New Ethic – Talisman, Warhammer Quest and thoughts on GW’s Digital Gaming Strategy

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Whilst GW has received much (mainly valid) criticism for their digital policy over the years, the dissolution of THQ has preceded a new approach for their video games strategy that is started to produce some quite interesting results. Rather than the days of one company holding all the rights, and thus producing hit (Dawn of War), miss (Fire Warrior) and indifferent (Squad Command) games based on their IP, they have reduced the exclusivity and instead started to licence their games out to multiple smaller companies with a proven track record in delivering mobile content, who can develop apps that are faithful to their IP.

Kudos to GW on this, mobile gaming is now a huge market and this is probably the only thing they are doing successfully at the moment (unless you count “consistently finding new ways to infuriate the members of Dakka Dakka” as something). The first two releases (or “first wave” using GW terminology) are Talisman Prologue and Warhammer Quest, adaptations of two classic GW boardgames, with both available for (the very reasonable by GW standards) £2.99 in the iOS appstore (possibly on other platforms too now or in the future, but you’ll have to look that up). Space Hulk, Blood Bowl and a 40K hex strategy game are all on the way, and i’d imagine they have a few others to come as well.

Talisman Prologue

I obtained my first copy of Talisman when I was in Year 6 at Primary School. A new pupil in my class, Ruari, somehow ascertained that I was into Warhammer and related things. Perhaps his eagle eyes had noticed the poorly painted (and chipped) models I brought in in my pockets to school and played with in class, or he admired the dire attempt I made at reconstructing a painting of a Deathwing terminator that year. One day, for reasons known only to himself, he brought in a copy of the Talisman first edition box set (with a green cover), which I think he said belonged to his brother and said I could have, and most importantly to a ten year old school boy, keep it. I wasn’t quite aware of what it was, but it was produced by Games Workshop and had a Dragon on the front, so I was down. I think I found it slightly overwhelming, and the lack of models a disappointment, so it was probably never played much. The upside of this is that I imagine this copy, in a fairly good condition, is still at my parents’ house. If it is, I will do an article about it next time I visit them. Cheers Ruari, wherever you are.

Talisman then had a re-release via GW in the mid nineties, which included a plastic dragon and various expansions. This grabbed me much more, and I did play this, although it could be somewhat of a slog at times. Fast forward past Fantasy Flight’s lovingly recreated recent editions and expansions and the latest incarnation is the mobile version, Talisman Prologue which I downloaded for iOS, and have played on my iPad and iPhone.

The more things change..

The more things change..

Talisman Prologue, isn’t the full version of the game. The makers have stated that it’s more of a demo version, using all the mechanics of the board game down to rolling an e-dice, while being single player only. As anyone with any knowledge of the board game will know, this is unprecedented and on the surface, pointless. If you played Monopoly by yourself, you would certainly be living up to its title but stealing money from the bank on the sly would be far less gratifying. This has been countered by giving each of the ten characters you can choose from a set of six quests, with a vague narrative element to give you a purpose to keep playing. These involve collecting specific item cards, killing a certain amount of enemies, travelling to a set of locations and finally reaching the crown of command. A weird quirk, presumably for space reasons, is that the iPhone version has abbreviated versions of most of the text, stripping things to the bare minimum, whilst the iPad version is a bit more expansive and colourful (only a bit though).

"I've got to take my life back, one chance to make this right."

“I’ve got to take my life back, one chance to make this right.”

Each of these quests takes about 20 minutes to complete, and upon completion, you are awarded between one and three stars depending on how many turns were taken, giving you the chance to go back and improve on yourself. I myself enjoyed this, but this is also the game’s biggest flaw. Essentially, due to the lack of additional players, AI or Human, you end up playing against the mechanics of the game. No one else is going to pick up the Runesword, so eventually it will come up in the deck. No one is casting the command spell on you to cause you wounds. The other issue is one exacerbated by its format. When playing the physical version of Talisman, you might play it a couple of times a month for a few months at first, then occasionally after that. I played Talisman Prologue hundreds of times within a fortnight, and as a result, saw all the event, item and enemy cards very quickly, stripping away the element of surprise and excitement. It might seem like heresy, but alternative main boards (or even randomly generated ones)/card decks would counter this, and i’d happily pay a little more for some expansions.

In context though, I still rate the product. At £2.99 for an app I could play on both devices I own, I felt I got plenty of hours of entertainment for my buck. The repetitiveness was no worse than when you end up using the same strategies again and again in Plants Vs. Zombies, and there are much (much) worse ways to pass that 20 minute break in the Gentleman’s Reading Room at work. The game is faithfully presented, the graphics are slick and on my iPhone 4S/iPad 2 it ran smoothly at all times with no pauses for loading. As said, a full version should be out later this year, and assuming it allows multiplayer over the internet, it should be well worth picking up.

