Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress

1-5 players, Cooperative/1 vs Many mode, Dungeon Crawler Campaign Quester

Designer: Jervis Johnson

Artwork: N/A

Publisher: Games Workshop

Release Year: 2018

Origin Story

I faintly remember this one when it first released a couple years ago. I remember thinking it was very costly and because of the price, thinking it was a miniatures wargame. I mean being a Warhammer game it’s a pretty fair assumption. Because of those two trains of thought I decided to pass on this one when it released. A couple years later and I found it at a pretty decent price on sale and decided to dig a little deeper into it. After doing some research I came to discover that this was no ordinary miniatures wargame at all! But a fully-fledged dungeon crawler board game, and one that looked right up my alley. Read on to see if it is one that I would recommend.

Overview of Gameplay

In Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress you and up to a total of five brave adventurers will be delving deep into the heart of the infamous Blackstone Fortress of 40k lore. Up to four players can control one of the eight total playable characters with the fifth player taking control of the evil minions lurking in the shadows. Or alternatively you can play it at any player count less than five all the way down to solo if you so choose, you always have to control the minimum of four characters regardless. This game is meant to be played as a rather lengthy campaign style game but there are options to play one-off scenarios as well if you prefer.

To play the game you will be drawing a single “Exploration” card from a deck of 8 randomly chosen challenge and combat cards that are shuffled. If you draw a challenge card you and your teammates will read the card and complete the challenge to either your great dismay or reward! After you are done discard the card and draw another exploration card. However, if you draw a combat card you will have to set up the play area according to the map it shows on said card. This requires you to dig into the trove of tile pieces and create the map just like you would in a lot of dungeon crawler style games. You will then draw a certain number of “encounter” cards to populate the map with enemies that you will face. From there the team rolls their activation dice to set on their individual player mats and the five destiny dice to determine how many bonus rolls are available. Then the initiative (player order) is chosen by a quick shuffling of the player cards and however many enemies have been placed. A couple other steps are then taken which allows the players to possibly switch positions on the board and initiative order called, “Covering Fire” and “Gambits” respectively.

After all that setup is complete the action begins! Players will take turns in initiative order performing actions utilizing all of their activation dice on their player mats. Most characters have four dice to use and each one would have been rolled during the setup. The number rolled on each die will affect what you can do during that round of combat. For example, with the character Pious Vorne (who has a REALLY large flamethrower) you can only use his “Cleansing Flames” ability if you exhaust a die with a 6 and even then you have to check the distance from the enemies. For that specific ability you have to be in range of 2-3 spaces away, any more or less and that ability is null. Of course he has other abilities if you don’t match any of those requirements with some characters being stronger at range and others at melee combat.

The enemies also get a go once their turn arrives on the initiative track. The player to your left checks the specific enemy data card and rolls the d20 to see what action each model will take for that batch of enemies. These combats can be a very lengthy affair if you start out with a large number of models on the board, those pesky traitor guardsmen run in packs. After the entire initiative track has been run down there is an event roll to determine what good or bad things might befall the heroes during that round then all the dice are rerolled and reset and the initiative track is reshuffled and the whole ordeal happens again. And this goes on and on until either the players are vanquished or they are able to make it to a new maglev elevator and shoot over to a new floor of the Blackstone Fortress. If the latter then players can choose to either draw a new exploration card OR they can choose to zip on back to the Precipice.

The Precipice is basically the safe room of the game. Players are fully healed from any damage they may have gained, they can spend any archeotech resources on new items and gear and they can generally just chill out for a minute from all the chaos that has been bombarding them for hours. Players can switch to new characters if they want from here before they venture into the fortress again. However, with all the good that comes from the Precipice there is also a slight risk factor involved. You see, whenever you take a break you also have to draw a random “Legacy” card. These cards can alter your entire game going forward like adding new and devious minions to the encounter deck or making the fortress just a little bit harder in different aspects. There are also some general “countdown” cards that are mostly just freebies that don’t alter anything…but you never know what you will draw. Also, if you ever need to draw a legacy card and the deck is empty, it’s game over. So, in other words, it’s generally not advised to be spending too much time whipping back to the Precipice unless you REALLY need to.

