Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review -- MORDHEIM


Sometimes board gamers like to expand their horizons just a bit, and that is where tabletop war gaming can come into play.
With a table top system you are no longer restricted to a pre-designed board, but instead lay out terrain pieces on a table and go to battle. The scale of the battles can be huge, think of the Napoleonic battles you may have seen laid out on a table in some old British-themed movie, to battles involving only a few miniatures.
Of course when you limit the number of miniatures you have to buy, it lowers the cost, so for most the entry level tabletop war gaming is what is widely known as skirmish level.
When it comes to such skirmish level battles, few offer up a better starting alternative, at least on the fantasy side of things, than does Mordheim: City of the Damned. Mordheim is one of a range of miniature games produced by Games Workshop, the granddaddy of the genre, and arguably the best known company in the field.
While Games Workshop produces full-scale war gaming options such as the medieval fantasy Warhammer, and its space battle twin Warhammer 40K, Mordheim is a neat game where players need a maximum of 20 miniatures to play. A starter set has fewer miniatures still, and can be had for about $50 depending on what faction and where you buy it, a cost that is about what a round of 18 holes of golf costs these days. And, remember the round of golf is gone once played, miniatures are forever.
First released in 1999, Mordheim has taken on something of a cult-like following. Games Workshop is no longer producing new material to enhance the game, but various war bands are still easily accessible, from skaven (rat men), through dwarves, witch hunters, various human factions and beastmen.
A quick Internet search will turn up a tonne of player-generated scenarios, and additional war band ideas too.
So what makes Mordheim work so well? It comes down to the campaign rules in my mind. You select a war band, based on having 500 gold pieces to spend. Each character has a set cost, as does items you equip the war band with, from simple slings and knives, through to black powder pistols.
Once you have a war band you battle opponents through what are essentially the ruins of the city of Mordheim. If a character dies, he is lost not just for the current battle, but all future battles in the campaign. Along the way those who live gain points to enhance skills, and you gain gold too to hire more men, or buy better gear.
The system creates a situation where decisions are far reaching as the campaign continues.
And, it allows some characters to become truly formidable and well-loved creations.
The game plays out rather well, with rules that aren't overly confusing in terms of mechanics, and they cover the effects of ranged weapons such as bows, hand-to-hand fighting, and of course magic.
Given the wealth of material existing for Mordheim, the relatively low-cost to purchase an initial war band, and the overall mechanics and feel of the game, if you like sword and sorcery games, this is one you definitely want to check out.
The rules are even available for free download by visiting the Games Workshop site,, and following the links to the specialist games section.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 5, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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