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The Pleasures and Tortures of - Heroes of Land, Air & Sea

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Heroes of Land Air and Sea

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Heroes of Land, Air and Sea is a whimsical 4X-lite game which "captures that real time strategy feel." Which means it sort of feels like Warcraft, but with the aesthetics of a Victorian amusement park, and leans a bit more tactical than strategic.

I absolutely cannot deny that the toy factor is a significant part of the appeal of Heroes of Land, Air and Sea. Like most other games of this sort, it comes with piles of minis, but what really turned my head was the "3D cardboard constructs," especially the boats and airships which wouldn't look out of place on an old-fashioned carousal, or at Tivoli Gardens.

The base game comes with the four standard fantasy races - Elves, Dwarfs, Orcs and Humans [yawn] - but the expansions come with the Lionkin and the Birdfolk, both of which were irresistibly cute, plus a floating island and a sunken city. So, of course, I ended up buying all of it, because I must have all the pretty toys. So now I have 3 huge boxes of minis, and boats and airships - and I am completely unapologetic about any of this, because I know that several of you who are reading this have just as many boxes of creepy, but beautifully painted, Warhammer toys. And don’t even pretend that the games you play with them would be just as much fun if you were playing with cardboard chits, wooden cubes, and a handful of lose change. That’s just utter nonsense.

91nuO 8gUHL. SL1500 copy

So what do you do with all these lovely toys – starting with nothing but few peasants, a tiny capital and the unique ability of your race, you build the best civilization in the world.

You start by sending out some of your peasants to explore, farm and collect resources, usually with a warrior or two for protection. You keep a few peasants at home to build buildings which advances your civilization by giving you more unique race specific abilities,  allowing you to build heroes and boats and airships, and allowing you to hold and cast more spells.

If you manage things well, before too long you will be bumping into your neighbors, and possibly killing their peasants and warriors, and taking over their lands to farm and mine. And from there on out it is all about expanding and crushing your enemies with your warriors and magic spells or digging in and pushing them back; heroes battling to the death; boat loads of orcs appearing on your shores to storm your capitol; airships full of Lizard Folk landing in the middle of unexplored islands and trying to colonize them, with other races close on their heels racing to do the same. And the whole world dissolves into chaos, until one race finally achieves one of the game end triggers.

Then you tally up your points to determine who has built the greatest civilization.

91iqHFRYA6L. SL1500 copy

I find managing and guiding the evolution of my fantasy civilization challenging, and I am entertained by the epic narratives of the waxing, waning and warring of all the civilizations in this fantasy world. However, some people find it all a bit annoying and frustrating.

First off, it’s difficult for some players to remember that this is a 4X game, not an area control game. Throughout the game, as well as at the end, players receive points for every “X.” Some view this as an overwhelming point salad. Others just get pissed when after all the points are tallied, that the winner is not the seemingly huge empire that expanded across the world attempting to exterminate everything in its path, but rather a tiny, seemingly beleaguered,  kingdom that managed to exploit its limited holdings most effectively and  develop the most technologically advanced civilization.

Additionally, by mid-game, the special abilities provided by buildings, heroes and spells are so abundant that they are nearly impossible to track. Each race has something like 25 different special abilities that they can potentially develop. This makes the game feel like it grows increasingly chaotic and unpredictable with each turn. You get a lot of “You can do WHAT!!!”

Hopefully, that is not followed by an indignant, “Well, if I knew that you had that super power, I wouldn’t have used my super power (which you were completely unaware of) to do this totally unexpected and surprising thing which had it been successful would have utterly crippled you for the remainder of the game, because it never entered my mind that there might be a bit of balance in this game that would prevent me from doing such a thing.” << Yeah, don’t play with this person.

Unfortunately the flip side of that person, is the one that needs to take a poll of every player’s special abilities, spells and resources banked, every single time they need to make decision. They may also repeatedly ask what the distribution of the deck is.  << Don’t play with this person either, unless you fancy the game being stretched out into 6 hour slog.

Personally, if I were interested in playing Heroes of Land, Air and Sea in a super competitive manner, I’d take some time to learn these various abilities and pay some attention to which ones my opponents have developed, but I’m not, so I haven’t.  And the truth is that although the abilities are different, all races have a roughly equivalent ability or counter ability. It’s more about getting a sense about the areas in which each race tends to have a slight advantage and considering those advantages while developing your own civilization. For example, in a recent game I learned the hard way that Orcs typically are going to have an advantage massing armies and attacking capital cities, so if the Orcs are in the game, you probably need to play a bit more defensively than if they are not.

But even if I am crushed by Orcs, I still enjoy building and nurturing my civilization, watching the history of this fantasy world unfold, and playing with all the pretty toys. And next time I will be better prepared. Or maybe, I’ll be the Orcs.  

There Will Be Games Heroes of Land Air and Sea

Heroes of Land Air and Sea
Shellie "ubarose" Rose  (She/Her)
Managing Editor & Web Admin

Plays boardgames. Drinks bourbon. Writes code.

