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Warhammer Quest: Cursed City Review - DOA

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MB Updated April 23, 2021
 
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Warhammer Quest: Cursed City Review - DOA

Game Information

Players
1 - 4
There Will Be Games

OOP and already looking like a dead game?

It feels a little strange to be writing a review of Warhammer Quest: Cursed City because it is something like the PS5 of board games right now – it’s been released, folks preordered it, and it’s just kind of not really available anywhere now except through resellers and scalpers. There was an odd degree of hype over it, moreso than for the previous Warhammer Quest title Blackstone Fortress, perhaps in part due to the scarcity of some of that game’s expansions but also certainly because of the cool previews that showcased some unusually down-to-earth and kind of old school Citadel models. Well, here we are now a week after release and it’s kind of unclear if there are even going to be more copies. Nonetheless, the good folks at Warhammer Community were kind enough to remember us in shipping out review copies so here’s the due diligence regardless of availability.

The good news, if you can’t find a copy, is that Cursed City is such a wildly mixed bag that I don’t think you are really missing much unless you really want to paint the awesome Ulfenwatch and Deadwalkers, which are the first new traditional skeleton and zombie models Citadel has done in a long damn time. There also some outstanding bats and rats, and the whole Castlevania-ish horror vibe strikes right to the center of my gothic heart. And there ain’t a Stormcast to be seen - this is as close to Old World as GW has gotten since the End Times. Big ups to the old school fans here.

But I felt like something was amiss right away when I started to clip the sprues and assemble the models. I found the push fit figures to be unusually fragile, often breaking just from the force of the clippers and I’m using brand new Mr. Hobbys, ain’t no half-steppin’. I started to wonder if the plastic was softer to accommodate the intricate push fit configurations. I also found my interest in the models waning once I got past the skeletons and zombies- some of the heroes are cool as hell (Emelda Braskov is one of the best female warriors they’ve ever done and Jelson Darrock is the platonic idea of the Warhammer Witch Hunter) but some of the others I actively disliked right away. I really hate the Kharadron Overlord (described here in our forums as a “steampunk fire hydrant”) and some of the hostiles just look boring or bad. The Vargskyr is just a spectacularly ugly model and not in a good way. There’s no accounting for taste of course, but it’s rare for me to look at a Citadel model and just be like “nope, that sucks.” But that’s exactly what I did with a couple of these figures once I looked past the real knockout pieces.

As for the game, here’s the main problem. It’s built on the Blackstone Fortress chassis, which should be a great thing because that was the best iteration of the rebooted Warhammer Quest line. But it feels like the reskin and recalibration sort of stopped at a superficial level and the game was clearly not designed from the ground up to be what it is trying to be- and what it is trying to be is not really something I want. I find myself comparing the mindless hack and slash feel of the gameplay more to Zombicide than Blackstone Fortress, and that is not where I want to be with this game. Gone are the interesting matters of terrain and area attacks, and the more complex hostile actions. Instead, it’s mostly what you’d expect from a game where you are mostly cutting down zombies and skeletons that apparently can’t use ranged weapons.

Further, I found that I lost all interest in playing it after just a couple of missions into the campaign.  I like that there are a variety of different mission types, there’s some cool legacy and progression elements, and I like that you can play one-off games easier than you could with Blackstone Fortress. But I don’t like that all of the tactical detail and variety of Blackstone Fortress has been replaced by enemies that have no ranged attacks and tend to just walk toward their (second) doom. The results are that the game tends to fall into a sloggy, usually too easy tempo of slaughtering hostiles at range or with extreme melee prejudice before they can even act. Sure, they can hit hard if they get close and have a chance, especially if it’s night time and they are in their Empowered mode. But play smart and roll decently and they won’t get there.

I found the pace boring to be honest, and I never felt the frisson of challenge or discovery. But I will concede that as a cromulent, workmanlike uncredited dungeoncrawl design it at least works and to less demanding audiences there’s probably more value here than I am finding. To be sure, Cursed City isn’t the mess that was Hammerhal and if we’re being honest some of the criticisms of difficulty, balance, and repetition could be lobbied at the otherwise venerated Silver Tower. Or the original Warhammer Quest for that matter.

