February 9, 2015 by brennon
I was never fortunate enough to own HeroQuest or Warhammer Quest when I was younger but always loved the look of the game. In my later years I was able to play the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game but it just didn’t seem quite the same. When I walked past a charity shop and saw a copy of HeroQuest sitting there for £2.50 however I had to buy it…
To my surprise everything was inside the box. It was all jumbled together but it was all there. Miniatures, scenery, cards, dice, rules, everything. I had the same excitement breaking it open as I imagine the kids on the back of the box did back when it came out.
I took some time to read through the rulebook and the game is still very much a product of its time when it came to the rules. They were simple, very simple. To attack you rolled dice against your opponent and compared your hits against their shield icons. This second use of the dice was a neat way of playing and I love the tense moments that pop up when you’re trying to bring down a particularly dangerous enemy.
In combat the Barbarian and Dwarf would simply storm around smashing things up. The Elf and the Wizard however had access to some neat spell cards that got shared out between them according to elements. They were easily killed in combat but could use their tricks to put the enemies on the back foot.
It was pretty easy to die, and to indeed kill stuff in HeroQuest and while it was pretty easy to wear down the minions of the Overlord in one or two hits the heroes could also be snuffed out if you weren’t careful with where you positioned them. It wasn’t a very fair game either in that respect as once you were dead, you were dead! No reviving or any such way of getting back into combat – you were gone!
The Overlord, playing as a deadly Wizard, had some really cool monsters up his sleeve and a neat scenario booklet that laid out exactly how you should play with all of the creatures and environments to combat the heroes. There were some things that weren’t well explained, like how you sometimes revealed creatures, but it was a simple game made to be played pretty much right out of the box and I reckon back on those days a bit of fudging the system helped.
A treasure deck was there to supplement the times where you didn’t get to hit at someone and it somewhat broke the feeling of having a wasted turn. There were more traps and such within there anyway however so it wasn’t always an easy decision to go poking around for treasure! I have seen some people house rule how the treasure deck worked too, only allowing it in certain places – it certainly makes sense.
Overall the game was tough, quick, fun and easy to play and very accessible. I can see why it was such a classic as it not only empowered you as an individual hero but also emphasised the need for teamwork too. It’s nowhere near as complex as Warhammer Quest but it would have been a great gateway game to the world of swords & sorcery.
This is where HeroQuest shines. It was a massively awesome experience as a kid, I bet, to open up the game box and see all the cool heroes, monsters and more that sat in the box. You had a really cool and colourful gaming board, loads of neat sculpts of strange and weird creatures and some neat scenery too to set the scene; even the doors were awesome looking with both open and closed versions bringing the dungeon to life.
By modern terms, and indeed even by Warhammer Quests terms, the components weren’t as great but they still awesome. They were chunky and filled with character and the very awesome Gargoyle stands out as an awesome piece of kit to scare the heroes as they burst into the next room.
It comes to something as well that the boxed set I picked up had stood the test of time. It must have had a very good owner even though it was all over the place when I got it but everything was pretty much as good as it would have been back then. All the miniatures were still in one piece, the cards were hard wearing and stocky and the board is a nice big thing of beauty even now.
The artwork is typically old school and very much a product of its time. The cover art is amazing and as are the little illustrations on the character cards and monster cards. Away from that however the artwork could be very weird indeed. Some of the spell cards and treasure cards were very odd and had black and white artwork that would make you feel a bit sick nowadays I reckon. I remember looking at certain cards and being very weirded out by the odd, almost Mordheim-esque, grotesque nature of the pieces.
Back in the day however it would have been an awesome kit to break out with your friends.
Is It Worth Revisiting?
HeroQuest by modern standards isn’t a very well designed game but it’s certainly fun. The kids on the back of the box should point you towards who it should be aimed at but that shouldn’t stop you breaking it out with a few friends and giving it a go. The main thing that drove me to pick it up and play it wasn’t the rules, it wasn’t the old school art or miniatures, it was the charm of it. It’s a no frills dungeon crawler and that’s it.
What this does do is make me think about the ‘fun’ aspect of newer games. I have played Descent from Fantasy Flight Games and while that’s lorded as the very best of the dungeon crawlers right now it doesn’t have the same charm to me. It’s missing that spark of fun from HeroQuest and Warhammer Quest that I think 80′s and 90′s games did so well.
Warhammer Quest is really the way to go if you want to play a dungeon crawler like HeroQuest with a bit more of an edge to it as adults. As Warren said in The Weekender XLBS from Sunday it’s a perfect thing to break out with friends to just play around with or make into an extended experience. If you have kids however and want to get them excited to go dungeon crawling then try and find a copy of HeroQuest, it does the job well.
I’m glad that a lot of designers nowadays seem to have hit on that fun factor again with their own dungeon crawlers and the spirit of the older games is coming back. Mice & Mystics is one such game from Plaid Hat and I think they get that fun factor just right. The new Conan game from Monolith is also up there for me as it does away with the more board game aspects of the experience and makes it more of a role-play instead. Maybe something like Descent is just too technical and the game and feeling of fun gets lost in the mechanics?
HeroQuest, in summary, was a game that was very much a product of its time and by today’s standards probably isn’t the best out there but it is fun, amazing fun.
Have you broken out your own copy of HeroQuest recently?
"To move you rolled dice to see how far you could go, so at some points just two or three spaces, a system which seems archaic and annoying nowadays."
"I'm glad that a lot of designers nowadays seem to have hit on that fun factor again with their own dungeon crawlers and the spirit of the older games is coming back..."