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The Truth about Heroquest - Review

Hot
MB Updated January 07, 2022
 
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The Truth about Heroquest - Review

Game Information

Game Name
Publisher
Players
1 - 5
There Will Be Games

Spoiler: IT'S A KIDS' GAME FOR KIDS.

To be honest, I don’t have that much nostalgia for Heroquest and although I had a friend that was absolutely obsessed with it to the point where he had a notebook full of homebrew rules and campaign material for it, I didn’t actually play it all that much – I was much more of a Space Hulker back in those days. The seminal Stephen Baker dungeoncrawler wasn’t one of the first attempts at condensing RPG gaming concepts into a board game (we’re going back to things like Sorceror’s Cave and of course Dungeon! for that) but it was the first game that brought a “DM-driven” concept to a mainstream design. Co-produced by Milton Bradley and Games Workshop, there’s a lot of folks out there with fond memories of playing it in their formative years and in fact many contemporary games in this genre feel like attempts to simulate Heroquest. 

Again, with full disclosure here, I thought it was kind of boring and simplistic. I wasn’t overly stoked by its reappearance as a crowdfunded Hasbro Plus campaign under the venerable Avalon Hill imprint and didn’t back it- I felt like it was grossly overpriced and positioned outside of the accessibility that was one of its greatest assets. I thought I’d ask for a review copy to sort of check in with it from a new perspective and really to see how my kids would take to it. The folks at the Hasbro press desk never responded directly but then I got a shipping notice out of nowhere and suddenly I had it in hand.

After several games- a couple solo using the app and around half a campaign with my kids and a rotating group of their friends- I’m prepared to state that Heroquest is most definitelynot the greatest dungeoncrawl of all time and I do think that the hushed whispers of admiration and middle-aged nods of fond reminiscence are nostalgic exaggerations. However, there are some things about this design are striking – and, unfortunately, they are the things that the cloners have largely left behind.

The primary element left behind its utter simplicity. This is not a game rife with fancy mechanisms, cleverness, elegance, or sophistication. In fact, It’s what I call with all the fondness I can muster a “stupid” game. Stupid like Ramones- back to basics, poppy, and without pretense. You roll dice to move, maybe you open a door and reveal a new room, and if there’s a monster you fight them. Or if there aren’t any adversaries for a secret door, treasure or traps. The combat is the beloved skulls n’ shields thing, and if I am not mistaken this is the first game to have that. Sure, there are four elements’ worth of spells and a handful of magic items but it never gets more complicated.

Zargon is the enemy wizard controlling the show, and back in the day that was almost always the kid that owned the game, right? They got a little booklet with the 14 scenarios that showed where to place monsters, all the lovely 3D furniture that is one of the game’s hallmarks, and what events happen in each room.  It is an all against one player thing. But these days, Zargon can be run with an app on your phone, and it works pretty well even if the AI is practically non-existent. It’s not like the monsters have tons of options other than “run up and fight” anyway.

Yet, despite its simplicity, it’s also comprehensive. Wandering monsters can appear while you are searching for treasure and as the mission goes on, their frequency increases. There’s just enough variance between the character classes to matter and the one-shot spells give the Wizard and Elf some high stakes choices to make. You earn gold that you can spend between missions to buy new stuff but it’s still all very basic, very easy to grasp upgrades.

The scenarios also tend to walk that line between lean and fully featured. I absolutely adore that the entire dungeon is on the board (i.e. no dungeon tiles) and it’s all defined by placing doors and the occasional blocking stone. It’s such a smart concept, I can think of only one other recent example of this format and that was the Iron Kingdoms dungeoncrawler a few years ago. They are all straightforward missions, some to the point of stupidity (again, the good kind of stupidity) such as the first one where my kids sussed out after turn one that the BBEG was in the central room. But I warned them, they weren’t really ready to fight it. So that first game was a TPK. Lesson learned.

Modern dungeoncrawlers try to tell more complex stories, offer greater tactical gameplay, provide stronger detailing of classes and equipment. Monsters might have a variety of attacks or strategies and statuses are usually a Thing. The scenarios act like it really matters if a passageway goes left or right. There might be 30 minutes of setup and scads of cards. Heroquest is none of this stuff. You throw the board down, pick a scenario, hand everyone a character, and go. It’s the most accessible game in its class, barring Dungeon! which is even simpler (and stupider in a good way).

I can’t say that I totally love Heroquest. It’s hard to make an argument for it beyond “it’s easy to play” and given a choice between the two I’d likely choose to play Descent: Legends of the Dark over it even though it is much more complex, detailed, and setup heavy. There are any number of “better” dungeoncrawls out there. But Heroquest, despite its legendary reputation, was never anything more than a kids’ game, and you’ve simply got to recognize that it was always a kids’ game and it remains a kids’ game. And to that end, it has kid appeal in spades. Even my kids, who have played full D&D campaigns on Warlock tiles with fully painted miniatures, were still dazzled by all the silly furniture and the miniatures.

