Every Wednesday, our Field Test blog brings you new rules, missions and ideas to supercharge your games! Today, it's time to enter the Blackstone Fortress in search of a fresh challenge...
Odds are, if you’re reading this article, you already own Games Workshop’s fantastic co-op board game, Blackstone Fortress, and odds are you’ve probably played it, and probably finished it. In our world of rapid fire release games, where the sheer number of great titles seems to just keep growing, it doesn’t take long for a game to appear, get played, then find its way back onto the shelf to be looked at with nostalgic wistfulness.
Shame really. It’s the experience of playing a game that makes it great, and a box on the shelf is no longer fulfilling its destiny. Thing is, once you’ve played through an unfolding narrative like Blackstone Fortress, there’s not as much incentive to try again, as you’ve either discovered all the interesting things, or managed to defeat all the challenges it throws at you. It’s like that moment in Skyrim when you start one-shotting dragons, or when, after you’ve crafted 900 iron daggers, you reach the ultimate blacksmithing level and realise that the journey was the point.
We like playing games here in the Studios, and we love Blackstone Fortress. There’s something about capturing the essence of games like Mass Effect or Horizon Zero Dawn in exploring a hi-tech catacomb full of unknown perils, mixed with the grim-dark themes of Warhammer 40K that gets us very excited indeed. Our only gripe - literally the only thing that we wanted more from - was that it felt a little easy. Being the self-aggrandising wannabe designers that we are, we came up with a little fix to try and make the game considerably more difficult.
Fix 1 - More enemies = better action economy for the bad guys.
When you deploy the hostiles at the start of a combat encounter, double the number of all the hostiles you place as long as they have the small or medium base size. So if you have 6 Traitor Guard on marker 2, double that to 12. For hostiles on a large base, or for “named” hostiles, double the number of wounds they have. During the game, whenever any hostiles reinforce, place the standard number.
Justification: Playing with this fix adds an initial challenge to combat missions that requires players to use their starting activations as effectively as possible. It leads to more wounds scattered among party members, and an increased sense of having to overcome an initial wave of enemies. It forces you to choose your targets, as getting swarmed by Ur-Ghouls can be absolutely devastating, even if the Traitor Guardsmen are in cover and visible. Putting this challenge at the start of an encounter makes the entire encounter trickier, as you will usually have to complete it with some wounded characters.
Fix 2 - Get to the Maglev!
Play a combat encounter as usual. However, keep track of the number of turns you have been playing, and add this score whenever you roll a dice for reinforcements. As an example, if you have been playing a combat encounter for 4 turns, and you’re rolling to see if more Traitor Guardmen show up, they’ll do so on an 8 or less. Next turn, it will be 9.
More enemies is just more fuel for the fire, right?
Justification: The alarms are blaring and time is running out; you better do what you need to and leave before you’re overwhelmed. This setting makes everything a race against time, and again, forces you to spend your activations in a way that’s most efficient. Failure to do so will leave you outnumbered and outgunned. This mode prevents you from taking time out to recover any wounds, and forces you to consider whether or not it’s really worth it to pick up those errant discovery markers that aren’t simply on the way to the maglev.
Fix 3 - Intelligent AI = dangerous foes.
Whenever a Traitor Guardsman breaks from cover and runs at my party, I die a little inside. Why would they? Dig in and keep shooting! This method removes that option; whenever it’s time for a hostile to activate, take a look at the options available to them one the behaviour table, and choose the worst outcome for your party. If you can’t decide, then roll, but otherwise, make the hostiles do whatever will cause you the most issues. Ranged characters will hide and snipe; melee characters will move towards you as fast as possible, and groups will stick together instead of string themselves out.
Justification: This method attempts to make the AI for the enemies more robust and threatening, emulating what a fifth player would do - namely the worst possible thing they can to the party. It’s trickier than the other fixes, as it requires a little more thought, but it can result in more difficult encounters that make you consider how best to overcome particular enemies, and the problems they present. Do you gun down the Beastmen charging towards you, or the dug-in Chaos Marines preparing to fire? How do you protect yourself against both?
We’ve tried all these methods, and personally, we like playing with fix one, and adding fix 2 randomly (roll an activation dice whenever you start a combat encounter, and add fix 2 if the dice comes up with a 1 + the number of combat encounters you’ve currently played in this expedition). It makes the game considerably more difficult, but not impossible, and usually leaves us pretty desperate to return to the Precipice after 2/3 encounters! Strongholds benefit greatly from the first fix, but don’t really work alongside fix 2 - and we’ve yet to try fix 3 at all (we often have five players, so we kind of play that already).
Let us know what you think: is Blackstone Fortress easy? Hard? Just right? Will you use our fixes? Let us know in the comments below, and you might just win an Ambull expansion token set from us!
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