Like many of you, one of the things I absolutely cannot wait for is to be sat around a big table with friends. To create those memorable moments when playing games that you’ll be recalling and laughing about for months to come. As soon as it is safe to do so, I’ll be laying down Cursed City so that my friends and I can skulk through Ulfenkarn, slaying the undead and saving the city! Having pilfered through the box and sinking some time into the game, there are many particular things I’m excited about. Despite that there’s a fair bit of house-keeping and the setup can be daunting, Cursed City looks to be an unforgiving but enjoyable romp against the undead.
Upon the box heftily thumping onto my table, the first thing to draw my eye was the striking box art. Slathered in red and black, with a heavily-illustrated art style, this helps to imbue Cursed City with an immediate sense of unique identity unlike anything we’ve seen in Warhammer Quest previously. The artwork very confidently sets the setting and tone of the game that continues throughout the entire experience within the box and beyond.
Oozing with Character
This is where Cursed City excels. With Silver Tower, a Tzeentchian labyrinth can be somewhat nebulous and unknowable. Blackstone Fortress felt deliberated vague and ambiguous with the mystery coming across a little too heavily for my tastes. Cursed City knows what it is and never shies away from the fact. The board tiles, every bit of artwork and every single word oozes with the sense of character that Cursed City harnesses masterfully. You are plundering through a cursed city dominated by the undead and the sense of dread never dissipates or lets you forget that you are under constant threat.
To summarise, for those unaware, Cursed City has you control a small band of heroes as they look to free the city of Ulfenkarn from a vicious undead tyrant. A hulking vampire named “Radukar the Wolf” and his undead minions dominate the city and terrorize the populace. The heroes must work to subvert the vampire influence within the city before bringing down the tyrannical Radukar. This will not be an easy feat as creatures and monsters roam the Ulfenkarn streets and there are many to defeat as well as secrets to be learned before Radukar can be defeated.
Furthermore, when comparing Cursed City to previous boxes such as Silver Tower, the sense of danger and peril are more ruthless than ever. In my experience with Cursed City, every enemy stands as a true threat. Lowly Deadwalkers have a chance of suddenly sprouting up around you at an emerging grave site whilst Skeleton Warriors, when rolling well, can cover astonishing distance and overwhelm you within a heartbeat. Again, Cursed City constantly presses upon you that you are an interloper and it will do all it can to stop your characters. Thus, be prepared! I fell into a trap of my own making in assuming that Deadwalkers and Corpse Rats are mere chaff akin to Got Scuttlings from Silver Tower. A few dice rolls later and I realised that I had underestimated the foes and a party member was quickly knocked out of action.
The difficulty of the game, whilst notable, isn’t the main hurdle to overcome with Cursed City, however. That honour belongs to the structure of the game itself and the sheer amount of rules and book-keeping needed to play. Having played Warhammer Quest entries previous to this, I was somewhat experienced and was happy to see some familiar and favoured gameplay mechanics return. The Destiny Dice are as infuriating and fickle as ever, either being just want you need to save the day or a crucial, game-changing life-saver sitting just out of reach. Some turns may see the Destiny Dice giving your party a pool of five additional activation, some turns may see you with no extras at all.
Upon opening the box, you’re confronted with the complexity of the game almost immediately. The sheer number of cards with the game, the seemingly countless tokens, I can very easily see how this would be harrowing for someone new to the series. I’ve played every Warhammer Quest since Silver Tower, so many of the systems are well-remembered and familiar. The bespoke dice for gauging success and critical success are very similar to Blackstone Fortress, for instance. However, then consider that there’s a rulebook for the core systems of the game and then a separate quest book for tracking the numerous types of missions through the game. Combine this with the 20 different types of tokens, 4 different sets of dice and 8 types of cards, this game quickly becomes monstrous.
Cursed City is not a game that you can decide to whip-out and play on a whim to kill an hour. The setup alone is quite a task and needs considerable table space. You definitely should be aware of this when accounting for the combat maps comprised of map tiles, the initiative tracker, room for tokens, cards, etc. To play Cursed City and not feel rushed or frustrated, you’ll want to set out a few hours, allowing time and space for setup and take-down. The adventures that I enjoyed lasted around 3 hours each, excluding time setting up and preparing the game. Not to say that this is a problem, per se. In fact, once lockdown lifts I will be thrilled to spend considerable time with friends playing a few of these missions consecutively. The point I’m getting at is that Cursed City isn’t some meager board game to pass a little time. To enjoy the experience fully, you’ll need a clear chunk of time and have plenty of patience, especially in your first few runs.
