Monday, February 27, 2017

REVIEW: Warhammer Quest - Shadows over Hammerhal

The newest version of Warhammer Quest, Shadows over Hammerhal, is out now and it's just as good as you would have hoped. This is it's own self contained game and not just an expansion that relies on Silver Tower to work, and it's all the better for it. It takes the rules from Silver Tower and adds to them and tweaks them in a way that makes this its own game, all while providing some great models and a bunch of background lore on the Mortal Realms' largest new city, Hammerhal.

The first thing that you'll want to look over in the game is the Guidebook. You might think this would just have the rules for the game, which it does, but it also has so much more. I was honestly surprised when I cracked it open and was greeted by a 30 page story setting up the adventure your heroes will be going on in the game. We first meet the Lord-Castellant Arvios Sunhelm and the Cogsmith Golnir Coalbeard. The pair are investigating a collapsed heat tower which leads them through the city of Hammerhal on a path of deceit and treachery. Along the way they meet up with Alnaryn, the Loremaster, and Vizrin Kyre, the Black Ark Fleetmaster.

The story was actually really good, and I wouldn't be opposed to reading a whole novel based around these characters. They all felt fully developed and unique, and it was nice to get a bit of the classic mix of human, duardin, and aelf back in AoS. Over the course of their investigation we also learn quite a bit about the city of Hammerhal. Most of the story takes place in Cinderfall, just one district of the city, but it absolutely oozes character. This was a fantastic read and it really gives you the best look into the new cities of the Mortal Realms so far. Scattered throughout the story are a bunch of sketches of citizens of the city as well as a couple of maps that really help to add even more to the read. While this definitely has an Old World feel to it, there is also plenty of high fantasy AoS vibes scattered throughout. For example, Hammerhal is split over both Aqshy and Gyhran. The Aqshy side of it is powered by the lava that flows underneath it and has a bunch of giant rifts carved throughout from when the city was built. The ships of the Dark Aelves fly through the skies instead of in the sea, there's a building made from the exoskeleton of a giant lava bug, and a ton of other awesome details. This is all scattered throughout what feels very much like one of the larger cities from the Empire, with wooden buildings stacked on top of each other perilously. I get a sense that the more important and richer parts of the cities resemble the art we have seen of Azyrheim already, while the poorer parts have a definite Empire feel to them. Really, if you've been wanting to find out more about the new setting of AoS post Season of War I can't recommend this enough. The writing is top notch as well, which never hurts. It felt very similar to City of Secrets, and like I said, I would like to read more about Sunhelm and Coalbeard's adventures in Hammerhal as they root out the taint of Chaos.

After the story you get the core rules for the game. Unlike in Silver Tower these are just laid out as you would expect from a standard rule book. If you don't recall, Silver Tower taught you the rules by playing you through one of the dungeons. Shadows over Hammerhal plays more or less the exact same way as Silver Tower. Instead of going over all of the rules again here, you can check out my review of the gameplay for Silver Tower if you are unfamiliar with them. Destiny dice are there again, as well as all of the other core rules, allowing you to bring in your Silver Tower heroes without any rules conflicts. The biggest difference though, and it is a pretty big difference, is the inclusion of a Gamemaster. Silver Tower had all of the adversaries running on a sort of AI system with the dungeon itself generated randomly using cards. This allowed everyone playing Warhammer Quest to be one of the adventurers. Hammerhal has brought back the old Gamemaster role, with one player taking control of all of the adversaries as well as the Adventure Book, which is for their eyes only. This makes the enemies potentially more dangerous, since there will actually be someone controlling them and plotting against the adventurers. The dungeons are all laid out beforehand too, with the entire map for each dungeon printed in the Adventure Book for the Gamemaster to see. This is of course still a surprise for the adventurers who don't know what's coming until they step through into the next room. This means you will need to plan to have at least one more person with you for each game, and they need to be okay with not playing as an adventurer. The adversaries still have behavior tables you can roll on, so they can be automated if you really want, but there's no way to randomly generate the dungeon tiles, so in the end you really need a Gamemaster.

One of the coolest inclusions for me are the campaign rules. This allows you to link all of your games, which they had in Silver Tower, but it's a bit more fleshed out here. The Gamemaster is in charge of keeping track of everything between games, and there is a bit of record keeping to do. The rooms in the dungeons can each be searched, but only once, even though dungeons can be revisited. This means you have to keep track of which rooms have been searched. Once the adversaries have been killed in a particular room they are gone for good as well. If you revisit the room you will be ambushed instead, meaning that even though the maps stay the same, the enemies you face will change. The heroes can also level up and acquire skills, artifacts, and treasures. You can leave a dungeons in the middle of it too by going up a stairwell, or go into a different dungeon without fully exploring the one you're in first. The coolest thing for me though is the ability to go back to the Cinderfall district of Hammerhal between dungeons. There you can do stuff like buy items with your treasure, gamble, engage in drinking contests, go to temples, and more. It really adds in element that helps you embody your hero beyond the dungeons and makes this more of an RPG. You can also switch out your hero here if you want, but your artifacts and such stay with the hero who acquired them. I'm really excited to try out this bit the most and really get behind whichever hero I pick.

