The World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King is a cooperative game in the Pandemic system.
What that means is that “it feels like Pandemic, but they’ve put it in a World of Warcraft setting“! I had preordered it and it just arrived a few days ago (Friday, Dec 3rd, 2021). By ordering online at FunAgain, I was able to get the extra promo hero in the game: see below.
However, I saw that it was at Target a few days before I got my my copy! I almost picked it up because I was so excited to see it!
In fact, it was even on sale the other day too! But, I waited a day or so and was able to get mine in the mail.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King is a cooperative game for 1-5 players in the setting of World of Warcraft. Players work together to take down the Lich King (who we nick-named “Mitch”) by staying alive, making it through 4 “quests”, and keeping the lands free of Ghouls and Abominations. I know, with that description, it doesn’t really sound like Pandemic, does it? Let’s take a closer look!
Let’s take a look inside the box! The rulebook comes on top with some punchouts:
Underneath the punchouts is the board (in plastic) and some cards and minis!
The board is really gorgeous! See above.
The cards are nice and linen-finished! YOu can see the game summary cards, the Hero Cards, and the infection cards all above!
The minis are pretty fantastic! See the Players up front, the ghouls behind them, the Abominations, and finally the Lich King! The Coke can is for scale (next to the board).
The player minis are really nice… I wish they would have included a “colored” bottom to distinguish them.
… and one had a broken axe. Sad face.
The ghouls are basically the “disease cubes” from the original Pandemic.
The Abominations come out when an overrun happens and begin tracking the players!
The Lich King is the final Bad Bass to fight!
He comes in a little cardboard square (to keep him from breaking?).
The dice are used in combats to fight the Abominations, Ghouls, and the Lich King.
This is a variable player powers game, so each player can take a specific character: See above.
Nominally, players go on “quests”: See the quest cards above.
The cards and components all look pretty amazing! Below are some more pictures:
Oh, thank goodness this is a good rulebook! After last week’s fiasco of a rulebook, I was glad to read one that was very well organized and easy to read. (I don’t love the black background, but whatever). It starts with nice introduction and list of components (see above).
The set-up spans two pages, but notice they have a picture of the board set-up on the bottom of the righmost page. There’s lots of pictures during set-up, and even a “FOR YOUR FIRST GAME” section, which I really appreciated. I think they might have done better to label a picture for set-up, because the picture they have is small, but you know what? This set-up worked okay.
I think one of the reasons I think highly of this rulebook was that I was able to read through it in real-time with my friends for our first play! (That’s right, the first play was with a big group). We were able to get through the rulebook and concepts pretty quickly.
In general, when we had questions during our first play, it was pretty easy to go looking through the rulebook to find answers to questions. They even have a finer points section which was very useful:
Overall, we had no real problems with this rulebook and were able to jump quickly into the game. The text was straight-forward, without being too wordy, and the rules seem to answer most questions we had (especially the Fine Points section).
This was a good rulebook.
Each player takes the role of character from World of Warcraft (see two characters above). Players work together to complete 4 quests, where the last quest is to take down the Lich King (“Mitch”) in his Icecrown citadel (see below).
Although this game has lots of nice minis, it is NOT a minis game per se! Questing is the main mechanic (you have to get all 4 quests done to win) (you still have to fight to keep ghouls and Abominations under control):
Each quest involves revealing Hero Cards from your hand. Heroes collect 2 new hero cards at the end of their turn.
On a players turn, they have 4 actions they can do (Move, Fight, Quest, Rest, Flight Path). The fighting and moving is necessary to keep the Ghouls and Abominations under control :
If too many come out, the Despair Marker moves to the end of the track and the players lose. So, part of the game is keeping those baddies under control!
Ghouls come out at the end of every turn (see above left) and start “polluting” the board! How many come out per turn? See the Scourge Track at the top of the Board!
Occasionally, when you draw a Hero Card, you will get Scourge car (there are a number of the scattered fairly evenly through the Hero deck) which causes a “surge” of Ghouls and summons an Abomination:
Basically, move around, beat-up the baddies, and complete all 4 quests before time runs out (when the Despair Marker makes it to the end)!
This is a cooperative game, where each player has 4 actions on their turn, and play rotates.
Differences from Pandemic
We’ve said this is a “Pandemic System” game, but what are the differences between Pandemic and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King?