Cursed City Slickers
The missions that I remember fondly were a Hunt journey and then a Deliverance journey. In the Hunt type of journey, players need to cull enemies to loosen the tyrannical hold that the undead have over Ulfenkarn. You start on a pre-designed combat map as enemies procedurally generate throughout. The players’ heroes must defeat a number of certain enemies to build up a tally in order to succeed. Once done, the heroes must reach an extraction point to leave the area safely. This has a very XCOM feel to it, for anyone who has ever enjoyed some squad-based tactical shenanigans. However, you’re pressed for time in these missions. Each turn sees a counter progress, representing the sun eventually setting, bringing in nightfall. Unsurprisingly, enemies become stronger and far more vicious during the night, so this prevents players from dithering on their quests. The sense of urgency is palpable and adds to the levels of excitement to no end.
The second mission I undertook was Deliverance where the heroes must progress through a randomly generated series of locations. These locations can house unseen citizens of Ulfenkarn, who the players need to warn to flee due to an incoming endless spell ravaging the city. This was an intense undertaking as you need to take down enemies before you can safely warn the people nearby, whilst trying to outrun the devastating Suffocating Gravetide. This played rather similarly to Silver Tower in the randomly-generated areas and enemies appearing upon areas opening up. In the end, my heroes couldn’t warn enough people in time, and my heroes started to drop like flies. Thus, I chose to have them extract before finishing the objective. In this, I failed the mission, consequently causing fear to increase throughout the city. Upon reaching a fear threshold, the main quest is failed and you must restart the main quest entirely. However, the more heroes that end a journey as “out of action”, the higher risk of them dying permanently. Having invested in these characters, I felt it wise to risk the fear increasing rather than losing my characters and their progress/experience garnered through the previous journeys.
Situations like the above truly emphasise that feeling of pressure and risk throughout the Cursed City. When playing, it feels like you need to constantly be thinking and plan two steps ahead. To dawdle and become complacent is costly and could cause you to lose your heroes or the city entirely. Thus, players have to consider risks and think about their actions. This is further accentuated in crises that can occur throughout your journeys. A crisis can be anything from a humble peasant being attacked by a Corpse Rat, to an unseen vampire hypnotizing denizens of Ulfenkarn. Players can decided predetermined actions from these crises that can have different outcomes, positive or negative. These are “theatre of the mind” occurrences and can help to mix up the flow throughout your journeys whilst also breathing further life into Ulfenkarn itself as a setting.
As Brittle As Bone
However, if there was one thing about Cursed City that has left me feeling particularly on my toes, it’s some of the new models in the box. The models are all meticulous in their detail and resplendent in their veracity. As ever, the quality itself cannot be questioned. Unfortunately, the intricacies of some of the models have led to breakages within the box, presumably in-transit. One of the Vyrkos Blood-born had a snapped sword on the sprue, Gorslav had a trophy rack on his back broken and the mysterious Octren had his beard snapped in twain. This was rather disheartening as otherwise the models were a delight to work with. Even being push-fit, they all largely went together with indisputable ease and fit perfectly without a need for clipping any of the pegs. Nonetheless, with the sheer number of delicate and fragile models and details, this further pushes me to implore that Cursed City is not a suitable box for someone looking for their initial step into tabletop games or miniatures.
As with Blackstone Fortress, rules for the models within Cursed City are provided for the Age of Sigmar wargaming system in which the game is set. Points costs and warscrolls are all included for both heroes and villains. Sadly, most of the villainous models can only be fielded as a full group, which I found largely disappointing. Having a Deathrattle army already, I was keen to have Gorslav the Gravekeeper leading and summoning my skeleton hordes. Alas, if I wish to include him, all his vampire comrades must come along, too.
Cursed City offers a lot. Seriously, there’s a lot within the box and strew through the game itself. 60 unique models, a plethora of cards and components along with a series of mechanics and systems that will leave the game almost limitless in its replayability. For myself, I see Cursed City as a game I could gladly organise monthly sessions of, with a close circle of experienced hobbyists, that we’ll play for a very long time. Each journey will undoubtedly be varied, feel unique and have us finish our sessions with many memories. In this regard, despite being punishing to those who would underestimate the threat of the setting, Cursed City achieves this wonderfully. It’s a fun and very rich experience that will see you get value for money for a considerable amount of time, should you stick with it. With inevitable expansions to come in the future, I hope we’ll see a wider roster of heroes, maybe even some Slaanesh Hedonites spoiling for a good fight?
Although, that’s not to say Cursed City is perfect for everyone. The complex and many-limbed nature of the game along with some of the frangible models within, Cursed City may prove too formidable for some. Those who have experience in the Warhammer Quest series will most likely find a great deal to enjoy in Cursed City. Still, I would not advise Cursed City to anyone who is new to tabletop games or building and painting miniatures as you may soon find the game an act of contrition, rather than a fun experience alone or with friends. Ulfenkarn is a treacherous and murderous place, so make sure you’re up to the job before you set foot inside its walls.