Fantasy Flight Games has come a long way. Warcraft the Boardgame, released in 2003, is almost unrecognizable as an FFG game, with wooden, abstract pieces rather than the detailed plastic miniatures that FFG is known for today; with rules that were considerably less complicated than most any non-Silver Line FFG game in modern times; and stored inside a box that’s not the gargantuan 48″ oblong box of many of today’s Ameritrash ((Ameritrash is a style of game that’s typically more concerned with deep thematic detail and complex mechanics, versus the Eurogame, which is more concerned with elegant gameplay. One usually has a multitude of plastic figures, the other often has a collection of colored wood pieces, although neither is a necessary characteristic. Both kinds of games can be good, and both kinds of games can be insufferable. Naturally, a religious war of sorts has cropped up around the terms, even though the Ameritrash/Eurogame “divide” is actually a much more nuanced spectrum.)) games.
The problem with Warcraft was that its target audience was interested in more thematic detail (and do I mean detail) than the game initially offered: the different fantasy factions (Orcs, Night Elves, Human Alliance, Undead) played too similarly, with a slight difference in player deck composition and unit strength numbers. And even with the decks, there weren’t that many special abilities or spells bestowed by the cards or possessed by the units themselves. Fans of Warcraft were not amused.
Fortunately, an expansion came out the next year, not excitingly named but using the artwork from The Frozen Throne expansion for the video game. And this expansion added almost all of the bits that were missing from a deeply thematic game, apart from plastic pieces, and showed quite a few lessons that FFG learned quickly from gamer reactions to the original game.
And now, pretty pictures.
The Original Game
A highly abstract Night Elf army: a melee unit, two ranged units,
two workers, partial view of a flying unit in the foreground.
Specific to the Frozen Throne Expansion
One of the first things FFG did right was to improve component usability.
Outposts are now clearly demarked with faction color to stand out against
the placid green fields (always so common in wargames for some reason).
Now player cards have text instead of just symbols, much more useful than
the (single, shared) symbol reference card in the original game. There’s
also a larger variety of effects, and now every faction has a counterspell
card, not just the Human Alliance.
Factions now have their own reference cards, conveniently listing unit
special ability symbols on the side, and listing the turn sequence on the
other side. Notable is now the faction’s general special ability, radically
different for each one.
“Creep” neutral enemy units keep victory point spaces from being complete
pushovers to occupy; starting resource tiles replace the boring resource
die rolling in the original game. Killing creeps also let your heroes level up.
… they’re really a set of cards that build upon one another as you level
your hero. Every hero is unique, almost no special ability/spell is shared
between them, you get a pick of four to six choices when your hero is
fully leveled, the abilities/spells are creative, every faction has four very
different heroes to choose from—heroes are truly the most interesting
part of this expansion.
A juxtaposition of old and new; the resource die from the original game
I now use as a first player marker, since even Frozen Throne didn’t provide
this rather necessary tracking piece (now present in almost every FFG game
that requires it).
If you have the original game (now out of print and weirdly costly), but not the expansion (also out of print, but so many stores have piles of it for sale still), I urge you to delve into some of those fire sales if you have a hankering for a Blizzard *craft-style boardgame with a fantasy setting and fewer pieces.
But if you desire a Blizzard *craft-style game that’s truly been brought up to code in the modern FFG gaming age, choose Starcraft the Boardgame instead. Just make sure you have some storage solutions for its many, many components.