The rulebooks has a nice section documenting one of the main differences:
In the original Pandemic, the game would be over is you ever ran out of any of the components (disease cubes usually). Interestingly, in WOWWOTLK, you simply move the Despair marker up. Of course, the players lose if the Despair Marker gets all the way to the end, so running out of components will usually end the game quickly anyways!
Another major difference is the Hero Cards:
Instead of “the good cards” being plain Locations, the Hero Cards have very direct actions! Fight, Travel, Heal, or Defend. This allows the heroes to do “extra” stuff on their turns and CHOOSE when they need a little extra oomph in the game. I really enjoyed this mechanism, because I thought it gave each player some extra stuff they could do on their turn IF THEY WANTED TO: it gave them more choice! (In the original game, they just matched locations on the map and were used for collecting sets of colors).
These Hero Cards serve double duty: they are also used for questing! This leads nicely to discussing questing: So, instead of eradicating/curing 4 diseases like Pandemic, the players have to complete 4 quests. Instead of simply collecting a hard of 5 or 6 colored cards, the World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King quests involves revealing certain colors of cards to advance the quest marker! See picture above! This is similar to curing because (a) you have to do it (quest) four times to win (just like Pandemic) and (b) you have to have “the right cards” in hand to make the questing worthwhile (they have to be the same color in Pandemic, here in WOW, you need a variety: again see picture above). The questing mechanic “abstracts” the quest idea using a variant of the “cure diseases” idea.
Instead of different colored diseases coming out, now the ghouls are coming out. Ghouls are easy to kill: you only need to do one damage.
Another major difference: Instead of an overrun (adding a 4th ghoul to a location) causing all adjacent cities to infect (like Pandemic), an abomination comes out on that location instead!
Abominations are much harder to defeat! It takes 3 fight to defeat (in one combat)! They also “hunt” the players, always moving towards the closest player (doing 1 damage to a player character upon reaching).
The fact that each player has damage is another big change: questing and ghouls and abominations can all harm you! If you ever drop to zero, the game isn’t over, but it’s still pretty bad.
Since there’s no Locations on your cards, the notions of Direct Flights and Research Stations have no analogue in WOWWOTLK. Instead, there are 3 Strongholds that just “come out” occasionally from the Hero Deck. They serve a similar goal as the Research Stations.
- Running out of components moves despair marker up (instead of losing immediately)
- Hero Cards have actions you can perform on your turn if you wish (instead of boring Location cards)
- Quests need cards revealed when questing (instead of discarding 5 cards of the same color)
- Ghouls are generic baddies (instead of colored diseases)
- Overruns cause an Abomination to appear (instead of infecting adjacent cites)
- There are Strongholds that just come out from the Hero Deck (instead of Research Stations and Direct Flights and stuff like that)
- Damage is a notion (players can’t “die” in original pandemic)
There are other differences, but those are some of the bigger differences. And yet, even with those differences, this still “feels” like Pandemic!
Although I usually prefer to play solo to learn the rules, then teach my friends, that’s not what happened this time! We had to learn the rules out of the rulebook in real-time as a group: luckily the rules were good enough to do this! Whew!
I think because we had all played Pandemic before, we didn’t struggle getting going. This may be a false sense of how hard the game is: I don’t know how hard it would be to get into the game if you have never played Pandemic before!
This as a fun cooperative experience, as everyone had different powers. My fellow was good at Questing, Sara could teleport, other Andrew and Teresa could fight! Everyone’s special ability gave them a leg-up in some part of the game, and we had to “talk it through” to figure out how to best deploy everyone!
Luckily, this game has solo mode (see rulebook page below and thank you for following Saunders’ Law). This time, I played a solo game AFTER playing in a group game. I liked it, but I didn’t play the way they suggested:
This game has the same problem as the Marvel United, Solar Storm, and bunch of other cooperative games: the solo rules take add too much additional intellectual overhead to play! There’s an entire half of page of rules describing exceptions and changes to the rules to play solo: See above. We discussed this very issue in depth here: How To Play A Cooperative Game Solo. Like Marvel United and Marvel United: X-Men, it’s significantly easier to play a solo game by simply controlling two characters and alternating between them: that’s what we did. See Below:
I had a very good time playing solo. I was a little nervous in the endgame, as two Abominations were approaching me, but I was able to solve the final quest and win before they arrived!
This mode of alternating characters for a solo game worked great: I don’t know why you would want to learn half a page of exceptions (and new rules) to play a game that’s fine with two players! There’s no real hidden information (all hands are open information), so there’s no balance adjustments needed for because the players have perfect information.