Warhammer Quest

Warhammer Quest is another game I can attach a small personal story to. I never owned it during it’s initial run, but thankfully it came out during the period where White Dwarf included two cardboard pages in every issue, meaning that I obtained plenty of free dungeon tiles. I ended up making my own set of rules to play Warhammer (alone) in dungeons, using my existing models and was quite happy with that. A few years back I obtained a 90% complete copy of WHQ from former UKHC ever present Kieran Hough (along with an Imperial Guard Griffon and a WFB Empire battle army) before his deportation to Australia. I have not played this, but have looked at the manuals (and I played it in store a few times too), so have a rough idea of the mechanics.

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The “creepy crawly” segment from Sick of it All’s “Step Down” video.

The iOS version is produced by UK developer Rodeo Games, makers of the very successful and well received Hunters 1 and 2. top down, turn based futuristic strategy games where you command a squad of space marines (not Space Marines, obviously) as they, err, hunt. Recognising that you don’t need to fix things that aren’t broken, Warhammer Quest uses the Hunters engine, while adding all the features of the board game that are necessary to make it feel like Warhammer Quest. The floor tiles (all faithful recreations of the original as far as I can see), characters, stats, items and levelling up mechanics are all added combined with a slick and fast interface (although it did take me a surprising amount of time to find the inventory, ahem) and smooth graphics.

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Growing up, growing up in the city, the city of.. Worden, Reiiiiiklllaaannd.

One of my Desert Island Games is Shining Force on the Sega Mega Drive, something which i’ve played through many times over the years, whether on the console when I was 12 or 13 years old, on an emulator when I was in Uni, or on iOS last year (I really hope they release the sequel, as i’ve only played that on an emulator). I’ve had a penchant for turn-based strategy games since (Final Fantasy Tactics, Battle Isle: Incubation, Ascendancy, Warlords 3 etc) and the five or six hours i’ve put into crawling through dungeons, fighting wave after wave of Orcs and Spiders has really hit the spot for me. Perhaps the only issue I have with it, is that it doesn’t feel particularly challenging. My characters are at Level 3 now and seem to be easily able to deal with whatever is thrown at them, and short of every room containing four or five River Trolls/Shamans with Fist of Gork, I can’t see how this is going to change, especially as they continue to level up and buy new equipment. One simple, yet well executed feature that deserves a note, is the game using iCloud to save, so that you can seamlessly transfer your game from iPad to iPhone when you head out the house.

Depends on whether Boardy is with us or not.

Well, that depends on whether Boardy is with us or not.

Unlike Talisman Prologue, WHQ does contain some in-app expansions that can be purchased. There are three additional character classes for £1.99 each (you have four available to you, and only four can be in your party at once, so not purchasing them doesn’t disadvantage you) and, more interestingly to myself, a Skaven campaign available for £2.99, with new quests and enemies. I’m into that idea, and given that in the past I might pay £20 for an expansion to a game like Red Alert, this wasn’t a problem. The characters I’d be less likely to pick up though, although maybe that’s because the extra classes on offer didn’t appeal to me. I do hope this model works out for them though and allows them to introduce others expansions, such as Lizardmen, Undead and Chaos campaigns, i’m sure i’d happily purchase those too. There is also an in-app purchase for gold if you feel like it, but I genuinely can’t see why you’d need to, unless you’ve perhaps suffered from a recent head injury.

Overall Thoughts

As I said at the start, GW, for all it’s huge flaws at the moment, is to me getting this part of its business right. When I had a Nokia N95 around five or six years back, I was so desperate to play a strategy game on it, that I ended up buying an awful RTS that somehow managed to be less advanced than Dune 2, and even slower and clunkier. And yet I still played it a surprising amount before going back to Bounce. These apps are a godsend to me being well presented and using IP that I have a (sadly) deep connection with, and their £2.99 initial charge isn’t a lot of money to most people. For the return i’ve had through hours of entertainment (and distraction from the other passengers on the bus), I can’t complain. While both apps have depth issues (although in-app purchases for WHQ and a full version of Talisman on the way mitigate this to some level), they are only cheap mobile apps at the end of the day, designed to be something you play in small bursts, rather than something you devote your existence to such as WoW, and it would seem churlish to ride them too hard on this. I hope GW continues playing its cards right here, as whatever other veteran alienating actions they manage to make, this is one thing that I think will make a lot of their longer term fans smile.

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About OC

As well as being a veteran edgeman, part of Atonement Records and bass player in bands such as Ironclad, Ark of the Covenant and Natural Order, OC has an unfortunate penchant for collecting plastic models that come in shiny boxes, such as Warhammer models and Lego, and an even more unfortunate tendency for procrastination, meaning much of their contents never see the light of day.

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