tabletop

If You Like First-Person Shooters, You’ll Love Tannhäuser

by Matt Miller on Jan 01, 2011 at 07:38 AM

In the first of our series on tabletop games that are a blast for video gamers, we examine this alternate history board game of occult powers and alien weaponry.

The tabletop world has had something of a renaissance in the last decade. Fantastic card, board, and role-playing games are coming out all the time, and many of them dovetail with design and development ideas in the digital world of interactive entertainment. Over the coming months, we’re going to take a look at several tabletop titles that might not be on your radar, with a focus on finding some games that might appeal to folks more familiar with a controller and discs than cards and dice. When you and your friends are looking for an evening break from frenzied Xbox Live or PSN matches, perhaps one of the games we recommend can fit the bill.

First up, we examine Tannhäuser, an amazingly fun and fast-playing game of combat with more than a few familiar ideas straight out of the video game world.

Gameplay

Tannhäuser is a 2-player competitive game that can easily be adapted to allow for up to ten players. Our best games have included four players – two on each side. Each team takes control of a group of characters and their associated weaponry and equipment. Players then take turns moving out across an arena-style board and engaging in combat with the opposing team. Setting the game apart is the number of ways you can play. Familiar game modes like Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and King of the Hill are available alongside some scenario and story-style encounters. Each game mode has its own setup and objectives, which helps to keep things feeling fresh, and assure lots of replayability. 

Story

One of the strengths of the game is its great plot setup and the excellent art and painted character figures that support that storyline. Tannhäuser is set in an alternate history version of 1949. The first World War never ended, and two opposing armies are still gunning it out. On one side, you’ve got the Union, an army of stalwart soldiers using technology and weaponry recovered from the Roswell alien crash. On the other side, you’ve got the villainous Reich, who have made deals with occult forces to gain all manner of unspeakable capabilities, from demonic soldiers to psionic abilities. As the game begins, the Reich is about to open a portal to Hell in a recently uncovered archaeological dig. The two opposing combat teams that head in to control the site may decide the fate of the war.


Each team comes with several character cards. Every character can be outfitted with a different loadout before the game begins

Unique Features


Tannhäuser’s coolest feature is the Pathfinding system, an innovative way of laying out the board to communicate line of sight between two conflicting forces. Every space on the board has one or more colors around its border. If another space shares one of those colors, you have line of sight and can attack a unit in that space.

Another fun element of the game is the asymmetrical team set up. Each squad has up to five characters on the board at a time, and each one of these characters has their own stats and loadout of equipment and weaponry. Figuring out when to use an occult power or throw a grenade, or any of several dozen other options, is key to winning. You also get to customize each character before the match, so there’s a lot of room for building a team that works well together.

Complexity

In its favor, Tannhäuser plays very quickly after you get a handle on it. Turns move past in a whiz, as strategy games go, and there’s always something to do as you plan your next several moves. The only problem is getting to that fast-playing game. There’s a hefty rulebook that comes with the game, and someone among your friends (probably you, if you buy the thing) is going to have to dig in and learn those rules ahead of time. We can’t emphasize this enough. There’s a bunch of reading to do before your first game, and you’ll be referring back to that rulebook for a while until you get a handle on things. Even when you do, your first game will take a while. Plan accordingly.

If you’re willing to put in that extra time to learn it in the beginning, Tannhäuser should be pretty easy for your friends to pick up after the first couple of games. And it’s worth it. The game is a lot of fun; the in-game mechanics are well balanced and smartly designed. Once you have a handle on the way the game works, expect to get through two or three full games in a single night.


Tannhäuser's board looks great, and has two sides so you can change up the map


For Video Gamers?

Combining the strategy and tactics of a game like Valkyria Chronicles with the shooter sensibilities of Call of Duty, Tannhäuser is a great fit for video gamers interested in taking a break from the screen for a night around the table with some buddies. The great art and story concept is original and exciting; gorgeous character portraits will have players scrambling to grab their favorite combatant, and every piece of equipment comes with an illustrated token to make it feel a little more real. The Pathfinding system works like a charm to create a tense battlefield, and scrambling around the board is exciting. There are even health and equipment pick-ups scattered around the map if you’re smart enough to snatch them up, just like in an online match. Plus, the base game comes with a double-sided board for two different locations in which to play, just like picking your level before a match starts.

What else do I need to know?

Tannhäuser should be available through your local game, hobby, or comic store. Alternately, any number of online retailers list the game, or you can purchase directly from publisher Fantasy Flight. Prices vary by retailer, but expect to pay a little more or less than the cost of a new video game: between $50 and $70.

If you’re stoked about trying the game out, you should know that the game also has a full expansion called Operation Novgorod, which adds a third faction called the Matriarchy into the mix. There are also several smaller figure expansions that add mercenaries onto the board. None of these are even remotely required for getting started; the base game can offer many hours of enjoyment before you’d ever need to branch out.

Happy playing! And, of course, if there are games you’d like for us to feature in the future, let us know in the comments below. In the meantime, you can check out the introduction video from Fantasty Flight for Tannhäuser.