Articles by Shellie

Heroes of Land Air and Sea
Shellie "ubarose" Rose
Managing Editor & Web Admin

Articles by Shellie

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Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #297805 30 May 2019 18:48
So is this sort of like a Clash of Cultures thing but with more specialized sides? Like a hyper Clash: Civilizations game?

I think I understand the RTS analog in digital space, I'm just not as clear on how it plays in board game space.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #297807 30 May 2019 18:58
Oh, the RTS quote is from the game’s marketing. It’s pretty clear that the game was WoW inspired, but they can’t say World of Warcraft.

The only thing sort of real time about is that when you chose certain actions, other players can follow and take the same action if they have a free peasant and enough resources. So there is an interweaving if turns.

I haven’t played Clash of Cultures in years, and don’t remember it well enough to comment on the comparison between the two. Although, my lingering impression is that HoLAaS feels a bit lighter.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #297813 30 May 2019 19:38
The RTS part is mainly from the narrative you described---upgrading your base, sending out villagers to get resources, moving up a tree of buildable speciality units. Which is identical to StarCraft, command and conquer, etc.
Greg Aleknevicus's Avatar
Greg Aleknevicus replied the topic: #297817 30 May 2019 22:05
This game seems so much like Warcraft et al that I'm left wondering why one would play it rather than its computer-based brethren? What does it do better than the games that inspired it?
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #297822 30 May 2019 23:13
@Gary Sax

Yes, exactly

@Greg

I guess it really boils down to if you like computer or video games or if you prefer board games. I prefer board games. I get to hang with my friends and husband. The game is over in a couple of hours at which point you win or lose. And the the next time we play we get to start over and try out new races and new strategies. Plus, it has pretty airships that you can load up with dudes and make whooshing sounds as you move them around the board.

Honestly, I don’t play any electronic games other than really stupid iOS game on my iPad to kill time. I haven’t played Warcraft in over 20 years.
Greg Aleknevicus's Avatar
Greg Aleknevicus replied the topic: #297825 31 May 2019 01:28
Warcraft or World of Warcraft? (They're different beasts.)

From your review, HoLAaS sounds *very* much like Warcraft, which also has the ability to be over in a couple of hours (usually less), to try new races and strategies, and play with friends. But it also allows for complexities and features that a board game could never hope to implement.

I too prefer board games to electronic ones (at least in general), but there are certain games that work so well in one genre that it seems odd to recreate them in another. (But hey, you're enjoying the game, so maybe it isn't so odd after all?)
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #297832 31 May 2019 07:58
Definitely WarCraft, not World of WarCraft.

I have to disagree with the marketing here, it totally isn’t at all RTS like. The aesthetic is definitely Warcraft III inspired, but the only gameplay bit that comes from WarCraft is that you need certain buildings in order to build certain units. That’s it. It has by far more in common with the 4X genre, though on a much, much lighter scale. I know of a few fantasy 4X games on the PC, like Master of Magic, Age of Wonders, etc, but this is more like a fantasy version of Civ.

That said, this is a really fun game. It’s definitely designed by someone with Euro sensibilities because you get points for doing anything, which bugs me, but the system it runs on is really clean and sharp. It’s one of those games that has a lot going on but the barrier to entry on rules is very low, and all your turns feel pretty important. The turns are also pretty fast most of the time, you’re doing one thing, other players may follow it and you’re moving on to the next turn. This is a double edged sword, as it is in all games that last longer than an hour. The pacing of your play seems fast, but the overall game pace can seem slow after you realize you’ve had so many turns and it feels like you’ve accomplished so little. If you’ve ever played Scythe, you’ll know what I mean. And the game is way too long, that’s really the biggest knock against it. The gameplay warrants at most 90 minutes, the 2+ hours (and it really is more than 2 hours more often than not, even after you’re familiar with it) it takes is way too much.

I’d be happy to play it again and I’m glad Uba ones it so that I don’t have to, but I’d really like to see what would happen if the game were to get a second edition somewhere down the road after folks have played it for 5 years or so. It could be a top tier entry in the 4X genre at that point.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #297841 31 May 2019 09:27
I am sorry if the first sentence mislead people. Here is how it breaks down.

When people talk about Heroes of Land Air and Sea, one of the things they say is - "It's like Warcraft"

The game is being marketed on Amazon as:

4X RTS Large Scale Board Game
CAPTURE THAT REAL TIME STRATEGY FEEL; Heroes of Land, Air & Sea offers players the reminiscent feel of classic RTS games

This has been picked up by some other people writing about games, or maybe vise versa.

I find most marketing and one sentence descriptions of board games amusing, and absurd. I ask myself, what the heck does this mean? What on earth are they trying to say? And why are they saying this?

The game has also been described as 4X-lite and as whimsical

So here is the structure of the blog.

First sentence - a rather silly one sentence description of the game as it has been described and marketed.
Second sentence - A sentence that mocks the prior sentence, interprets it, and functions as a thesis statement.

So my thesis is that this game is being described as an RTS game because it sort of feels like Warcraft.

The body of the blog describes the game, demonstrating how it sort of feels like Warcraft, although the comparison is tenuous and calling it an RTS game is absurd.

