Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) is probably the premier boardgame company in the world, and they’re having a huge impact in the roleplaying game industry as well. One of the reasons for that success is their decision to base many of their exciting, thematic boardgames on established licences from video games (Doom, World of Warcraft) and television (Battlestar Galactica). But possibly their biggest coup was the licence from Games Workshop (GW) to not only re-release some of GW’s old boardgame designs with new components (and often new mechanics), but to create brand new games that explore the incredibly successful universes of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. Let’s have a closer look at some of these great games…
Fury of Dracula (1987) was the first of the vintage GW boardgames to be revamped (groan!) and re-released by FFG, in 2006. It was an excellent choice, because there are many gamers (this author among them) who consider the original game to be one of GW’s best. This is a game dripping with theme, and one of the precursors of the current wave of ‘co-operative’ games, since a group of players must work together to explore Victorian Europe to discover and destroy the Prince of Darkness himself, Dracula. One player is Dracula, and must stay one step ahead of the others, all the while laying traps and red herrings to damage the adventurers and put them off his trail. The new FFG version brought some effective innovations to the game system; most notably, Dracula now keeps track of his recent locations with a set of cards played face-down on a track, and players can pick up his trail by stumbling upon one of these locations. It can also now be played with 2-5 players, instead of the original 2-4. Anyone who is a fan of Dracula—especially the Bram Stoker original—will love this richly atmospheric game.
Warrior Knights was the next game to get the FFG treatment, but once again the company didn’t just re-release an old favourite, but brought it up to the expectations of modern boardgamers. The 1985 original was a deep, strategic game of kingdom building for 2-6 players with an interesting Assembly phase where players voted on various motions; leading to a lot of alliance building and breaking. The 2006 remake is in some ways a brand new game, but manages to retain the unique flavour of the original. It’s highly recommended for players looking for something with a bit more complexity that explores both political and military avenues to achieving ultimate victory over your opponents. And there’s also an expansion available: Warrior Knights: Crown and Glory.
Talisman is a game that needs no introduction to veteran boardgamers; it pretty much defined the genre of ‘fantasy adventure boardgame’. For the uninitiated, players choose a fantasy character and explore a land filled with magical locations and fearsome enemies, gathering strength, craft, items and followers in a quest to reach the fabled Crown of Command. The original Talisman was released by GW way back in 1983 and several expansion sets quickly followed, along with further editions, the last in 1994. There followed a long hiatus, when old copies slowly fetched higher and higher prices on Ebay, until finally, a few years ago, the GW company Black Industries caused a lot of excitement in the gaming world by re-releasing the original.When Black Industries moved out of game publishing, their games Talisman, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and the Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying games all moved over to FFG, who have kept the expansions coming thick and fast. You can already expand the base Talisman set with a small sets called The Reaper and The Frostmarch, and a larger set (with extra board) called Talisman: The Dungeon; and there’s a new large expansion, The Highland, coming soon.
Chaos Marauders is a fun and chaotic card game for 2-4 players that FFG recently re-released with very few changes from the 1997 original as part of their small-box ‘Silver Line’ range of games. Players place, in a battle-line, cards representing the various weird troops and characters in an orcish army. It’s fast-moving, random and doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and it’s a perfect ‘filler’ game with the right players.
After the successful re-release of some old GW favourites, it was time for FFG to see what they could do on their own with the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes. The first of these new games was Chaos in the Old World, and it’s a fantastic blend of the rich background of the Warhammer melieu, and modern boardgaming at its finest. Players each take on the role of one of the four ‘Ruinous Powers’, the horrific gods of Chaos in the Old World, trying to corrupt and destroy its innocent denizens. Not only is the game absolutely drenched in the grim, gritty fantasy of Warhammer, but its mechanics successfully blend modern area-control mechanics, combat and just the right amount of randomness to deliver a deeply satisfying and immersive game.
FFG have had great success with heir ‘Living Card Game’ (LCG) concept, creating popular card games set in the worlds of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos (Call of Cthulhu LCG), and George R. R. Martin’s world of Westeros (A Game of Thrones LCG). These games are different from the traditional collectible card game format, in that fixed sets of cards are released regularly, thus keeping the game alive and expanding but doing away with the random blind-buying that could rapidly make collectible systems too expensive for players. Warhammer: Invasion LCG is their Warhammer-themed game in this format. The artwork absolutely jumps off the cards, and the game itself is fast-paced, easy to learn and offers endless strategic variations, card combos and surprises. There are several card expansion packs already available and more coming thick and fast from the FFG studios, making for an ever-expanding game experience.
Horus Heresy is the next big release on the horizon, and should be ready to buy soon after this article is published. Preview articles on the FFG website promise a spectacular, complex and exciting wargame in FFG’s reknowned ‘big box’ format, set in the gothic science-fiction Warhammer 40,000 universe that GW players know so well. There was an original Horus Heresy game, a relatively traditional map-and-counters affair that came out in 1993, but FFG looks to have really pulled out all the stops in re-making the game into something very special indeed. It’s full of plastic figures, now has a more tactical card-based order and combat system, and in general looks to be the boardgame that all Warhammer 40,000 aficionados have been eagerly waiting for.
The FFG role-playing games (RPGs )that have been licenced from GW really deserve an article of their own, but here’s a quick rundown.
Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and Deathwatch are the titles of the three roleplaying game systems set in GW’s sci-fi universe of Warhammer 40,000. Recognising that there was just too much good background material to squeeze into one game, FFG have released three, each of which focusses on a different aspect of roleplaying in this dark and gothic future. Dark Heresy was the first, and gives you rules for playing Acolytes in the service of the Emperors’ Inquisition, hunting down the enemies of mankind in the form of foul mutants and aliens on distant planets, huge space hulks in the depths of space, and deep in the claustrophobic tunnels and underground vastnesses of planet-wide cities. Rogue Trader takes the game out into the spaces between the stars; you are the eponymous spaceship captains searching for profits in an endless, pitiless universe, battling pirates, buying and selling worlds, and discovering ancient civilisations. Deathwatch has just been announced, and finally allows players to become those guardians of the Emperor, the engineered super-soldiers known as Space Marines. Of course all of these system have (or will have, in the case of Deathwatch) numerous expansion books available.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP) is a venerable fantasy RPG, first released by GW in 1986. With its surprisingly lethal combat and innovative career system—which let players be anything from a lowly rat-catcher in an Imperial city to an spiky-haired Dwarven Trollslayer—it immediately carved an axeblade-shaped chunk in the RPG world. Since then it has gone through several publishers and three distinct editions, the latest being FFGs brand new revamp. There was some controversy when the new system was announced as relying on dice pools and printed components—a big change from the earlier two editions—but that has pretty much settled down as people play and enjoy the new game, and realise that the focus is still on the storytelling. So far the core game and an Adventurer’s Toolkit has been released, and coming soon is a Game Master’s Toolkit and a new adventure boxed set, The Gathering Storm.
As you can see, FFG is doing incredible things with the opportunity to develop new games set in the vast universes of Games Workshop. There will no doubt be many more great games to come!
by Universal Head
Universal Head (www.universalhead.com), has been designing graphics from the most corporate to the most creative for more than twenty years. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, most notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent a year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for the computer game ‘The Omega Stone’. In between he’s designed everything from large corporate websites, to postage stamps, to a mobile phone interface. His personal site www.headlesshollow.com is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.