Considering tabletop games don’t have load screens, we haven’t spent all that much time writing about them, but that’s about to change. After playing Final War at PAX Aus this year, I realised a profound truth… I fucking adore playing games face to face, as you can see the emotions in your friend’s eyes as you obliterate them. Not that I won the match of Final War I played against fellow Editor Tom, by all standards I sucked, but I still loved the moments that panned out in my favour.
We met up with Final War’s Managing Director and Lead Designer, Ben Ellis, who based the game on a 25 year D&D campaign he played. The inspiration is clear in the final product, with monsters and character designs fitting nicely in with D&D/Tolkien style fantasy. As Ben started to explain the rules to us, I started overdosing on joy, it sounded like Gwent with benefits. In fact Final War seems to borrow from a few games, but in the process creates something totally original.
With two-four player options available, we were naturally shown the two player option, with Ben narrating our game and holding our hands the entire way. Each player is given control of a warlord and faction. Tom took control of Fangrist the Werewolf, and I took control of the Elf, Tharas.
Much like with other games of this nature, we started by drawing eight cards each from our decks. The cards at our disposal included warriors, heroes, forts, spells and items. Looking at each card I kind of just smiled and nodded, I had no idea what to play, but Ben showed me how to lay out my hand onto the battlefield, this is about when my inner Gwent fiend cackled with glee. The field has horizontal columns with units at the front, heroes in the middle (your warlord sits in the centre), and fortifications at the back boosting defenses of the column they’re placed upon.
After setting up our fields we attributed each unit with health tokens, placed down items and spells, then rolled for first go. I scored the lower roll so got to draw from my pile and then from the fate deck. The fate deck provides either wandering monsters, mercenaries, skirmishes, or the titular Final War.
A wandering monster triggers a battle with one column of the unlucky drawers army, a skirmish pits one of their nominated columns against their opponent’s nominated column, and a mercenary can either be hired for gold (which comes from the player’s deck), or if no players have the necessary funds, will move to the bandit pile. The bandit pile is triggered if a raid card is drawn, and any spurned mercenaries will attack the unlucky bastard who drew it. Oh, and the most important card, Final War, will trigger a (drum roll) Final War, where players battle to the death. The version of Final War we played lasted for three rounds, each lasting around 15 minutes… well they should have, but our slow learning curve meant the total playtime was well over an hour.
Once Final War was triggered, fighting back and forth was tense, with attacks being decided upon by a 12 sided die roll. Amazingly we both managed to miss virtually every attack possible. To make the combat even more chaotic, items and spells were being thrown into the mix, without Ben helping us it would have taken hours after each move to understand what the result of any action was with all the variables in play.
In the end Tom obliterated me as his hand had some pretty crazy cards, including one where each of my units he killed would join his army in werewolf form upon a successful roll. Watching it unfold was compelling yet horrifying, and it definitely left me with a burning desire for revenge.
Final War seems like one of those games that I could lose myself to, it has a strong mix of strategy and RPG elements, with the added benefit of deck building. Booster packs can be purchased to bolster your armies, with rare and legendary cards up for grabs.
The Onslaught starter kit has a retail price of AUD$89.99 on the official site, and sets of three booster packs cost $14.99. In 2017 there will be an Arcane expansion and Carnage expansion, introducing new factions, warlords and cards.
I wish I could say I understood most of what happened in my time with Final War, but I do know for a fact that I want more.