There are nice touches that are good enough to qualify as differentiators. I love that the Deadwalkers pop up out of an actual gravestone miniature. The day/night cycle is wholly appropriate for the setting and it adds a neat timing element. There’s plenty of great lore and fun random events. I especially like the concept of the “Deliverance” missions that force you to keep moving to stay in front of a tide of skeletal death- it reminds me of one of the most fun missions in Deathwatch: Overkill. The great dice value-based activation system that goes all the way back to Silver Tower is still fun and the core mechanisms are still solid.

Warhammer Quest Cursed City

But you know what, solid isn’t enough at this point for me – not even with a Warhammer game. I’m looking at this game and comparing it to its peers and simply put there is virtually no reason in the world I would put this game on my table over Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion exceptfor the Warhammer setting. With that game, I know that two hours will be spent with interesting, compelling situations and an emergent narrative incentivized by progression. With Cursed City, two hours are going to be spent slugging it out through endless hordes and when playing solo, maybe barely even using the abilities of one or two of the characters. I feel like it plays more like the Warhammer Quest timewaster app than a proper dungeon crawl board game, and when a session is going to be 90, 120 minutes I don’t want that feeling.

It’s a beautiful box with striking black, red, and white illustrations and the components are just the kind of high gloss, big-budget props we expect from GW. It’s loaded with the good stuff we want, but I’m let down by the rote, boring, and redundant gameplay and the iffy miniatures that had me searching online to see if others were complaining about their fragility and weird softness. I hope that if GW expands Cursed City, they’ll a) print more copies so interested parties can get a hold of it and b) listen to the criticism that is out there about this design and work to improve the balance, hostile actions, tempo, and challenge level.

But what I’d rather see is an all-new dungeon crawler design that feels more modern, competitive, and interesting than Warhammer Quest does in its current state. After Blackstone Fortress, which may be the crowning jewel of GW’s 2016-2020 renaissance, there’s no reason this game should not have been better designed, better developed, and better playtested. It almost feels like the production brief was “Blackstone Fortress but Age of Sigmar”, and it was left at that without fully considering the ramifications or implied expectations of the superposition.

Want to help me buy a new car since a tree crushed my Jeep last week? Here is your chance. Like all the cool kids I have a Ko-Fi page set up so if you liked reading this screed, consider a tip. We don't make any money here at TWBG and my bucket drummmng gig isn't paying out! https://ko-fi.com/michaelbarnes


Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
2.0
Warhammer Quest: Cursed City
A boring, badly developed letdown that fails to meet the expectations set by previous Warhammer Quest titles.
MB
Top 10 Reviewer 137 reviews
Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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themothman421's Avatar
themothman421 replied the topic: #322462 23 Apr 2021 11:54
What a strange product, simultaneously fully-formed in terms of art/aesthetics and certain minis but totally half-baked in others (gameplay, bad guy minis..).

I've been taking my time painting up the objective markers and recently finished the corpse rats. The level of detail in these seemingly extraneous pieces are insane, but like you said also incredibly brittle. I broke off at least two rat tails just trying to jam the damn things in the base.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #322464 23 Apr 2021 12:05
Due to the negative comments and reviews, I keep finding others things to do instead of try out Cursed City, even though I finished making my tokens days ago. Tonight is laundry night, and my laundry room is adjacent to the boardroom (basement area with dark wood paneling and my big ikea gaming table), so I will finally play tonight. In between ironing shirts.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #322471 23 Apr 2021 15:51
For a $200 game, this is a pretty damning review.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #322481 23 Apr 2021 19:19
Yeah, it really is. And it’s kind of surprising...I don’t know if COVID had something to do with it all or what. I do think the minis may be a combination of engineering then for push fit, using a softer but more brittle plastic, and new sculptors/CAD elements. It’s weird that nobody is really mentioning these figures- but aside from detail they are almost like Mantic quality.

I love that it has just plain old bats and rats and skeletons and not Sanguinus Skitterrippers or Vertiginous Flederfangs or junk like that. But man, those boss models are trash. They just look stupid. A couple of the heroes too I’m just like wow, boring. After the awesome models in Black Fortress it’s pretty surprising.

