find. Here, there is great variety AND complete choice on how you want your character to be. (If you get a chance to play WoW:tB with a friend that plays the online game a lot ... tick him off by playing a priest, then only buff the offensive skills. When he tells you that priest have healing spells, tell him, "why would I want to heal when I can melt faces?" It'll make him feel right at home).

The bad:
Just like in the online game, there are builds for the different characters that seem less optimal and skills/talents that almost seem pointless when compared to others of the same level. After a while, you may find yourself building each of the characters the same way every time.

The melee oriented characters seem more powerful than their magic casting counterparts. Spells hit first, but do not help defense while melee attacks allow for attacks and defense. The benefit of hitting first is that you can avoid taking damage if you kill whatever it is you are fighting with your first volley. Most creatures after the first level will withstand one or two assaults because of their high health. Mages are really weak at taking hits, and their ranged damage does nothing to help against this. This combination leads to mages having low survivability on their own. Melee characters almost double their defense by rolling high defense and melee totals. So they are usually able to solo creatures their level and below with ease. The online game balances this by giving the casters ways to keep creatures away from them (slowing them down, rooting them in place, stunning them, etc). These "support" talents do not seem to have translated well to the boardgame version.

The Overlords almost seem too powerful. Looking at their stats, I never felt I had a decent chance at killing one. Since in both games I was ahead in character development, I felt it was safer to hinder the lower leveled side toward the end then make a real attempt at the Overlord. This works since after the 30th turn, the game is decided by a PvP contest. If you happen to be the stronger side ... well, you'll have better odds in the PvP than against the Overlord.

I really wish the Overlords had minis ... but this is petty as they probably couldn't fit in the box anyway.

I had a lot of fun with the combat system, but my friend seemed to have a little difficulty with the dice and how all the powers interacted with them at first. This could end up being a source of frustration for some for their first few games.

Summary
Components: 10 (Should be a 9.5 without the overlords ... hehe)
Rules: 9 (They were large, easy to read, and had lots of examples)
Gameplay: 7 (Lots of fun, but some areas like the melee/caster problem drops this a few points)
Systems: 9 (There are many unique systems in the game, the combat and leveling systems add a ton of variety and feel unique)
Overall: 8 (This could go up, if someone could give me a reason not to go for the Paladin/Warrior combination. I just load up on defense and attrition and watch the other side try to do damage. It's a deadly combination. This just stems from my early perception into the melee/caster imbalance)

Score: 8.6

About me
I'm 28, and first stepped out of the Monopoly/Risk treadmill when I was 12 when I received a copy of The Hunt for Red October as a gift. A year later, an uncle of mine sent me the Avalon Hill game Tac Air for my birthday. Oh the world I was opened to. It came packed with a full color brochure of their entire game line. From there I hit wargames of all types: Advanced Third Reich, Breakout:Normandy, Hannibal vs Rome, Republic of Rome, Civilization ... I was a wargamer. When I was 21, a store called Michael's Magic opened in the same complex I worked in. Soon after, the store's owner introduced me to a small but dedicated boardgaming group. Through the likes of Jeff, Shane, Mike and the rest I was introduced to the world of the German games. Funkenschlag, Puerto Rico, Die Macher, Wonger and everything in-between. They are still an active bunch with a yahoo group called the AZBoardgamers. If you live in the Phoenix area, I highly recommend contacting them. Never has a finer group of people been assembled around a collection of chits and markers! My job moved me across the country, where my interest have changed to more hybrid games that have conflict, but with the lower complexity that I became used to in German games. Things like TI:3, Runebound, my rekindled love affair with Axis and Allies, and now WoW:tB. No matter what the type of game, I'll play them all! I tend to do best in abstract placement and conflict games, while I always get ran over in auction and negotiation games.

-Robert
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Robert Fox
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Chandler
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Fear cannot be banished, but it can be calm and without panic; it can be mitigated by reason and evaluation.
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Here's a little more random information gleaned after a few more plays.