At the end of the Guidebook are a collection of painting guides for all of the models in the box. Besides being a valuable asset for hobbyists, each guide also expands a bit more on the backstory of each of the heroes and adversaries. It's here you learn a bit about the Chaos Sorcerer, who is the big bad of this game. He is a devotee of Slaanesh and is looking for his lost god, just like many of his other followers. This has brought him to Hammerhal where he has brokered agreements with the followers of the other gods, the Arcanites, Reavers, and Blight Kings. When you add this on top of the 30 pages of set up we had previously, you really get to know the heroes you're playing as. For me, it really makes me more invested in the story and the heroes themselves. You can of course play with any of the hero models from Silver Tower or any of the other ones that have gotten Warhammer Quest rules since then and craft your own story.

Besides the Guidebook you also get the Adventure Book, which is just for the Gamemaster, and the Assembly Guide, which is just how to put the models together. Each of the dungeons is laid out in the Adventure Book along with all of their secrets, so I just kind of glanced at this part, because I don't want to ruin the surprise for myself when I play. As an aside, the cover art on these is awesome. I would love to see this on some scenery of shields.

It also lays out all of the activities you can partake in Cinderfall, which again, looks super fun to do. The inclusion of the Gamemaster leaves you tons of room to customize and expand as well. I see no reason why they can't come up with their own activities to do in Cinderfall, or even come up with a different district of the city with a whole new set of things to do. The same goes for the dungeons. If your Gamemaster is particularly enterprising they can use the framework of the rules here to make whole new dungeons, which sounds pretty fun to me.

At the end of this book are all of the rules for the adversaries. Beyond the ones included in the box they also have rules for Blood Warriors, Wrathmongers, Tzaangors, and Plagurebearers. These are all exotic adversaries, so aren't meant to pop up as much. I see no reason why you wouldn't be able to include all of the adversaries from Silver Tower as well, along with some of the ones that have been in White Dwarf such as the Tzaangor Exalted.

All of the heroes are previously released models, which I know had a few people bummed out, but honestly, they are all great models still. I really like the Loremaster model, but have never had a reason to buy it before, and now I do! Same with the Fleetmaster and the Cogsmith. These will be a fun little diversion to paint between my armies. Even though some of these models still have square bases on their sprues, there are enough round bases included for everything. For those unaware you get one Stormcast Eternal Lord-Castellant and his Gryph Hound, one Scourge Privateer Black Ark Fleetmaster, one Ironweld Arsenal Cogsmith, and one Eldritch Council Loremaster.

For the adversaries you get one Chaos Sorcerer Lord, five Putrid Blight Kings, ten Kairic Acolytes, and ten Blood Reavers. Again, these are all previously released models, but are all fairly new sculpts. I'm excited to use the Acolytes and Sorcerer in my Arcanites army. I have been meaning to pick up some Blight Kings to add to my Nurgle Demons too, so now I've got those and can start building out a Rotbringers army. All of these are really easy to add to an existing army or use as the basis for a new army. 

You get a pack of cards just like in Silver Tower, which covers things like Skill, Treasures, Artifacts, and more. The Torch is to designate the Torch Bearer who rolls the fate dice each round and goes first. These are all printed on good quality card stock with nothing to complain about.

All of the tiles are printed on a heavy duty card stock with a super detailed, glossy image on it. These reflect more of a traditional dungeon setting then Silver Tower did, but with a distinct AoS flair to it. I personally really like what looks like an Alarielle themed tile. They are all double sided, meaning you get double the use out of them. You also get all of the tokens including the wound and stun markers, treasure markers, and renowned markers.

Each of the heroes gets a card with all of their stats printed on it and spaces to put their action dice each turn. There is also the card for the fate dice, and renowned tracker.

The last thing is a simple divider to protect the paper elements from the plastic minis in the box. On one side is the game's name and on the other is a high quality print of the cover art. I'm personally debating having it framed at some point since it's so nice.

Shadows Over Hammerhal is an excellent follow up to Silver Tower. It takes what made that game great and expands upon it to make it more of a traditional RPG that let's you embody your character, even between games. It is a little more complex, with the inclusion of a Gamemaster and all, as well as all of the extra record keeping if you decide to link your games together, but I think it will really pays off. It takes a bit more of an investment from the players in terms of effort and time, but it rewards you by giving back what you put into it. You lose a bit of the self sufficiency of Silver Tower, which I will miss a bit since my friend and I can't just sit down for a game whenever. I'm sure there is a way to make this game run without a Gamemaster like Silver Tower if you really want to, and I'm sure some hobbyist out there will figure it out soon. I'm excited to give the campaign rules a run though. Coming off of the huge success of Silver Tower, Games Workshop, in my opinion, succeeded in keeping that success going with Shadows Over Hammerhal. If you enjoyed Silver Tower then you'll definitely like Hammerhal, and if you didn't play that last game, then this is a perfect opportunity to jump into Warhammer Quest.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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