I wonder if there is some kind of behind the scenes drama or angst over the development, production and distribution of it...and I am pretty surprised that more people aren’t vocal about the fact that it’s not good like myself and Joel Eddy have been. Rob Oren took it to task on availability but that’s it.

I was also weirdly unmotivated when it showed up...after putting some of the models together and feeling like something was off, I had to forge myself to build the rest and punch it all.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #322514 24 Apr 2021 23:59
I entered the Cursed City with trepidation. I heard it would be too easy, but everything looked so ominous. I enhanced the atmosphere by putting on some Arcana, which might be best described as gothic medieval music. The hunt began.

The rules should have been easier to pick up, especially since I have played through both the Silver Tower and base set Blackstone Fortress campaigns in the last year. The Silver Tower rules were easy, and easy to learn due to the user-friendly rulebook. Blackstone Fortress was a bit less friendly in layout, and now Cursed City is a bit difficult to parse. It starts with five tutorials, but they only cover the basics and then the reader is left searching elsewhere for specific rules without an index or table of contents. Fortunately, the rules are then laid out according to turn order, so it's still possible to struggle through a first adventure without completely reading the rules in advance.

I randomly took the ogor, the aelf, the exiled noble, and the dwarf (aka "steampunk fire hydrant"), with the dwarf as leader. The hunt was super-easy at first, until a bad stretch of dice-rolling that left both the dwarf and ogor with a disease token each. Then the ogor got mauled by the Gravekeeper and then buried alive on the next turn. Buried alive is very bad news in this game. Either the character or someone adjacent to him must spend two activation dice showing 6s, or else the buried character takes 2 wounds that round. I just barely managed to rescue the ogor on the turn that he would have died. At other points in time, both the noble and the dwarf were roughed up pretty badly, down to just one or two activation dice for a while.

Combat wasn't as lopsided as I expected. It's true that three of my heroes had ranged attacks while none of the many monsters in this hunt had any ranged ability. But the map layout tended to keep the sightlines short, and the monsters often got extra moves, so most of the fighting was in melee. Some of the monsters were a challenge to put down because they had a chance of reducing each hit by 2 wounds.

The hunt was successful, though we ended up running through most of the encounter deck in just that hunt. A couple of the big five threats even showed up, though apparently there aren't encounter cards for all five, or at least not for zero level encounters. We didn't get a single crisis during this hunt, so I don't have an opinion about that aspect yet.

I like the way this hunt mission had a lasting impact, adjusting citywide influence and fear. The map tiles looked amazing, as it dawned on me that the peculiar silverly blue of most of the tiles was there to convey that we were fighting in streets and alleys under a full moon.

If I understand the leveling rules correctly, it appears that this campaign will take at least 18 missions to complete. The limited variety of monsters will probably wear out their welcome before the end of the campaign, but so far, I am enjoying it.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #322541 26 Apr 2021 09:45
I played a scavenge mission yesterday. Very similar to a hunt mission, except the goal is loot instead of body count. Though very comparable to the previous mission, this one went more smoothly because nobody got impaired early on. There was a bad moment late in the mission when a zombie could have impaled (trapped) someone just by hitting, but I lucked out. During the mission wrap-up, I learned that both the influence and fear levels rise in the city after a scavenge mission, so there is a price to be paid for doing too much scavenging and not enough other stuff.

