June 22nd, 2010
In Focus Review - Tannhauser Revised Edition
Tannhauser has been out since 2006, so technically this isn't a new board game. However recently Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) put together, and now released a new Revised Edition rulebook for Tannhauser. This new Revised Edition (or 2nd Edition) rulebook covers all of the currently available Tannhauser products, this includes the boxed game, the Operation Novgorod expansion pack, and the four single miniature expansions. I never played Tannhauser before, so this review will be one that is from the perspective of a new player, picking up the game and covering it based on the Revised Edition rulebook mechanics alone.
The setting is that of an alternate 1950s world where WWI never ended, therefore the sequel WWII never occurs. At this point in the game time-line WWI has been waging for 35 years. The forces of the Reich (Germans) have turned to the occult for help, while the Union (US forces) have embraced alien technologies obtained through the Roswell incident crash. A third force is added via the Novgorod expansion pack, the Russian Matriarchy, which is driven by technology of Nikola Tesla with robotic monstrosities. It's an alternate universe, or what I like to call a “What If” setting. This totally feels Hellboy-like to me.
Tannhauser is a board game with miniatures. The box as reviewed contains 10 pre-painted miniatures, 10 Character Sheet/Cards, 162 tokens, 6x 10-sided dice (D10), a 4-section two sided fold-out game-board, a handful of ziplock baggies for keeping the tokens in, once you punch them out, 2 sheets detailing all of the equipment for each side, and the new Revised Edition rulebook.
The box is thick, with a textured feel to it, and it's a little more durable feeling than the average game box. You get the feeling right away that this is no game of LIFE, or Monopoly. The art is very dark, and brooding. The serious adult-like comic book art style is very appealing. I don't know how many times I've seen the face of this box, and so badly wanted to play it, based on that box top alone.
Tannhauser definitely has very inviting box art. Once you open the box up, inside you'll find a gorgeous 2-sided game-board. One side depicts an indoor environment, the other depicts a cavern of some sort. The board it littered with little colored circles, this is the Pathfinder System. More on that later.
There's two rather large sheets, which are square and the size of the box, and full of round tokens to punch out. These tokens, and the Character Sheets are also great looking, and they utilize the same art style found on the box cover. It was very thoughtful of them to include a handful of little ziplock baggies too, which are meant for storing the round tokens in once you punch them out. This is a small oversight by many other board-game makers, because usually all you have is a plastic compartment to put these type of items in. With the baggies, you can be certain that you won't loose any pieces. Something so small and minor like that, does make a big difference sometimes. It's nice to see that someone was thinking ahead.
The game comes with 10 pre-painted miniatures. I'd have to say that they're about 28mm scale. They look good next to other 28mm miniatures, and even 30mm ones as the pictures provided reveal. I can't say that they're the very best pre-painted minis I've ever seen. They're almost as good as the ones from The Adventurers from AEG, but not quite that nice. I'd say the quality is up there with HeroClix, and they are a slight step above the Wizard's D&D/Star Wars miniatures in terms of paint jobs.
The sculpts are very nice too. One of the Nazi guys has a possessed claw, which looks really cool. The US female is a rather nice sculpt as well, as she stands there holding some dynamite, ready to chuck it at the Germans. They're certainly very nice minis, and I think I could improve the overall look with a simple ink wash. Overall, the Nazi guys look amazing, while I'm not that impressed with most of the US characters visually speaking. I think it's the color scheme they used that I don't like. I'm tempted to re-paint them.
The Pathfinder System
The Pathfinder System helps to keep the game flowing quickly, and smoothly, plus it eliminates some of the abstractness of Line of Sight (LOS) rulings found in other miniature games. In this game LOS isn't an issue, nor is trying to decipher a variety of modifiers, and rules, so you can, or can't shoot something. The Pathfinder System is made up of all of those little colored circles placed about the board. Upon closer inspection, you find that these circles are linked together in single color paths. As they bump into another color, some of the circles will become half one color, and half another color. I consider these the transition circles. Some of the circles even grant positive or negative modifiers, and others specify the starting points and where to place crates/flags/objectives.
For simplicity sake I'll say if model A is standing on a yellow circle, and model B is standing on a yellow circle, and both are on the same path, I have LOS to model B, and vice versa. LOS is totally reciprocal too, so if I see you, then you can see me. If model A is standing on a yellow circle, but model C is standing on a red circle, and it's close to the yellow circle even, I still do not have LOS to model C for a ranged attack.
