Final War: Seeing the Tabletop Light
I want to put this out there, I am not a table top game player and I have never been. The thought of setting up board games with massive rulesets and hundreds of cards makes me highly uncomfortable. Even as a child I never enjoyed board games, much preferring sports or video games to Monopoly and Guess Who. Cards Against Humanity is about the closest thing to a board game I have played in recent times and that is like saying that Darwin is close to Hobart. I tell you this so you understand that when I found myself playing a tabletop fantasy card game at PAX Australia I was not in my element at all. I was sitting down, with one of the creators of the game, to play something that was all things I dreaded about these games. It had a huge amount of cards, tokens and dice. It had complicated rules. It had multiple ways to play. So to say that I was shocked when I had an absolute blast playing it would be an understatement. The game was Final War and it may just be the experience I needed to help me break into the world of board games.
My time with Final War came about because of my inattentiveness in reading my emails. I was approached by a PR company about a new game they were promoting and while it hadn’t been announced at the time they offered me the chance to come and check it out at PAX with one of the developers. It was Australian made and I had a few empty time slots on my Calendar so I thought why not? A few days later, after my appointment had been booked I was told that the game was a fantasy card game, thinking that it was something akin to Hearthstone or Magic on PC. Later emails, of which I clearly didn’t read properly, all mentioned the word “tabletop” but I was still blissfully ignorant of the true nature of the game. It was until the first day of PAX that I finally realised the what I was getting myself into and at that point I couldn’t bail. It would have been rude in the extreme and I figured what the hell? After all, it seems to be very much in the spirit of PAX to try something new.
So with a cautiously optimistic approach, I wandered over to the Final War booth where I was promptly introduced to Sam Appleby, a producer on the game, who was going to be both my teacher and my opponent in this little experiment. Sam was an immediately likeable fellow that even after a whole day of showing numpties like me his game, retained a sense of enthusiasm that couldn’t have been faked. He grabbed a copy of the game and led me off to the Freeplay area so we could get stuck into what I was sure would be a totally embarrassing experience.
I was immediately impressed with the production quality of the game. This was no slapped together with flimsy cardboard deal. Everything had a nice feeling of durability to it which I feel should be an important part of any game such as this. Also, the artwork on show was stunning. It was obvious to all that saw the game, even a board game rookie such as myself, that this was a game that high production values and took pride in what they were presenting to the public.
As Sam ran through the rules briefly I was doing my best to make sure my eyes weren’t glazing over. I am sure I must have failed though because Sam took pity and told me not to worry it was easy to pick up once we started to play. Sam explained there were three different variations of the game, a campaign mode that uses the full decks, a half deck game and a round based quick game with limited cards. This quick version was the way we were going to play and I watched as Sam quickly set up the board ready for action.
Do you know what? Sam was right, it was fairly easy to pick up once we started playing. I think the biggest hurdle for me was actually not the game but the language. It seems there is a vocabulary that is used in board gaming that I am not aware of so when Sam asked me to roll for priority, I had to ask for clarification. But once I got past the language barrier the game felt, to me at least, like a table version of the Might and Magic Heroes franchise only instead of Hex squares and move ranges there were power cards and dice rolls. The board was laid out with 3 rows, (One for units, one for heroes and one for forts) with a centre square for the battle commander. After an initial draw of cards, I could place my various structures and units on the board and the game began.
From here it was a highly enjoyable back and forth between the two of us, with skirmish battles, extra powers and bandits all coming into play. The goal is to build the biggest army possible so once the Final War card is drawn you can fully defeat your opponent and win the round. I managed to draw some great cards in the first round, which led to an easy victory (once I worked out what the hell I was doing) Sam then won the second quite convincingly seeing how I used most of my best cards in the first round. The third round was much closer with both of us scraping the bottom of the deck looking for the win. I eventually prevailed taking the win in what was the most entertaining round of the three. I have my suspicions that Sam let me win but I am not too proud to take the title regardless of the circumstances.
Once my little victory dance was over I thanked Sam and went on my way with a copy of Final War. I found the nearest coffee stall, grabbed a seat and proceeded to jot down my feelings about the whole tabletop experience. I found myself going over my time and realising how much fun I actually had. The initial daunting hurdle of complicated rules was tackled with the help of Sam and it left me with no more excuses. The fact was I had a hugely enjoyable time with Final War and that surprised me in more ways than one. I am still not a huge fan of tabletop games, I think I will always enjoy video games more, but I am certainly much more open to the idea of playing them and I can see that they can be quite the blast. Final War helped me see the light and for that, I have to say thanks.