After a little more experience, most casters have something to help them against mobs. The trick seems to be surviving one hit, then downing the mob at the beginning of the second round of combat. The only caster that doesn't have an inherent way to protect itself against melee damage is the mage ... and the mage has other utility spells that help out.

I still feel that melee oriented characters can solo quests a lot more safely than casters, but the spread isn't as bad as my initial impression.

Also, as the game system becomes more familiar ... it takes from 2.75 to 3 hours to complete a game.

Playing with 6 characters is more rewarding that with 4. With 6, it seems you can pull out the red quests earlier in the game. More characters also lead to more interesting teamwork choices, as grouping three vs. a mob isn't efficient for healing. This usually means analyzing the current quests and figuring out whom could solo which mob the best. This also has the positive effect of leaving one person out to be bullied by the other group in PvP.

Never leave a character within 2 movement points away from the enemy.

The Horde seems to have better quest placement early ... the Alliance has better quest placement toward the end.

My favorite character is still the Paladin. 3 Hit Point healing at 1 energy cost, Massive Defensive skills, and attrition to bring up the damage ... just watch those attrition negating mobs.

-FuManchu
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Patrick Reynolds
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Great review! I've played a couple games of this as well, both with four players, and the only points from your review that I might disagree with are:

1) Casters and soloing. In the first full game I played the other side had a Mage that soloed for the whole game and rocked the world of whatever mob he went up against. Mages can even go solo into areas with a blue mob and a quest mob and then use two actions to challenge and remove the blue creature via Polymorph before challenging the quest creature. This actually lets them survive in some areas where other classes might need to group up to complete the quest. In my second game I played the Warlock, and before long I was rolling all seven blue dice and six green dice for insane pre-emptive strike and defense numbers. I was soloing everything until the tougher late-game quests when it seems to become a necessity to group together no matter what class you've got.

2) The Overlord power. In both games, Nefarion was the Overlord. In the first game, my faction killed him with a level 5 Hunter and level 4 Rogue, and it was easy. In the second game, both sides were on their way to challenge him, but a round of PvP forced us past the turn limit and the game ended in PvP. But with the power that each faction was throwing in combined-arms combat, I think either side would have handily defeated him even with his nasty tricks. I haven't had the chance to go up against the other bosses so I can't speak to their power, but it does seem possible to take down the Overlords as long as you can hit level 4 or 5 and do a reasonable job of outfitting your character (I think you do need to have some good weapons and armor in addition to your powers).
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Paul Newby
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Top review! Makes my attempt at reviewing it worthless. As a first timer to WoW in any form and FF games too, I have to mention the remarkable amount of memory feats required to recall and prove to the opposing faction (and sometimes your own faction), the reasons why you roll so many dice in combat. "How come you can roll four green dice and get two re-rolls?" etc. It seems that to be a successful faction (my GF can't accept that word when reading the rules - too many faction action reactions for her), you have to be a master of all three of your 'teams' characters so that no-one misses an important perk or disability or worse still doesn't accuse someone of getting it wrong where upon the game grinds to a halt whilst you all discuss and reprove why I can roll all those dice.

Sorry to belabour the point but with so many feats being one use only either per round or per turn ( eg the thief's stealth attack), it can become a serious exercise of micro management coupled with extensive memory skills. I appreciate that nothing on a character sheet is going to fundamentally alter the game but hey, if its worth playing it's worth playing right i reckon.

I do enjoy the game immensely but i guess I'm quite a methodical player and it can lead to frustration if you want to make sure people are playing it right.

I've just realised I sound like I'm proper slow at games and don't know what I'm doing. I hope my point is realised. This is a quality game!
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J. Green
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One reply to this:

Quote:
Overall: 8 (This could go up, if someone could give me a reason not to go for the Paladin/Warrior combination.


