Review: Warhammer: Invasion

You know, when I sat down to play this game, I looked at the proverbial deluge of non-card cardboard attached to it – punchout barrels of treasure, special ‘fortress boards’ – and I thought, ‘Wow, this is really over the top for what’s supposed to be a card game.’

And yeah, it is. But there’s just a perverse fascination with stacking up gems and gold in the middle of your little playing mat and spending them on driving WAAAAAAAUGHing orcs up the tailpipe of your opponent’s castle. And really, isn’t that what Warhammer’s supposed to be all about?

Fantasy Flight’s latest entry into its living card game (LCG) line is the first entirely new game to be published in the format, rather than a redesigned existing card game (Game of Thrones, Call of Cthulhu). As such, if you have any experience with the GoT or CoC LCGs, you know what I mean when I say that the extras attached to the games – the flip-out mats, the little Cthulhu statues – really seem like a lot of tacked-on flash as opposed to being inherently part of the game. Not that Fantasy Flight’s ever produced any unnecessary plastic or cardboard, mind you.

So I expected much the same with Warhammer: Invasion when I sat down to try it out, and I was pleasantly surprised when it seems much more integrated into the game. Furthermore, it seems like it’s the first entry into the LCGs that really defines the LCG as a separate entity rather than a confused collectible card game – much like the upcoming Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, it’s beginning a new genre entirely.

In Invasion, you act as the head of one of four factions (Dwarves, Orcs, Empire or Chaos); furthermore, you can mix up any cards from an ‘allied’ force – at this stage of the game, that’s just Dwarves and Humans; Empires and Chaos. Expect more soon. Whichever faction you pick, you get a ‘Capital Board’, which is simply a playmat with three labelled areas and empty space in the center to place your resources as you gather them.

The goal of the game is to use resources (aforesaid punchout treasure barrels!) to play units that are aligned with your faction, a’la in Magic where you play units affiliated with one of the five colors, and then send those units against your opponent in an attempt to burn down two of the three zones of the capital board. The trick with Invasion is that only those units in the ‘battlefield’ zone can attack – others are generating income or helping you draw cards. No matter what the zone, the units pull double duty in helping defend their area.

There’s some real beauty to the design of Invasion – the usage of physical tokens to show the use and availability of resources makes picking up and explaining the game so much easier than Magic. Instead of an ethereal ‘battleground’, you have a cardboard mat with three playing zones that clearly explain their function. I think it’s an elegant and smooth learning curve into the game, and so far, the reaction I’ve seen people have to the game bears this observation out.

I didn’t care for a few things – in this initial version of the game, since there’s only one attacked zone per round and you can very quickly start playing five or more cards a turn, the later turns of the game get cluttered up with 20+ units to keep track of. Because each unit is unique, it’s difficult to ‘stack’ resource cards like you can with lands in Magic to clean up the playing area. Furthermore, the sheer number of units tends to make endgame play a bit of a slog, as you have to start accounting for so many contingencies.

All that said, I’m excited both the play Invasion and to see excitement for it building in the store – I’d love to see folks come out Sunday to give it a shot!

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