I have to come to realize that many of the things I write about board gaming now start with a decent chunk of personal history. This opinion piece (from, no surprise, an Opinionated Gamer) is no exception.
Some of that I credit to how long I’ve been in the hobby:
- I bought my first non-American mass-market game in 1973 (Project CIA: The Secret Formula).
- I was a charter subscriber to GAMES magazine.
- I had a bookshelf full of Avalon Hill bookshelf wargames in junior high and high school, including Squad Leader, Air Assault on Crete, Richthofen’s War, and Starship Troopers.
- I played Dungeons & Dragons for the first time using the classic introductory “blue box”.
And some of that I credit to just being old. Well, older. OK, old.
A Stroll Down Memory Lane
In the 1980s, my friends and I just about played the print off the cards of a set of Talisman… and suffered mightily at the hands of fate through multiple games of Dungeonquest. Games Workshop became my post-RPG go-to company for over-the-top fantasy and sci-fi gaming during that period… great artwork, buckets of dice, cool minis, ridiculously long playing times that only worked for folks without a significant other – in other words, right in my wheelhouse during my college and seminary years. (In fairness, while two different versions of Talisman have been in my collection and subsequently sold, my copy of Dungeonquest [complete with Heroes & Catacombs expansions] still is a regularly played game at the House of Jackson.)
As I continued on in this wonderful hobby of ours, I came back around to wanting more fantasy themed adventuring (dungeon or otherwise) games in my collection and on the gaming table. Fellow Opinionated Gamer Frank “Moo” Branham was my “advance scout”, shooting me emails about things he knew I would love. (I distinctly remember him instructing me to go directly to my nearest Wal-Mart with $40 cash in hand and pick up a copy of Heroscape – “do not pass go, do not collect $200.”) 2004 was the beginning of a beautiful (and expensive) relationship with Heroscape… including playtesting some of the expansions for the Heroscape system. (Yes, Hasbro was the hand that fed me Heroscape terrain & swag, including a really cool Heroscape T-shirt that is literally falling apart but still hanging in my closet.)
A number of great new takes on fantasy adventuring board gaming have appeared in the last 20 years:
- Prophecy (2003) was one of the earliest Vlaada Chvátil designs and is a reimagined (and drastically improved) take on Talisman. (This was, no surprise, another Frank Branham recommendation.)
- Return of the Heroes (2004) was another angle on the same genre, this time with a modular board. (Note: the base game & first expansion were released in English, but the two expansions that were released only in German took the world in some really creative directions.)
- Dungeons & Dragons cooperative board game series (beginning 2010) started with Castle Ravenloft and has since added 6 more games to the series. Based on the newest iteration of the D&D RPG rules and classic settings/characters, these are cooperative games with a wide variety of scenarios.
- Catacombs (first edition 2010, third edition 2015, playmat version 2019) – I once described this as “Carabande/Pitchcar + Descent 1.0 – 3 hours = Catacombs”… that’s still a pretty good description. This is the first of the highly thematic flicking combat games, set in a fantasy universe.
- Mage Knight Board Game (2011) is yet another Vlaada design, this time taking adventuring into an intricate and puzzle-filled quest. Although it uses some clix figures, the heart of the game is a deck-building/hand-management system.
- Descent: Journeys in the Dark (first edition 2004, rebooted in 2012, and something new coming in 2021…) – a sprawling dungeon crawl game with a plethora of expansions, plastic minis, and a really great app-driven way to play cooperatively.
- Runebound (first edition 2004, second edition 2005, third edition 2015) – set in the same world as Descent (FFG’s Terrinoth), I like the 3rd edition the best. And, yes, you flip “pogs” for combat.
- Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure (2016) used deck-building and a clever “noise-making” (clank) mechanism to create a dungeon romp/race that has been popular with almost everyone I’ve introduced it to.
- Dungeon Alliance (2018) uses deck-building (similar to Mage Knight), but focuses on dungeon crawl and combat. With the full set of expansions, this is an amazingly deep and story-filled fantasy adventure.
And that’s just some of the games that are in my collection – there are numerous others out there that some of you may want to tout in the comments section. (For example, I haven’t played Gloomhaven – which in some circles means I’ve lost my gamer mojo that I’ve so carefully curated over the years. I have actually played Too Many Bones – which I enjoyed but would need to be back in college and without a significant other again to have the time to really enjoy.)
By now, I’m guessing you’re wondering when I’m actually going to say something about the new version of HeroQuest. I”m getting there, I promise. I just felt like I needed to establish my fantasy bona fides before I wrote the next paragraph.
I Have Never Played HeroQuest
So how did I never end up playing HeroQuest – originally released in 1989… or or Advanced HeroQuest, for that matter? How could someone with that much playing time in fantasy board game worlds have missed out on this classic?