But those miniatures in today’s economy mean that this is an expensive game at $125 retail, and I think that is not a kids’ game price and that is really a shame, let alone that this is not a game a kid with a $50 gift card at Target can go pick up. The production is nice but almost charmingly dated, which also makes it feel overpriced.  It’s mostly a 1:1 reprint exceptfor the miniatures, which were originally Games Workshop/Citadel sculpts. Despite my kids’ admiration, I actually found myself sort of wishing they just did it with cardboard standups for less than half the price. But, I suppose, that runs contrary to the nostalgia that the miniatures generate. I reckon that for a lot of hobby gamers around my age bracket, this was likely their first experience with miniatures and I respect those kinds of childhood memories while also lamenting the fact that games like this can't be produced today for a younger demographic without hobbyist adults barging in on them with their hobby gaming expectations and demands.

With that in mind, I don’t know that Hasbro could have handled Heroquest any better in terms of production and providing longtime Heroquesters with exactly what they wanted – a perfect reprint without any redevelopment or even any revision (there are apparently errors that remain from the original printing). But I can’t help but think that it could be a game to bring in a new generation of players and miniature painters if it were marketed, as it should be, at a younger crowd rather than nostalgic middle-agers.


Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
4.0
Heroquest
A fun kids game and that’s all it needs to be.
MB
Top 10 Reviewer 137 reviews
Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #329523 07 Jan 2022 12:43
Pre-pandemic, I attended a monthly board game group hosted by a hipster couple. Just before I joined the group, the husband acquired a 1990 MB edition Heroquest at an auction at GenCon. He was excited to play it, due to childhood nostalgia, and got so excited that he spilled a fancy craft brew all over the board. He wanted to play through the whole campaign over the course of the next several monthly game nights, but we only played about once every six months. I was the wizard. The game was tolerable but not great, and I would much rather play Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower.
NeonPeon's Avatar
NeonPeon replied the topic: #329526 07 Jan 2022 13:57
I remember playing a lot of Advanced Heroquest for maybe a month or two when my brother got it, probably in '89 or '90. We had good fun with it, and it was also my first experience with a DM-driven board game which was unique, and nice that it didn't take the preparation and dedication of a full-fledged RPG. But it never became an all-time favorite. I have no idea of the differences between Heroquest and its Advanced counterpart, but I mostly hear about nostalgia for plain ol' Heroquest. Wonder why.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #329528 07 Jan 2022 14:15

Shellhead wrote: Pre-pandemic, I attended a monthly board game group hosted by a hipster couple. Just before I joined the group, the husband acquired a 1990 MB edition Heroquest at an auction at GenCon. He was excited to play it, due to childhood nostalgia, and got so excited that he spilled a fancy craft brew all over the board. He wanted to play through the whole campaign over the course of the next several monthly game nights, but we only played about once every six months. I was the wizard. The game was tolerable but not great, and I would much rather play Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower.


Wait, there is FANCY craft brew???? ;P

The price is the killer for me. I can coax my kids into some basic board games with a moderate amount of effort but few keep their attention (as games, if they have play-doh monster books as toys that is a bit different) for long. $125 or whatever is firmly out of the "yeah, let's give it a shot" category and I agree a de-miniaturized kid version would be awesome.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #329530 07 Jan 2022 14:32
The best thing about Heroquest is this video review of Heroquest:

fightcitymayor's Avatar
fightcitymayor replied the topic: #329532 07 Jan 2022 14:43

Shellhead wrote: The best thing about Heroquest is this video review of Heroquest:

It still amazes me that The Bard didn't use the triumphant return of Heroquest to re-launch his channel in any significant way. He was doing the nerd unboxing stuff before a lot of folks & could have parlayed it into a ton of eyeballs (because he is very watchable, albeit also quite pervy.) Major opportunity gone by the wayside in a day-and-age where everyone under 40 seems to harbor secret dreams of being an online YT celebrity.
jpat's Avatar
jpat replied the topic: #329533 07 Jan 2022 15:20
I don't think I seriously thought about HQ, since I'm not sure how available it was before Christmas, but I bought my 12yo nephew a box set of the three core D&D 5e books and the beginner set (for the dice, if nothing else). Could he have probably "benefitted" from a milder slope into the hobby in the form of HQ, D&DAS, etc.? Possibly, but for about the same price he'll have the resources for years of adventure if he wants it.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #329534 07 Jan 2022 15:22

fightcitymayor wrote:

Shellhead wrote: The best thing about Heroquest is this video review of Heroquest:

It still amazes me that The Bard didn't use the triumphant return of Heroquest to re-launch his channel in any significant way. He was doing the nerd unboxing stuff before a lot of folks & could have parlayed it into a ton of eyeballs (because he is very watchable, albeit also quite pervy.) Major opportunity gone by the wayside in a day-and-age where everyone under 40 seems to harbor secret dreams of being an online YT celebrity.


