In Skyrim, bards sing about mighty heroes and deeds from long ago. They wouldn't spend long on my adventurers from The Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms, though. I'd like to say I was doing well in the tabletop wargame (complete with models, armies, and monsters), but that'd be a lie. And not in the 'exaggerating for effect' sort of way. My miniature Dragonborn and Imperial Battlemage had been beaten so badly that anything written about them would have to be a comedy. However, this didn't dull my enjoyment of the upcoming game from Modiphius Entertainment. If anything, it only enhanced my experience. Call to Arms is about telling a good story, and the tales you'll walk away with are worth remembering. In fact, it was enough to make me seriously consider grabbing an Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms pre-order.
Genre: Tabletop wargame
Time to play: 60 mins
Set-up time: 5-10 mins
Developer: Modiphius Entertainment (opens in new tab)
Release Date: Early 2020
Our wait for The Elder Scrolls 6 (opens in new tab) grinds on with no end in sight, so Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms aims to fill that adventure-shaped void. A successor to Modiphius' Fallout: Wasteland Warfare (opens in new tab) game, you'll take command of warriors stuck in the middle of Skyrim's civil war. That means the Imperial army, Stormcloak rebels, rotting undead, and heroes like the Dragonborn or Lydia are yours to command (even in miniature form, she's sworn to carry your burdens). While you can go head-to-head with a friend, the interesting wrinkle is a third, AI-controlled squad that's basically there to wreck your sh**. The culprits in this case are Draughr, Skyrim's Norse-inspired zombies who hang out in barrows and cause mischief for anyone plundering them. In a similar vein, 'narrative events' alter the flow of battle to keep you on your toes. That unpredictable nature helps Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms emulate the franchise's famous sandbox gameplay. What's more, this differentiates it from other tabletop mainstays like Warhammer or Warhammer 40K.
Yes, those who've tried Games Workshop's offerings in the past will feel right at home here. Armies of models cross swords on a miniature battlefield, and you can paint them in any way you choose. All the same, Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms isn't limited to skirmishes between armies. Modiphius were keen to emphasise the term 'narrative wargaming' during my visit to its London office, and that's not baseless hype. In fact, there are a couple of modes at play here. Beside traditional versus, there are also connected campaign missions and single-player 'Delves'. The latter is a good old fashioned dungeon crawl, and it's one of the most intriguing ideas being introduced by the game.
Delve missions are inspired by the main storyline of Skyrim, but they also feature additional side-quests, randomised events, loot drops, and other modifiers to give you a unique experience each time you play. What's more, you can earn yourself extra points by completing one of several pre-selected 'Boasts' before the match begins (complete your objective in five turns, for instance). When combined with the often-amusing mishaps that arise from the moment-to-moment play, Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms becomes something very memorable indeed. For example, the game's designers and I had spent a while discussing why my Imperial Battlemage was a Very Big Deal when it came to Destruction magic. Namely, she could dual-wield handfuls of fiery death. That's what I thought, anyway. Sadly for me and Imperial pride, she missed every single shot before dying an inglorious death at the hands of a minion. And my Dragonborn? The thought of looting every treasure chest was all too tempting, so I may have gotten distracted in my quest for shinies. Basically, it was a laugh and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience despite my lack of success.
Before you judge me, there was also a good reason for such kleptomania. My pre-game Boast had been to open every single treasure chest, and doing so would give me bonus Victory Points (which are otherwise earned by killing foes or completing objectives). Getting more of those is a big deal; Victory Points are used to level up your characters for the duration of the game. It's just another layer that makes Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms more engaging.
Similarly, there are many different ways to reach your goal. You can try a sneakier approach or go charging around like a bull in a china-shop. You can swap out other items from your inventory or use Dragon Shouts if you're the Dragonborn. Want to dual-wield a pair of daggers? Go ahead. Prefer using a bow and arrow? Be our guest. You can basically play however you want to.
What's more, players can boost their attacks with stamina or magicka, just like in the video game. And that's the best bit about Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms; it translates Skyrim into tabletop form. There are even event cards where you'll be told that "Khajiit has wares". However, the thing that's the most 'Elder Scrolls' of all is your ability to play this tabletop game solo. It manages this via enemy units whose moves are decided by dice roll and a list of possible actions (you'll then move them as per the result). To spice things up, each foe has been given its own temperament, preference, and class. For example, melee-focused models are overconfident and will normally charge towards the nearest hero wherever possible. Meanwhile, ranged units prefer to keep their distance and pepper foes with arrows from behind cover. Concerned about this being too easy? Don't worry – my preview was a solo mission, and I still lost.
The Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms' campaign is similar. It's separate to Delve mode and consists of scripted, narrative-driven battles. The outcome of each conflict will influence later quests, and you can even claim a settlement in the process. Any resources you collect will help you build up its defences over time, and it may be attacked while you're out on a mission. This level of interconnectivity is normally reserved for the best tabletop RPGs, so seeing it here is exciting.
It may be a hint of what's to come, too. Fallout: Wasteland Warfare recently received a TRPG update (opens in new tab) that lets you run your own Dungeons & Dragons-style adventures in post-apocalyptic America, so I can't help but wonder if Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms will follow suit. A D&D-style expansion set in the Elder Scrolls universe? We can but hope.
In short, The Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms is shaping up very nicely. I came away from my match eager to play more, and that's good news for fans of Bethesda games – they don't have to wait as long as The Elder Scrolls 6 or Starfield (opens in new tab) to get their next big RPG fix.
Want more tabletop recommendations? Don't miss our guide to best board games (opens in new tab).