Monday, February 17, 2020

Enter the Blackstone Fortress

A little over a year ago, at the end of 2018, I picked up Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress. I was pretty pumped about it at the time... but there was also a LOT of OTHER things I was ALSO VERY EXCITED about - Kill Team, Wrath and Glory, and, later in 2019, Apocalypse and Necromunda. So painting up the minis kept getting put off, again and again.

But the interest stayed keen - so keen that I bought FIVE expansions for it, without having ever PLAYED it!? (In my defence, three of those "expansions" we simply expansion decks of extra cards and Games Workshop has been notorious for doing small print runs of cards and then NOT re-printing them when they sell out... and... how could I pass up Excalation with Amazing figures like Madellan and Murad!? And the Ambull Hulk... well...).

Over the last month or so I FINALLY got to painting up all the minis for the game (well... at least enough to start playing!). Some motivation was added in by me volunteering to run it as a Learn-to-Play game at ToonCon in early March.

On Sunday afternoon, of the Family Day long weekend, we sat down to have our first go at it...

I took Janus Draik, Rogue Trader. Finnegan played Espern Locarno, Imperial Navigator. Amanda decided to play Dahyak Grekh, Kroot Tracker (I TOTALLY thought she'd have gone for Pious Vorne, Ministorum Fantatic with the flamethrower/eviscerator combo). Keira played Amallyn Shadowguide, Asuryani Ranger.

There is a campaign to play out - the ultimate goal being to plunder the Hidden Vaults, but to do so you must first go on a number of exploratory expeditions to gather clues as to the Vault's whereabouts and, before raiding the Vault itself, must first take down four strongholds. All the while the scenarios are getting deadlier and deadlier and there is a definite time limit to the campaign. After each expedition a card is drawn from a Legacy deck which adds additional hostiles or other things to make the adventures more challenging. If you run out of cards in the legacy deck before conquering the Vaults, you lose...

For each each of these expeditions you pick four explorers and build an exploration deck of four combat encounters and four "challenges". these are shuffled and then drawn one at a time and resolved. There is a break between each - where you have a chance to recover a bit and possibly heal some wounds. But therein was the first bit of confusion.... There are Wounds, and then there are GRIEVOUS Wounds... Wounds can actually be healed or recovered DURING a combat, by taking a "Recuperate" action, Grievous Wounds cannot! Wounds reduce the number of actions you can take, so it can be quite debilitating when they start adding up. What it says one part of the rules is: "Grievous Wounds are treated by explorers in the same manner as wound counters, except that they cannot be healed during an ENCOUNTER"... Now does "Encounter" mean a combat...? or and Expedition!? The only other place the term "Encounter" is used anywhere in the rules is on the cards used to determine which hostiles will be faced (Encounter cards). Everywhere an exploration cards that requires you to, and the actual act of, setting up tiles and miniatures and battling it out on the tabletop is a "combat". The whole process of going through the eight cards (four or which are Combat and four of which are Challenges) is always referred to as an Expedition!?

I read it as an "encounter" being a "combat" - so you couldn't heal a grievous wound DURING a combat with the "Recuperate" action, but we did allow healing of grievous wounds in the Recovery step between resolving Exploration Cards.

When I tried to look this up afterwardsI found nothing in any official errata or FAQ on it. In fact, there has been no official errata or FAQs for Blackstone fortress since November or 2019 - which I find really odd as it seems this IS a game they're still trying to support - there's a new expansion out THIS WEEKEND!

In forums on Board Game Geek and on Facebook, it seems most read it otherwise  - that what was meant was Grievous Wounds cannot be healed during an EXPEDITION" and that the ONLY way you can heal grievous Wounds is by returning to Precipice (the ad hoc space station just outside the Blackstone Fortress) - but I can't even find a reference in the rules that says THAT even takes place?!

So I don't know what to do...

