With toy giant Hasbro recently breathing new life into the aged, once thought forever dead, by beloved HeroQuest I thought back on my long affair with miniatures board games, and with miniatures in general. Time, I thought, to go back to where it all started.
Before I start rambling, which I surely will do but please bear with me, I wish to clarify two things. Firstly I have a large soft spot for this game! It was the gateway game for me getting into miniatures board gaming and as such will always be special to me.
Somewhere during 1995 I was at a friend's house, playing Street Fighter II and he chanced to mention a board game that I had seen advertised on the t.v. and that he had a copy. Bowing to my constant queries he showed me the game and I loved it. Cut to eight-or-so years ago, I had been a solid video game geek and not a board gamer in the slightest, and one of my work colleagues mentioned that he was selling a copy along with a copy of Space Crusade (which was ruined/destroyed in a series of unfortunate circumstances many moons ago) for £10. The nostalgia alone made me almost rip his arm off and I was pleased to find a complete and almost mint copy of Heroquest (the Barbarians Sword was broken and the Wizard had been modified). I left the game alone for a couple of years and then, one slow day, we chanced to play to relieve the boredom and ended up running the full campaign over the next week and my board game and miniature craving began in earnest. So when my Fiancé complains....... It's his fault.
On to the review......
Designed by Games Workshop and Milton Bradley Games as a way of getting more casual players interested in the warhammer universe, and probably looking for board game to war gaming conversion along with it, Heroquest is an adventure board game for two to five players and was first published in 1989 and featured the tale of four adventurers (Barbarian, Wizard, Elf and Dwarf) on their quest to defeat the evil sorcerer Morcar (or Zargon if you live in North America) and over the years had many expansions.
The game is played on a rather nice, and large, board with the dungeon layout printed on it, which is asymmetrical to help with the planning and following of maps provided in the quest book (more on that in a few). Populated by an assortment of evil gribblies from lowly Goblins all the way up to the brutal Gargoyle and the evil sod himself Morcar the dungeons can be assembled in almost limitless different formations with the doors and furniture used for the rooms and tiles of broken, fallen rubble used to seal off unused corridors and alter the shape of the board giving almost infinite possibilities to a seemingly finite board on first appearances.
Back to the box firstly and the artwork is a classic heroic combat scene with the barbarian striking a decidedly Conan-esque pose with a horde of bad guys spilling from the background onto his fellow adventurers, the entire thing reeks of Frank Frazettas beautiful fantasy art, while the rear sports some of the usual fare of game blurb accompanied by a picture of a game session under way with three children, none of whom appear to be looking at the board, just the middle distance. The inside of the lid has instructions for the assembly of the various pieces of furniture and the Gargoyle, a feature common to most MB games of the era which involved some form of assembly.
The first thing under the lid, in my box anyway, is the evil wizards screen which on the outer facing side features the wizard Morcar himself and a host of his evil minions while the inside has a quick reference for the map icons and instructions on how to handle the traps.
Next we have the board, pictured above, divided into seventeen rooms and surrounded by corridors. The rooms have no door spaces printed which allows for the separate doors to be placed anywhere you wish. The little details on the board are a nice touch, from the odd scrap of paper to piles of bones, they add to the feel of the game once playing.
The rule book is short and concise with simple explanations of the rules and small demo games to demonstrate movement, combat and magic/ranged combat. So easy are the rules that you really only need look at them once and you know them for ever, in fact writing this review has seen me open mine for the first time in around six years!
To accompany this is the quest book, of which I have two, which contains 14 quests detailing the journey through the dungeons culminating in the final battle with the Witch Lord, servant of Morcar. The reason I stated that I have two is that both are from the 1989 English release but feature a different opening mission. The original first mission was called The Maze and was a sparsely populated dungeon where the objective is to find the exit, the second is called The Trial, which is a much harder combat slog with all enemy types present barring the sorcerer, this provides a more difficult introduction to the game and is preferred by most players I have run games for. The quest book has a top down map of the dungeon detailing where the heroes start, where the dungeon contents, mainly the furniture and doors, all of which are cardboard held with plastic detailing (see pictures), and monsters are to be placed when a room is explored and what treasures can be found, all accompanied by flavour text detailing the story behind each mission.
There are five sets of cards for the players and the evil sorcerer to use throughout the game, all of which have withstood the test of time better than a lot of other full games I have. These are...
Monster cards – These are the reference cards for the evil sorcerer which show how many spaces the monsters can move and how many attack and defence dice they roll in combat.
Quest treasure cards – These are five magical items found throughout the campaign which can aid the heroes such as a sword that does extra damage to orcs and some magical armour.
