Blizzard's World of Warcraft franchise and Z-Man's Pandemic series are already massively popular on their own, so it stands to reason that they would be even better if they somehow joined forces. It turns out that is indeed the case, as Blizzard and Z-Man's World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King – A Pandemic System Board Game takes key elements from each franchise and combines them into an experience that fans of both will absolutely adore. In fact, it might just be my favorite version of Z-Man's Pandemic series to date, and if you give it a try you may very well feel the same way.
When you first hear the combination of Warcraft and Pandemic you don't immediately assume they'll be perfect fit, and I'll admit I fell into that same camp. Upon closer inspection that couldn't be further from the truth however, as Pandemic's key systems translate to the fantasy trappings of Warcraft's world beautifully, and in some cases enhance them.
Upon first glance, the presentation is what grabs you, with impressive miniatures plotting their way across a vibrant and colorful board, complete with a 3D Icecrown Citadel and looming Lich King miniature occupying the board. The Quest and Hero Sheets are full of color too and the larger size allows clear conveyance of the hero's abilities (which you will be using a lot once you get the hang of them) and the quest's penalties and progression. The sliders used to mark your health are a bit finicky once you start moving them a bit, but that would be the only real nitpick regarding the components.
Once you get into your turn you'll quickly pick up on the more traditional turn process from other Pandemic games, as you place ghouls after drawing Scourge cards each turn, which can overrun (previously referred to as an outbreak) a space and spaces connected to them if a fourth Ghoul ends up in the space. You'll also get four actions and getting across the board to deal with hotspots is just as important here as it was in those original games. Having experience with previous games in the series will allow you to more quickly get acclimated and jump head-on into the new mechanics Lich King offers (as it did for me), and that's mainly in the form of Quests.
The ultimate goal of the game is to march to Icecrown Citadel and take down the Lich King, which you do by completing his Quest challenge. You can only access his Quest by completing the other three Quests on the board, and you'll need to do that with a combination of rolled dice and Hero Cards. Once you take a Quest Action, you can use a combination of successes from your dice roll and matching icons from your current hand of Hero Cards to move along the track, but a welcome layer of strategy exists in the cost associated with taking on a Quest. Each Quest Sheet has a different penalty the hero must withstand, like higher counter hit or an ability to remove successes from your dice roles for instance. If the Lich King is in that territory (he moves around throughout the game), then you'll take an additional hit of damage, and that's all tied to one Quest Action, so you've got to be smart and mindful of your health and where you are if you're going to try and move that Quest forward.
Simply spamming on a Quest could get you knocked out, but it might also mean you ignore a space on the board that's close to being overrun, and if that happens you come closer to defeat thanks to the Despair track. Then again, if the Scourge track is a bit farther along, that increases the amount of Ghouls placed each turn and your chances of being overrun, so you might need to lean heavier into risky decisions to make you get further into those Quests before things start getting too out of hand.
The challenge increases at a steady pace over the course of the game, pairing nicely with the growing comfort level with the game's mechanics, and by the end you're pulling everything out to manage the board and make forward progress, leading to a chaotic but rarely unforgiving finale experience. Sure you might lose, but it rarely feels unfair, as you can likely chalk it up to some unfortunate decisions that didn't work out the way you hoped.
Aside from the previously mentioned health dials, there's not much else that could require fixing. Now, if you're talking unfulfilled potential, it is slightly disappointing that the Lich King and the Citadel aren't more integrated into the gameplay. Don't get me wrong, I love that the Citadel flips over once you unlock it to allow the miniature to stand on it (and thus activating it as a Quest Space for the rest of the game), but for the greater part of the experience it just looks cool on the board and doesn't affect anything. Perhaps if there was an optional expert rule that allowed the Citadel to have some sort of additional affect on spaces around it or some rotating effect on a different space it would feel more relevant to the rest of the game. The same goes for the Lich King, as the extra damage can be a pain, but I often found myself disregarding him. Both are still welcome additions and I enjoyed them as they were, but they also could have been featured more.
That said, there really aren't many identifiable flaws in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King – A Pandemic System Board Game, and it has already become my go-to version of Pandemic. That's not even coming from a die-hard World of Warcraft fan either, but the theme, setting, and mechanics all work together so seamlessly that I just can't help but want to jump back in and give it one more go. Regardless of the players around the table, this is going to be a game I always have on hand, and is an easy recommend for any board game enthusiast's collection.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Published By: Asmodee, Z-Man Games, and Blizzard Entertainment
Designed By: Justin Kemppainen, Todd Michlitsch, Alexandar Ortloff, and Michael Sanfilippo
Art By: Atha Kanaani
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King – A Pandemic System Board Game is available in stores now.