Heading into the Blackstone Fortress, the first Exploration Card was a combat - we set it up and drew Ur-Ghuls for both hostile groups... More problems and questions... The first card said to deploy four ur-Ghuls... fine, there are four included in the box... the second card said to deploy three more in a different location... but there were no more!? Some searching in the rules found that we just didn't put them out. But then we wondered if the hostile group's card should be included in the initiative deck...? Couldn't find anything about that in the rules... initially we decided NOT to, but then realized as each Hostile group's initiative card came up, we were to roll for reinforcements to see if any of those that were killed were returned... and that's what we did for the rest of the Expedition.

Looking up this later, there seems to be little consensus and no official explanation. It seems some people do it the same way, others just discarded the card and played with the one group, still more discarded the encounter card and redrew a new one that had hostiles they had miniatures they could deploy! A large number of people pointed out that these are all WRONG and the rules, as written "clearly" indicate that the encounter card stays in play, you only put out what you can, and if that's zero that's zero, BUT they insist that you can't put out more reinforcements for a hostile group than have died from THAT particular hostile group....!? So, in our case, while we had two hostile groups of four and ZERO Ur-Ghuls, when we killed some, we could roll to see if any reinforcements showed up for Group One, but could NOT roll for Group Two - even if there were still Ur-Ghuls in the "pool" after we had slain some from Group One... because there had never been any initially deployed for Group Two thus you cannot reinforce them...? Ugh... I don't know... Seems odd Games Workshop would actually write a rule in a game that seems to give someone and ADVANTAGE for not having enough miniatures on hand!?

These, really are the only two troubles we had, however. Everything else was pretty simple and straight forward. Our first combat was rather long - over a couple hours - but I had spent a lot of time looking up and re-reading and re-re-reading rules to try and get them straight in my head...

The Hostiles are controlled by an AI - rolling a die on a behaviour table and cross-referencing their situation (in contact, completely out of sight of enemy, etc) at the time they are activated to see what they do. The first turn, all the Ur-Ghuls fled! All of them!!! Grekh and Shadowguide chased them down and shot them up in the corridor in which they were hiding. Seemed there was a pretty straight, clear path to the exit for them...

And then reinforcements arrived! Yikes!

Reinforcements were only to arrive on a 1-3 on a d20... yet it seemed for the first couple combats they arrived EVERY DAMNED TIME - or at least 50% of the time!?

Draik snuck around the other side - only to have another Ur-Ghul pop up in his path!

They were quickly dealt with and all climbed aboard the mag-lev transporter to take us to our next destination!

We stopped for lunch after this first combat. I think there MAY have been a Challenge after it... but I didn't make note of what it was...

Our second Combat involved a bunch of traitor Guardsmen!

Like, ALL of them!

Each card lists what arrives, depending on what order it was drawn. That third one, for example, if drawn first, second or fourth, would have put some Negavolt Cultists on the board, but because it was third, none were deployed, but rather a new special rule was enacted, just for this combat (searching discovery locations got a bit more dangerous!)

Grekh has an ability that allows... it..? to sneak ahead and plant a booby trap before the actual action starts... but that also put it closest to both Hostile groups and directly in their sights! Grekh took a few wounds in the ensuing volleys of fire!

Draik charged in to help...


He's... pretty deadly up close!

Shadowguide also helped thin out the horde. 

Locarno took down a few more... 

heh... He is, kind of... 

On my next activation, Draik finished off Hostile Group One... 

And then their activation card came up and reinforcements were rolled.. 

"Dagblastit! Didn't I just kill all of you!?"

He survived. Took most of them out single-handedly. We all got away. 

The next card was a Challenge, but it was played out like a solo combat... Luckily it was Draik that was selected. 

Five Destiny Dice are rolled at the the beginning of each combat round - any doubles, triples, etc are discarded, but the remaining can be used as additional activation dice... The Destiny Dice roll for the first round of this combat had NO duplicates... So I had FIVE extra actions to play around with (In addition to my regular four). This could have gone very poorly had I not been so lucky. 

On my first activation I murdered five traitor guardsmen... the remaining one activated next and tried to attack... and hit... but I rolled a critical success on my defence roll... which meant I got to strike back (another one of Draik's abilities) and killed him too.... The Spindle drones were barely aware I was there and their attack did nothing... and I just smashed them to bits on the following round... 

