A little background before we begin...
I’ve been playing WFRP though all of its incarnations since Games Workshop published it in 1986. I liked what Black Industries did with the game for 2nd Edition, and think that the system worked fine. That said, I also do freelance writing and game design, including some work for FFG for Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader, and really appreciate good system design.
Now for the review…
Mine was the first demo of the day at Endgame Oakland, and I arrived early. Our GM, Brian Isikoff, was still punching bits from their backings and getting all the cards into FFG card sleeves – or at least the ones required for the demo. The first thing that hit me was the sheer amount of stuff in the box.
The rulebooks are all standard size, perfect bound, and full color throughout. The layout is very readable, and FFG has really done an excellent job using great pieces of Warhammer art along with new pieces just for these books. They graphics and layout are just top notch – well done! My personal preference is for hardbacks, but these look sturdy enough for consistent use. It’s nice that they’ve split them into 4 books, since you can give your wizard and priest the appropriate books while still using the others. On the other hand, not having a single source of reference could be annoying to GMs, and the lack of a unified index is definitely a problem.
The cards are of excellent quality, both material and graphics, and come in two sizes: regular playing card size for the Actions and Spells, and half size for skills, talents, tactics, etc. Even though they seem durable enough, I would highly suggest putting them in sleeves (as Brian did). We all have that one player who doesn’t use a napkin after eating a slice of pizza! Keeping all these cards organized could end up being a real problem, and the two fold-up boxes provided are just not up to the task. Some zip-lock bags would be a real good idea. I can see that lost cards could be a real problem for some groups, and FFG is going to have to come up with some means of addressing this issue.
The Career cards are of index-card stock, printed in full color on both sides. I can see these getting beat up over time, but they are of such an odd size that I’m not sure how one would go about protecting them. Granted, you should not have to reference them too frequently, but it could be an issue.
All the cardboard bits are of nice thick stock, and the graphics are up to FFG’s excellent standards. Again, keeping all these bits organized is going to be a daunting task, and some extra zip-locks or even a small tackle organizer would be a very good idea for the GM who likes to have things at hand!
And of course there are the infamous dice. They are actually not quite as nice as the rest of the components. They are of average quality, and are easy to read, but they’re just not as nice as the rest of the components.
Oddly, though gargantuan in size, the main box does not seem terribly durable, and I think that long-term players will find that it might not be up to the task of continual use and abuse. So I’d advise being a little gentle with your main box to make sure it lasts a long time.
We started play with the standard mix of pre-generated characters, one Imperial, one Elf, and one Dwarf. I will not spoil the scenario, except to say that it’s a means of showcasing the system rather than being a compelling story, though I could see it being used as a kickoff for any playgroup going over to the new system, a prelude before getting into an adventure or campaign.
The character sheets are half a page, and seem really small to me. While this was most likely done to maximize table space, I really prefer full-page character sheets. They display everything you need to see adequately, but they just seemed a bit tiny. I suspect that we’ll see a number of fan-generated ones in fairly short order.
As one might expect, we found ourselves in combat fairly soon, and finally got to test the system itself...
The use of Action Cards felt very natural, and having all your options right at hand made choosing the appropriate one very easy. In fact, I soon began lamenting not having Maneuver Cards, as I had to reference the rules in order to figure out what those were. I’d guess that once you learn the rules a bit more that this would be far less of an issue, but I still think that Maneuver Cards would be a good addition to the game, and would not be shocked to see fan-generated ones pop up quickly.
On of the criticisms I’ve seen around various forums is that with only 3 sets of Action Cards, you’ll only be able to have three players. While this might certainly be true if your group doesn’t like to share, I can easily see the cards from the basic set supporting a game group of up to five to six players.
The dice pool mechanic was very easy to learn, and had a number of big advantages in my eyes: (1) one roll for any given action, as opposed to one roll by the attacker and one by the defender, so combat moves very quickly; (2) no more Wiff!s where you “hit” only to be parried or dodged; you’ll know the results with one roll only.
After using them, I think most of the so-called board game elements would really be optional. Could you keep track of Stance without the meter? Yes. Could you just mark Fatigue or Stress with a pencil on your sheet? Yes. However, they do not get in the way or interfere with the game, and I found them to be more charming than a pain. I could see groups using them or not per their preference.
Overall, combat felt much more dynamic, and the number of options open to characters really is impressive, and made more so by Boon, or special results on the Action Cards. The Stance Meter, which could just as easily be tracked with pencil on your character sheet, really adds a new dimension to roleplaying the combat. As I edged my marker down the Reckless track, I found myself roleplaying it as well, mirroring it in my speech and interactions. As an experienced gamer, I don’t really need this to remind my about my character’s state of mind, but it was fun nonetheless.
The weapon damage and how it interacts with your dice roll is elegant, simple, and fast playing. Having both Defense (how hard you are to hit) and Soak (how much damage absorbed when hit) for armor will allow for some really great equipment combinations.
There definitely seemed to be fewer failures in our combats, and despite FFG’s protestations to the contrary, I think that the power level has crept up a bit over previous editions of the game. The tone of the internal artwork tends to support this idea as well. I have no problem with this, since I like beginning characters that are at least marginally capable, and it doesn’t look like they went too far with it.
The abstract distances for combat was a bit tough for me. Caveat: I’ve been using a grid for combat in my RPGs for many years, so this was quite a difference for me! It worked fine for the small combats of the demo, but I wonder how well it would work for really large or complex combats. Likewise, the stand-ups provided for creatures in the game will be inadequate if the opponents split into two or more groups, but as I’ve always been a fan of miniatures, that’s not an issue for me.
We hung around for a bit after the demo, and talked about the various aspects of the game and took a closer look at the components.
While the boxed set has plenty of material for one gaming group, I think that the lack of a Player’s Kit will be a real problem. If a player wants to join an existing group or play the game at a convention, it would be VERY convenient to have a rules reference book and a set of common Action Cards to bring to the table.
The format they’ve chosen for the bestiary – a two-page spread for each creature type – is really nice, and will make running encounters much easier for GMs. However, having many different types of beasts in one encounter could be a pain. I would love to see Creature Cards for the game, and would be unsurprised if these appeared in fan material.
Lastly, getting all the stuff back into the box is not an insignificant task! It took Brian a while, and even with our help, he still couldn’t fit the rulebooks back in after it was all in there.
So what’s the final verdict: I’m buying a copy, as are the two other players in my demo group.
The system plays smoothly, and while it is vastly different from the prior edition, it does an excellent job of fading into the background and letting the DM and players tell a story. Those with more simulationalist preferences might not like it as well, but I look forward to running a campaign with it, and may even adapt the system to other games.
On the other hand, the lack of a single-player entry point in the current product line, and the possibility of loosing cards could pose a real problem for some.