World of Warcraft: The Board Game: A Mini-Review
"Mike is going to be joining us," Katherine mentions, "Since he isn't playing World of Warcraft anymore."
We talk some more, and she asks if I'm heading out to gaming, and I say "Yes, but I won't be playing World of Warcraft."
And then I get to Donald's house, and he drops World of Warcraft: The Boardgame on the table.
In some ways World of Warcraft really isn't my sort of boardgame, but that's mainly about game length. Our 6-player game ended up running a bit longer than 6 hours, and even then we decided to omit the final PvP battle because we were pretty sure we knew the outcome (Kevin, Woo, and I win!), but didn't want to spend another hour to make sure.
Nonetheless, I don't actually dislike playing this sort of game, it's just outside my norm, and about the only time I can possibly fit it into my gaming schedule is when my roleplaying group is playing a board game instead ... as was the case here.
The game is quite a good model of the MMORPG, or at least it's quite a good model of a MMORPG, as I know very little about World of Warcraft proper. Other than the fact that you can spend months fishing, just to improve your fishing skill.
The boardgame splits the players into two factions. Each faction has five quests up at any time, each of which creates some random (blue) monsters which just get in the way and some red and green monsters which you defeat in order to win quest awards: gold, experience, and items. You spend most of the game wandering the board, with your faction or alone, in order to defeat these monsters, and thus "level up", earning better stats and talents and access to better equipment. There's also a PvP element where you can attack the other players. Eventually you either have to get powerful enough to go take out the level boss, or else you fight the other players in one final PvP.
Recently when we played Cleopatra, every one talked about how overproduced it was, but it had nothing on World of Warcraft, which included 5 or 6 pounds worth of large, solid plastic figures, to represent the various monsters which spawn on the map. (The total box weight is 9 pounds, and the cost is an astronomical $80.) There's also a pile of cards all with scrumptious artwork, and everything's pretty easy to use.
As I said, the game system is a pretty good model for an MMORPG. You have spawning, quests, factions, PvP, levelling up, a level boss, etc. Beyond that, the game's pretty simple. Unlike a lot of the other adventure games out there, there's no skill resolution or such in World of Warcraft, just a combat system.
The combat system is one of the most complex I've seen in a board game, but it's managed really well. You have five attributes which affect combat: blue (ranged) dice, red (melee) dice, green (defense) dice, rerolls, and additional attrition damage. You throw a whole handful of dice (usually 6-10, but up to 21) and then reroll, then you figure out if you killed the monster in ranged combat, else if you have to ward off its melee attacks, then if you killed it by round's end with your melee damage and attrition, of if you need to start a new round. There's a lot of powers that you can make use of, often for an energy cost, and the overall result is a very nice tactical combat system.
Contrariwise, the PvP system really falls down. You can have really high target numbers for your combat dice against a powerful opponent, and defense becomes much more valuable resulting in a back and forth that can last ages. We played out two PvPs: one ended in the first round, but would have gone very long otherwise, while the other did go very long, with the winner being obvious from almost the start, but the loser's health still being chipped away 0 or 1 points at a time. As I said we opted out of the final PvP battle because we again thought it had an obvious result, but that it would have taken at least an hour to play. I'm sad that a nice combat system got messed up for PvP play, but this isn't the first time that's happened in a Fantasy Flight adventure game (c.f. Runebound).
On the whole, the production of World of Warcraft is superb if you can get by the $80 pricetag (Substance: 5 on the RPGnet scale). The gameplay meanwhile is pretty good, again if you can get by the 4-6 hour timeframe. It felt evocative and interesting and I wouldn't mind playing it again, though I suspect a 4-player game would work better (Style: 4+ on the RPGnet scale). I thus give it a A- overall.
It's comparable to Runebound, with a more elegant combat system & a more interesting character system, but less opportunity for variation in other aspects, such as skills and companions.