[Army Group Kitchen Table] Tannhaüser
Posted January 29th, 2008 at 12:14 AM by S.R. Krol
Tannhaüser (Take On You/Fantasy Flight Games)
[Note: Apologies for the less than stellar photo. Unfortunately being without a digital camera I am dependent on others, and in this case I ended up having to use a friend’s crummy webcam since he couldn’t find his camera. One day I will get around to picking up a camera for myself to avoid such situations, but that day is not today.]
In the old days it wasn’t that uncommon for board games to become ported to computer games, especially wargames, since they were perfect for the mundane housekeeping chores such games created. Relatively recent (past ten years or so) there’s been an interesting desire to port computer games to the board game world. Unlike board to computer games though the impetus is usually not to help ease the mechanics, but rather provide the essence of a particular computer game (or genre), and bring it to the table top.
Tannhaüser from Take On You (published in the United States by Fantasy Flight Games) brings the world of first person shooters to your game room by way of plastic miniatures, handfuls of dice, and lots of cardboard.
At first blush the genre of first person shooters seems to be an odd choice to jump from digital to cardboard, until you consider that skirmish miniature gaming has been around in one form or another since the early days of the twentieth century. In fact, this isn’t even the first attempt at taking shooters and turning them into board games. Steve Jackson first did it with Frag!, and while a somewhat enjoyable romp it was marred by the usual overpriced poor production that Steve Jackson is famous for. Fantasy Flight Games fared better when they released the DOOM board game based on DOOM 3. While the computer game blew chunks, the board game was actually pretty good and paved the way for the much better Descent (a dungeon crawl game with no association with the old computer game).
Tannhaüser’s shooter influence is immediately apparent when you and your opponent (up to ten players can play, although it seems to work best with two) begin to set up a game. First, you choose the difficulty level of easy, normal, or hard. And yes, they actually call it a difficulty level. Sides always consist of heroes and troopers (lackeys), and the difficulty level impacts how many times your lackeys can respaw—err, reinforce.
Next, players decide on what type of game they wish to play: objective based story mode, death match, capture the flag, or domination. Assuming that you’ve at least played one first person shooter in your life, there’s no real need to delve into what the modes mean. What they sound like is exactly how they play.
And just in case even after all that someone is still wondering what Tannhaüser is supposed to play like the game even includes crates filled with goodies. Crates! Old Man Murray would be proud.
After all that players choose sides, playing either the forces of the evil Reich that traffic in things That Man Was Not Meant To Know, or the alien tech fetish Army of the Union. The game takes place in 1949 (the Union got their technology from the Roswell crash of ’47) and at this point you’re probably thinking it sounds like some sort of Return to Castle Wolfenstein/Weird War type game. Well mister, you’re wrong!
See, the Reich portrayed in Tannhaüser isn’t the Third Reich. No, rather it’s the Kaiser’s Reich, and the world is still fighting the Great War. Apparently everyone has a really, really good economy to continue fighting a world war for thirty five years. Why they went this route is anyone’s guess.
“Hey, let’s make a game with Nazis controlling magical forces.”
“Naw, that’s been done to death.”
“But Schmeissers are cool.”
“Okay, what if World War One never ended? Then we can have Schmeissers and evil Germans, but they’re not Nazis.”
“Dude, no one would see that twist! Let’s do it!”
Snarkiness aside, the designers do a decent enough job with flavor text to make a subject that has been done to death somewhat interesting. But like the majority of shooters you’ve ever played, the storyline isn’t what’s important, it’s killing people, and thankfully here Tannhaüser does quite well.
Each game, barring special scenarios, always involve a team of five characters per side (the ability to play with ten people derives from everyone playing a single character) consisting of heroes and troopers. Heroes have better stats and can take more hits than troopers. Heroes also cannot come back into play after being killed, while troopers may depending on the difficulty level chosen.
Gameplay is very straightforward. Before each turn an initiative roll is made, and then play passes between players as individual characters are activated. During a character’s activation they may move and perform one action phase, the action phase consisting of things such as attacking, attempting to push through an enemy unit’s space, gathering equipment, opening crates, and so on.
When combat occurs it is an opposed dice pool mechanic. The attacker rolls a handful of d10s, looking for a target number, and then the defender rolls a number of d10s to cancel out the attacker’s successes. Any attacking succeeding dice that aren’t negated are then taken as wounds by the defender. As someone takes wounds their stats change, much like the Clix-style games. Take too many wounds and the character is eliminated.
And that’s about it. One player activates a unit, moving and possibly attacking with it. The other player then does the same. Go back and forth until all units have moved, then repeat.
While the core gameplay is kept very streamlined Tannhaüser actually manages to layer quite a bit of strategy on top thanks to the equipment that every character equips before a game. Each character gets four pieces of equipment, although that’s really a misnomer as some “equipment” represents special skills. The possible equipment is tied into the character, with heroes having a choice between three different sets while troopers choose between two.
Sample pieces include the Mauser C96 that provides a bonus to every die rolled in combat, frag and smoke grenades, a heavy machine gun capable of instant kill, flak jackets, and skills that negate movement penalties and magical influences that can bring the fallen back to life. While there are many crossovers (e.g. grenades tend to show up across multiple equipment sets for the same character), there are still plenty of unique choices that will influence your strategy. Furthermore, one must not only think about what the best equipment for the character is, but how will it help the rest of the team.
While the turn unfolds with one unit moving, then another, knowing what unit to move when becomes quite important. Do you lead off with a character that can pop a smoke grenade, or try for the insta-kill with one of your heroes?
In keeping with the first person shooter theme many mechanics that are normally found in skirmish/tactical gaming are absent from Tannhaüser. There is no overwatch fire, nor different stances. In fact, for the most part cover doesn’t even exist. This may seem strange, but it definitely keeps the game moving, and really you don’t end up missing such mechanics. Besides, players usually have their hands full just trying to remember exactly what their units are capable of performing.
That’s probably the biggest issue with Tannhaüser. Until you learn all the equipment you can expect to spend quite a bit of time looking at the reference sheet, and even once you feel that you’ve learned everything you’ll discover that you forgot some game-changing effect of equipment Y that would have won the game for you in turn five.
One other issue lies in the map. Tannhaüser uses a mechanic dubbed the “Pathfinding System”. It’s somewhat clever. Instead of hexes, squares, or freeform movement measured with rulers, the double-sided map is marked off with colored circles. If one color matches another color the figures have line of sight. In practice it does what it’s supposed to do—eliminate the usual debates that crop up in tactical gaming—but at the expense of fixed maps. While attractive (though with a computer rendered feel) the maps will never change. Same entry points, same special terrain, same everything. Then again, maybe we’ve been spoiled by variable terrain maps. After all, it’s not like when playing a strategic game of World War II Europe changes.
Even with the fixed maps Tannhaüser will provide you with plenty of diversity. Each type of game plays out differently, with different strategies that need to be taken into account depending on the game type. The variations with equipment adds another layer of strategy and variety. By keeping the core mechanics simple, the game moves at a rapid pace, but expect the pre-game team build to take almost as long as the game itself (at least in the beginning).
If you’re looking for some run-and-gun gameplay on your tabletop Tannhaüser is a welcome addition to your library. With deceptively simple gameplay, the game actually boasts a fairly deep amount of strategy, and with the designer’s intent to continue to add new units, maps, and equipment, this strategy should only increase over time.
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