Is that the rules as written require randomly choosing the order that players may select character classes, and once all players have selected a character class sheet, you THEN randomly determine which players will be in the alliance and which will be in the Horde. It's conceivable that you might not get a chance to choose the Paladin/Warrior combo, even in a 2-player game, and in a multiplayer game, the players who choose the Paladin and Warrior might end up on opposing sides.

If you're doing setup according to the rules.

And I think an objective review should be based on the rules as written, in which case you'd often be forced to adapt to the results of the two random character setup phases, instead of making the same choice each time. I'm not writing this to be ornery, just to give you a good reason to increase your rating!
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Robert Fox
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Chandler
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All good points. I was writing off of two games when I wrote the big review. Warlocks do have their pet to increase their health. The mage's movement abilities are quite useful, and Polymorph is awesome (especially if you have an event out that gives XP for blues).

I just plain forgot about the random character rule. Having played the on-line game, we already knew what we wanted to play and started there.

The casters are more surviveable than my initial impression, although I feel it's easier with a melee oriented character, casters can get it done on their own ... and usually have better team-helping effects too. So balance is much better than my initial impression.

My new dog-house character is the rogue. Although it has a good, useful build. I just cannot justify any combo using Stealth right now. Very energy intensive for little pay-off compared to equiping a good bow and using different skills. Just my opinion.

So far, I've managed to level the quickest having the Paladin/Warrior combo. They both usually do a lot of melee damage and blocks, and can generate a lot of attrition damage in the process. They sacrifice rolling lots of blue dice for the attrition though, so any creatures that negate attrition can be a problem (at least the way I play). This might be true for any Pally/x combo, as the Pally is neigh unkillable unless his reroll value is low.

I must say, I still think about playing after frontloading 6 games in two weeks. So and 8.5 should probably be a 9 at this point. What I really need to do is go through all my games played and re-evaluate my scores, as my average point in the score bell curve is higher up the scale than I'd like (hovering around 7).

-FuManchu
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Hrvoje Roncevic
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Great review!
I am of to the store
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Jay T Leone
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This review rules! So thorough. How much time did it take to write? Better question, how much work did you not do and get paid for writing this article? =)
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No No No Sheep
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FuManchu wrote:
Here's a little more random information gleaned after a few more plays.

After a little more experience, most casters have something to help them against mobs. The trick seems to be surviving one hit, then downing the mob at the beginning of the second round of combat. The only caster that doesn't have an inherent way to protect itself against melee damage is the mage ... and the mage has other utility spells that help out.

I still feel that melee oriented characters can solo quests a lot more safely than casters, but the spread isn't as bad as my initial impression.

Also, as the game system becomes more familiar ... it takes from 2.75 to 3 hours to complete a game.

Playing with 6 characters is more rewarding that with 4. With 6, it seems you can pull out the red quests earlier in the game. More characters also lead to more interesting teamwork choices, as grouping three vs. a mob isn't efficient for healing. This usually means analyzing the current quests and figuring out whom could solo which mob the best. This also has the positive effect of leaving one person out to be bullied by the other group in PvP.

Never leave a character within 2 movement points away from the enemy.

The Horde seems to have better quest placement early ... the Alliance has better quest placement toward the end.

My favorite character is still the Paladin. 3 Hit Point healing at 1 energy cost, Massive Defensive skills, and attrition to bring up the damage ... just watch those attrition negating mobs.

-FuManchu


a balanced review without hate or fanboism.. thanks
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No No No Sheep
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FuManchu wrote:


My favorite character is still the Paladin. 3 Hit Point healing at 1 energy cost, Massive Defensive skills, and attrition to bring up the damage ... just watch those attrition negating mobs.

-FuManchu


thanks for the class suggestion. i only tried with hunter, lock , mage and warrior and your comments on spell caster and melee class are spot on.. at least warlock got pet to mitigate a bit of damage.. mage hit hard very hard but very squishy.. just like the online game..

im glad paladin translate well into the boardgame.. im itching to play as paladin and druid, both my favorite class in the computer game.. and i will play shaman and priest later on , although they are not my favorite in the MMO
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