In the future, I will try to keep in mind that my appreciation for the absurd is is not shared by most people, and is difficult to communicate, and therefore confusing. I will try to avoid it, although it is so much a part of who I am and how I approach this hobby (I mean seriously, we are adults playing with little elf and orc dolls), that I may not be successful.


Also - sorry I wrote WoW in my comment to Gary Sax. Al was hurrying me to come to dinner.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #297846 31 May 2019 09:40
I think the RTS comparisons are fine and appropriate.

The follow action gives a sort of dynamic flow to the game. The unit trees and buildings are reminiscent of the genre. The way your units can pop out between towers feels arcadey. The resource system and unit production remind me of RTS'.

It's not real-time, sure, but I don't think it's a poor comparison.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #297847 31 May 2019 09:42
I didn’t find anything confusing about the blog at all, and my chiming in was to clarify to Greg and then share my feelings about the game. I almost backed the game on its first KS and I know they were really trying to push that WarCraft inspiration all along, which we can all agree is kind of ridiculous. It certainly *looks* like WarCraft but the gameplay doesn’t really evoke anything similar to WarCraft. That’s their marketing and I know that it isn’t your assessment.

No need to change your style to appease anyone, if they have a problem with it, f*ck ‘em.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #297848 31 May 2019 09:47
My comments weren't critical, ubarose. Your review was great. I was just trying to understand the ways in which they tried to translate RTS to the tabletop. My clash of civ comparison actually sounds kind of weirdly ok now that I read up on it.
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #297849 31 May 2019 09:48
Article made sense to me. Obviously it can't be a straight up Warcraft-to-tabletop conversion. Sounds like it does a solid job of what it actually aims to do.

It's really weird to see a massive Scott Almes game. Have to wonder how many Tiny Epics he had to sign off on before they'd start production on this monster.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #297855 31 May 2019 11:16
Thank you for the reassurance. I was feeling a bit incompetent.

And also thank you for sharing your own opinions of the game as well as the questions. I think that our discussions are illuminating and helpful to readers interested in the game. Different opinions are a good thing. And everyone here has made good points.

I'm still in the exploratory phase with Heroes of Land, Air & Sea. I've played it 4 times, which is usually enough for me to feel like I know the game well enough to actually be playing it against other players in a meaningful way, rather than feeling like I am still learning the ropes and experimenting. However, due to all the special race powers and the way they interact with each other, I think my exploratory phase is going to continue for quite a while. And that's okay. I like this phase, and feel like there's a lot of game here to keep me coming back for a long time.

My impression right now is that some of the races significantly impact how you approach and experience the game, and may be some what scripted, whereas others are less so.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #297890 31 May 2019 18:22

Greg Aleknevicus wrote: Warcraft or World of Warcraft? (They're different beasts.)

From your review, HoLAaS sounds *very* much like Warcraft, which also has the ability to be over in a couple of hours (usually less), to try new races and strategies, and play with friends. But it also allows for complexities and features that a board game could never hope to implement.

I too prefer board games to electronic ones (at least in general), but there are certain games that work so well in one genre that it seems odd to recreate them in another. (But hey, you're enjoying the game, so maybe it isn't so odd after all?)


As Uba said you create for all the people who have no interest in playing a computer game, who prefer to game face to face with friends and family for the fun that generates. And because they sell it means that is a totally valid reason (I'd buy this if the price was right but wouldn't even consider playing it on a computer).
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #297892 31 May 2019 19:10
I had fun with this game but it's very much a "fake multiplayer wargame". Like Eclipse, it's really an Euro with the appereance of a fighting game.

The game doesn't work like Warcraft in practice, but it's similar in theory: Get resources, spend resources to build troops or upgrade buildings, attack other players and so on. You get points for practically everything so there's a bit of fighting but it's not the focus. I like it and it's well made but it's true it's not groundbreaking.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #297893 31 May 2019 23:26
@Erik
Yeah. It’s not so much explore, expand, exploit and exterminate. It’s more explore, expand, exploit and harass.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #297897 01 Jun 2019 06:08
Actually .... even though I said I'd buy it if the price was right but from what Uba has said in her review, and Erik commenting on, of it being more of a (hidden due to so many player options) points salad to find teh winner rather than the biggest or most aggressive empire building the game probably isn't for me. I'd probably play other peoples a few times for the fun but I'd get back to the numerous 4X DoaM games I already have that does it for me. (It does look purty though)
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #297900 01 Jun 2019 09:48
@Southernman

Yes, biggest, most aggressive kingdom isn’t necessarily going to win.

Plus, typically you only have like 5-8warrior dudes. It’s not like you can mass an army and take over the world. It’s more like you can slaughter and terrorize peasants in the outlying countryside.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #297901 01 Jun 2019 10:07
While I agree that it's point salad-y, combat is the single best source of VP and by far the most efficient expenditure of resources for such.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #297963 03 Jun 2019 16:21

ubarose wrote: @Southernman

Yes, biggest, most aggressive kingdom isn’t necessarily going to win.

Plus, typically you only have like 5-8warrior dudes. It’s not like you can mass an army and take over the world. It’s more like you can slaughter and terrorize peasants in the outlying countryside.


Well they shouldn't have been hanging aroung thievin' in my lands !