We’ll make this a multiple choice question:
- I was a seminary student with limited cash resources.
- I was deeply in love with the young woman who would become my wife in June of 1990.
- I had already plunked down some major cash to buy Space Hulk and the expansions
- The base game was from Milton Bradley, which had done some nice work with the Gamemaster series, but otherwise was still publishing mostly mass market schlock.
- All of the above
(For those of you who are serious GW fans, Warhammer Quest doesn’t figure into this… it wasn’t released until 1995 and by that point the German game invasion had begun in earnest.)
As you probably guessed, the correct answer is E.
Nibbling Rather Than Biting
With my lack of actual time with HeroQuest, I don’t feel like I’m qualified to savage Hasbro or Avalon Hill for the decision to reprint a classic game… but I still have some thoughts based on my decades of experience in the hobby.
I think the best way to do this is to divvy it up into specific concerns that I have.
What’s My Motivation?
I love theater – and was even a theater major for a portion of my college career. “What’s my motivation?” is an acting cliche. But, in the case of Heroquest, it’s worth thinking about.
I wrote a fellow OG writer this last week that it felt like Hasbro had seen the success of Restoration Games with rebooting/reimagining older games – particularly Return to Dark Tower – and saw visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads.
There is nothing wrong with a profit motive – that how companies succeed and how we get more games. But when the primary motivation is money (in the words of Pink Floyd, “it’s a gas”), creativity and innovation can easily suffer.
New & Improved?
It’s obvious that the team at Hasbro has re-glossed the artwork, updated the miniatures, changed the box shape (from the old GW coffin box that doesn’t fit today’s modern lifestyle), and generally dusted everything off. They’re also adding new campaign material – including bringing back one of the gurus of fantasy adventure game design, Stephen Baker, who had a big part in Heroscape, Battleball, and Battle Masters as well as one of the weirdest Frank-recommended games in my collection, Die Schlacht der Dinosaurier (translated: “The Battle of the Dinosaur Riders”)
But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of work to move the game forward… it’s more like you took HeroQuest to a hot rod shop and gave it racing stripes and replaced the floor mats. I’m happy to be proven wrong here.
Reprint Vs. Reimagine
This may sound overly simplistic, but there’s a marked difference between reprinting a game with cosmetic changes and re-imagining a game to keep what’s worthwhile and let the bits that haven’t aged well go peacefully off into the sunset.
While Restoration Games has proven to be the go-to company for this kind of work, they aren’t the only ones doing it. Fantasy Flight Games did a splendid re-imagine of Wiz-War that is, frankly, a MUCH better game than the original (no matter how beloved it is). They also did a sweet re-thinking of the Gamemaster classic Fortress America. (Both of these were shepherded by the creative genius of designer Kevin Wilson.)
Even Hasbro has allowed their design team to do interesting things to their classic games – Rob Daviau (now a key player with Restoration Games) managed to get a version of Monopoly with victory points published (Monopoly: Tropical Tycoon) and stretched the boundaries of what Risk could be with a variety of games… among them Risk: Balance of Power (two-player Risk), Risk: Black Ops (proof of concept for shortening Risk and adding deeper strategic/tactical decisions), and Risk Legacy (which was the very first legacy game published).
Not every reboot works, though. As an example, Hasbro’s “Heroscape: the Gathering” (combining elements of Heroscape with the theme and card play of M:tG) is pretty uninspired, despite the excellent pedigree.
What Hasbro is doing (from all accounts) is a reprint. I wish they were doing so much more. It might even convince me to pony up the nearly $200 it would take get all the goodies.
Rose-Colored Glasses of Memory
Since this is primarily a reprint of a game that fetches ridiculous prices on the secondhand market (I personally sold a couple of expansions I lucked into for big dollars back 10-15 years ago), it seems like one of the key selling points is nostalgia.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that… again, it’s ok for a company to make money. But it seems a wasted opportunity to simply give grownups the chance to buy what they couldn’t afford when they were 30 years younger.
This is the one point where I’m actually on Hasbro’s side – the price point of this particular item and the need to make the release go viral means that crowdfunding is probably the safest and most cost-effective way to accomplish both of those goals. And that’s especially true when you’re using your own crowdfunding platform.
We’ll Always Have Board Games
Look, it doesn’t take much to see that my opinions don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Hasbro has (as of September 26, 2020) already had $1.5 million in pledges for their reprint of HeroQuest… which means it will be published. But I still think there are issues… issues that they can potentially mitigate. And I got to tell you some stories, which is always fun.
Well, here at last, dear friends, at the bottom of the page comes the end of our meandering article. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.
Note: as noted in the opinion piece above, I have playtested games for a variety of different companies, including both Hasbro and Restoration Games, and have received board games and gaming swag in return.
I also flat out stole lines from the film “Casablanca” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in order to write this article.