Boom. Challenge completed.

Next was another combat, but this one was an Ambush - which mean all of the Hostiles got to go first... Or at least their initiative cards were dealt out onto the initiative track before any of the explorer cards were dealt out on the first turn... we were still allowed to use "Gambits" to try and switch our places on the track... Draik is the master of gambits... and despite being ambushed, managed to go first and annihilated ALL of the Negavolt Cultists before they even got a chance to strike... 

Everyone else whether the attacks from the Guard okay - as the guard were a bit stand-off-ish this time and the explorers were in cover (helps a LOT!). The Ur-Ghuls were just sneaking around, trying to skulk out of sight. The Eldar Ranger took them down and then Grekh and the Navigator took apart the Guard... 

Next was our fourth, and final, combat. It was quick and nasty - starting to get the hang of it... 

A funny challenge - Amanda, Finnegan and I all had totals of seven, so our characters all ran into each other and fell down. Draik and Locarno took wounds... Amallyn Shadowguide managed to sneak off with a bit of Archaeotech! 

Another pseudo-fighty Challenge. I think Draik killed three of the Ur-Ghuls in the end... 

And that was it! Time to head back to Precipice. 

The first part of the Precipice Step is to draw a Legacy Card. Guess Spindle drones are about to get a bit nastier! 

I was SURE I took a picture of the whole Precipice set up and all the ships docked and all the equipment cards available for trade on each... but apparently I didn't... Draik ended up with some Finely Aged Amasec and a do-dad that fulfils his "Secret Agenda" - in fact, THREE of the characters acquired their secret Agendas in this first game! These things allow them to START further games with their card flipped over on the "inspired" side - normally you'd have to acquire Inspiration points thought out the expedition and spend three of them to flip the card (which makes your character way more bad-ass) only two of us managed to do so during this expedition! I'm pretty sure this will be a pretty big advantage going into the second game! the Elf also acquired a super-slashy knife that allows her to re-roll misses in close combat, Grekh got a "contract" on spindle drones, which allows them to re-roll any misses against any spindle drones for an entire expedition, and Locarno... got... something...? I forget what...?

Next time I think we'll try playing with NOT being able to recover Grievous Wounds between Exploration cards. I don't think there were THAT many that were... but there were SOME... Have to be a bit more careful next game! Also might play with no miniatures deployed at the beginning of the game means no reinforcements for that hostile group... might balance out the not-healing-grievous-wounds thing...? 

Later in the evening I started working on the scenario for Necromunda I'm planning to run at ToonCon and was hoping to playtest on Monday... (later today!). 

Too much...?

Yeah, I think 3x6 might be a bit big... I'll probably shave that down to 3x5... 

Coming Soon to Tim's Miniature Wargaming Blog:

Hopefully a game report of that first playtest of the Necromunda scenario for ToonCon! 

I do hope we'll get in some more Blackstone Fortress THIS WEEK! 

and Hellboy! 


  1. Funny, I bought BF about the same time specifically to play with some buddies I used to play 40k with when we get together about twice a year. I opened the box, looked at the contents and put it away. Your insight into the issues is a good heads up; I hope to play it this summer so I will keep them in mind.

    1. The issues are, I think, minor. I think it would only become problematic if you're playing with someone who REALLY likes to argue rules and has VERY STRONG opinions about which way it should be done and they aren't in accordance with your interpretation. It IS a co-op game... We just decided on a way to interpret it and forged ahead. Everything else was pretty clear and tight. Challenging, for sure, but not a total cake-walk. With those two small exceptions with wonky wording, I think GW did right with this one!

  2. Sounds like a pretty fun game, despite the niggles and your convention game looks ace!
    Best Iain

    1. Thanks Iain. We'll test it again with NO RECOVERY of Grievous Wounds except at precipice before the con - as that's how I think we'll do it going forward. It means the teams will have to really think about whether they want to cut the expedition short or take the risk of... y'know... DYING, to forge ahead.

      This way they might actually get back to precipice during the 4-hour block set aside for the game, maybe even mount a SECOND expedition!