February 9, 2009

World of Warcraft Minis Review

WoWMiniDeluxStarter.jpgWe don't have a long standing relationship with miniature games. In fact, our only experience was with Warhammer, and that was only a few of us who put the World of Warcraft Minis through its paces. Already hooked on World of Warcraft, and WoW TCG, we immediately liked what we saw through the drum-up to release, from the few official preview articles, and the hands-on prerelease demo that we participated in while at the Penny Arcade Expo. The question still remained, though: Will WoW Minis hold up to repeat play, and as a secondary question, will it supplant our interest in the WoW TCG?

After toying with the premier release of WoW Minis over the last few months, we have our answer.

Now, we're not going to cover a rules analysis or even reiterate the rules of the game here. To do so would be quite redundant, so if you're completely new to the WoW Minis game and you'd like take-in the baseline setup of the game, please see are article WoW Minis Launch Hub - Everything You Need to Know.

What we will tell you is what we like, what we dislike, and how big of an impact they have on the overall staying power of the franchise. So without further ado:

The Good
WoWMinis.jpgThe variety of characters and the balance of the game's party system are all at fairly high levels. While there are some characters who are slightly overpowered compared to their cost of adding them to your party, the entire cast of characters in this first release do play well together.

We're also quite happy with a three faction system instead of the standard two party system of most World of Warcraft games. The factions of Horde, Alliance, and now Monsters all have their effective themes - with Monsters packing a punch but lacking heals for instance - which keeps the game fresh and opens numerous disparate avenues to extend players' collections.

The system's flexible-cost turn mechanic is also a great plus, and gaming it is a giant draw for us. A player may control numerous characters in his party for any given fight, and each character has around 3-4 abilities they can use on a turn (plus move 2 spaces). Each of these options has a different time delaying cost, depending on the character and what abilities you provide them (more on this later). The more powerful of a character's abilities postpone his next move for a large number of turns, and the weaker abilities only 1 or 2 turns. Considering how much positioning plays into this game, both for A: scoring points for occupying victory locations at certain at 5 turn intervals, and B: for positioning yourself for melee attacks, ranged attacks, or avoiding either, you'll have plenty of decisions to mull over throughout the fight.

A warrior's damaging 2-Handed Weapon on an adjacent warlock, for instance, might take an expensive 4 ticks to swing to deal massive damage, but those 4 ticks might leave him exposed to an opposing Mage standing within range. Or, those 4 ticks might leave him out of position to secure a victory location that nets your team points on turns 5 and 10.

The decisions you make in any given battle are important, but even more: they're interesting , and this might big the strongest point of the whole franchise.

The Bad
MYawn.jpgWe have two Major Beefs, and one Minor Gripe with the system. Let's start with our smallest gripe:

1: Character Customization (minor gripe)
When you field a character, you can assign him two collectible abilities in the form of power cards. While the character has innate abilities, it's these power cards that really influence the nuanced tactics that'll dictate your overall strategy. Will you give your priest extra heal spells, or give him some fear abilities to push enemies around the board?

Realizing that abilities untap (become reusable) after 10 turns, it's understandable that each character is limited to only 2 for any given match. However, despite reasoning, the fact that you have only 2 abilities does feel a bit limiting. The worst part about this system is that there are very, very few abilities that are valid for each class in the initial release. Unless you have an extensive collection of cards, then you might only have 3-4 applicable priest, warrior, etc ability cards to give to each of your characters. This feature of customization is only a foothold for future content, and on this release it's usefulness is frustratingly wasted.

2: The UBase Debacle (major beef)
One of the biggest complaints throughout the World of Warcraft Miniatures world is that of the custom UBases. These little plastic bits act are the base of each of your characters, and has little parts that keep track of each miniature's health, and when he'll get to move again. The fact that this information is visible to everyone on the board is both slick and important - as players will alter their tactics depending on when opponents and allies will move again, and will obviously be affected by the health of enemies combatants.

The problem is this: They don't hold the minis. We'll say this again: the bases that are designed to hold your World of Warcraft mini characters, don't hold your WoW Minis.

Every time you move a character in your party, or pick it up to alter the Tick Counter on the UBase (which is every turn, mind you) the chances of you lifting the mini without the base following suit is about 75%. There are some bases that attach to the characters perfectly fine, but they are the exception instead of the norm. We've even heard of players having the UBase eject a Mini while it was quietly sitting at the table.

So what's the big deal? Well the orientation of the character on the UBase is how a player keeps track of its health. Once you pick up the mini and the base drops to the table, your once accurately-tracked health for that character is completely lost. Swearing ensues, and we wonder how the heck Upper Deck hasn't yet addressed this problem, and how a class action lawsuit hasn't erupted form the angry masses.

WoWMinisCharacterCards.JPG3: Lack of Engaging Content (major beef)
The game ships with one folded piece of paper that has the print of a game board on both sides. The paper is laminated, so it has that going for it, but both sides are almost identical and really don't inspire much creativity on how to play the game. Once we played the board a few times, we were wondering.. what next? With such a strong emphasis of the game being about positioning and scoring points by taking objectives, there seems to be a huge lack of content here.

Well, Upper Deck really doesn't' have an answer for us. Sure we could blindly buy a few copies of the World of Warcraft Miniatures Deluxe Starter Set, which came a month after the first release and includes one of three randomly inserted high quality stock boards. But seriously guys, getting a new board shouldn't be like buying a $30 lottery ticket. These things should be moderately priced themed releases, with new types of spaces, new rules and the like geared toward keeping your audience interested in the game between set releases. Instead we've lost interest and might not rejoin the game except to dabble a bit when the next set comes out.

There has also been one board released on the interwebs for download, but we aren't train model hobbyists and don't have the craft skills or the gumption to print it on high quality stock and fashion it together with anything but scotch tape and maybe some sticks from the backyard. I other words, this seems like a bone thrown down from on high to feed the masses.. but the bone is already stripped bare.


At its heart, the World of Warcraft miniatures game is a fantastic system of strategy and collection. However, with flawed pieces and nothing to play it on, the release took a step forward and then fell on its nose. People who are fanatic about these sorts of games, and who play in tournaments might not care, but for us: our long term experience with the game has left of feeling disappointed and wanting more... and not in the good sort of way.

The only thing that kept us playing after the first month were the mad scientist crafting skills of one our devoted players, who took pictures of various pieces made custom hex pieces out of raw board stock so we could create our own boards. We're guessing that many groups out there don't have such an ace in the hole, so are probably SOL when it comes to new content. And in that sense, Upper Deck has seriously failed with this initial launch.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 (our rating system)

Read More in: Board Games | Collectable Card Games | Our Game Reviews

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Posted by Critical Gamers Staff at February 9, 2009 5:48 PM

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