The overall POINT of the game is to defeat four strongholds within the fortress and then players will have access to assault the “Hidden Vault”. After delving into the hidden vault and successfully exploring it, players will finally be able to open the mysterious envelope each game comes with and loot the ultimate secret treasure. Now, I haven’t opened my envelope yet as I haven’t defeated the game but let me tell you, my mouth has been watering like crazy to get to it! If playing through the campaign be prepared to spend A LOT of gaming time to defeat this beast of a game. I have now played seven different combat encounters and have seen six different challenges come out. Each combat encounter is like playing a full game unto itself and depending on how the encounter cards turn out, these combats could take anywhere from an hour to two hours each.

Because to even gain access to a stronghold you have to find and collect four clue cards per stronghold. There are a few ways to try and find clues but the most obvious way is to check the placed discovery markers during the combat setup. Basically, you move one of your characters to this specific point on the map and take a search action which allows you to draw a “Discovery” card. Now, these could be clues OR they could be Archeotech (which is a resource you can trade for items and gear). You can only search each spot once unless you have some special ability that says otherwise. SO, to sum up, each combat encounter MIGHT have anywhere from 2 to 4 POSSIBLE clues on them. From my experience it took me quite a while to gather the first four clues. Once you finally can spend the clues to assault a stronghold you still have to run through a certain number of exploration cards which might include even more combats before you can FINALLY set up for the stronghold map. If you can defeat the stronghold you will gain a pretty awesome upgrade for one of your characters which goes to help your team to take down the others.

Components/Game Board

Some mighty fine components included here! The big standout of course are the miniatures with Games Workshop specializing in miniatures primarily for their many wargames they produce. Be aware however that all the included minis come unassembled in sprues. This is due to the very high degree of detail they come in so each individual piece needs to be put together. Luckily there isn’t much more you need to do other than clip them from the plastic sprues and snap them together. I would suggest buying a pair of small clippers to make snipping them MUCH easier though. There are also A LOT of miniatures included so you will probably spend at the very minimum a couple hours assembling all these little babies. Not to worry though! There is a very nice instruction sheet that very easily explains how to assemble each one and also gives a nice run down of some color choices if you decide you want to paint them up as well! And let me tell you, the miniatures really do live up to the quality you would expect given the price point of the game itself. They are simply fantastic with incredible amounts of detail, rivaling the miniatures found in the core set of Kingdom Death.

Beyond the miniatures there are a number of cardboard components that are pretty standard fare. The same goes for the cards and even though they have a slick texture, they have a nice thickness to them. The board pieces themselves are a random assortment of double sided tiles that can form countless different combat stage variations. This is evident with the many, many combat cards that are included in the exploration deck and I have to say, they are put to very good use. I have already created a number of different maps with the tiles and have been pleasantly surprised with each one. The dice have a nice weighty feel to them and I do like how the various dice styles work with the combat and make it easy to understand with the blank, one pip, two pip actions. However I was unimpressed with the very basic standard white and black dice used for character activation’s and destiny rolls. You probably notice in my pictures I have replaced the white dice with some bright green and the black dice with some red/black speckled dice, I’m just a sucker for colored dice.

As far as variety this game does come jam packed with a variety of components and it almost feels overwhelming at first. That is until you realize that you don’t use EVERYTHING starting out. You start the game only utilizing four of the enemy faction’s minis and only a very small amount of exploration cards per expedition. That same goes for the ships you can use for bonus actions which causes you to put much of the cards back in the box to be used at a later time. That said, you will still have your table covered with stuff that you need to focus on while playing such as the initiative track and the various sheets that determine what the enemies will do.

Box/Storage

The box isn’t the greatest. There is no insert whatsoever and honestly I’m kinda scared to just toss these minis back in the box with all the other stuff. I mean the plastic they are made of has a rather fragile feel to it and some of the pieces are super thin to boot. I’m beginning to think I will need some kind of special box to store the miniatures in to keep them separate from the other components to prevent damaging them. However, beyond that everything fits in the box just fine and there are even some included bags to store cards for each character so you can quickly save your progress and pick up to continue the game later.

