World of Warcraft’s universe has been steadily expanding since its release nearly 15 years ago, adding plenty of new characters, lands to explore, and enemies to conquer. However, one of its most popular storylines follows the downfall of the hero Arthas and his subsequent rise to become the Lich King. For those looking to return to Northrend and storm Icecrown Citadel once more, this board game will definitely scratch that itch for you.
Based on the expansion of the same name, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King – A Pandemic System Board Game (wow, that’s a mouthful) is a cooperative tabletop game for up to five players that includes all the trappings of the popular MMO. It has iconic heroes, unique abilities, battles against the Scourge, and questing with your party, and it’s all uniquely layered on the foundation of the popular Pandemic series of board games. This isn’t just a simple re-skin, though, as every element of gameplay has been faithfully adapted to feel right at home within Blizzard’s popular universe.
What’s in the Box
From the moment you crack open the box, you can tell this board game was created with attention to detail and plenty of care showcased in every component. The sprawling game board measures roughly 20″ x 30″ and features dozens of familiar locations from across Azeroth, including Naxxramas, Dalaran, Ulduar, and more.
It also features seven iconic characters from the Warcraft universe: Thrall, Jaina Proudmoore, Sylvanas Windrunner, Varian Wrynn, Tirion Fordring, Muradin Bronzebeard, and Lady Liadrin. Each playable character comes with a detailed mini figurine to represent them during gameplay. Of course, there’s also an incredibly detailed figurine of the Lich King himself, as well as his horde of undead cronies that include three abominations and dozens of small ghouls. One thing to note is that there are many incredibly sharp points on some of these figurines, and after poking myself one too many times I had to be more cautious when grabbing them.
Each playable character also comes with a Hero Sheet, complete with unique abilities, a health bar, and some lore on the back. As with everything in this game, the Hero Sheets are adorned with gorgeous original art from the folks at Blizzard. There’s also a deck of 63 Hero Cards used throughout the course of the game that all feature detailed artwork as well. I was surprised that hardly any of the artwork was reused from Hearthstone — Blizzard’s popular deck-building game based on the World of Warcraft universe — making this feel like a wholly new adventure and not simply a repackaged cash-in.
Additionally, you’ll find 10 Quest Sheets, 30 Scourge Cards, Reference Cards to assist players during gameplay, various markers, and a punchboard containing high-quality cardboard cutouts to assemble Strongholds and a large replica of Icecrown Citadel. Press-seal bags are included to store everything between play sessions, and as with many of the other Pandemic series games, I’m surprised at just how little space is wasted in the game box.
Rules and How to Play
The goal in the World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King board game is simple: complete three quests to obtain unique rewards before storming Icecrown Citadel and putting an end to the Lich King once and for all. However, the Lich King’s Scourge steadily spreads across Northrend, and you must complete your task before it consumes you and your party.
Each player begins by selecting one of seven heroes to play as, all with unique abilities that can contribute to the team’s overall success in some way. Every Hero Sheet has a set of numbers across the bottom that represents that character’s health, which players must manage carefully as they explore and fight across the map.
Turns play out similarly to the original Pandemic board game, with each player taking four total actions that include moving across the game board, fighting enemies, questing, or healing up. Instead of simply curing diseases, though, players are much more engaged in the moment-to-moment gameplay. Players will also accumulate a hand of cards such as attack and defense to aid in battle, healing cards to replenish health, or travel cards to quickly move around the board. There are also a limited number of Stronghold cards that can be added to the deck that allow you to place Strongholds around the map to act as a sort of “fast-travel” location for you and your team.
As the Lich King’s undead army expands across the map, players can choose to fight the Scourge as one of their turn actions. By rolling two dice, players can deal damage or block incoming attacks, as well as play cards from their hands to aid in battle. Characters on the same space can even team up in battle, making it truly feel like you’re in a party together mowing down waves of enemies.
In addition to fighting, players can also choose to partake in a Quest as one of their turn actions. Since completing Quests are a key component of the team’s win condition, it’s important to always keep an eye on the party’s Quest progress. The game board is divided into three regions, indicated by the color of the spaces within. Each region contains one of three Quest Sheets (with a total of nine available) that the team must work together to complete during the course of the game. Quests will take multiple player turns to complete using a combination of dice rolls, cards from their hands, and help from teammates, and require plenty of coordination.
Every Quest Sheet has a unique boss enemy featured on it that deals damage to the questing player, as well as some sort of mechanic that players will need to strategize around, such as reducing the number of dice that can be rolled, prevent healing, and more. Once players reach the end of the Quest, a unique reward is revealed that provides a powerful single-use card that the team can use to help turn the tide in their favor.
While the Quest system definitely works fine, I would have liked to see it fleshed out a bit more. It essentially boils down to moving a marker along a linear path and doesn’t feel as active or engaging as the battles. It feels like a missed opportunity having all these iconic raid bosses featured on the Quest Sheets and never actually getting to interact with them in any meaningful way. That goes for the final Lich King encounter, as well, which is effectively a longer “Quest” that doesn’t raise the stakes all that much.
That being said, the moment-to-moment gameplay of strategizing with your teammates as you push back the encroaching Scourge on the board while trying to complete the Quests perfectly encapsulates that signature stress felt while playing other Pandemic board games. Every action taken must be carefully thought out as things can get out of hand very quickly and one wrong move could lead to your inevitable defeat.
I found the Wrath of the Lich King board game to be slightly more difficult – even on the easiest difficulty – than the traditional Pandemic board game… and that was with a full group of five players. Turns are a bit more complicated as you’re not only managing the game board, but also your own hero’s health. As with most games, I imagine as your group becomes more experienced you’ll be able to anticipate setbacks and plan ahead accordingly. And, for those ready to take on more of a challenge, there are three increasing difficulties that make the Scourge more potent and reduce the number of Strongholds available. There’s even a solo play mode, which I still found to be an engaging experience. However, the fun in this game truly lies with team-based decision-making.
With seven unique heroes and nine quests in total, there’s plenty of replayability here that will provide fun for dozens of game sessions. The cooperative nature of the game coupled with dice-based battles and quests makes the Wrath of the Lich King board game feel like a very lite version of D&D that can be completed in about an hour.
Where to Buy
The World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King board game has an MSRP of $59.99 and is available at the following retailers: