One of the best things about PAX is the fact that tabletop experiences are as prominent as the videogames; this year at PAX East I had a chance to try out a Tactical Card Game called Final War. This is from a passionate group in Australia called Games Lab and it is a complex experience that blends Magic the Gathering with Dungeons and Dragons to deliver a tabletop experience that was incredibly deep but also very fun to play.
Final War is a dense game, with a large game board reserved for each player’s forces; the game can be enjoyed by 2-3 people in the current iteration; an expansion later in the year will enable a fourth player. In the game currently there are three Warlords to choose from, Elf, Guildmaster, and Werewolf, who have their own powers and player decks that contains forces, powers, and items. There is also a Fate deck that controls the flow of the game, in a quicker game 12 cards would be in the Fate deck, 25 for a Quest style game and the full 50 cards for a large scale experience. Over the course of the game each player will grow their forces and draw each round from the Fate Deck until the Final War card is revealed, once it is shown all players will battle each other until only one is left standing.
I had a chance to play Final War a couple of times at PAX East, once on the show floor with the creative director of the game in a quick 2 player match and later on in my hotel with a couple of friends in a larger scale three person experience. The flow changes with more players, but in each play-through I was engrossed in the experience and tactics involved in the game. In Final War each person has their own game board and your Warlord sits at the middle; the top row is reserved for standard units, the middle row that the Warlord is in is reserved for hero units and the bottom row is for defensive fortifications. As you draw cards every round (and when you win battles) you get powers, which are one shot abilities to be used when necessary, Items which can be equipped on units and the unit/heroes themselves that can be placed on the game board. The goal until Final War is to amass as strong an army as possible so that you are the victor in the end.
The game starts by looking overwhelming, but as you play and realize there is no mana or spell cost for units it seems to become much more straightforward. Then the tactical level of assigning items, placing fortifications in the right columns, and holding back abilities make the game reach a new depth that takes some time to adjust to, but is a joy to learn and take advantage of. Every round of play each character also draws a Fate card which could contain a card that goes in your hand as it has a power or ability you can use to advantage or there will be an event like a skirmish, bandit, wandering monster, or mercenary. Mercenaries can be bought or converted to your army as a new unit or hero, bandits will often attack you or be put into a pool and attack en masse if the right Fate card is drawn and Wandering Monsters will always attack, but deliver rewards if defeated. A skirmish card causes a small battle between two of the players; it is not all encompassing as the Final War, but could shift the balance of power mid game.
On top of the dynamics of the Fate Cards, each Warlord has innate abilities and deck abilities that adjust the flow of the game; these abilities could take over units, shift battles to other players, convert mercenaries automatically, or deflect damage. A great example is the Werewolf; if that warlord defeats an enemy there is a chance it could inflict Lycanthropy at the roll of a dice, taking over the creature. This is a huge game changer as some creatures from the Fate or Player Decks are very powerful and adding them to your unit stack could make a huge difference in the Final War. The level of tactics is huge in this game. In one of the play-throughs I had a player had very few units on his board, but withstood many attacks because he had a ton of ability and power cards in his hand that deflected or redirected attacks or actions. He almost won despite having half the units the other players had. This depth of tactics makes Final War a game that keeps teaching you new ways to play as you experience it, switching Warlords also changes the flow of the game for you dramatically.
I had a great time with Final War at PAX East, and I was not alone; in talking to the team who created it they were noticing a 70% purchase rate when people tried it out, and when I as there I saw people coming back for boosters after buying the full game the day before. The team has made something to stand out in the crowded Card Game market and I am looking forward to the expansions they are launching later this year that will add
six new warlords and a Fourth Player board to deepen this already great experience.