Visual Appeal /Theme

I think they did an incredible job with the theme and visuals here. The tiles themselves have some nice bits of artwork adorned upon them to represent various areas of the Blackstone Fortress space station. There is also a plethora of lore behind this place and the goings ons here which thankfully you can get a taste of yourself with the included chapter of one of the books. Not only that but there is a 23 page Background booklet that goes into some very nice detail of the history of the Blackstone Fortress and some of the minions you will encounter. This all just goes to add to the awesome theme that is ever present in the game.

There is a bit of artwork present on the item cards depicting the various pieces you can acquire throughout the game. There is also the basic art of the miniatures themselves so you can easily differentiate the minis from one another based on title. That said that particular issue was something I didn’t discover till later, hidden inside one of the MANY different rulebooks that comes with the game which I’ll go into in a bit. Overall, I found that although the artwork looked fine, I wish there was more of it displayed throughout. Rather there are LOTS of things to read, on a typical character sheet you have text upon text regarding the different abilities and unique actions. This is fine and does give the game large amounts of variation but it does detract from the overall beauty of the game.

Rulebook

And now we come to the rulebooks. Yes, RULEBOOKS as in multiple, as this is a game awash in things to read through. There are in fact SEVEN different reading articles included, not all are rulebooks however. Let’s see we have: Rules, Combat, Precipice, Background, Datasheets, Miniatures Assembly and a Blackstone Fortress Sample Chapter. Now, of all that only the first three are considering rulebooks per say as the rest are supplemental materials to enhance the theme and build your minis. The Datasheets booklet looks to be a way to transfer your minis from this game to other Warhammer 40k wargames. So, just the thought that you can mix and match stuff from this game over to other aspects of wargaming is actually really cool, even though I personally probably will never do that. I say probably because who the heck knows what I’ll be interested in tomorrow.

Now, with the other three actual rulebooks I can see what they were trying to go for here. Not unlike what Fantasy Flight does with their rules, they have split the three main aspects of the game into three books to attempt to make the game easier to learn. Ehhhhh, it ALMOST worked with this one on so many levels but failed on so many others. First of all, they literally tell you to “Read this first” on the front of the “Rules” book. So you go in and get started with the multi-page setup which is pretty good. The other two books tell you on their fronts to read them when the situation arises such as combat or the ever ominous “Precipice”, which, of course you have zero clue when the heck that is supposed to occur starting out.

After the setup the rulebook takes a sharp nosedive in the helpfulness department. There are main keywords that are used abundantly in the rules that are never properly explained such as “Expedition and “Exploration” and “Discovery” and goodness these words are all SO similar it is VERY easy to get them all mixed up with how they work in the rules. Like, you are conducting an expedition but during that you need to perform an exploration and during THAT you need to hit up the discovery tokens…uhhh what? Then there are discovery cards and discovery markers and then clue cards and archeotech cards and there is just A LOT to digest here and the rules do a very poor job of explaining that. There is a bunch of omitted information that I had to take to the forums to get answers for as well. So, even once you finally wrap your head around the base rules you will still come out on the other side with questions that there are zero answers to. And sadly enough all three of the rulebooks share this common complaint. Beyond that, you will constantly find yourself flipping back and forth between all three books trying to piece thing together which makes it worse. THANKFULLY the backs of all three books have nice reference pages with the basic actions, turn orders, token explanations and event tables. These are BY FAR the best aspects the books have to offer.

Player Interaction/Fun Factor

The player interaction is just amazing! With four players going in each controlling their own adventurer you will be working together to make your way through the Blackstone Fortress. There will be lots of conversation and communication to determine the best course of action based on your respective abilities and what enemies are currently roaming the board. Much like most dungeon crawlers out there you NEED to work together for the good of the entire group if you hope to win. That means trading some items that might benefit someone else more or utilizing your skills to aid another friend in need. I love this kind of cooperation in board games! Now, if you play with five players one of the players will be controlling all the evil minions. Taking their turns moving about the board in an attempt to hinder and destroy everyone else, effectively turning this normally cooperative game into a 1 vs many style.