If model C is standing on a circle that's partially yellow and red both, model A would then have LOS to model C, and model C would now have LOS to all pieces standing on all of the Red and Yellow circles in those paths. What ever color you're standing on, that's the color of the circles you can target, it's that simple.
The Pathfinder system is three steps ahead, and one step back essentially, because it eliminates the chaos of determining LOS, especially in a 2D environment, that's supposed to be 3D, but at the same time there are some instances where the system just doesn't make sense either. It's a good trade off I think, as you're only sacrificing a little common sense, and gaining the means to throw determining LOS out the door as it is defined in most other games, which can be a pain in the ass more often than not.
In play, there's an initiative roll to be made per round, except in the first round the Setup roll takes its place. Overwatch is something new they added to the 2nd Edition rules. Overwatch allows a model to be waiting essentially to act during the opposing players turn, interrupting their action, with a reactive action of their own. The only thing you can do is react with an attack, but this is still quite useful. After initiative, but before the first model is activated, there's a “Set Overwatch phase”. Players who elect to put any pieces on Overwatch must declare it at this time. It cost one Command Point to place a model on Overwatch. You can place as many models on Overwatch, as you have Command Points to support the cost.
Two Command Points are also issued per player, at the beginning of each round. These go into a Command Point Pool. Any left over, or unused Command Points from the previous round are discarded. Command Points can be used in a variety of different ways. Uses for Command Points are Re-rolling Setup or Initiative, buying an extra movement point, placing a character on Overwatch, temporarily increasing a characteristic value, launching a counterattack, shaking off a wound and introducing a reinforcement character. This reminds me a little bit of Focus from Warmachine, only with more options.
Each side uses character teams made of of five characters per team, which is broken down into 3 Heroes and 2 Troopers per side. Right out of the box there's not a lot of variation to be had, since there are only 10 figures to choose from.
The coolest Union piece I think is the big black guy carrying the big-ass-gun, and he's a very useful piece too. For the Germans it's really hard to choose, because every piece on the German side looks so cool, that you want to play all of them. That's the thing too, in terms of pure coolness, and visual style I think the bad-guys win hands down.
In usefulness though, I think even the greatcoat gasmask wearing trooper is one of my favorite pieces on the German side. I had my butt handed to me by the Union a few times when playing my 9 year-old daughter though, so I think both sides are pretty equal at this point, but I was going easy on her. I know keeping telling myself that right? lol
The six Gameplay modes include straight up Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Domination, King of the Hill, Objective and Story Mode. The standard mode of play is Deathmatch, and it's pretty straight forward, kill everyone, the last man standing wins, and you pick up crates along the way.
Capture the Flag is also self explanatory. The first side to pickup and place two of the opposing teams flags wins. Domination is a flag mode as well, only in this game, the first side to place all 4 of their flags wins. King of the Hill is a point accumulating game. At any given time, only one of the five characters can score points for each side as the Leader, and at the beginning of the game this order is worked out at random. Once the current Leader dies, the next Leader in line takes over as the scoring character. After 10 rounds the side with the most points wins, and points are given by activation of Objective and Action circles, and Entry Points on the board. Equipment Crates aren't used in King of the Hill either.
Objective mode is where the Objective tokens, and skills come into play, here the goal is to collect the objective tokens placed about the board, and each side has their own objective tokens. If the character has a skill that applies to the objective token, they can forgo paying an action to complete half, of both of the objectives, depending on which type is it, Gold or Silver (two or one objectives per token), and if it is half-way completed already or not. The side that completes their fourth objective first wins.
Story Mode utilizes the Scenarios from the back of the rulebook, and only one scenario is provided for the boxed edition of Tannhauser, while there are 5 scenarios for Operation Novgorod and 1 scenario that requires you have the Wolf single miniature expansion pack. They claim there are a variety of scenarios you can download from their website too. I found Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Domination modes to be the most fun, as the others didn't appeal to me as much any way. Therefore the lack of more scenarios doesn't bother me much.
After the Initiative and Overwatch phase, now players can begin to alternate activating models. Each model can move, and perform one action per round. Actions are Attack, Throw a Grenade, Pick up Equipment, Pass Equipment, Use Equipment, Search a Crate and Activate an Action Circle.
