I’m a sucker for great artwork on a board game. The saying goes you should ‘never judge a book by its cover’ and the same goes for board games. Just because the publishers had sense to hire a decent artist it doesn’t mean they employed a decent game designer. It was the artwork that first hooked me into Heroes, by Lion Games, when it was shown off on Boardgamegeek’s 2014 Essen Preview. Heroes proved to me not once, but twice that you shouldn’t judge a board game by its box art.
Heroes instigated the full excitement of the delivery of a new board game; the hurried ripping up of the cardboard packaging, the thoughtful look over the box to behold all its beauty, the weighing up of the game and its contents, carefully releasing it from its cellophane prison, teasing the box open and then feasting on the un-punched cardboard treasures, unsealing the decks and playfully rolling the dice and a quick flick through the rules.
It was then that dread hit me.
Heroes is a lane based card game, or so I thought.
If you don’t know what I mean by a lane-based card game, it’s the kind of card game favoured by mobile video game developers where the playing area is split into a number of lanes and you summon creatures to the battlefield into a lane. Creatures tend to only attack the opposing lane, if unblocked the damage gets put on the enemy player. Games such as Solforge, Adventure Time and a hundred and one other smartphone card games use the same approach. Personally I find the genre of game rather weak.
But Heroes isn't your normal lane based card battling game, because it comes with a twist and it’s this twist that immediately elevates Heroes above every other lame lane game that has come before it.
Heroes' battlefield is split into two rows of four lanes, filled by your minions and your hero, effectively you. Each minion can only attack certain lanes, based on their attack abilities and their location. So far, so lanes. But you cannot summon more creatures into the game, what you start with is what you have for the entire match. You also have a deck of spells at your disposal, and to cast these spells you’re going to need mana, and this is where Heroes is unique.
To gain mana you roll the dice. Each dice has a mana symbol for each of the four elements, a card symbol and a command symbol. Mana is needed to power your spells, the card symbol can be used to alter your deck by either drawing cards or buying new spells and the command symbol is used to activate your minions on the battlefield. The clever part is that these dice are rolled in real time.
What this means is that you keep rolling as many or as few dice as you wish out of your pool until you get the result that you want at which point you shout “stop”. At the same time your opponent is doing the same, if you’re stopped by the opposing player you can either try and do something useful with the dice you have already rolled or pass and keep some of the results for the next roll, increasing the chances of getting what you want but skipping a turn.
This all results in some furious dice rolling as you try and get the dice selection you need to cast that killer spell and creature combination.
There’s a large variety of spells to choose from, from simple damage dealing to denial of actions and buffs. You can also power up your spells by discarding cards from your hand, making them more powerful or difficult to dispel. The important part though is combining your spells with activating your minions.
Heroes contains four factions, representing your four elements. When you're starting the game Heroes comes with a premade deck of minions for each faction, but you have a large variety of monsters to tweak your initial monster set up to your liking. It means the game has a long tail giving you plenty of options to tweak your game.
However, I can guarantee that you'll be bringing along one of your big dudes. Each faction has a couple of super monsters available, it costs a lot to add it to your starting roster but they are extremely powerful, so much so I think they are overpowered. Without a doubt you'll be attempting to activate your super monster every turn, because their abilities dwarf every other creature.
The keyword for Heroes is frantic, you have to think fast, about what you aim to roll and what to utilise with the dice you're left with. The speed at which the game plays does a weird thing to your brain. The usual pondering and careful consideration of every move flies out of the window, you end up hatching tactics on the fly and rarely thinking too far ahead. And this is what makes Heroes unique, take out the real time dice rolling and you’ll remove Heroes' selling point and be left with a well balanced but average card game. Instead you have a furious, quick thinking strategy game that can honestly use the term "fast paced" and mean it.
I’m happy to say that Heroes fooled me twice, first the cover artwork is misleading, true it’s a cool picture of a big chap on fire and another shambling plant monster, but the image tells you nothing about what the game is about. Second I was underwhelmed when opening the box and misled myself into thinking it was a lame lane game. I’m happy to say that not only should you not judge a game by its cover, but you also shouldn’t judge it by its rulebook, because not only is Heroes a tight, well thought out tactical card battle game, it binds this with a frantic real-time dice element that makes this game unlike any other game I have ever played.
This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.