If you were a ’90’s kid and a fan of fantasy settings, HeroQuest will probably not need any introduction, but for all there who still want to know what is this classic game, HeroQuest is an old and extremely popular fantasy dungeon crawler game.
In this game from 2 to 5 players, one player takes the role of the Dungeon Master directing the other players (up to 4) through a dungeon on a board, fighting classic tropes like orcs and zombies in a series of connected quests to complete an adventure (or Quest Pack) to be played across several sessions.
The game mechanics are extremely easy and involve rolling movement dice and combat dice, searching traps and secret passages in order to complete the objective of that specific quest and defeat the evil sorcerer (interpreted by the Dungeon Master).
HeroQuest was produced in 1989 the first time, since then intellectual property changed hands few times, a couple of videogames and few novels were released and finally in 2021 Hasbro published a remake of this eternal classic.
If you are already familiar with the game, you can skip directly to the Final Thoughts on HeroQuest section, otherwise strap in for a magical trip in the past.
What is HeroQuest remake, brief history
It was the year 1989 when a collaboration between Milton Bradley Company and Games Workshop realised the dungeon crawler game called HeroQuest. It reached United States only in 1990, and this will become interesting later on since each region will develop slightly different from each other.
The original game was meant to be simple, playable by kids with their parents and pit the company of heroes against a Dungeon Master that would have absolute control over the board while still following a scripted narrative.
The game was successful and different expansions followed in the years, some released only in Europe and some released only in North America. Later the same year Games Workshop released Advanced HeroQuest that contained a more complex set of rules but a similar mechanic.
Eventually the trademark lapsed (1997) and it changed hands few times until Milton Bradley, now called Hasbro Gaming, a subsidiary of Hasbro, re-obtained the license in 2020. In the meanwhile Games Workshop, the company famous for Warhammer, continued to evolve the game system under the new brand Warhammer Quest.
Finally, in 2020 Avalon Hill, a subsidiary of Hasbro specialised in wargames and strategic board games, was able to launch a crowdfunding campaign to re-publish the original game through Hasbro Pulse. The campaign was widely successfully despite being originally limited to North America. This caused the Kickstarter version, called Mythic Edition, to be a limited edition not available in retail or in other languages.
The game is now widely available across the world on retail and several expansions followed, mostly linked to the North-American version of the game, rather than the European (it is highly possible that the Ogre expansion will not be remade). This is reflected in item restrictions and higher monsters hit points that are slightly different than the European version of 30 years ago.
But what changed? Mostly nothing, the game tries to be as close as possible to the original, to the point that some of the same printing mistakes have been replicated. However, all references to Games Workshop intellectual properties like the Chaos Warriors, have been renamed (Dread instead of Chaos) and the Fimir monsters have been modified to aquatic beings called Abominations.
Apart from some rewording and, of course, the new design style, the game plays exactly as it did 30 years ago.
Starting to play – the Dungeon Master
The most important role on a HeroQuest game is the Dungeon Master. Differently from most modern dungeon crawlers, HeroQuest is not fully cooperative. The Dungeon Master controls all enemies but he also has the role to introduce the quest to the heroes, set up the board adding all new components each time a corridor or a new room is explored and determine when a hero is caught in a trap.
While it can seem quite simple as a role, performing it well is the difference between a game that the other players will enjoy and one that they will not. In the first campaign the DM is limited on what he can do, but later on he has access to new tools and can make the life extremely hard to the heroes.
Killing off a hero too soon may spell doom to the entire party but the game properly played can become extremely easy so some DMs add some house-rules to spice up the game.
At the end of a series of quests vaguely inter-connected, the Dungeon Master will describe the defeat of the main evil of the campaign hence proclaiming the heroes victorious… it can be an unrewarding job!
The remake introduces also a new companion app whose scope would be to replace the Dungeon Master so that the game can be played entirely cooperative. However, one of the players still need to move all miniatures on the app as well as on the board. While you can split the duties between players or rotate, the chore remains and the gameplay is not that fluid.