Like a First Person Shooter, there are also a horde of equipment crate tokens to be used in the game. One side shows a wooden crate, the other reveals what the equipment is. I just wish there were more spots to place the crates. You can also swap gear between characters, and discard gear tokens, allowing you to make room to pickup new gear, or to accept trades from your characters when all of your equipment slots are full. These are in addition to the character specific equipment that each character starts with
Each character has a Character Sheet, which I would call Character Cards, since they're made out of cardboard and printed in full color. Characters are separated into Heroes and Troopers. Troopers have three lines of stats, Heroes have four. These stats are broken up into four rows Combat, Stamina, Mental and Movement, each are represented by a single digit value. There's a circle directly next to the rows of stats, and in this circle you place a token that looks somewhat like a dial, with a single hand on it, and you use this to represent which line of stats is the current line of stats in play. This is very much like HeroClix, without a clicking dial, because as you take wounds, your stats degrade, and the placement of the hand on the dial changes to reflect the current line of stats.
Above the stats, are circles depicting the Skills of each character as well. These Skills are useless outside of the Objective Mode game type. For the most part, the stats you need to keep track of include the stat line, and any modifiers, or abilities that any equipment you may have can grant. Some gear tokens grant extra Command Points, First Aid kits can heal wounds, using Extra Ammo grants a free attack without paying the cost of your one action to make it, SuperNatural Strength grants the means to use the highest combat value on your stat grid to work out H2H combat, and that just covers some of the gear used by the Obscura Corps (Reich). There are big-ass-guns, and even night vision goggles too on the Union side.
Movement is carried out by moving the number of circles equal to the Movement value, and you can Act before or after movement, therefore you can move, shoot, and move again to duck behind cover, as long as you have enough movement to accomplish it. Bull Rush is the only special movement you can perform, which essentially allows you to pass through an opposing character from an adjacent circle, by first performing a Stamina Duel. This is almost the same as combat resolution. The default Dice Pool is four D10, so that's what is rolled for a Stamina or Mental duel.
A Stamina or Mental duel utilize the stat in question, subtracted from 10, and that's the Difficulty Value to meet or exceed for a success.
The defender does the same thing, and every success the defender rolls, cancels out one of the attacker's passing results. If the defender couldn't cancel them all out, then the defender looses the duel. A duel is pretty much a comparative roll-off, with multiple chances to win or loose.
If you succeed you can pass through the character, and this doesn't require using the Action of the model performing the Bull Rush either, but this can only be performed once per activation.
To Attack is a little different, you take the current Attacker's Combat value, and subtract that from 10, this gives you the Difficulty value of the roll. Say my Combat value is a 5, therefore the number I am looking to match, or beat is 5. Lets also say I used a weapon with the Automatic type, so that grants me a Dice Pool value of five D10 to roll. I roll the five D10, and all results matching or exceeding 5 pass. If I were to fail all five rolls, then nothing happens. We will also say my results were 3, 3, 5, 7 and 8. I end up with three successful hits.
Now the Defender is allowed a Shock Roll (very much like the Armor save in 40k), and any result the Defender may end up with matching, or exceeding their own Difficulty Value for Stamina (Stamina stat, subtracted from 10), will cancel out the Attacker's result, one by one. The default Dice Pool for a Shock Roll is four D10. That's four chances to cancel out a maximum of four of the Attacker's hits. If any of the Attacker's results end up not being canceled out, then a wound is incurred for each one.
Dealing a wound means you turn the dial on the Character card down one row, per wound incurred. It's that simple. As I stated earlier, the Pathfinder System works out the LOS issues, and the only thing you need to do is declare the weapon you're using, before declaring the attack, and making sure the defender meets the Pathfinder requirements for declaring an attack. Different Dice Pools are available for different weapons, and you even get two D10 for no weapon at all, which would be a punch or kick attack essentially. The least is two, the most is five D10 for the Automatic weapon type. Pistols, Hand-2-Hand and Mental weapons all utilize a Dice Pool of four D10.
That's pretty much it for the game-play side of things. It's not a complicated game.
This summer it looks like FFG is releasing two more expansion packs for the game. The first pack is called the Union Troop Pack, which is essentially repaints of two of the Commando troopers Alpha and Delta. This pack promises some new tokens, and new a scenario as well. I actually prefer these repaints over the existing original colors they used for the Union. The second pack is a Reich Troop Pack which includes repaints of Schocktruppen and Stossstruppen figures, also with new tokens and a new scenario. Both sets are to retail for $19.95.
As I stated earlier on, I didn't play the original First Edition of Tannhauser, but I've done some research, and it seems that the Revised Edition addresses a lot of the issues that players had with the original version. Fantasy Flight Games went as far as purchasing full rights to the game, just so that they could revise the rules themselves. The best part is that they did so in a way, that uses all of the same tokens, pieces, and boards that came with all of the original existing releases, so you don't need to buy a whole new game, just a new rulebook.
