The Rise & Fall of Anvalor is a game of ups and downs.
The promise starts high. It’s a tile-laying board game where the various fantasy factions of Warhammer’s Age of Sigmar universe have gathered together to build a city, while having to fend off continual attacks from orcs, the rat-like Skaven and the forces of Chaos. The endless assaults means there’s no shortage of bloodletting, and the simple dice-chucking combat – using a rainbow of polyhedrons with deadly one-roll-kill efficiency – makes the action fast and furious while nodding back to Warhammer’s dice-heavy roots. Seeing a wave of enemies sweep across the board from one of the grid’s edges, slaughtering units and demolishing buildings as they go – or being mown down by your troops’ combo-tastic tiles – is pleasingly sadistic.
Or, at least, it is the first time.
Where The Rise & Fall of Anvalor begins to roll downhill is after that first assault. Although you and your companions are working together to build up the city and defend it, you’re also out for personal gain. Obtaining influence – which crowns a 'winner' once the blood of the entire enemy army has soaked into the ground – requires constructing city buildings that benefit everyone alongside your faction-specific tiles. This enables enemy tiles to start lining up around the edges of the board, eventually spilling through the gates. Being the world of Warhammer, death and devastation ain’t all bad: killing enemies also nets influence, as can losing your own troops given the right tile effects. On the other hand, there’s a sick pleasure to seeing just enough foes creep past your units to knock down your frenemies’ valuable buildings, letting you edge ahead of the race for domination of whatever’s left standing by the end of the game.
Losing buildings and units is almost unavoidable – and so your Sisyphean task of rebuilding the city begins again. And again. Rise, fall and rise again. So it goes, until there’s one final sweep of the board by the last dregs of the enemy. You could be left standing the influential ruler of little more than an empty board; thematically apt, perhaps, but hardly satisfying.
Part of the issue is that The Rise & Fall of Anvalor’s love of chaos extends beyond the hulking legions of Goretide on the table. The game’s central puzzle of tile-placement, which lets the diverse factions come alive in the bonus abilities and effects adjacent units and buildings grant each other, is undermined by the unpredictable placement of enemies and outcome of combat. Enemy tiles are placed facedown on a random edge at the whim of a six-sided die and only revealed at the beginning of an assault, making it near impossible to plan for particular situations – it doesn’t matter if your Fyreslayer Doomseekers get bonus influence for being killed by an enemy of seven-plus strength if they up next to a bunch of pathetic fodder instead. Even then, the largely mandatory combat and chance that a naff die roll can ruin any best-laid plans saps away even more of the pleasure of setting up points-reaping combos or controlling the enemies’ movement enough to play into the collaborative-competitive tension.
The Rise & Fall of Anvalor’s chaotic nature will no doubt please some players looking for a wild hour of building up only to see it all knocked down. The chunky tiles – each uniquely shaped with the personality of their Age of Sigmar counterparts in mind, with troops tidily concentrating the nature of the tabletop miniatures – and opportunity to slam the different factions into each other to see what happens holds a particular anarchic appeal. But that unruly energy too frequently ends up feeling completely out of your control, hammered to the point of frustration and exhaustion by the repetition central to Anvalor’s rise and fall. See your efforts go to waste enough times, and you may begin to question whether it’s really worth doing it all again.
PLAY IT? – MAYBE
There’s a certain chaotic pleasure in seeing your city besieged time after time as you struggle with and against your fellow Warhammer factions to build it up. The problem is that the chaos – in every sense – can too often become overwhelming, leaving you with little sense of satisfaction once the dust settles.
Designer: Rustan Håkansson
Artist: Games Workshop team, Richard Dadisman
Time: 1 hour
This review originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.