Just got home from participating in the pre-release event of Warhammer Fantasy RPG. I'm planning on go back on sunday and helping the GM run it. Some thoughts.
The game does away with about 80% of the pencil and paper record keeping an replaces it with boardgame management system. This isn't to say it's a boardgame, it still retains a full RPG feel, it's just now your character sheet is only a 1/2 page, and you track wounds, fatigue, stress, and special abilities and attacks through cards and tokens. Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of that. Fantasy Flight did it to make some high end componets for the game and give it a "anything but D&D feel" which I'd admire till you realize DnD pen and paper approach is simplier and quicker. It tracks it without all the fiddly componets moving back and forth, being shared, and sometimes being removed accidently. Luckily however, without the need for a battlegrid or combat mat there's enough space on a table to accomdate all the componets with little fuss. It's fun and new but I have a suspicion 20 sessions down the road that interface will lose it's appeal.
The movement system is easy. Everything is either engaged, close, medium or long range. Each piece of terrian in play is a card that gives special effects of the terrian. It's very easy to abstract the combat. This is a refreshing change from every single RPG lately being all about 5 foot grided squares. It's GREAT for the GM that wants to tell a story more than simulate tactical positions.
The dice pools is probably the next best thing to the abstracted stortelling movement system. The dice pool seems very confusing at first with all sorts of symbols instead of numbers, but after a quick lesson and a couple of rolls it's easily understood. Because you have symbols adding and subtracting successes it is much more entertaining that a standard number system. Also there's good luck boons and bad luck bane symbols that provide additional sometimes story oriented effects. So on any given roll you will have success, challegenges which take away success, and good and bad luck. This really really makes the dice WAY more interesting that other games that use dice numbers. You can be successful but still suffer bad luck, and you can be unsuccessful but still have good luck. Of course this dice system does come at a cost. The decoding takes longer than rolling a d20 against a target number. In DnD, for example your to hit roll and damage roll take on average 20 seconds from start to finish. To figure out your successes, your boones, banes, critical hits, good luck, etc... it can easily take more than a minute after all the effects have been decoded and applied. Luckily combat as a general rule is shorter, so you end up resolving a combat in less rounds than most RPGS, especially DnD. Even though you swing or fire your weapon less, combat is actually more exciting than a game like 3.5, although I wouldn't say it's more exciting that 4E, whose combat system is just plain better than 3.5. Less rounds to fight a combat than 4E to be sure, with about the same number of options or powers available.
The first 4 races to be released are the right 4 to pick. Humans (Empire), wood elves, high elves, and dwarfs give plently of options out of the gate. Here's where I'm going to break with what's tradition in the warhammer world to tell the story from the humans (particularly Empires) point of view. I see no reason to exclude the evil races. I think that only provides more options to the game and if a GM doesn't like it because of the flavor, he can always ban evil races. I want to be a dark elf corsair, or a skaven, indeed a chaos dwarf. I would love to play a Brentonian.
My final thought is this is a game that is defiinitely NOT for large groups. the dice take awhile to decode, their aren't enough componets like basic attacks to provide for more than 3-4 players without sharing. This means if you have a group of 5 or more players expect to be shelling out more money on the already costly 100 dollar box set. I wouldn't recommend the game with more than 5 players anyway as it would just get stuck in a quagmire of dice rolling and decoding.
Where the game shines is as an intimate story telling system for 2-4 players, maybe adding a 5th, although that's pushing it IMO. It's a great constrast to RPGs already on the market that just always seem like a version of d20. The name brand, and the chance to tinker around in the Warhammer World also make it a good choice, if they let you eventually play every race, it'll make it a GREAT choice. You do have to accept the fiddly bits, and god help you if you lose parts, because you'll be paying out the ass to replace them, but that's the cost of playing something uniquely different in today's RPG landscape.