The rules revised some of the equipment, added Overwatch, defined the duration that smoke grenades last, and they eliminated Victory Points, and added Command Points. That covers a few of the more notable changes which I could find, over the previous edition rules.
This single rulebook also includes all of the rules needed for all of the previous releases, so you don't need to dig up the rules that came with the expansions to play the game now, it's all included in this one little book.
The book it self is rather nice, it's 88 pages, and if you already own the original Tannhauser box set, you can pick up the Revised Edition rulebook for $10 or less, depending on where you shop. I've seen it for as low as $7 online. The .PDF version can be purchased for just $5, which is quite fair for an 88 page rulebook.
There's not a lot of fluff to be found, outside of the pages in the back, which do a good job of offering a 2-page spread detailing each character, including their equipment from all of the Tannhauser models currently available. While I'm not usually a big fan of fluff in rulebooks, this is one case where I wish there was more to tell me about this universe. The setting is intriguing to me, and I'm left wishing I knew more about this alternate universe in which Tannhauser exists within. It's really too bad they didn't take the time to define the setting and characters with some more fiction/fluff.
New core boxed sets from here on out will come with a sticker on the shrink wrap detailing that it includes the new rules. Therefore it should be quite clear what you're purchasing ahead of time. If buying online, I'd call ahead and double check, since it will probably be some time yet before the old stock finds its way out of the system, and is replaced by the new Revised Edition core boxed sets.
My only gripe would be that there was no the quick reference card in the rulebook. That is the #1 thing missing, that would have really been helpful when learning the game. More so since everyone who played the game before, will have to re-learn the game all over again too, and it sure would come in handy for them as well. Digging around the forums at the FFG website, I did find a rather nice quick reference card that a player had made up in .PDF format. It's just too bad they overlooked this at the rulebook level, because I really loathe having to print stuff.
The MSRP, and price direct from FFG is $69.95, which I think is a bit much. Thankfully online you can find it for roughly $45-$50 if you shop around. At that price it's worth it. On average the four single miniature expansion pieces can be had for $7-$10 each, and the Operation Novgorod expansion will set you back about $39-$45, which does add a new board, 7 miniatures and the Soviet faction, as well as a ton of tokens.
I think Tannhauser is a lot of fun. There's enough variation in game modes, that it shouldn't get old too fast either. I know this was said before earlier on, but it's definitely more like a FPS in a box than anything else. It's not the most tactical game out there, but it can be, and this is where the equipment comes into play, and utilizing Command Points properly. With the Command Points, there's definitely a good balance to the game now, as both sides have them to use, and how you use them can be the deciding factor in winning or loosing at times.
Tannhauser reminds me a lot of Return to Castle Wolfenstien for the PC, only with miniatures and a game-board. It's such a truly amazing looking game, but it's not all about eye-candy either, because the game is solid as well.
The game has a quite a dedicated following too. I've seen players create Hellboy custom Character Sheets/Cards for the game, which they used in conjunction with the HeroClix Hellboy figures. Others have created a variety of entirely new maps. If you don't mind printing things off, and modifying an existing game, the possibilities are endless for Tannhauser.
That's the one benefit of it having been around for so long, because there's truly a wealth of player inspired content out there to be had if you look around a little. I could see this game-system easily being modified for some Aliens versus Colonial Marines, Aliens versus Predators, Zombie Nazis and other popular sci-fi properties quite easily. I'd imagine even HaloClix miniatures modified for this rule system would be great fun too.
If FFG was smart, they'd take the Revised Edition rules, and apply the core mechanics to another horror, or sci-fi game, and just be sure to stick with the same high quality production values that made Tannhauser a hit.
I certainly want more Tannhauser now, and I don't think it will get old any time soon. It's not going to replace my table-top skirmish gaming time, but for a board-game, which utilizes miniatures, it really doesn't get much better than this. This is definitely the best board-game with miniatures that I've played yet. They also suggest the game for +13 or older, but my 9 year-old twin girls were able to play it, and grasp it well enough to beat the old man.
Some could argue that Space Hulk is the best board-game with minis ever, but I still like Tannhauser more. The biggest difference is, you can actually buy Tannhauser for a fraction of the cost of Space Hulk, and since GW made it limited edition, good luck now even finding a copy of Space Hulk for under $$150+. In comparison, you can find Tannhauser all over the place with little to no effort.