Alternate between two characters for solo play and avoid the built-in solo mode.
This is a really nice reimplementation of Pandemic in a new setting. If you “squint”, you can see the Pandemic underneath, but in general the game has made a lot of advancements in making the game more thematic and “feel different”. The questing idea is interesting, but it does feel “abstract”: it’s not quite as thematic as I would hoped. Moving around the map to fight ghouls and Abominations is much more thematic than “battling” disease cubes: it works really well!
The best new addition is the Hero Cards: in the old Pandemic, the “good” cards you collected were a bit more generic and you were “mostly” looking for colors on cards. Here, the Hero Cards do something and you get to CHOOSE when to use them! All of the sudden, the decision space opens up for the player! Not only do they get 4 actions on their turn, they can play the Hero cards to augment or even add actions!
The components are fantastic, the rulebook is good, the changes to the base game seem appropriate (for a World of Warcraft universe) and well done. My only real “complaint” is that the questing mechanic felt a bit abstract.
A Comparison to Defenders of the Realm
A game that’s very similar in a lot of ways to Wrath of the Lich King is Defenders of the Realm. Defenders of the Realm is an older game which basically takes Pandemic and throws it into a Fantasy setting with dice and questing (sound familiar?)
The components aren’t quite as nice as Wrath of the Lich King, but they are still quite nice with lots of minis, linen-coated cards, and dice. The boards are both pretty darn big:
But I actually prefer the Defenders of the Realm board. Why?
One of the things Defenders of the Realm did right was put a unique piece of art at every location in the kingdom: See above. When “infection” cards come out, they have that piece of art that makes it feel unique and special and very fantastical.
The Wrath of the Lich King cards show “where” a Location is, but even after playing a number of times, the locations don’t feel “thematic”. I think the Defenders of the Realm unique art is more evocative and immersive.
The quests are also a little more interesting in Defenders of the Realm: you roam the board looking for stuff … you actually quest! (See sample quest above). The quests on Wrath of the Lich King are little more “abstract” as you show cards or roll successes on quest locations:
I think that World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King is significantly better than Defenders of the Realm in one place: the dice! Both in how they look and how they are used. In DOTR, you can only get successes if you roll the appropriate thresholds on dice (usually 4-6), so it’s possible to get failures. In WOWWOTLK, there’s only two dice BUT each side shows some kind of success in attack or defense, it’s just a matter of which you do better at!
You can see all 6 outcomes: 3 single hits, 1 double hit, 1 defend, and 1 defend/hit. Every time you roll, SOMETHING good comes out in Wrath of the Lich King!! Unfortunately, in Defenders of the Realm, it’s possible to completely and miserably fail on your dice rolls (which is honestly one of the problems we had with G.I. Joe: Deckbuilding game from last week). Wrath of the Lich King wins here!
Wrath of the Lich King also is significantly more streamlined: it plays in 45-0 minutes, whereas Defenders of the Realm plays in 60-90 minutes: See above.
I really like Defenders of the Realm, as it seems to feel like an epic adventure where you truly feel like you are questing to build enough resources to take on the baddies: it’s very thematic and gorgeous. But, it can be a little more random which can sometimes be more frustrating. I think World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King is a more streamlined version of Defenders of the Realm: WOWWOTLK loses a little bit of the questing feel and some theme, but it’s little less random and about half the length. Both are good games: it just depends on what you want!
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (WOWWOTLK) is a worthy successor to the original Pandemic! The original Pandemic is one of my Top 5 Cooperative Games of All Time, and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (or “Mitch” as his friends call him) is great as well! WOWWOTLK is different enough from the original Pandemic (with dice rolling, action cards, quest mechanics) to warrant inclusion in your collection even if you have the original game! It’s similar enough, however, that’s it’s easy to jump right in and start playing!
A lot of people probably won’t like the idea of a Pandemic theme (especially in a post and continuing COVID-19 world), so WOWWOTLK solves that problem by completely retheming the game to a World of Warcraft setting! And you don’t have to “know” much about World of Warcraft: I don’t know that much about WOW, and I still have a great time playing. The components, rulebook, minis, and art are all fantastic, especially for a more mass market game (I mean, it’s at Target)! WOWWOTLK also solves one of the problems I have with Defenders of the Realm with too much randomness from the dice.
Overall, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King is a great cooperative experience and will probably be in my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021.