There is a lot of content in this game, more than either Silver Tower or Blackstone Fortress had in their base sets. That plus the miniatures should have been enough to justify the high price of Cursed City. But a full 1/3 of the minis are the skeletons and zombies, and they are the least interesting opponents in the game. A couple of the named bad guys can enhance them, but there's a good chance that these leaders and their favorite minions won't be on the table at the same time. I'm sure that the intention was to deliver that zombie horde experience, but unless a game is primarily about zombie hordes, it's probably better to go with more variety. Also, it's a shame that another 1/6 of the minis represent inanimate objects. They should have made those into tokens and then put 10 more hostiles in the mix. Both Silver Tower and Blackstone Fortress offered a good mix of opponents, encouraging players to adjust their tactics depending on the enemies on the table. It's too bad that the expansions have all been canceled, because Cursed City could really benefit from an adversary card expansion.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #322548 26 Apr 2021 10:31
One of my favorite touches in the miniatures is, I believe, one of the Kosargi guards. There is a random rat that plugs into the base, and the rat is holding a key in its mouth. I thought that was just such a cool little detail.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #322605 27 Apr 2021 10:14
I started a deliverance mission last night. For the first two turns, things were going smoothly and I thought this would be a cakewalk. Then the end of turn random event jumped the night marker forward an extra space, and that death spell thing smacked my ogor for 2 wounds. We opened up a new section of map and got two consecutive small rooms with no citizens to warn, just the watch captain and one of those wall-crawling vampires. The watch captain was directly adjacent to the dwarf and got his fury action, dealing a lot of damage to the dwarf. The vampire ignored one of his possible opponents and chose to hit the wounded dwarf due to bloodlust, putting the dwarf on the ropes.

The brutal part of a deliverance mission is that the heroes must constantly move to stay ahead of the death spell, so even a single wound becomes a real drag, and also reduces the chances of getting a 4+ activation die to open a closed gate, or a 6+ activation die to warn the citizens. The next random event deprived us of the destiny dice, so the dwarf fell behind and was lost. A few turns later, he was brought back by a lucky event roll, but a bad destiny roll left him heartbroken and again lost to the death spell.

We soon got one of the nightguards, and he did some real damage to the aelf and the ogor. They both had healing potions and managed to recover and put him down. When I took a break for the night, the three remaining heroes still need to warn 4 more groups of citizens. Nightfall will happen next turn. The death spell is just one room behind us. Both the aelf and ogor are injured again. The dice seem cursed. It seems possible that it will all come down to my duellist noble making a desperate solo dash as the aelf and ogor fall behind.

The dice were very swingy. Many of my attack rolls were either a pair of blanks or a pair of hits. A pair of hits is unnecessary since you only use the outcome of the best die. I often rolled badly with the destiny dice and only had one to work with that turn. A couple of crises popped up, but both times allowed an option for me to ignore them with tolerable consequences.

Maybe I had unusually bad luck this time around, but this deliverance mission has been very tense and challenging so far. Maybe it was just because of that early bottleneck with two tough opponents, with cascading consequences since then. But it almost feels like this is the specific mode that Cursed City was built around, with extra design effort to make sure that it works properly.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #322607 27 Apr 2021 10:20
Getting deprived of Destiny dice definitely adds to the challenge. When I did a deliverance mission, the gravetide never even got close to me, but I can certainly see how things could go awry.

During decapitation missions, you do a deliverance but instead of warning citizens, you just play through 10 cards. Seems like a much more manageable way to do it.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #322681 29 Apr 2021 09:47
I completed the Deliverance mission, but it was rough and somebody may have squealed like a pig. By the end, my duellist noble was inspired, my aelf was seriously wounded, and both the dwarf and the ogor were lost to the gravetide. But I warned enough citizens and got out of town in time. Everybody leveled up, so I will next tackle the first decapitation mission. So far, I am having fun with this game. The lack of variety in the monsters will probably eventually become a problem, but for now it is all good.

EDIT: The dwarf and the ogor got eliminated during this scenario due to wounds, but that doesn't automatically mean that they died. It just means that they get taken out of that session. Then there is a vitality roll or something like that for each character to see if they really died or not. Both the dwarf and the ogor are pretty tough, so I rolled okay and they both survived.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #322712 29 Apr 2021 17:37
Maybe Cursed City is just too expensive to meet reasonable expectations. I have never paid $190 for a boardgame, but if I ever did, I would be expecting either a near-perfect game or else a unique experience that can't be found in games within a more normal price range. Since I only paid $70 for my stripped copy, plus a few more bucks to create my own tokens, I am satisfied that I got my money's worth from Cursed City. There have been games that I ended up spending well north of $100 on due to expansions, like Arkham Horror 2nd or Marvel Champions, but I already knew from playing the base set that I would likely enjoy the expansions. I think the most expensive standalone game that I ever got was maybe The Gothic Game for $110 plus shipping, but fortunately I had played it before and knew exactly what I was getting. Also, I knew in advance that it was a game that I could easily get on the table with a variety of friends, even some friends who don't often play board games.
themothman421's Avatar
themothman421 replied the topic: #322721 30 Apr 2021 01:47

