Wednesday, August 14, 2019

REVIEW: Stormvault Board Game

This is now the second round of Barnes and Noble exclusive games released from Games Workshop, consisting of Dreadfane, Combat Arena, and Stormvault. I haven't gotten any of the first round of games, though I have heard Blitz Bowl is really good, but I was lucky enough to have been sent a copy of Stormvault to check out. So, what do these self contained board games bring to the table?

First off, I think these Barnes and Noble games from GW is a great idea. The board game market is huge right now and getting the Warhammer IP in front of people who may not see it otherwise is an awesome idea. I would say they're most likely aimed at new players and people who either don't know about Warhammer at all, or are hesitant to invest into the larger game. There's definitely some gems here for fans of the settings and games though. I plan on picking up Dreadfane on my own, and Combat Arena looks pretty cool. Apparently it's based off the Gorechosen ruleset, which I've heard is a ton of fun to play, and the models for it are cool as well.

That brings us to Stormvault, the most board gamey of the three in my opinion. What do I mean by that? Well, Dreadfane is clearly Underworlds-light while Combat Arena still retains a lot of things familiar to other GW games. Stormvault feels like a board game. That's not an insult at all either! It knows what it's trying to be and it definitely succeeds at it. When you crack open the box you get a rules booklet, the board itself, two dice, a bunch of tokens, three sets of cards, and six Stormcast models.

The models are the Farstriders and Stormsire's Cursebreakers from Underworlds, which makes perfect sense since they're push fit minis. You definitely want to eliminate as much extra hobby stuff as you can from the box, though you'll still need a hobby knife or pair of clippers to get them off the sprue. The board folds up to 1/6th its size so it can fit in the box, but when unfolded is fairly large. This easily took up half of our dining room table. For the dice you get one regular D6 and a special dice unique to this game for resolving combats. The cards are split up into three decks, the Quest Cards, which go around the outside of the board and are which you're attempting to accrue; the Chaos cards which are what basically pilot the enemies in the game, and the Hero cards, which tells you which character you are. Lastly, the tokens have points counters, Chaos Champions counters, and various other things, which can all be stored in a black drawstring bag that comes with the box.

The rulebook is fairly small, with the main rules for the game only taking up two pages. Make sure you read everything in order though, because I kind of skimmed over some of the "setting up the game" stuff to get to the main rules and ended up playing some things wrong in our first game. The rules are kind of spread out through the whole front of the book. I do wish there were some box outs here to call attention to important rules that are scattered throughout other areas. Just read correctly, unlike me, and you'll be okay. After the rules there are some additional, optional rules, basically ways to keep the game fresh if you play it often, as well as a list of achievements you can check off, like beating the game in less then 20 minutes. My favorite three achievements are beat the game in 2020, beat the game in 2021, and beat the game in 2022. After all of this there is a basic overview of the lore concerning AoS and the Realms, and then the instructions on how to assemble the models. The back of the rulebook has a cheat sheet to use during games.

Okay, so, how does the game play? Well, it's not like most games you play, in that you're not playing against the other people playing, you're all playing together to beat the game. Basically you all win or none of you do. That being said, you do accrue points throughout the game for doing things like killing Chaos Champions, so at the end you can see who has the most points. This is one of the suggested alternate ways to play, and what my wife and I ended up doing. There are also three ways to play the game; Introductory, Standard, and Heroic. Introductory removes some of the mechanics to make it easier to win, Standard is what it sounds like, and Heroic adds in more elements to make it harder to win. I'll just be going over the standard version here.

So, here's a basic turn. Your Stormcast starts in Azyr and has to come down in one of five designated Stormstrike locations. Then you draw a Chaos card which tells you what to do with the Chaos Champions. There are six that start on the board, and then the card may tell you to add another champion to your Realm's stronghold and then move all of the Champions in your realm. There's different variations on this, but that's the basic gist and also the most common one you'll draw. Chaos Champions are picked randomly from the drawstring bag. Next you roll the D6 to see how many points you have to spend in your turn, you can spend a point to move your hero one space or to fight. If you move into a space with a Chaos Champion you get one fight action for free, but if you want to fight them again you have to spend another point. Then at the end of your turn you check to see what location you're on, they're all named, then pick up the card at the edge of the board that corresponds to that location. These quest cards will have special rules on them that you can use in your turn, like automatically getting 6 points to spend, or skipping the Chaos step. Five of these cards are the Gateway Shard cards, which is what you're looking for. In your next turn, since you're on the board already you skip the Stormstrike step and go right to the Chaos step.

