I’ve been playing Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress (hereafter known as “BSF” because long names are a pain) for the last several months after Monkey picked it up shortly after release. We’ve now completed the main story in the core box, raiding the Hidden Vault and opening the secret envelope, so thought I’d offer a few thoughts on the game.
I’ll start here as given this is Games Workshop game the models are top notch, as you’d expect. Easy to build, with relatively little clean-up required, my only complaint was a lack of sculpted bases (ala Warhammer Underworlds).
I’ve found GW has been moving more to a very distinct aesthetic, which I find very hit or miss, but the models in this box are quite good. The Traitor Guardsmen are a particular highlight for me, the dynamism of the models and the mix of armaments, including grenadiers, really appeal to me, I could ALMOST see myself doing a whole army of traitor guard based on these dudes. The other highlight is Jainus Drake, the Rogue Trader character, this model is everything I think of when I think Rogue Trader, being that weird mix of World War One German officer, grimy steampunk and space opera laser guns that typifies Warhammer 40k for me.
The game is a co-operative game for 1-4 players (you always run four explorers), you can optionally add a fifth to act as the enemy player, but I think they’d have quite a lot of downtime. This is an interesting game, with multiple mini-games within it. The core of gameplay is Expeditions into the Fortress itself, initially to discover clues which lead to the main story missions (I’ve been calling them ‘raids’ as they feel a lot like MMORPG raids without the bosses). These expeditions proceed through Encounter cards which can either be Challenges or Combats. The Challenges are varied, some can be crippling to the party, some rewarding and most a balanced little mini-games.
The combats are where the meat of the game is, and start by setting up a hex-based map from the cardboard tiles included with the game. It’s worth noting here that there is some re-playability built in here, as the Combats feature randomly generated enemies and events throughout. Once you’ve set up the map and the initial enemies, play proceed sin initiative order, determined by a deck of cards dealt out. Our protagonists have a pool of ‘activation’ dice (three or four D6s), which are rolled, with different numerical thresholds required for different actions (the higher the threshold, the more powerful the action), such as move, attacks, search, heal, etc. The protagonists also benefit from a collective dice pool of ‘destiny’ dice, with some rules governing these and usage of them.
Combat is resolved via a set of custom dice comprising D6s (weakest), D8s and D12s (strongest). It can be slightly punishing at times, as when characters take wounds they lose activation dice, so you can have things slide against you quickly at points. As the campaign progresses you accumulate items which help with dice mitigation, but it can feel swingy at the start.
There’s a good mix of different challenges, combats and ambushes to fight through, and so the game feels relatively fresh even after multiple plays. The raids each have unique objectives and mechanics for victory which added a nice additional challenge to them.
The one downside out of the base game is a relative lack of variety and build in enemies. The selection is pretty good, but by the time we made it through the whole campaign I felt like I murdered a hive city worth of traitor guardsmen and was wondering how many more spindle drones the fortress could possibly have left.
With that said, here’s my summary of key considerations in my usual review format.
- The models are great, with the proviso that they have the very unique 40k aesthetic to them, so if that’s not your thing, steer clear
- Replayability seems fine, although once you’ve played through once and cracked open the secret envelope a bit of the steam would go out of it. As a series of one-shots or creating custom missions to run could be cool also as more of a filler game
- The game looks like it’s getting ongoing support, with additional content in White Dwarf and two boxed expansions out so far
- The way combat plays out is heavily dice dependent and can feel very swingy initially until you get some upgrades to mitigate it
- The progression of your characters feels very awkward, as you start each expedition uninspired and have to reinspire each time. Additionally, a lot of the upgrades on offer between expeditions are one use only, so you don’t feel like you’re getting that much stronger
- That being said, enemies can be a little bit of the same as you go through, and don’t seem to scale well with your characters as they get the more powerful upgrades, so it’s a little mixed
- The game is expensive to acquire, not unreasonably given the number and quality of models you get in the box, but there’s cheaper alternatives around with tighter mechanics
- The final envelope was a little disappointing for me, cool enough, but I expected a little more from it
The game is well worth a look if you’re a 40k fan, or looking for an highly aesthetically driven board game. If you’re looking for a tight rule set or solid campaign progression or legacy elements, there’s better board games on offer (I haven’t played it, but Gloomhaven springs to mind). I bought the Traitor Command expansion purely to paint the two models in it, as that Traitor Ogryn just called my name when I saw it, so look out for that in a Hobby Progress post soon.
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