I have been a HeroQuest player since '00. My Barbarian, Connacth, is ready to shake off the dust and slash enemies with his Broad Sword.
The Return of an Iconic Board Game
In 2020, Hasbro launched a crowdfunding campaign to relaunch an old IP: HeroQuest. The target for the 45-day campaign was $1,000,000. That goal was reached in the first 24 hours, and a total of $3,722,649 was raised at the end of the crowdfunding campaign.
If you've never played the game, its popularity might be surprising. In this article, we will briefly retrace the history of this iconic game and the reasons why you should play it, too!
What Made HeroQuest So Special?
The original HeroQuest was created in the late '80s by Games Workshop (GW) and Milton Bradley Company (MB) as a turn-based RPG set in the world of Warhammer Fantasy.
One player takes the role of "Dungeon Master" and, using miniatures and cardboard tiles, builds the board. The other players take on the roles of a group of four adventurers—a Barbarian, Dwarf, Elf and Wizard—and explore the dungeon in search of fame and glory.
As they move around the dungeon, these adventurers can activate traps, search for hidden treasures and doors, run into monsters defending the dungeon, flee or fight the monsters, find legendary equipment and so on.
The Gameplay Is Basic, Fast and Fun
The gameplay is quite basic, but it was created especially for a younger audience or for players who did not want long or complex story arcs (as often happens with D&D). It turns tabletop roleplaying into a fairly fast pastime. The game was intended as an entry point for Warhammer Fantasy; in fact, the figurines can be colored with Citadel colors.
The Dungeon Master Can Be Flexible and Creative
One of the biggest misconceptions about HeroQuest is considering the game as a self-contained story. HeroQuest needs to be compared to games like D&D or Gurps or Cyberpunk 2077, where the Dungeon Master has the power to create new story arcs, add new storytelling elements, etc.
Some fans have correctly interpreted the basic concept of the game. In fact, there are many sites around the world (available in different languages) that present new stories, new objects, new quests, etc.
The group consists of four heroes, each with different roles:
- The Barbarian has a high attack value and a lot of life points. This character is perfect for brave players, as he can fill the role of both an attacker and a tank.
- The Dwarf comes equipped with a tool bag (useful against traps) and a good life score, making this character perfect as an offensive/defensive support.
- The Elf is endowed with a magical skill that allows him to use a school of magic. Depending on the school of magic he chooses, he can be a healer/buffer or play a more offensive role with fireballs.
- The Wizard knows three schools of magic, so he can be extremely flexible (healer/buffer/debuffer/direct damage-dealer, etc.), but his poor fighting skills and low life points relegate him to a less important role in direct confrontations—essentially, he's a glass cannon.
Equipment and Magic
Each player has their own card where they can note the character's remaining life points or where they can mark the magic potions or other inventory items found through quests.
Among the quests, you can buy items with the gold coins you find in the dungeon. These items will enhance your character and make it easier to defeat certain foes. For example:
- A Crossbow for fighting the squeaky Goblins? Check!
- A big Battle Ax for the Fimir or the Chaos Warriors? Check!
- Some Chain Mail to defend against the Gargoyles? Check!
- Holy Water for the Undead? I've found that in the previous dungeon, so check!
Together with the provisions, the spells are recharged, and then they are available for new quests.
The Four Schools of Magic
In HeroQuest, there are four schools of magic, one for each element: Fire, Water, Earth and Air.
- Fire is the school most geared towards aggressive play and allows direct damage with spells such as fireball or offensive buffs for your teammates.
- Water is the most defensive school, with healing effects or debuffs for opponents.
- Earth allows for body healing or defensive buffs for your teammates.
- Air has the most utility; it can also summon a Djinn for a single powerful attack.
The Enemies and the Combat Phase
From annoying little Goblins to fearsome Chaos Warriors, from the imposing Fimir to the ancestral Mummies, from stinking Orcs to hungry Zombies, the original HeroQuest offers a very diverse bestiary from the Warhammer ecosystem. The gameplay very often respects those elements by providing extra depth and recreating the proper atmosphere.
For example, Goblins are the fastest creatures, but they don't bother the more experienced adventurers much—except attacking you from behind when you're already busy with more important opponents. The Skeletons and Zombies protect their crypts and graves with their slow but inexorable pace. Opponents can hide behind pit traps targeting you with bows and arrows; boulders can fall from above, and pit traps can suddenly swallow unaware heroes—the list goes on!
How Combat Works: Attack Value vs. Defense Value
Each character or monster has an attack and defense value that is used in combat by rolling dice made especially for the purpose (3 skulls, 2 shields and 1 monster are depicted on each die).
In combat, the attacker is required to roll dice equal to his basic attack plus any upgrades, while the defender rolls dice equal to his base defense plus any upgrades.
It's fair and simple. There are no complex statistics in the game to calculate, which makes it easy for any player to understand.
Expansions and Other Media
The basic version was released in 1989 in Europe and in 1990 in the US. The European and American versions are substantially identical; there are only a few names that have been adapted. Several expansions have been made with new mechanics, new enemies and new miniatures. A new version called Advanced HeroQuest was also released in the following years.
- Video Games: In addition to being a tabletop game, HeroQuest was also reimagined in the world of video games. In fact, in 1991, the video game was launched for various consoles, including the Amiga (which I had the honor of playing).
- Apps: Over the years, HeroQuest has also entered the app market with fan-made games that echo the mechanics of the original game, such as Arcane Quest.
- Websites: Around the world, it is still possible to find websites and forums where fans can share content, create new quests or get excited about the game all over again.
- Software: A particular software (the HeroScribe) was created in order to recreate the maps and make them identical to those of the original game.
The fanbase isn't incredibly extensive, but it's truly enthusiastic about the game. Some original content is sold to collectors for high prices.
I Love the Old Game and Look Forward to the New One
In my opinion, HeroQuest was a great game, and the new version seems to be (at first sight) an updated version for today's world.
At the time of this writing, Hasbro has renewed the graphics, and new drawings by Max Dunbar have been revealed. The publisher has also communicated that an additional adventure book (Prophecy of Telor) created by Stephen Baker—who was part of the original staff—has been added to the game. We hope that this will be the beginning of a renewed interest in HeroQuest with a lot of potential, such as crossovers with other Hasbro IPs like D&D and Magic: The Gathering.
We as teenagers loved HeroQuest for its accessibility (the rulebook was very small!) and the memories it created—so much so that, decades later, we still reminisce about the time we faced hordes of Orcs and Goblins or more massive creatures like the Chaos Warriors (which I later also played as an army in Warhammer).
I sincerely hope you can enjoy the new version as much as we enjoyed the old one and all its expansions.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!
© 2020 Christian Allasia