The review of the new edition of warhammer fantasy has generated a great deal of comment from interested parties. I have read reviews and responses from the CEO of Fantasy Flight and several shop owners. I am presenting a review from a player. I have been playing roleplaying games for 26 years, and at the age of 34, they are still my primary hobby of choice. I have been a middle school language arts teacher and I am currently a graduate student working on a Master’s Degree in Rhetoric and Technical Communication. I realize this personal information will be edited but I felt it worthwhile to provide some background before beginning my review. I have several areas of the game I wish to comment on and I will separate them below to discuss each individually. I will only be sending issues with the price and production in this email, as the sum total of my comments are quite long. I will send an additional email with comments on the mechanics and playability of the game.
Issue One: Price
While several reviewers have commented already on the price (starting at $100 for the box set) I find their comments somewhat in error. It is true that several other games require one person in the group to purchase roughly the same amount in product at the outset, usually the gamemaster, but that is not the entirety of the issue. Other games often include ,by breaking things down in a better marketed manner, a “players” book of some sort, usually in the $30 to $40 range, which everyone in the group may buy. This creates two issues for this new edition of WHFRP as I see it. The first is that the barrier to entry is set much higher for the average player or player group. The second is a problem for Fantasy Flight. Since only one person in the group is likely to invest in the set, sales will potentially suffer, as they do not have a product for sale which reaches out to everyone in the group. This type of sales issue is important to note, as the precedent has been established that products which only target gamemasters do not generate the best sales, as can be seen by looking at the reduction in such types of products from main publishers, and has been written about at length in the past by some publishers.
Issue Two: Production Values
Honestly, despite all the parts and pieces which come in the main box, I do not understand the comparison to a board game. The game is written and meant to be played in a very imaginative way. Saying this is not an endorsement of the designer’s decision to include all the props though. In almost every instance, the props are not necessary. The Character stand-ups are the first culprit. These are used to show position of characters in terms of engagement and location. In both cases these tasks can be handled entirely without the stand-ups. Position in the scene is something players should always be aware of and in terms of combat distances, the stand-ups represent nothing more than a visual representation of a narrative idea. Again, an issue handled better with scrap paper and the players’ imaginations. This point is very important to me, as the designers continually discuss how the game engages the imagination instead of supplanting it. The stand-ups are also very generic. They are very pretty, but not at all customizable or personal.
Another issue with the props is the sheer number of tokens involved in the game. Stress tokens, fatigue tokens, counter tokens, stance markers, wound cards, and others are all needed to surround every character sheet during every stage of play. Again, these decisions seem problematic as they could be better accounted for (and were at my table) with scrap paper. This decision was made due to my other concern, which is that we tried it with all the cards and tokens, but after the second player pushed their tokens into the floor accidentally, frustration with all the little bits was running high. We play at a table, but many groups spread out around living rooms or dorm rooms and sit on couches, beds, carpet and other soft surfaces not really conducive to maintaining lots of small components.
This points out the next problem. The multiple parts which go into every player’s character sheet. Players need a great deal of space and hard surfaces to keep up with their character sheet(s). The “Individual Play Area” of each PC consists of a character sheet, a career card, multiple talent and ability cards, a stance meter, wound cards, several types of counter tokens and an action deck of playing card sized pieces. The aforementioned point concerning needing a hard surface is very important in this regard, but it also shows the issue of players needing a lot of space to keep up with their pieces as well. Trying to manage all of this at a large table was difficult, doing so in a crowded dorm room or sitting on a couch with no table would be nearly impossible. As a long time player of many games I was very surprised by this design choice. Many of the these issues could have been remedied by giving players a full page sized character sheet which incorporated the information on the career cards instead of having to keep the career card on the table. The sheet could also have provided spaces where players could track their fatigue, stress and wounds and not require these cards and tokens to be kept on the table as well.
Added to the space issue is the durability issue. The game comes with four thin, paperback, perfect bound books containing the rules. Paperback books for the main rules of a game is a poor design choice, as even with the most tender handling these books are going to see a great deal of wear and tear. Combining those four books into a single hardcover volume would have been greatly appreciated and a much better value. Together, they make up about the same size as the core book for many other games and at the price of the box set, this does not seem unreasonable, considering some game companies produce their core hardcover in about the $30-$40 range.
The durability of cards and tokens is another issue. Spilling 20+ ounces of soda/coffee/energy drink on a character sheet is a common occurrence at many game tables. You wipe it up, copy the information onto a new sheet before the next game and move on. That same accident with a table full of cards, tokens and cardboard like counters and stance meters is much more costly. The game pieces are very well made, but they will still be far more easily damaged than the components most games will have sitting on the table. Also, the cards and stance meters are going to be handled a lot, by a variety of gamers. They will be in constant danger of tears, having corners bent, creasing, and other woes of paper. All of these components are expensive and will be expensive to replace. What is very pretty when you open the box for the first time becomes a liability when you are running it for strangers at a game store or convention (or even your friends in the aforementioned dorm lounge). I, as a gamemaster, find myself very uncomfortable with the idea of ruined game pieces impacting game play. Many readers may be shaking their heads and feeling I am overstating the case, but if they think honestly, I feel they will at least accept this point, if not entirely agree, based on their experience with their own gaming group.
The last bit of production I wish to comment on is the dice. I will discuss these further in the mechanics and gameplay portion of the review, but they are also a design and production issue. The set includes more than 30 dice. I hesitate to refer to them as a gimmick, but in fact, they really are. The dice are very pretty and interesting, but usable only for this game. Since each player is encouraged to invest in a set of their own dice for improved gameplay, this is something of a problem. With what dice currently cost, I estimate the dice set for the game, when sold as a set outside the game box, will run approximately $30 (admittedly a guess, but I feel a reasonable one at current prices). This means players are expected to pay as much for a set of dice usable only for this game as they would for the main rulebook of some other games. This seems excessive and, again, a poor choice for the company as it presents yet another barrier to entry. Because the dice are also not likely to be sold individually, this also presents the issue of losing dice. Once they are gone, players may find themselves with a barrier to play.
To conclude this portion of the review, I feel the design choices were poor considering the audience. I feel the amount of peripheral pieces could have been reduced without any impact on game play or the mechanics of the system the designers were creating. The dice are a difficult component to sell as they are unique to a single gaming experience and the components, while very pretty and well made will become an issue over the lifespan of a game, as they deteriorate. I will continue this review in another post concerning game play and mechanics. Thank you.