The app is smart and appealing, it is constantly updated with the new expansions but is almost like playing a videogame and soon detracts from the actual board. We recommend using it mostly for comparison with the various errata if you are the Dungeon Master.
Playing as one of the heroes
On the other side of the board there are the heroes. The core game comes with the 4 classic ones: the Barbarian, the Dwarf, the Elf and the Wizard, while the Kickstarter exclusive edition adds 3 more and the alternative gender to the classic roles. The 4 core heroes all complement each other really well representing brute strength (the Barbarian), ability to disable traps (the Dwarf), magic power (the Wizard) and a more versatile character that should specialise in ranged combat and support magic (the Elf).
If the heroes fully cooperate and explore one room at a time giving everyone plenty of time to act before the Dungeon Master’s turn, the game can be pretty straightforward. Trouble arises when heroes start racing towards the juiciest treasure or they split, as divided they are much easier to eliminate.
Heroes have a list of actions that they can perform in addition to moving, but they can’t stop their movement to perform an action and continue the movement. Every turn they can perform only one action:
- Attack: when at range and in line of sight of an enemy figure, you roll as many combat dice as your attack strength, determined by your equipment. We are going to see the attack in more details below.
- Cast a spell: only if you are a hero with magic capabilities, you can launch one of your once-per-scenario abilities. Wizard and Elf split the main 4 schools of magic (Fire, Water, Earth and Air) so that the Elf has one and the Wizard the remaining 3. Other classes have their own abilities but they are all one-off.
- Search for treasure: if there’s no monster in the explored room, the heroes can search for a treasure, usually if there’s furniture there may be something hidden in it. Otherwise, the Dungeon Master will instruct them to draw from a deck of cards that can contain anything from precious gems to traps and wandering monsters.
- Search for secret passages: it wouldn’t be an exploration game if there were not secret passages leading to shortcuts, hidden rooms or death. It ain’t fair all the time.
- Search for traps: once again, if there are no visible monsters, the heroes can search for traps. Traps found this way are not put on the board but the heroes are advised by the Dungeon Master that a tile has something suspicious. It is up to the heroes to try to disarm it, jump it or just ignore it. But if they do forget about it and they pass over it, they immediately activate the trap.
- Disarm a trap: heroes can also disarm traps if they have the proper tools (or are the dwarf), if successful the trap is removed from the game with no effects.
And that’s it, pretty straightforward. Once a hero performs his movement and action, it passes to the next one and when all have completed their turn, if there’s enemy on the board, it’s the Dungeon Master turn.
All actions that require a test, like an attack or disarming a trap, are performed with the same six-faced combat dice with the following proportions: 3 skulls, 2 white shields and 1 black shield.
The attacks are always performed rolling as many dice as the current attack strength based on the current equipment, generally speaking the Barbarian will have stronger weapons for more dice, and the wizard weaker weapons for less dice. Each skull rolled is a hit. The enemy then replies with as many dice as their defence level and aims for black shields, where each blocks a single hit. If any hit is not blocked, it reduces the health by 1. Most enemies have only 1 hit point (or body points) and they are dead, but stronger enemies have more health.
The heroes defend the same way but they use the white shields instead of the black shields, so they have usually more chances to defend. They also have more health and the ability to find healing potions or cast healing spells, but once they reach 0 body points, they are gone from the game.
Campaigns and expansions in HeroQuest
As we mentioned, HeroQuest is best played with a series of interconnected sessions with the same party. It tries to emulate the experience of playing Dungeons & Dragons while simplifying the rules and visually displaying heroes, monsters and scenery.
For this reason, once you have completed the main quest pack from the core game, you can then look for other fan-made adventures or expand your horizon with the official expansions.
The Mythic Tier is not available on retail and you’ll need to scour the second-hand market for an hefty price, but then this rewards you with new content, in the form of new sculpts for existing miniatures, like more orcs, zombies, etc, or alternative sculpts with the other gender for the original 4 classes (female Barbarian, female Dwarf, female Wizard and male Elf). Three new classes were added to the fray: a Warlock, a Druid and a Bard… an Orc Bard.