Shellhead wrote: Maybe Cursed City is just too expensive to meet reasonable expectations. I have never paid $190 for a boardgame, but if I ever did, I would be expecting either a near-perfect game or else a unique experience that can't be found in games within a more normal price range. Since I only paid $70 for my stripped copy, plus a few more bucks to create my own tokens, I am satisfied that I got my money's worth from Cursed City. There have been games that I ended up spending well north of $100 on due to expansions, like Arkham Horror 2nd or Marvel Champions, but I already knew from playing the base set that I would likely enjoy the expansions. I think the most expensive standalone game that I ever got was maybe The Gothic Game for $110 plus shipping, but fortunately I had played it before and knew exactly what I was getting. Also, I knew in advance that it was a game that I could easily get on the table with a variety of friends, even some friends who don't often play board games.


I'm with you on so many of these points. I was lucky enough to get this discounted down to ~$158 from a local store, but even that was steep and the way I ationalize this purchase is that I think of half my money went toward a game and the other half was for miniatures. Specifically, these are miniatures that would work in other miniature games my friends and I like to play. Frostgrave 2e has been staring me down through most of the pandemic and I can't wait to use most, if not all, of the Cursed City miniatures in that system.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #322814 03 May 2021 10:42
I am halfway through my first decapitation mission. The first half is effectively a short deliverance mission, only without the need to conduct the 6+ actions to warn the town folk along the way. Pressure was high because we got a couple of random events that moved the clock and the gravetide faster. The rules for the decapitation missions were a bit unclear in spots, and the specific rules for this particular mission were also weak. There are references to non-existent Crisis cards, when the crises are actually triggered by random event rolls and then determined on a roll chart and looked up in the Quest book. I suspect that this game used a mixture of location and crisis cards in the same manner as Blackstone Fortress, then maybe changed course because another deck of cards might have pushed this to a $200 price point. That oversight suggests that this game was rushed to publication, possibly with the idea that this game would do unusually well in a pandemic lockdown environment.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #322817 03 May 2021 11:13
Folks Shell’s commentary here is maybe more valuable to some readers than my review or any other was- he really knows this system and has done a deeper dive than most reviewers will. Great stuff.
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #322833 04 May 2021 04:49

Shellhead wrote: That oversight suggests that this game was rushed to publication, possibly with the idea that this game would do unusually well in a pandemic lockdown environment.


Interesting speculation for sure, but I'm not sure it explains the sudden end to what appeared to be a whole planned product line. Indeed you might hope, as others have suggested, that a good expansion could have "fixed" many of the issues with the game.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #322835 04 May 2021 08:23
Sold mine on eBay for a tiny profit, even after the eBay fee.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #322867 04 May 2021 22:33
Looks like I might be shelving my copy for a while. One of my friends who can paint miniatures well got his own Cursed City set and is starting to paint the miniatures. However, he is active duty military right now and won't be back home until next fall. The good news is that we will play the full campaign then, and he will have all the figures painted for us. Or I might keep playing for a while on my own, because I just found today that my copy of Sleeping Gods is on back order until June.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #322976 08 May 2021 00:46
I finished the first decapitation mission before putting it away for company tomorrow. All the bats and rats seemed easy enough, but the bats got terribly lucky on their defense rolls, and I kept rolling reinforcements for both bats and rats. My aelf got bitten and infected twice by the rats, and my noble duellist was taken completely out of action for quite a while. Then he returned due to a lucky event roll, and we managed to take out our target and escape with the whole party intact.

Although I saved 63% off the retail price by buying a stripped copy, I did finally notice a minor drawback to my tokens. It's easier to pick up minis and move them without disturbing a map made up of modular sections and connecting pieces.