It’s time for a celebration here at spalanz.com, as this post marks my 1000th post on my blog! Whoever would have thought? It’s also my birthday, so it’s a double celebration, and I thought that I’d mark it in style. Today, I thought I’d talk about one of my all-time favourite games. It’s one that I have mentioned rather a lot over the years, but have never gotten round to actually featuring on the blog until now. It’s time to delve into the Old World, with Warhammer: Invasion, from Fantasy Flight Games!
This was one of FFG’s original line-up of living card games, and as such features the older distribution model of having one full cycle of card packs (called ‘battle packs’ here) where they didn’t print an entire playset of each card; rather, the first cycle has 40-card packs where 10 cards have the full set of three copies, and 10 cards are one-of. The game was designed by Eric Lang, who has worked a lot with FFG over the years (and, due to his design of this game, has earned the glorious reputation of being my favourite game designer!) and was published between 2009 and 2013. This is really why I have never gotten round to featuring it on my blog, as I didn’t start writing it until the year after it had received its final expansion.
It is a competitive game for two players, where each player takes control of one of the six great factions of the Old World of Warhammer Fantasy: The Empire, Dwarves, High Elves, Chaos, Orcs or Dark Elves. This is before Age of Sigmar shook things up, remember, so we’ve got the delightful Holy Roman Empire-inspired battlegrounds replete with legends such as Karl Franz and Sigvald the Magnificent.
I’ve played this game a lot, and while I have played as every faction, I have the most experience as playing Chaos, and so all of the photos I’ve taken to show this great game are from the Ruinous Powers’ perspective.
Each player has a Capital board, which has three zones: a Kingdom zone, a Battlefield zone, and a Quest zone. These zones determine how you play the game. Each has a number of axe symbols there: you gain resources equal to the number of axes in your Kingdom zone; you can attack your opponent for a number of damage equal to those in your Battlefield zone, and you draw cards equal to the number of axes in your Quest zone.
There are a number of different card types in the game: mainly Units, such as fighters and wizards, but also Support cards, Tactics cards, and Quest cards. Support cards are a bit like locations or objects that you can deploy to increase your influence in the game. Tactics cards are basically Event cards, with a one-time effect. Quest cards are only ever played into the Quest zone, and represent a longer-term investment in your strategy – they have effects that will trigger if a unit is played onto the quest, and you can gain bonuses thereafter.
The object of the game is simple: you must burn two of your opponent’s zones by dealing at least 8 damage to that zone.
So, on your turn you get three resources because your Capital board has got three axes in your Kingdom zone from the off. You can use those resources to play cards into your Kingdom zone to increase the axes you have there, which will net you more resources next turn, or you can play cards into your Quest zone to draw more cards on your next turn.
Resources are a bit funny in this game, in that there are two costs for playing a card: the actual printed cost (in the top left corner) and its Loyalty cost, displayed in symbols down the left hand side of the card. Each Capital board provides one loyalty symbol, and other cards, once played, will provide a similar cost. If you only have two symbols among cards under your control and the Capital board, and the card you want to play has three loyalty symbols on it, then the difference increases the cost of that card. It’s a good way to balance cards where players might want to combine races (though that isn’t such an easy thing to do anyway, so I’m not sure you’d want to do this very often).
The Kingdom zone gives you buying power, as we’ve seen, and the Quest zone increases your card draw as well as giving you useful options through Quest cards, which can grant useful effects when units are placed there on the quest. The Battlefield zone is, normally, the only way to actually fight your opponent and deal damage to them. During the Battlefield phase, the active player can declare attackers against his opponent’s zone, totting up the combined axes between all of the cards declared as such. The defending player then declares which if his units, if any, will defend from that zone, and the damage is assigned simultaneously. Once this has been done, it is actually applied so the attacker and defender can both lose units at this point. Any excess damage dealt by the attacker is placed onto the defender’s Capital board, and as mentioned earlier, 8 points of damage is enough to burn that zone. (Importantly, if the defender has the possibility to over-assign damage in their defense, that damage is not dealt back to the attacker’s Capital.)
So in the above example, I’ve got six axes in my Kingdom zone, so I’ll be getting six resources per turn, and I get to draw three cards per turn, also. The Battlefield zone is quite impressive, having a Bloodthirster out that deals a massive 5 damage, as well as forces the discard of a unit from my opponent’s Battlefield zone before I attack. The Bloodletter also doubles all damage being dealt to units, which could potentially allow me to one-shot a zone in my attack phase. Nasty!
It’s a very straightforward game when explained like this, but there is a depth that comes from different card effects as well as the strategy of where you’re going to attack. For example, a player might be tempted to place a lot of his heavy-hitting units in his Battlefield in the expectation of using them to deal a lot of damage, but if his opponent attacks his Quest or Kingdom zone, there may be much weaker units there that cannot absorb the amount of damage coming through. Similarly, it sometimes doesn’t pay to double-down on attacking your opponent’s Quest or Battlefield zone if they’re building up a vast amount of resources in their Kingdom zone, which allows them to easily bring out something like a Bloodthirster!