On top of these goodies, three new quest books were released written by widely known personalities like Stephen Baker (the original game designer that invented HeroQuest), Teos Abadia (well known for his work with Dungeons and Dragons and Wizards of the Coast) and Joe Manganiello (American actor famous for the TV series True Blood but also for his involvement in Dungeons and Dragons).
At this tier were included also the first two expansions now available on retail: Kellar’s Keep that expands the world of orcs, goblins and abominations, and the Return of the Witch Lord, that focuses instead on the undead with skeletons, zombies and mummies.
The first non-original mini-expansion for the game was The Commander of the Guardian Knights, a set of 2 miniatures and cards to be used in any quest. It had only limited availability and was meant to favour the launch of the game on retail. You can read more from Hasbro themselves but the bottom line is that they are gone and they may be replaced by something similar in the future but not in that shape or form.
A new mini-expansion, The Rogue Heir of Elethorn, contains as well two new miniatures, one for gender, and cards to play the new class; but is much more widely available.
The last expansion released is The Frozen Horror that introduces new mechanics and new monsters in the form of Polar Warbears, Yetis and others, together with mercenary classes and a female barbarian.
Expected for Spring 2023 is instead the last of the North-American original releases: The Mage of the Mirror that introduces new challenges and new miniatures, including a male Elf, Ogres and Giant Wolves.
Final thoughts on HeroQuest
So we finally reached the end of our review. Who is the targeted audience of this game? Nostalgic for sure. If you had this game when you were a kid and lost it since then, this is your best occasion to basically get the same game once again and maybe introduce it to your kids.
If you are a group of friends who like dungeon crawlers and have played this game long ago, that is a good jump back in the past and can be fun for few nights.
If you are a group of young players who never experienced this type of games, or a father that wants to introduce D&D in a softer version to their kids, this is the perfect introductory game.
If you know this game and it didn’t interest you 30 years ago, nothing changed, you can keep ignoring the remake as well. If you are a modern player, used to the levels of complexity of today’s games, this may be too simple for you.
There is no progression, no levelling between quests. The complexity is created by adding more monsters and hiding the right path so that forces heroes to scan every corner. Later quest packs introduce more mechanics that make the game more challenging, but the core remains the same.
In our mind, a good dungeon master is irreplaceable and the companion app, even if well executed, is not enough to replace that human touch. Finding a guy whose entertainment is to be beaten over and over by the heroes can be difficult, but not impossible. Plus, he has some tools available to make things a bit more intriguing and increase enjoyment of all parts.
The quality of the miniatures is ok at best. It did not evolve as much from 30 years ago, and while the miniatures were great for 30 years ago standards, today they lose a bit in comparison. Part of it is because they wanted to recreate the same atmosphere of the past, but from 2020 you would expect a bit more love on the miniatures side.
Re-playability is almost non existing. Especially if you are the Dungeon Master, once you learn the ideal path in a quest, you can track it blindfolded. Heck, if you have good memory and still remember them from 30 years ago, this will be a walk in the park. To stretch the game value, you will need to use custom-made adventures (Hasbro has so far published some free quests), find a copy of the extra quest packs from the Mythic edition, or purchase a new expansion.
In summary this game is more of the exact same. If you missed it 30 years ago, you have a chance to replay it as it was, but if you are into modern games, this one struggles to differentiate. It doesn’t add anything new, even the recent expansions are just repetitions of the old ones. It may change in the future, but for now it’s a game that was great 30 years ago but has since been surpassed in mechanics.
Compared to Gloomhaven or even the more recent Oathsworn, HeroQuest looks like a small child.
Other resources and links
Unfortunately Hasbro is not particularly good in publishing corrections and errata, however the guys at Ye Olde Inn have compiled all incongruencies from the various expansions and collected also official responses from Hasbro.
If you want to see all differences between the different versions of the game, there is another post on the same blog with pictures of all components from the various editions.