Not just under 40!

Alas my well produced series of game reviews of vintage Avalon Hill games whilst nude in a hot tub failed to garner enough attention. Anyone got some waterproof game recs for a middle aged dad bod to play????
the_jake_1973's Avatar
the_jake_1973 replied the topic: #329536 07 Jan 2022 15:31
The hot tub makes a great terrain board for the VG Fleet series of games.
fightcitymayor's Avatar
fightcitymayor replied the topic: #329539 07 Jan 2022 15:51

jason10mm wrote: Not just under 40!

Alas my well produced series of game reviews of vintage Avalon Hill games whilst nude in a hot tub failed to garner enough attention. Anyone got some waterproof game recs for a middle aged dad bod to play????

Shot fades in to scene of steamy sauna room...
jason10mm slowly stands up out of hot-tub, with strategically-placed PanzerBlitz box cover hiding his dong...

"Oh, hello there, I didn't see you come in!"
jason10mm towels off, revealing paunchy dad gut...
"You know what I like? A good Jim Dunnigan game design, like this... 1976's Panzergruppe Guderian, from the good people at Avalon Hill"
takes game box off the shelf before launching into game review...
mtagge's Avatar
mtagge replied the topic: #329544 07 Jan 2022 17:15
I remember using the minis from Advanced Heroquest to kickstart a Skaven Warhammer Fantasy Battles army. Big mistake for cash poor me. Yeah, more a gateway than great game. Like the idea of getting the core books for a kid instead.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #329550 07 Jan 2022 22:14
HeroQuest was a huge hit with my friends and family. We played and created dungeons and had a blast. It was a step up from Dungeon!, which was a game that really captured my imagination.

This lead us to other dungeon crawlers of the day. Dark World was disappointing. Space Hulk was fun, but mainly for the marines. Siege of the Citadel was a favorite.

Later on, out of nostalgia for HeroQuest, we picked up the disappointing Descent and Doom.

I was really tempted by the reprint. HeroQuest and Dungeon! generated a love for dungeon crawls. I suspect that it may not live up to recollections, and I want to keep those memories positive.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #329553 08 Jan 2022 11:15
My hot take is that the furniture is the main part of why HeroQuest was so great. When you opened the door, and Zardoz put down a weapons rack, a bed, and a treasure chest, it felt like you were going into a place — something actual and visceral and lived-in, not just a bunch of five-foot squares.
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #329556 08 Jan 2022 12:04
Jerry Hawthorne (Mice and Mystics, Stuffed Fables,etc) is a big Heroquest fan, and I think it shows in his games. A lot of the times people look at the combat or other systems in his games and think “is that it?” but I think it’s a conscious choice to keep the games kid friendly and pretty rules-light.

Personally, I played more Dragon Strike after my friend’s dog peed on their HQ board. Then we kinda did a bunch of AD&D 2e for awhile.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #329557 08 Jan 2022 12:38

Jexik wrote: Personally, I played more Dragon Strike after my friend’s dog peed on their HQ board.


I should have done that the time I was forced to play Agricola.
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #329558 08 Jan 2022 13:23
I think I got this the Christmas the year it came out — so I was 11. We had some extended Christmas break with family, so made it through all the quests. Immediately got the main two expansions, Witchlord and Keller’s Keep and then was gifted the Barbarian and Elf expansion. Didn’t get the other two — Ogres and Wizards until college (around 97). Game has tons of nostalgic value for me — my mom painted the bad guys when I was a kid (my dad had died…so it was a cool way for us to draw closer). As Barnes says, it’s the simplicity (plus the furniture) that is its appeal — even playing through Descent now (I am curious how many quests there are; we just keep going), the tracking of fatigue and line of sight, and status conditions clutters everything up a bit.

After that was Dark World, which was mainly a disappointment (the turn order randomized is great though). Then we added the two expansions for that and it definitely better with them.

Then Dragon Strike, which led to AD&D 2nd ed….and along the way came MTG, Spellfire, and INWO which took a bit away from boardgames
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #329559 08 Jan 2022 13:28
I remember liking advanced heroquest a lot as a step up from this in my teens once I'd had my fun with HQ. Back in the proper GW giant tables and big slabs of cardboard days.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #329562 08 Jan 2022 16:56

hotseatgames wrote:

Jexik wrote: Personally, I played more Dragon Strike after my friend’s dog peed on their HQ board.


I should have done that the time I was forced to play Agricola.


And to think Daviau rejected that option for his legacy games :p
Ah_Pook's Avatar
Ah_Pook replied the topic: #329568 09 Jan 2022 08:15
I played a friend's copy of the original when it came out, so I must have been about 10. It was a lot of fun at the time, but I've never felt the need to track down a copy myself in later years. It seemed like a game that was better left as a fond memory. The remake just kinda made me sad, as it was clearly extreme nostalgia bait.