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Saturday, 5 August 2017

Review: Warhammer Quest - Silver Tower

Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower is a story-driven, co-operative boardgame for 1-4 players by Games Workshop. It retails for around 80 pounds at discount online stores, and has since its release gotten a spiritual sequel in Warhammer Quest: Shadows Over Hammerhal. Worth noting, however, is that Shadows Over Hammerhal is no longer fully co-op, but requires a gamemaster to function properly.

We have played Silver Tower with between two and six players, and it has worked out quite well at all numbers. When we were six players, I took the role of a semi-Gamemaster and there were five heroes instead of the four included in the starter, so that session is not representative for how this game plays. It was fun, though!
Silver Tower takes place in the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar setting known as the Mortal Realms. The Gaunt Summoner, a twisted sorceror who rules one of the Silver Tower labyrinths, knows of no greater pleasure than to trap mortal so-called heroes and pit them against the lethal maze he has built around him. There, the snared prey is forced to take part in his twisted games and foul trials, more often than not driven mad by the horrors they encounter. The only way out of this nightmare is to find all the clues that together forms the Gaunt Summoner's true name. Only with the power of knowing the secret name, gained from completing trials in each part of the maze set in a different part of the Mortal Realms, can the heroes hope to truly defeat him and be set free again.

Other than an intro to the setting, pretty much summarized in the text above, you will also find a short introduction to each of the six heroes that takes part in the game.

I found this fluff to be on the short side for a game that is as story-driven as Silver Tower is. Since I have followed the story of Age of Sigmar since its release, I know alot more of what’ going on than a player who just picks up this game. I would have liked more fluff in a game like this, to really set the mood straight for the player from the beginning.
Game Components & Build Quality
You get plenty of miniatures in the Silver Tower set:
Six heroes, from which you choose four each time you play:
  • Mistweaver Saih - an elven wizard.
  • Darkoath Chieftain - a warrior of chaos.
  • Knight-Questor - a shining knight of Sigmar.
  • Fyreslayer Doomseeker - a dwarf berzerker.
  • Tenebrael Shard - an elven assassin.
  • Excelsior Warpriest - a human cleric with a pet Gryph-hound.

Three boss type adversaries:
  • The Gaunt Summoner - the fearsome Tzeentchian sorceror behind the trials of the game.
  • The Ogroid Thaumaturge - a fighter/mage monster.
  • The Skaven Deathrunner assassin - there are actually two Deathrunners included, because of how the model works in-game. More on this later.

And quite a few different types of cannon fodder… I mean minion adversaries:
  • 8 Grot Scutterlings - goblins transformed by magic into spider-like creatures.
  • 8 Kairic Acolytes - the humans worshipping the foul chaos god Tzeentch.
  • 8 Chaos Familiars - little buggers that will grant you bonuses if you catch them...but will cast a curse on you if you don’t!
  • 6 Tzaangors - Tzeentch’s own version of beastmen. Strikes hard and can take a beating.
  • 2 Pink Horrors - spell-slinging daemons, that when they die transforms into…
  • 4 Blue Horrors - lesser spell-slinging daemons, that when they die transforms into…
  • 4 Brimstone Horrors - you get the point by now. At least these fellows don’t transform upon death.
That’s a total of 50 very detailed miniatures by none other than the gaming miniature experts that are Games Workshop. You will hardly be disappointed with the quality of the sculpts, even if the aesthetics of the game and models might not be to everyone’s liking. There is one downside to this, though. You must cut the miniature parts out from their sprue, and then glue them together according to the assembly guide provided. If you are a seasoned tabletop wargamer, chances are you will already have everything you need for this (including patience!). If you are completely novice in the assembly area, you will still be fine as long as you take your time and look at the guidebook. This means, however, that you are far from ready to play once you’ve opened the box. Many of the miniatures also have fragile parts, so you need to be careful when cutting them off their sprues to not damage the miniatures.
Besides the miniatures, you also get plenty of beautiful and suitably brooding room tiles, and all the markers needed to keep track of quest progress and hero levels in the campaign play. Just look at this image to get a glimpse of the really cool tiles in Silver Tower, and how they ooze with foul Tzeentchian sorcery:

Games Workshop has included different colored dice for the different heroes, matching the color with the experience points tracker for the hero as well. A very nice move indeed, that makes it alot easier to keep track of everything.

