I’m a reviewing machine! Things have been a bit crazy at Shell Case towers these last few weeks but I’ve managed to find some time to clear down the review backlog. And you know what that means: more reviews to come! Huzzah!
As it says right on the box, this romp in the 40k Universe uses the Talisman game system. Nay sayers may comment that it’s a bit of a cheat just to reskin another game, but seeing as Talisman – or at least the version I played last in the mists of time – was bloody fantastic I’m really not bothered. And if it works, why wouldn’t you co-opt the mechanic. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and all that.
So what’s in the box? Well Fantasy Flight’s usual forest levelling amounts of card and carboard, a rulebook and some truly awesome playing pieces.
As one would expect from FFG, the production value is exceptionally good. The board is exquisite, as are the cards, counters and character trackers. And the playing pieces have GW casting quality. They all look lovely. Although the little stands are a stupidly tight fit.
However the the cards are really a touch too small. They’re small to save space but that’s only because there’s so many different kinds of cards. Because of this ergonomic design the easiest way of shuffling them is to make a pile and mess them all together. Aside from being annoying, it’ll quickly damage the cards.
And I don’t particularly understand why there’s three Threat decks. Aside from having a stupid – and oft-times misleading – name I question the logic of splitting out the three types of combat as it makes it very easy for players to game to their strengths, actively avoiding the style of combat they’re weakest in and using level ups to augment those attributes having done nothing to hone them.
For example: I used the Ogryn who is the strongest character in the game – yes stronger than the Space Marine – so I simply moved to red threat squares as much as possible to fight strength battles rapidly boosting my stats to the point that within a couple of hours I had maxed out my strength and health stats making me as hard as Ghazghkull Thraka.
I can totally understand why they did it but it has the potential to be abused by any character that has an above average stat in one of the three fields. And because of the point differences in stats the three best characters are the Orgryn, Ratling and Sister of Battle. And some characters turn out to be a bit rubbish. Weirdly the Callidus Assassin being one of them. Granted she has a special rule that gives you extra dice but that’s only really any use against harder targets. In reality she’s gonna get beaten up by the middle of the road enemies a lot.
To be fair, maybe that’s a conscious decision by the writers as part of the fun of Talisman was beating the game with the really shitty characters. But with certain characters not only getting the lion’s share of the cool rules but also having the ability to develop any attributes they want you’d be forgiven for feeling hard done by if you end up with one of the other characters.
Those grumbles aside though, the game works incredibly well. Everything is designed for quick decisions, quick play and quick progression. Which is just as well as the suggested playing time is utter tosh. Lee and I played for three hours and I was just reaching the point where I could attempt the third tier of the board. And that was thanks to so truly jammy missions and level ups on my part to make my Ogryn hench. But to be fair, providing you focus your efforts, you can get your character levelled relatively quickly which does give you quite a sense of achievement until you draw the Keeper of Secrets and it rips your face off.
You progress in Relic by completing missions which range from buying wargear at a specific location to deliberately picking fights with critters harder than you so you. This encourages you to explore the board, acquire equipment and, with it, develop your character and have a blood good chuckle in the process. In exchange for every 3 missions completed you earn Relics – geddit?! – which give your character a significant boost in some way. And only by having Relics are you able to complete the mission card placed in the centre of the board. Although you get to slog your way through a third tier which is just misery. You have to be tooled to the tits to stand any chance of surviving. Although the doom you can bring upon yourself is hilarious in its brutality and reminiscent of the various trials you have to roll for when you get to the middle of the Talisman board.
If I’m honest, the premise is a little flimsy and the volume of cards, counters and special rules you have to contend with meant that during the game we played, we weren’t entirely sure what the point of anything was but we just had to get one with it. Talisman’s objective was the far simpler – albeit less re-playable – goal of killing the dragon. Relic has a range of missions which creates a narrative but the rule book doesn’t really give any indication to that. And considering how excessively wordy it is you’d think they would have found space.
For all that the cards, although small and voluminous, they do serve a strategic purpose, particularly when you consider it’s possible to purchase, as well as find, wargear so augmenting your character is a very possible, and arguable vital, part of the gaming process. Although it does require the trading of influence which isn’t as easy to come by as one would like but it keeps the game balanced.
And encouraging players to level-up and improve their characters with relics and wargear keeps the pace and allows friendly rivalries to evolve between other players. And of course, as you stumble across the big beasties and fail to kill them because you’re too weak and shit, they stay there on the square so the board can quickly fill up with horrors that kick you in the hojos as you pass through. Which, again, can be hilarious for everyone else.
And as some of the cards are required to be placed on specific squares, your opponents can get some nasty surprises. Which is nice. But more than anything, despite Fantasy Flight making the rulebook horribly wooly, it’s a bloody good game. It’s got a nice and simple mechanic which means it’s quick to pick up. 20 minutes after kicking the game off we found our stride and had a huge amount of fun. It isn’t a quick game mind. We had played for 3 hours and still had at least an hour before I would have been in a position to comfortably enter the third tier.
For all my moaning, Relic really is a pretty good game. It’s simple to grasp – despite the iffy rulebook – and therefore simple to play and quick to enjoy. The character progression is nicely done and the character cards and progress trackers are brilliant albeit some of the characters seem a bit broken. It’s also such a pretty game that you’ll take time just to scrutinise the artwork as you land on each square. I’m still not convinced about the three separate Threat decks but it’s not enough to spoil my enjoyment of the game, but it does make the game easier to manipulate.
Relic coin for coin is one of the best board games I’ve played and one of the best value considering it’s a licensed product. It isn’t quick – you’ll need a solid evening or possibly a full day if there’s four of you and a tough mission drawn. But it’s a fun game, it looks great, the playing pieces are awesome and you’ll be with your mates so really I don’t see a problem. And I’m itching to play it again.
Warhammer 40,000 Relic is available from Firestorm Games priced £45.