Hello ladies and gentlemen, Harrison here with something a little bit different for you. Over the past few weeks since PAX Aus I have had the chance to review the latest offering from Games Lab, Final War. A tactical card game blending elements from old school role playing games and high fantasy concepts, Final War is a very interesting addition to the TCG landscape from an Australian developer.
Final War has really pulled out all the stops in their introductory box. Each starter kit comes with three folding card playmats – one for each of the game’s factions – three playable faction decks and a Fate Deck, alongside a full suite of twelve-sided dice, tokens and life counters. Everything is printed professionally (when I was speaking to the development team they actually let me know that the products were printed in Belgium) and the playmats in particular feel really good to use. Similar to a folding board game, they clearly mark each of the game zones, as the location of cards on the table is very important. The artwork is very reminiscent of old school role playing, calling back to Dungeons and Dragons with Werewolves, Elf Warriors and dastardly Rogues. It makes sense as the lore of the game is based upon an ongoing role-playing game that the Games Lab team have been playing for decades now.
I was initially sceptical, looking on at Final War at the PAX demo table. The game initially looks complex and the game mechanics seemed too complicated to be easily accessible to someone who isn’t already intimately familiar with TCGs. And I still stand by that point of the game being complex, but with one important change –
It is also a whole lot of fun to play.
An Elf, a Werewolf and a Thief walk into a bar…
One of the main differences between Final War and a more traditional TCG (such as Magic: The Gathering) is that Final War doesn’t actually have a mana system. You are free to play whatever cards you have in your hand, and are in fact encouraged to do so. However, because where cards are located on the table matters, you may find yourself stuck with low-power units on the table, and your strong cards stuck in your hand. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
Another interesting twist that Final War has is (as mentioned) that location on the board matters. You have five columns available to play characters into – one of which is occupied by your warlord – and depending on the combat you are in, you can only commit one column at a time. This leads to some interesting tactical decisions, where you have to weigh the risk of potentially losing your best combat units against the reward of winning combat.
Similar to several Living Card Games – such as Game of Thrones – Final War also uses a separate deck to control the flow of the game, known as the Fate Deck. This deck includes powerful spells to manipulate combat, as well as wandering monsters and bandits that can destroy entire armies. The Fate Deck also includes skirmish and battle cards, which pit players against each other. It also includes the namesake of the game, the Final War card. Because it is a randomly shuffled deck, you can potentially have a game that only lasts two turns.
I took the starter kit along to my regular Thursday night MTG group, and we each chose one of the three available warlords. For our first go around, I was playing Fangrist the Terrible, the Chaotic warlord. Arguably the strongest of the warlords in combat due to his high Power Rating and Attacks Twice ability, Fangrist also has the nasty ability of being able to reanimate any Unit or Hero he slays with his Lycanthropy ability, adding them to the ranks of his Were-creature army. I was facing off against Tharas the Forest Lord and Shadrack the Unseen, the Good and Neutral warlords respectively.
There are some very obvious differences between the three decks. The Neutral Guildmaster deck is capable of some very impressive first attacks and combat tricks, but is quite fragile if those first attacks don’t get there. The Good Elf deck is a decent mix of offense and defense, and has the most magic users as well. The Chaotic Werewolf deck is about as subtle as a half brick, with some really powerful combat units, as well as abilities that manipulate combat, such as Fear (causing enemy combatants to strike last, with often fatal results) and Poison, which dooms your enemies to a slow and painful death.
Actually playing Final War was… difficult, to start with. Coming from a background of Magic: The Gathering, I am used to actually going up against my opponents when I sit down to play a game. However, the introduction of the Fate Deck actually means that even in a two-player game, you actually have a third opponent; the game itself. During the course of my friendly games, I was wiped out twice by the Fate Deck, once by a Wandering Minotaur, and the other by Shengra the Insane, a Bandit Hero.
Three guesses who ended up winning…
Combat is also different to that of traditional TCGs, where instead of having strength or power values, you have a Power Rating. This is used to determine if an attack is successful, by rolling a 12-sided dice. A PR of 7 means that a combatant will only miss their attacks on an 8 or above, for example. This introduces an element of randomness as, in true RPG fashion, even the lowliest kobold or bandit can vanquish the mightiest of opponents. However, because there are several modifiers to PR on the table, it can be difficult to easily keep track of what value is actually what, a weakness that can be overcome by the tokens thoughtfully provided in the Starter Kit.
Final War brings a lot of things to the table that TCG and LCG regulars will recognise, but it is much more interesting because of its differences. The Fate Deck, the Warlords and the combat system all combine to make Final War a unique addition to the card game landscape here in Australia. However, it is not without its flaws. The current plan from Games Lab is to release two new expansions at PAX Australia, 2017, each one adding two new Warlords per faction, bringing the total up to nine. This means that for the next 11 months, players will only be able to chose from three different Warlords. My fear is that this may cause any competitive meta that may develop to quickly stagnate, as players will rapidly find out which is the best Warlord and deck build, and play towards that. As well, the game is initially quite complex, and may be difficult for new players to pick up and engage with. However, if Final War is able to overcome these obstacles, it has the potential to be a mainstay of the Australian tabletop scene.
When talking to Ben and the Games Lab team at PAX there was mention of cash prize tournament taking place at some point in the near future as well. We’ll keep you updated as we hear more.
Final War is good, surprisingly good. Despite my initial reservations I’m really enjoying the game. Perhaps pop into your local store and see if they have the game in stock and if other players are already involved with the game, you might be able to get a demonstration before taking the plunge. I’m keen to check out the expansions at PAX AUS 2017.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?
If you are interested in learning more about the game, check out our video below. Lin and myself play a game against Ben Ellis who is the Lead Designer on Final War.
Don’t forget to checkout the Final War website as well – www.finalwar.com
Good Games Australia have also taken up the banner and are stocking both the Starter Kit and Booster Packs in their retail stores and online.
Thank you for reading, and talk to you next time.