I haven’t played a five player game yet so I cannot comment on just how fun this aspect is although based on my preferences I can tell you I think I would rather be playing as part of the team helping each other out rather than against everyone. There is a lot to think about when playing as well regardless if playing as a hero or minion. Each character has their own unique abilities all the way down to how far they can move. Some are snipers and excel at range whereas others are tank powerhouses and excel at being in your face. It is quite the variety of heroes and each one brings their own special blend of fun to the game based on your preferred play style. There is a decent amount of luck involved here for those wondering as you do roll dice to determine what abilities you can utilize at the onset. And even during battles you will roll dice to see how you hit, if you hit at all. There are some abilities and items that can mitigate those rolls and indeed you do feel like you become stronger as you gain more items.

That being said I never felt like the enemies and the rolls were unfair. A single hero character is stronger than most every enemy the game throws at you…except perhaps the main antagonist of the core set. Of course most of the enemies come rushing in as hordes you have to mow down. The ONLY thing that I felt rather miffed at in the game were some of the Challenge cards. Some of those just irritated me as they were basically, “roll a die and either get hurt or don’t”. Those were very un-fun for me just slapping extra wounds on my characters between combats. Granted they do shake things up a bit from having constant combats and some of them were interesting.

Optimal Player Count/Replayability

Personally I would go either solo, two or four with this one. I’m not 100% sold on the 1 vs many aspect of this particular game but then again, I haven’t tried it yet so it’s still up in the air right now. Regardless of the player count you HAVE to control four heroes. So even playing solo there will always be four heroes out to manage but I have to say it’s not nearly as daunting as I first thought it would be. You just take them one at a time in initiative order and each one has such different abilities you never get them mixed up. Now, there is a lot to manage so the game WILL run long as I mentioned earlier since you have to roll for EACH enemy miniature that is on the board. So, if one of the encounter cards has you slap down seven traitor guardsmen minis, once their turn comes up you will have to roll the die for each one of them one at a time and consult their data card to see what action that one mini will perform, THEN possibly perform an attack which results in you rolling a die for them to determine if it hits. There is a lot there but again, it never felt overwhelming since you are focusing on one set of enemies at a time.

The replayability is really good as the game gives you a reason to want to play over and over again. I talked about this already but good gravy that sealed envelope is making me crazy with curiosity! I NEED to know what is sealed within and I will NOT open it until I have earned the right to. To do that I will have to play probably 16 games and that’s IF I find one clue a game. Which of course this could vary wildly based on the luck of the draw. Some combats will have two discovery tokens to search which might yield two clues or no clues and some combats might have four discovery tokens. The challenge cards and events might also give you access to clues. In other words there is quite a bit of randomness and some might be turned off by this and the fact that the combat DO get rather samey after awhile. Yes, the map setups differ and yes, over time new enemies do get added to the encounter decks. But overall I would suggest swapping out to some different heroes every once in a while to keep things fresh.

Positive Final Thoughts

This is right up there with my favorite dungeon crawlers. Now that I’m really thinking about it this is probably my favorite as far as a PURE dungeon crawler goes. I would rank Mansions of Madness and Lord of the Ring: Journeys in Middle-Earth just as high, although for a non-app based board game this one takes the cake. The many mechanisms and the huge variety of options available between the heroes is outstanding and just lends itself to many, many hours of fun.

Negative Final Thoughts

The rulebooks are far and away my least favorite aspect of the game with their confusing layout and omitted rules. As far as gameplay is concerned the only thing I can say that would POSSIBLY be construed as a negative would be the combat repetition and the high luck factor. Although I personally love the dice rolling aside from some of the rather meh-inducing Challenge cards.

The Bottom Line

This is a game where you will spend not just hours enjoying, but DAYS and WEEKS. The first of many hours you will spend assembling the minis, which I enjoyed, others may not. After that the incredibly lengthy campaign will keep you enthralled JUST for the possibility of finally opening that suspicious little treasured envelope. This is an excellent dungeon crawler which I whole heartedly recommend!

The Fuzzy Llama Golden Seal of Eternal EXCELLENCE

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