The rules come in two booklets. The first one is the Guidebook, that contains the actual game rules and includes rules for each monster encountered in the maze. The Adventure Book has, as the name gives, all the scenario and encounter texts you read when triggering a multitude of events during gameplay. Both are beautiful, with nice pictures of painted models and artwork for the game. I believe that the Guidebook, while easy enough to read and learn, could have had a slightly better layout of the rules. In many places, you will read about something, only to have a reference to another page of the book to learn more. For example, the first phase in each game round is the Destiny phase - yet you will only read a small text about rolling the five purple Destiny Dice when it first appears at p.8. You are then being referenced to p.19 to find out more. Once you read p.19, you will find out more - but need to check the back of the rulebook for that info. Not only that, but the actual rules for Destiny Dice instead appears on p.13. Despite this, the rules are easy enough to learn and remember quickly, so once you’ve gotten the grasp of it, you won’t need much more than the reference charts at the back of the book.

The Gameplay
The first thing you do when beginning your adventure in the Silver Tower is to pick which scenario, or trial, you want to undertake. To do so, you simply open the first page of the Adventure Book and read the text there. It will tell you where to look depending on which realm you’re adventuring in.

Those of you familiar with Games Workshop’s new Warhammer setting will also be familiar with the realms you can adventure into. The realms you can choose are metal, life, shadow, death, fire, and beasts. You can not visit the heavenly realm of light where Sigmar resides, nor the terrifying realm of Chaos. The Adventure Book also notes which dungeon tiles to prepare for the trial, and the opening text you read to set the mood and start the trial. This is a simple but elegant way of starting the quest for the party.
The Dungeon Layout
Once you’ve chosen the realm to quest in, and prepared the tiles that will be used, you shuffle the exploration deck for the quest. Since Silver Tower relies on a random dungeon system, all tiles have a corresponding exploration card to them. You simply take the exploration cards needed for the trial, and make any special arrangements as noted, before you shuffle the rest of the cards. For example, the quest might tell you to place a special room at the bottom of the deck and then shuffle the rest on top of it.

Each time a hero uses an action to explore one of the openings in the maze (more on actions later), a card will be drawn from the exploration deck and the corresponding room tile is placed adjacent to the opening explored. Each card tells you if there are any special effects in play for heroes/adversaries visiting the room, such as having to wade cautiously through huge piles of gold, or be blinded by light making it harder to avoid enemy attacks. You then roll on the appropriate adversary table as shown on the card, and place these adversaries in the newly discovered room. While exploring rooms is an easy task (when all monsters hunting you are dead no less), there is one thing you need to keep in mind. Being a magic labyrinth and all, the previous rooms will fade away as you explore further into the maze. Not only that, but any adversaries or heroes still on that room will vanish with it! We once had our stoic Stormcast knight vanish in a blurry fog because he was too slow as the other players pushed forward.
Once the trial begin, you select which player will be the first player (called the runemarked player), and you go to the first of the game round’s phases:

Destiny Phase
The runemarked player rolls the five purple dice called the Destiny Dice. This is a very important roll because it will decide how many extra actions the heroes can pull off during their turn, and if there are any special events taking place. For each double or more you roll, those dice are set aside and cannot be used by the players. The numbers rolled will also tell you what unexpected events happen during the turn, as shown at the back of the Guidebook.

During one of these events, a really nasty Skaven assassin attacked our group of already worn out heroes, much to our grief. Another time a stubborn Duardin berserker joined our group and became another hero for us to control, which came as a welcome surprise to us. This system creates some cool atmospheric moments, when everyone is holding their breath to find out what might happen as you scroll through the Adventure Book to read the text you rolled for. The downside to this is that, besides the dice rolls for performing actions, you also make alot of them during the game to find out the events.

Hero Phase
After the Destiny Dice have been rolled, and any encounters played out, the runemarked player takes his turn with his hero. Once the first players has made all actions, the next player carries out all of his or her actions, and so on until all players have used their heroes.
The first thing a player must do in his or her turn, is to roll four dice called the Hero Dice.

Each hero dice can then be used to perform one action:
  • Move a number of squares up to the hero’s Move value,
  • attack a monster in melee or ranged combat depending on your chosen weapon,
  • tend to the wounds he or she has suffered,
  • cast a spell, or
  • explore an adjacent opening in your hero’s room.

Each action also has a cost to it that needs to (at least)match the number on the die spent to attempt it. An easy action, such as making a move, will only need a die with a 1 or more on it (referred to as 1+). This means you can always perform some basic actions even if your entire hero dice comes up as 1’s or 2’s. A powerful attack or spell, on the other hand, might force you to spend a dice of 5+ or even a 6+ to be attempted. If you can match the action’s difficulty with one of your action dice, you have a chance to succeed the attempted action. Performing a movement or an exploring action is an automatic success, but attacking requires you to roll the die again, this time beating the attack’s hit value as shown on the hero card.

