by Matt Porter
previewed on PC
Mordheim is originally a tabletop game from the Warhammer Fantasy universe and focuses on skirmishes in and around the titular Empire city. Anyone who lingers there will eventually become corrupted by Chaos. A comet crashed in the vicinity littered the area with highly precious stones, causing various warbands to converge and fight over the riches. Mordheim: City of the Damned is looking to capture some of the tabletop game, but puts its own spin on things.
Players manage a warband made up of a few different units, plus one special "impressive" unit - a larger fighter which deals a lot of damage. Before the match you equip your warband with weapons and equipment, and then customise their skills and armour as well as their colour. As you complete matches, units that were used during the battle earn experience points and level up. This is important as your warband isn’t a throwaway group of mercenaries. If they get injured, they remain injured until healed and may have to sit out a number of matches. Should they die, they’re gone forever. The demonstration match started with a warlock with a peg leg and we were told he had lost that leg in a previous battle. As the warlock was too important to the team to simply leave behind, the peg leg proved the only solution.
Mordheim features an interesting take on the movement aspect of turn based games. Usually you will have a certain number of movement points, allowing you to go a certain distance. Here, however, concentric rings act as movement points. Move out of one circle, and you’ll have lost a movement point for the turn, but you can go wherever you like within a ring before using a point. The system makes Mordheim feel a lot more like the tabletop game as it allows players significantly more freedom in positioning their units. As a result, there is far more strategy in using attacks and abilities too, especially when adding initiative order into the mix.
Not every action will work out as planned. In Mordheim, chance is a factor to be reckoned with, just like in the real game. On one of the first turns, an attempt was made to buff the damage of an allied unit, but it failed. This isn’t limited to combat based abilities either. Checks have to be made for climbing and leaping across gaps. Fail the hidden dice roll, and you’ll fall, perhaps taking an injury in the process. Injuries can also be accumulated from the various traps that litter the environments. These can be detected using a successful perception check (another throwback to tabletop gaming), but certain units will be better at this than others.
When your units die, the other members of your warband will take a morale hit. If it goes below a particular level, a rout check will have to be passed or your units will begin to flee. Keeping your leader safe, yet nearby is integral to this. Not only will fleeing units be unable to perform for you, they’ll also be vulnerable to further attack.
Matches are a case of trying to wipe out your enemy, but they’re also incredibly cautious affairs. Both players are trying to keep their units as safe as possible, but to win, you often have to take risks. I can see myself becoming attached to my warriors in the same way as XCOM managed a couple of years ago. You won’t be able to cheat and reload a save here though, as the persistent injuries and permadeath carries over to online matches from the single player.
Never the same
Unlike most multiplayer games, maps are procedurally generated each time you load the game. A bridge, for example, might provide access to an otherwise unreachable location, but on another day it might be raised or even totally destroyed.
Mordheim: City of the Damned is looking interesting already and it's not even finished. When it releases on Early Access this autumn there will be four warbands to choose from at the start, but the developers will be listening to community feedback and choosing new races to add in future updates. For those looking to have a taste of tabletop gaming on their computer, this could be a big hit.