There are a number of moving parts to a game like this, of course, with keywords that allow for some evil shenanigans on both sides. Toughness appears on some cards and acts as damage-negation, while Counterstrike allows a defender to immediately deal its damage to the attacker, reducing the overall damage being dealt. I said earlier that each zone will burn if it is dealt 8 points of damage; one way you can protect it is by playing cards face-down into that zone as Developments. Developments add 1 hit point to the zone that they’re in, and a player may only play one Development per turn. One aspect of the game that is particularly associated with Chaos is Corruption, which turns a card 90-degrees and removes its ability to act as an attacker or defender. You only get to restore one Corrupt card per turn, so if your opponent has Corrupted a number of your cards, then you’ll be facing an uphill struggle, from the off!
With a generous life-cycle, Warhammer: Invasion had a lot of expansions. In addition to the initial Assault on Ulthuan box that brought High Elves and Dark Elves into the game (the core set only included four full factions, with just a couple of cards for the Elven races), March of the Damned brought us Lizardmen and Vampire Counts. The artwork on March of the Damned, as I have mentioned many times before, is what initially drew me to this game!
There were six full cycles each of six Battle Packs for the game:
The Corruption Cycle
The Enemy Cycle
The Morrslieb Cycle
The Capital Cycle
The Bloodquest Cycle
The Eternal War Cycle
Each of these worked on developing a specific aspect of the game, such as the Bloodquest cycle giving greater emphasis to Quests in the game. The Morrslieb cycle gave greater interaction with Developments, while introducing the Wood Elves to the game as a neutral faction, similar to how the Skaven had been introduced in the Corruption cycle. Hidden Kingdoms was the final deluxe expansion that then brought the four neutral factions to the fore, making each one a fully playable faction by giving small-scale Capital cards to allow you to play, for instance, all-Lizardmen:
Perhaps one of the most important expansions was the Legends deluxe box, which brought a new card type to the game: Legends (surprising, that!)
These cards are played into the centre of your Capital, and grant additional axes to each of your zones. Legends can be attacked instead of attacking a particular zone, and some of the more powerful ones might need to be dealt with before they can run away with the game for your opponent, so it can sometimes be worthwhile doing this! The deluxe expansion brought ways to interact with these Legends, however, and subsequent expansions even brought out new Legends, making them as close to a fully-supported type as possible. Hidden Kingdoms, in fact, brought us neutral Legend cards for each of the four factions.
Finally, the Cataclysm expansion gave us the option for multiplayer games.
Cataclysm changed up the gameplay quite a bit, by adding these Fulcrum cards – sites of incredible magical power that can be channeled by a player during his turn to gain the effect on them. Cataclysm brings 3-4 players into the mix, and there are always 1 less Fulcrum cards than the number of players in play. In a four player game, three Fulcrums are in play – a player can declare an attack against a Fulcrum card from the common play area, and gain control of it, putting it into his Battlefield zone. During the end phase of the round, a player gains Dominance equal to the number of Fulcrums under his control: if a player has 8 Dominance at the end of the round, he will win.
Cataclysm also changed the rules so that all three zones of a player’s Capital board must be burning for them to be eliminated. As such, the player cards included with the expansion all held a greater significance for burning zones, although these could obviously also be used in regular games, though given the fact fewer zones need to be burning, they would have a correspondingly lower impact.
Warhammer: Invasion is just a magnificent game. Before I discovered Magic the Gathering, it was my most-played competitive card game by a long shot. Something changed for me back in 2015, though, and the fact that Magic can be played purely with a deck of cards, and no need for all the tokens and Capital boards, it sort of struck a chord for me, and Warhammer: Invasion slipped down the ranks. However, I think with the End Times and then Age of Sigmar obliterating the Old World, there is something incredibly comforting about this game – I don’t mean that from the point of view of someone who rages against AoS, of course! I just love the low fantasy setting of the Old World, and I find it akin to coming home whenever I think about playing this game.
I mentioned the depth of gameplay that Warhammer: Invasion holds earlier, and I think there is something to be said about having a game where you begin with a deck of 100 cards! Games can be brutal, for sure, but they can also be quite long, as each side builds up their forces in the manner of true warfare. Sorties are sent to test the enemy, in case of any Tactics cards that might be played, before committing to an all-out assault in the typical carnage of Warhammer!
I haven’t played it for four years, though, which I suppose speaks a lot about my gaming habits in this day and age! Solo and cooperative games are a much better bet for me now, of course, but I’m hopeful that, when the world has returned to normal and we can see friends once more, I can convince my long-time gaming buddy Tony to break out his High Elf deck and once more demolish my attempts to Corrupt the world!