Spell cards – Four classes of spell, fire, earth, water and air, comprised of three spells each. These are divided between the elf, who receives one class, and the wizard who receives the other three. The wizard receives more and has more use for the magic as in combat he is little more than a squishy target in a robe!
Treasure cards – During the quest heroes can search empty rooms and corridors for treasure or secret doors instead of fighting. When they do they draw a card from this pile of 25 cards, 16 of which are either potions or gold, 1 has nothing and 8 feature either traps or wandering monsters who appear and immediately attack the luckless hero.
Equipment cards – Between each mission, provided they survive, heroes can spend any gold found or earned on these cards to buy new equipment, from weapons and armour to cloaks for wizards and toolkits for disarming traps.
The players have two reference sheets during play. A card sheet specific to each character class showing their attack, defence and movement values as well as their hit points and mind points (like hit points but used rarely by special enemies to damage you psychically) and a paper reference for the players to track their wounds, equipment and completed quests.
The miniatures are a made of a decent quality (for the time) plastic, the heroes are cast in red. Orcs, goblins and firmirs are cast in a dark green. Skeletons, zombies and mummies are cream and the gargoyle and sorcerer, who stands in for npc’s in some missions, are grey. The sculpt’s are not too bad and are made to last. Finally there are six dice two of which are standard red D6, the other four are used for combat and defence and have three skulls to represent hits, two shields for hero defence and one black shield for monster defence.
The gameplay in Heroquest was made deliberately uncomplicated, making it an ideal gateway game for introducing new players to the genre. The early missions are short but still long enough to serve as a simple tutorial.
Movement for the heroes is governed by the rolling of two D6 and they may up to the rolled amount of squares. (In our games the players using the Dwarf have yet to roll greater than 8! For years our group have had to wait for the Dwarf to catch up!)
The movement value for the monsters is printed on the relevant monster card as are the defense, attack, body and mind values.
The details of the board are filled in by the player acting as Evil Sorcerer as the heroes turn corners, open door or attain line of sight by any other means. The furniture, doors and monsters are placed according to the map (in the Quest Book or hand planned). The players take their turns in a clockwise fashion starting with the player to the left of the Evil Sorcerer and then any monsters on the board get to act, moving and attacking as the Sorcerer sees fit.
Combat is a simple affair. Each Hero has a number of attack dice to throw, as stated on their character cards (or on the monster card if the attacker is such) and for each skull rolled on these dice a hit is scored. The attacked player then rolls their defence dice, likewise stated on either hero or monster card, and for each shield rolled one hit is blocked. Monsters have a harder time defending themselves as I showed earlier, the must roll a black shield and each combat die has only one of these. Monsters have only one wound so most die with ease, the greater exceptions to this are the Chaos Warrior, the Gargoyle and the Mummies as they roll four dice in defence, so have a greater chance of lasting. The monsters often have the advantage of numbers in the quests but a combination of the combat prowess of the dwarf and barbarian and the magic held by the wizard and elf give the heroes an equal edge with which to fight off the hordes.
Magic is used simply by playing the appropriate card during the turn instead of attacking, either before or after moving, and these spells range from assistance spells which can heal, defend and aid escape or they can attack the monsters with sleeping spells, fireballs or by summoning a genie to obliterate them. These spells are only usable once per dungeon so choosing when and where to use them adds a tactical element to the more difficult missions.
Elf, Dwarf and Wizard preparing to get a beating from a Firmir
The missions range from simple combat runs to escorts and seek and destroy missions but the inclusion of a blank map in the centre of the quest book adds the limitless potential for home made quests, although a photocopy is recommended for this as frequent pencil erasing would soon destroy the map page.
All in all I will give Heroquest 9/10. It is as good a gateway game to the board gaming community as any other and is very thematic for those with the inclination for fantasy. The age rating is for 9 and upwards but I have had many games with my son from the age of five onwards and he proved to be quite the tactician, defending the soft, squishy wizard with a walking wall of dwarf and barbarian. The only reason I give a 9 as opposed to a pure 10/10 is the slight limitation of the board itself. We have long since adapted the rules for longer campaigns, added classes and equipment and begun using modular dungeon tiles from my copy of Descent – Journeys in the Dark instead of the old board but we still lean back for some nostalgic gaming when we are either bound by a timescale which prevents larger games or we simply want a simple, old school romp through those familiar halls and rooms.
Heroquest will always be special to me and my group and will never be forgotten as others have been and surely will again, and if you ever get the chance, I urge you to have a game. Suit up, grab your combat dice and wade through some monsters with your friends, there is always a quest waiting.