Dungeon crawlers – a classic genre of tabletop game. Whatever the motivation of the characters or the background of the game, there is a lot of be said of entering the dungeon, killing the monsters and walking away with as much treasure as possible. It can be a simple hack and slash; a storytelling experience or even subverted to spending your time concentrating on backstabbing each other.
The problem with such a classic set up is that there are so many dungeon crawlers out there competing for your attention, time and money. So making sure you find a quality game with depth and plenty to entertain you is important. Thankfully there is Board Game Geek to help you in making such decisions.
However, my favourite dungeon crawl is unlikely to so easy to get your hands on (well sort of – but more about that later). Because I have yet to find a better one than the classic (and out of print) Warhammer Quest.
Released in 1995 and coming in a box jam packed with over 90 miniatures, Warhammer Quest (or WHQ) was a short lived game that harkened back to the earlier Games Workshop products of Heroquest and Advanced Heroquest. The game was a quite brutal dungeon exploration in which a danger lurked around every corner and if the Heroes did not work together (or were just plain unlucky), they could find themselves swamped by foes from all sides.
One of the selling points of the game was the random dungeons – you would choose an objective room and then generate an adventure at the start of the game. Each room in the game had a corresponding card that would be shuffled together to creature and dungeon deck (with the objective card in the bottom few of the deck). As the adventurers moved through the dungeon, cards would be turned over with instructions of what is found in each room. If instructed by the room card, you would also draw cards from the encounter deck, which may result in discoveries, traps or most often monsters to fight. Once the monsters were driven off, you would then draw from the treasure deck to see what loot you had found during your fight. It meant that you would never play the same dungeon twice. This did have the drawback of making dungeons a bit schizophrenic – moving from different types of monsters on a room by room basis.
The tension was ramped up during the power phase, during which a dice was rolled to determine how much energy was available for spell casting. The higher, the better. However, the roll of a one was dreaded by everyone around the table, as this was when an expected encounter would occur. Not only could this happen whilst you were already fighting or badly hurt, but any magical characters were rendered less potent with little or no power to cast with. Everyone who played the game will have memories of rolling nothing but ones every turn and watching the monsters build up and up as a result (of course when you did so, it was all the wizard player’s fault …).
The other key mechanic was the lantern, which one character had to hold at all times. During the adventure the lantern only shines light on the room the character is in and any rooms adjacent to it. If a player is left behind, their character is removed from play. This ensures players understand they cannot try and solo an adventure. Either the group stays together or it will fail.
Combat shares similarities to the Warhammer war game. To hit rolls are determined by comparing the attacker and defender’s Weapon Skill. If a hit is scored, a number of wounds are done equal to the attacker’s Strength plus a dice roll and minus the Toughness of the defender. If a creature is killed outright with a single attack, the attacker gets a deathblow, which means it can made an another attack against an monster directly adjacent to the original target. It means weedy targets like Goblins, are mown down pretty quickly, whilst bigger targets need stronger characters to pull down or the concentrated attacks of several individuals – almost like a dungeon boss fight.
The difficulty of a successful dungeon run means that ever achieve feels as though it was hard won. Each treasure card is a reward for process, even if it is a few gold coins. And by the time you reach that final fight, you are desperately counting your resources to make sure that you have marshalled your strength for the inevitable big fight at the end.
The game also came with a roleplay book, which expanded the game beyond the initial crawl. In it there were rules for improving characters; more monster and dungeon encounters for when characters levelled; encounters after leaving the dungeon and making your way back to civilisation; settlements; shops and information about turning the game into a proper roleplaying experience with a Games Master. GW also released extra character packs, adventure boxes and cards. Literally any of your gaming miniature collection could be used in the game at some point, meaning that the game just grew and grew as your party improved.
Sadly, as with many of the games produced by GW during this time, production stopped after only 3 years. It still held a very dedicated and loyal fan base, with a lot of material that can still be found online. But that is not the end of the story …
Warhammer Quest was made into an iOS game in 2013, with a PC version released via Steam in 2015. Whilst fairly faithful to the board game, it does feel a little light in terms of game play and loses some of the more interesting items and abilities that were found in the game. But with its widespread character base, random dungeons and “pick up and play” experience it certainly scratches an itch.
Fantasy Flight Games have also released a Warhammer Quest Adventure Card game last year, which unfortunately I have yet to have had the opportunity to try out. As with many FFG products, artistically it looks impressive and this has the feel of the Warhammer world. Hopefully I will be able to let you know how it plays in a future article.
However, the big news was the release of a new product from Games Workshop itself – their new game set in the Age of Sigmar universe, Warhammer Quest: The Silver Tower. The box comes with over 50 miniatures and a fairly hefty price tag of £95 (although I believe some online retailers may sell it for less).
Having had a brief play with it the other day and I can confirm that the components are of a really high quality, as would probably be expected. It also retained the same card based dungeon exploration and treasure hunting mechanics as before, although character progression is done by drawing skill cards as the game goes on. The monsters are themed more towards the location, so you won’t have Orcs, Zombies and Daemons cropping up in the same dungeon. However, combat has been stripped down to a much simpler level more in line with the Age of Sigmar rules (literally roll to hit and see how much damage the weapon does). This both speeds the game up but removes depth and choice, which may be a matter of personal choice. The action system is nice – which means that more heavily wounded characters get to do fewer actions until they get a chance to heal up.
Although there is a story running throughout the game of attempting to locate 8 shards of an amulet, I have not seen how this translates to a campaign system. Games Workshop have already put out rules for using other models in the game, so I will be interested to see how or indeed whether they attempt to grow this further.
As dungeon crawlers go, Warhammer Quest still remains my go to game, over 20 years since its release. Whatever the drawbacks, I know I can put it on the table and have a run through a dungeon done in an hour or so with little preparation or worry. And with only a little more work, I can run a group of friends through a much grander set of expeditions to its conclusion. And it is this that keeps me coming back – the versatility and variety that ensures I continue enjoying these adventures.