This system makes for some clever, if still light, tactical thinking - will you perform the easy attack and almost certainly put a wound marker on the monster, or try to finish it off with one mighty swing of your weapon, but with a higher risk of missing entirely instead, thus spending the hero dice for nothing? While Games Workshop have managed to create some clever mechanics here, there is one thing that bothers me about it. I think there’s just too much randomness in the system. First, you need to have an action die with a high enough value to even attempt the attack. Then, you need to score high enough again, to actually be successful with the attack. Some powerful attacks then forces you to roll yet another die, to see just how much damage the attack does to the monster hit. So you can be forced to make up to three high rolls for an attack to be good. Still, I found this to be a minor gripe with the rules, and the system does work fast and good enough in practice.

Experience Points
Speaking of wounding adversaries; each one has a set number of health, called vigour, that once you’ve beaten the vigour value with enough wound markers will kill it. Killing an adversary will reward your hero with renown, which is just another word for experience points. Once your hero reaches 10 renown, the counter that tracks the hero’s renown will reset and the hero gains a new skill to use in any adventures from then on. You simply pick the two top skills from the relevant card deck and keep one of them. The next time you reach 10 renown, you do the same, again and again, to gain more skills and become better in the game.

Adversary Phase
When the players have each finished their actions, it's time for the monsters of the Silver Tower, the adversaries, to try their best at slaying our heroes. Each adversary will be tied to a specific adversary group, depending on what type it is. For example, all Kairic Acolytes will do one thing, while all Scutterlings will do another. What each group does is… you guessed it… randomized during this phase. You look up each group’s Behaviour Table and roll a die to see what the group tries to do.

While this adds to the number of rolls you make in the game (which is, as noted, already quite high), it also means that the enemies will try different things in each turn. That is a good thing and keeps the game from being as predictable as some other games, such as Zombicide: Black Plague.

Every monster group also has their own stats, much like the heroes. You have some weapon attacks, the health/vigour, and everything else needed on the same page. Adversaries in the same group might be armed differently, which is also shown on the same page.

The Adversary Phase works fast and simple, just the way it should be, and the monsters are pretty much as deadly as can be expected from their appearance on the table.
Wounded Heroes, Respites, and Treasure
A hero can take damage from a number of sources. It might be a trap or some foul sorcery sprung from one of the many unexpected encounters generated by the Destiny Dice, or it might be from failing the save roll when a monster attacks. Either way, the player puts a wound marker on its hero card, where the hero dice is normally placed. Whenever the player rolls his or her hero dice, there will be one less die to roll for each wound the hero has taken. If all four dice holders have been marked, and the hero takes a fifth wound, it is considered grievously wounded and removed from play, taking no further part in the adventure unless the players get to rest between their encounters, also known as taking a Respite. If there are no adversaries on the table, then the players can take a respite, and any grievously wounded hero returns to the party with but a single wound left. During the respite, each player then chooses to either rest and recover some of the wounds lost in battle, or set out to search for treasures in the labyrinth. Both choices includes the rolling of dice (no surprise there) to show how many wounds was recovered, or what treasure (if any) was found. You can never make two respites in a row, so it’s often a welcome pause before venturing further into the labyrinth.

End Phase
The very last thing during the game round is to make the next player the runemarked player, and check to see if rooms vanish, as described earlier. Then another round begins with the new runemarked player.
Gaming Experience & Replay Value
Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower is a game that is quite light on the rules, but semi-heavy on the story. If you enjoy reading alot of atmospheric short stories while exploring, and then essentially perform some hack-n’-slash in between, chances are this will be a very good match for you. If you often find yourself playing solo, I can recommend this game as well, as its mechanics make for exciting game moments whether you play solo or with others.

Since the rules allow for so many different encounters and outcomes, and is as random as it gets with so much dice being rolled, Silver Tower has a great replay value. You can try the game with a new group of heroes, picked from four out of the six included, and you can gain new and different skills and treasures each campaign. The downside to all this randomness is that you can’t really tailor your hero’s skillset according to what you like, but is instead stuck with the skills you draw randomly from the skill deck.
The Good: Good storytelling, excellent miniatures and tiles, great replay value, easy but solid game mechanics.
The Bad: Much randomness in every aspect of the game, relies on a lot of dice rolls, light campaign system, did I mention lots of dice rolling?

Final Grade

Warhammer Quest - Silver Tower is a fun game with lots of atmosphere that is well worth trying out with up to three friends.

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