Over the years we’ve seen plenty of hot video game licenses spill over onto the tabletop and vice versa. The latest gaming icon to undergo this transformation is The Elder Scrolls, Bethesda’s landmark RPG series that became a frontrunner for the genre with the back to back success of Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim.
You’d think that the obvious route for an Elder Scrolls adaptation would be a pen and paper roleplaying game, a thick tome covering the lore and core rules, married to a series of adventure modules exploring the four corners of Tamriel. Chances are we’ll one day see such a thing, but British game makers, Modiphius, chose a different path.
The Elder Scrolls: Call To Arms is a rich, inventive tabletop miniatures game designed by Mark Latham that launched earlier this year. Instead of pitching huge armies, you’ll engage in lethal skirmishes, similar to Fallout: Wasteland Warfare – another Modiphius joint. What’s particularly interesting about Call To Arms is that it goes beyond the standard player versus player format. You can also throw non-player “AI” foes into the mix, adding an unpredictable layer to competitive battles, or you can face them alone in solo play.
So, what do you need in order to kickstart your Call To Arms adventures in Tamriel? The core rules box set crams in just about everything you’ll require, including the game’s unique set of dice, token sheets, cards, scenarios, and a copy of the rule book. There’s a condensed version of the rules as well, handy for those who want a quick taster session before absorbing the game’s dense web of mechanics.
You’ll also need some miniatures too, of course. Admittedly, right out of the gate there hasn’t been much choice for early adopters of The Elder Scrolls: Call To Arms. With only three box sets available, you can either align with the Imperials or Stormcloaks, Skyrim’s two warring factions. There’s a Bleak Falls box set as well, containing several Draugr as well as a Dragonborn hero, though this set is more geared towards the adventure style of play.
The range is fairly limited though there are new miniatures on the way with reinforcements for both Imperial and Stormcloak to expand their armies, as well as various supporting heroes with familiar faces such as Lydia, General Tullius, and Ulfric Stormcloak. To round out the year, December will also introduce a Dragon which is sure to heat up those tabletop encounters.
The flow of the game doesn’t feel all that different from other miniature wargames as players take turns activating models, performing actions, and resolving the effects. However, Call To Arms weaves in more interactivity than most of its tabletop counterparts, unafraid to flex those video game influences. Instead of following the basic move, shoot, melee template, you have more options and more freedom to play, making this a faithful Elder Scrolls adaptation.
Whether slinging spells, turtling behind a shield, or pickpocketing oblivious foes, there’s plenty of depth here elevated by advanced mechanics. Most actions are attempted by taking the relevant skill checks. Swinging an axe, for example, is governed by a model’s strength with players having to roll a score equal to or lower than the stat shown on their card.
Depending on character traits as well as those baked into weapons, armour, and other equipment, you’ll often roll effect dice at the same time which can help the outcome. On top of that, you can boost certain actions to sprint or deliver precision strikes in the hope of a heroic set piece. Then there’s party management with items, inventories, and even the chance to level up characters.
There’s a steep learning curve (especially when factoring in non-player characters and their response matrix) though the trade-off is a higher sense of immersion that’s typically absent from a lot of tabletop games.
Modiphius certainly win points for the quality of their components. From the expertly detailed miniatures themselves (available in plastic or resin) to the tokens and cards, every part of their Call To Arms range has that distinct Elder Scrolls look to it, sometimes using icons and imagery ripped from the video games.
Again, it’s a shame there hasn’t been much variety in terms of the miniatures and factions available though this is due to the change in the coming months with several new sets rolling out before 2021. That said, we’d like to see a more comprehensive starter box, bundling in the essential rules, miniatures, and some terrain/mats. Right now, to create and populate your own Tamriel dioramas, there’s a considerable buy-in price.
The Elder Scrolls: Call To Arms succeeds in being an enjoyable tabletop game while also authentic. You’ll have fun running short yet dynamic skirmishes and outfitting your own party of adventurers, ready to take on other players or perhaps delve into Skyrim’s AI-driven encounters. We’re keen to see how Modiphius continue to expand the core experience in the months and years following launch – hopefully we’ll start to see shades of Oblivion and Morrowind in future, too!