That's a basic turn, so let's dig a little deeper. If a Chaos Champion moves onto your space, or you move onto a space they're on you must complete a combat. To fight a combat you roll the special dice. This has a Stormcast face on three of the sides, a Chaos star on one side, and a blank spot on two of the sides. If you get a Stormcast face you win and the Chaos champion is defeated. You stick their token back in the drawstring bag and you get one Victory Point token. On a blank nothing happens, and on the Chaos Star you die and are returned to Azyr. There is a Reforging tracker on the side of the board that starts at eight. Each time any Stormcast die you tick it down one and once it reaches zero you lose. You're able to move off of a space that a Chaos Champion is on if you failed to kill them, so you don't need to keep spending points to fight them if you keep rolling blanks unless you want to. There are four types of Chaos Champions, Khorne, Slaanesh, Tzeentch, and Nurgle. In a standard game they all have special rules. Khorne defeats you on a Star or a blank, Nurgle forces you to re-roll your first successful victory against them, Tzeentch makes you lose a Quest Card if you roll a blank, and Slaanesh gets to move two spaces instead of just one, and you're unable to move off of a space that they're on, meaning you'll need to kill them. I think they're all pretty fitting for their god. You also lose the game if you haven't met the victory conditions yet and the Chaos deck runs out, meaning you have a finite number of turns to win. Each Hero also has a unique ability in the game, like Bane of Khorne, which lets you auto-defeat a Khorne Champion once per turn.

To win the game you need to find the Gateway Shards and take them over to the Whispering Keep, which is also in the only Realm without a Stormstrike location in it. The Shards are hidden amongst the Quest cards. Once you find one you carry it with you. If you die the shard is dropped on the spot you died on and can be picked up by someone else or yourself later. There are five Shards hidden in the Quest cards and three spots you need to fill in the Whispering Keep, meaning you only need to get three of the shards over to the keep. You're basically questing around the Realms looking for the Shards trying to open up a Stormvault within the Whispering Keep.

Well, thats how the game is played, so what did I think of it when I played it? Like I said earlier, the first time we played it we did a few of the rules wrong and didn't realize until the end, so we played a second time. I personally enjoyed it. In our first game I died a lot because I kept having horrible luck with the combat dice, so the Gateway Shards I was carrying kept getting dropped. I couldn't get through Shyish to the Keep. We ended up winning, but like I said, we did stuff wrong. In the second game we won as well, but it was super close. We only had four Chaos cards left at the end, meaning we only had four turns left to win. The game is meant for two to five players, so we were playing at the low end with only two. With two players you have a lot of ground to cover. There are 40 locations to explore, with only five of those being a Shard, and in most circumstances you can only pick up one card a turn. I think with a larger group of people you'll find them faster, but then you'll also use up your Reforgings a lot quicker. We were able to avoid a lot of combat since it was just the two of us, but with five people playing the board would be a lot more congested and you'd be running into Chaos Champions more frequently. The game took us about 45 minutes to play, which is what it says on the box. I enjoyed it and I finally got my wife to play a Warhammer game with me. I asked her opinions on it as someone not too familiar with Warhammer and how their other games play. She's very competitive so the everyone wins thing wasn't exactly her favorite, and the number of rules to keep track of was a bit much for her. I think this had more to do with all the terminology, which she was unfamiliar with, as opposed to the actual number of rules. Khorne, Nurgle, Ulgu, Chamon, Stormstrike, etc, it's all alien to someone not versed in AoS. If you have at least one AoS person playing to be a "translator" of sorts though I think you'll be fine.

I think its a really good gateway game. It definitely feels like a board game and not a war game, which is a great way to introduce the setting to people. I think it would be more fun with a larger group, closer to the five person max. If you have a group of friends who like board games are not into Warhammer, or think its too complex I feel like Stormvault would be a good game to break out at game night. I also think it would be good for families with children who aren't into the hobby. They get to experience some of the lore, setting, and cool models, without having to invest a lot of time and money. We have people over for board games every now and then, so I plan on bringing it out the next time they're over. In our game I used two random Stormcast models I had painted to represent the Heroes, which works fine since the Hero cards rules don't really depend on the model anyway. If you really want to start ramping up the coolness factor you can replace the Chaos Champion tokens with appropriate models to represent them. Start sneaking in the Warhammer feel to it. The box it comes in has room to store everything, including little cubby holes for all six models. The one big missed opportunity in my mind is that the drawstring bag is blank. If they had put a cool AoS symbol or graphic on it that would have been an awesome dice bag.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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