In the gaming world, this is the Justin and Britney, the Brad and Jennifer [Ed. note: and now, apparently, the Brad and Angelina], the Zayn and One Direction of our generation: Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop have ended their relationship. Two companies rarely made such beautiful games together. Theirs is a story of taking worlds Games Workshop built and cultivated, while Fantasy Flight Games came alongside and created amazing games from all kinds of perspectives and objectives in those worlds–you could be brave heroes, callous villains, petty gods, even goblins that play football. It was a partnership where we all reaped the benefits of their collective creativity.
Sadly, that story is over. Its unclear how much of the story is entirely over–Games Workshop will likely take a few of the games in house (eventually), and Fantasy Flight has a history of retheming and rereleasing games for which they’ve developed the mechanics (also see: Dune/Rexx)–so while we may see more of these games eventually, it’s fair to say there’s a grab of sorts before they go away in their amazing, current forms.
I don’t know how you handle breakups–Ben & Jerry’s, bonfire of your ex’s stuff–but I’m a sad songs kind of dude. So I want to offer a board game mixtape of sorts, five of my favorite games FFG made that were licensed from GW. Five games you should consider grabbing in these next couple months before they go away forever.
Warhammer: Diskwars. Originally designed by none other than Christian T. Petersen himself, along with Tom Jolly, Diskwars is an enigmatic game of epic battle in the Warhammer fantasy universe. Diskwars managed to do something that few board games ever have: have a massive, large battle feel in an open space and without using minis, while still keeping it in a small box. In other words, Warhammer in a box about an inch high. It leverages a unique “flipping” mechanic where the different-sized disks are flipped end on end a certain amount of times around the board. While it could feel weird making coasters do cartwheels across the kitchen table, it makes for an incredible, intuitive game. Literally, my only “complaint” of the game is the amount of content available–between the core box and two expansions, there are tons of armies and options, and it sort of felt like buying several Warhammer armies: I knew in order to really dive in, I’d have to play a bunch. Which is the best problem to have, especially with a game which likely won’t see the light of day again.
Fury of Dracula. This is a modern classic in board games. Fury of Dracula is a hidden movement semi-cooperative game, where a team of up to four players move around a map of Europe trying to track down another player, who takes the role of Dracula. Dracula move secretly around the board setting traps for the hunters and causing general terror to locals. Dracula leaves a trail of where he has been, moving ever forward, occasionally accenting a clue or an ambush for the players along the way to try and try and take him down. At times, the players are tip-toeing around the board with barely a single clove of garlic to fight off the original prince of darkness (sorry, Ozzy Osbourne) while Dracula is playing the most dangerous game of Marco Polo ever, trying to ambush isolated and unarmed players. However, sometimes it can feel like the fax machine scene from Office Space, where the hunters, armed to the teeth with silver machetes and holy hand grenades, end his miserable unlife. It’s great. In fact, the combat is wonderful–it’s like a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors where if you can guess what your opponent is going to do, you shoot them with holy bullets or narrowly escape an ambush by turning into a bat and flying away. The theme is strong, and while it can take a couple plays to really understand what is happening, there is a reason it is as beloved as it is.
Blood Bowl: Team Manager. Blood Bowl: Team Manager manages to take the feel of a small season of Blood Bowl games and packs them into an excellent, mid-sized card game experience. Designed by Jay Little, the man responsible for X-Wing, Blood Bowl: Team Manager manages to create complexity by layering simple rules and actions. The game has Match Ups, cards laid out in the center, which serve as an abstract for games or highlights from games played this week. Each turn, the persons playing, aka the Managers, play a Player card from their hand at a matchup. Each player has a strength value, and whoever has the highest total strength at a Match Up when each person has run out of cards in their hand wins that Match Up. Match Ups reward sponsorships, better players, and of course, more Fans for merely having people left standing on them, and more for wining them. Whoever’s team has the most Fans after three rounds wins. Doesn’t exactly spell the smash-mouth world of Dark elves and rat-men playing football? One additional piece is that each player card has a number of actions on it. As you play your card, you can play its actions. Some actions are things like Tackle, which can down another player and reduce its strength (or injure them to remove them entirely!); or a Cheat action, where you must pull a random Cheat token, which could give you tons of strength or eject your player from the game. Plus, each of the 8 teams that come in the core box has a unique feel. The dwarves have lower strength but are hard to knock down; the orcs are great but take a lot of risks with their cheating; and of course the humans feel pretty generally okay. It’s smart, it’s fun, it’s a game I throw into my car before any game night because I never dislike when it makes it to the table.
Chaos in the Old World. Congratulations: you’re a god. However, you’re one of the gods from the Warhammer universe, which means you’re terrible and capricious and like seeing people suffer. So you’re seeking new followers to help you corrupt the world, gain your own renown, and be generally pretty terrible. The game pits four incredibly different deities against each other. There are several ways to win: salt and spoil the land, gain power and strength, gain followers and fame, all while doing it before the brave heroes of the Old World defeat you. Though many win conditions are available, it is easier or harder in classic variable player power fashion, giving each god a very different feel. Honestly, as you might expect with a game that came from the brain of the likes of Eric M. Lang, I’m having a hard enough time trying to explain exactly how it works. You can see how his brain eventually produced Blood Rage as it has a light dudes-on-a-map feel, without it really being exactly about the dudes-on-the-map at all. In all, it’s incredible; additionally, the Horned Rat expansion adds a 5th player spot, as well as new sets of cards for each god, each taking everything you knew about how to play your character in the main box, throwing it out the window, and giving you an entirely different way to play.
Warhammer Quest: The Card Game. Warhammer Quest is based on the super classic dungeon crawl by the same name. In this game, each of you plays a hero, and you plow through the scenarios cooperatively, taking on the game’s AI mechanics, attempting to kill monsters and win treasure and glory. This is one of the more unfortunate losses to the great breakup, as it was relatively new and garnered great reviews and buzz. It is the sort of game that begs for expansions, and it only managed to get two tiny print-on-demand ones, mostly only available through FFG’s site.
Honorable Mention: Forbidden Stars. I haven’t played Forbidden Stars, but I am certain I would love it. I’ve never heard anyone say it was terrible, and I love a good, thick 4x/space battle game. In any case, I have to imagine with FFG investing R&D into such a gigantic box, we’ll see this one sooner rather than later on our shelves in some other manifestation (Forbidden Star Wars? Runespace?).
This list isn’t exhaustive. These are games I’ve played and loved and will miss their like going forward. What about you? What am I missing? Are you a Talisman typhoon? A Conquest conquistador? A Death Angel aficionado? Comment below!