I wouldn’t say it’s entirely preposterous to propose that a sci-fi setting can sometimes be far more complex than a fantasy setting. Technology can impact worlds in ways unfathomable. For Blackstone Fortress, this is no exception. Warhammer Quest ventures into Warhammer 40,000 for the first time and tries to bring cooperative dungeon-crawling into the grimdark universe. It swaps swords and crossbows for boltguns and vindictor flamers. How does Warhammer Quest translate across? Does it work well? Or should Warhammer Quest stay firmly planted in a fantastical realm?
As mentioned previously, I thoroughly enjoyed the previous romps within Warhammer Quest. Silver Tower and Shadows over Hammerhal gave me and my fellow adventurers hours upon hours of fun ending in raucous victory or sorrowful failure. These games, especially Silver Tower, were surprisingly simple and easy to get into after the first few turns. Venturing through chambers with your fellow heroes slaying monsters and solving puzzles provided pure entertainment for all who joined. Blackstone Fortress does indeed offer a similar sense of fun, but with a handful of notable changes.
The premise is still a series of characters trawling through narrow confines to achieve a common goal. However, the location isn’t a dingy and dank dungeon this time, it is the ominous and mystifying Blackstone Fortress. The environment is wonderfully narrated in the numerous books within the box whilst holding some heavyweight in the Warhammer 40,000 lore. Through this alone it feels less like a frivolous romp through a nameless corridor but more like the next chapter within the Warhammer 40K narrative. This helps Blackstone Fortress to elevate above the previous Warhammer Quest entries in terms of its impact.
The box comes with 44 entirely new push-fit miniatures. Ranging from a couple of Ratling soldiers, a Man of Iron from the Dark Age of Technology to brand new Chaos Space Marines! The models themselves help to sell the box thanks to the sheer number of them along with the quality of the sculpts. The characters and hostiles themselves further add clout to the relevance of Blackstone Fortress within the universe as pushing everything forward whilst also possibly reviving some old beings from the crypts of time.
Swashbuckling Through Encounters
The core of the gameplay is composed of a number of segments and encounters. Encounters are broken up into Expeditions or Strongholds. Expeditions give you the opportunity to peruse random areas of the Blackstone Fortress completing challenges or combat encounters. The challenges have puzzles and dice-rolling elements which can be tense yet quick to wrap-up. This all helps to keep the game growing stale. On the flip side, the combat encounters take up a good chunk of time of playing the game.
The combat itself feels fun and exciting with characters using their action dice or destiny dice to perform actions. These can involve searching for treasure, summoning an exit chamber, attacking enemies, etc. Fighting the numerous enemies help the fighting to remain exciting and unpredictable, bringing an altered combat system from previous Warhammer Quest boxes. The combat simply works well with each player characters having a variety of attacks and abilities. The fact that various dice are introduced really helps each character find their strengths and weaknesses, encourage players to work together for best results.
However, I find one griping issue with the combat sequences. Building some of the maps can take quite some time as you try to clamber together the right hexes and build them together correctly. This is something that surely gets better as you play the game more often, but it does grind the game to a halt. In fact, in the tutorial video recently put up by Warhammer Community, it took the players over 8-minutes to build the smallest chamber. Considering you could be playing any number of combat encounters, this may suck up a lot of your gaming time. The tiles along with all the other game pieces are at least beautiful to look at. This helps to make the job somewhat less banal, even if only for a little while.
Storming the Stronghold
Strongholds are the more static combat encounters. The objective is to collect four Clues in Expeditions which can be traded in for access to a Stronghold. Completing four Strongholds grants the characters access to the Hidden Vault, the final Stronghold of the game. The Strongholds are built with specific tiles with predetermined enemies to fight. They hold further gameplay elements such as defensive firing lines from Traitor Guardsmen and rotating rooms. The Strongholds certainly feel more challenging than regular Expeditions and there’s a true sense of accomplishment when you finish them.
Completing Strongholds and Expeditions grants players a Legacy Card, which marks their progress through the Blackstone Fortress. Each card has an effect on future Expeditions which typically increase the difficulty. This helps to keep the game fairly balanced for when characters find themselves inspired through completed secret agendas. Inspired characters typically have improved attacks and abilities, the Legacy Cards help to keep things challenging for these beefed-up protagonists. In the hours upon hours I’ve played the game, never at any point did I feel like I could just walk through areas with no challenge. There was always a sense of risk and danger which made every moment exciting.
Sheer Weight of Exploration
There’s a lot within the Blackstone Fortress box. 44 miniatures, 5 booklets for rules, background and datasheets, a plethora of tiles, 234 cards, 70 counters and 28 dice. If this were my first venture into the Warhammer universe I’d have an absolute heart attack opening this box. The game itself has rules spread across 3 of the 5 booklets with many, many things to remember. There are in fact so many bits to keep track of that in the gameplay walkthrough from Games Workshop a couple of the rules are broken as they play. Those who have played Warhammer Quest before may well find the game to be more complex than they remember. I certainly found myself quite side-swiped by the number of things in the box.
However, upon playing a couple of Expeditions things did soon start to fit into place. There’s quite a lot to remember, for sure, but despite being something of an unwieldy game everything feels as though it matters. All that you do and decide within the game does bring with it a powerful sense of purpose or appropriate risk. Once you remember the stages of the initiative and combat phases, everything flows very nicely.
I have found myself itching to keep playing and progressing through the colossal Blackstone Fortress. Not just because I find myself immensely engaged with the gameplay, but because I want to see what lies at the end. You’ll find the game comes with a sealed envelope that is only to be revealed upon completing the final Fortress. There’s absolutely nothing to stop you opening this envelope immediately, of course. However, I personally wish not to spoil it for myself. The prospect of this very cool reward for playing a gratifying game to be all too sweet to besmirch. It helps to summarise the game succinctly; mysterious, driving and difficult to put down.
Warhammer Quest At Its Best?
Blackstone Fortress was landing on my doorstep with a very, very high bar to meet. One of my most-loved games is Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower. I had many apprehensions regarding Warhammer Quest in 40K simply not working in the science fiction setting. However, whilst Blackstone Fortress has brought with it a colossal amount of pieces, booklets and parts, they all matter and feel necessary to make the game what it is. Despite the slog to build some of the larger combat maps slowing the gameplay down, it simply isn’t enough of a deterrent to badly blemish the experience as a whole.
I suspect I’ll be taking innumerable journeys into Blackstone Fortress with as many characters under my belt as I can take. With the promise of future support from Games Workshop to keep adding to the game, I find myself hopeful for further brilliance. If you’re new to the hobby then Blackstone Fortress may seem like a gargantuan beast to tame and get used to. Should this not be your first trip into a Warhammer Quest game, I vow you’ll not be disappointed.
With a very strong sense of narrative, engaging gameplay and the promise of a tantalising reward any 40K fan will struggle to forgo the game. Blackstone Fortress feels like Games Workshop at their best. It brings with it undeniable quality, engrossing gameplay and a great sense of accomplishment. All bolstered by superb miniatures and the chance of titillating rewards, thus making the most reckless risk feel viable. There’s a lot to Blackstone Fortress, as there should be. It’s supposedly the next step for the overarching narrative of Warhammer 40,000, after all. This particular footstep lands not with a gentle pat, but with an ominous and attention-seizing crash.
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