Wednesday 5 January 2011

What Do You Mean You've Never Played...HeroQuest

If there is a gateway game that is responsible for bringing more gamers in than any other (except possibly Settlers of Catan, if you’re one of those Euro types), it has to be Milton Bradley’s mainstream busting Robert-E-Howard-‘em-up HeroQuest.

Most gaming groups are exactly like this (Essex accent optional).

Dungeon crawls had been around for a while as pen and paper games, and this was in 1988 – the middle of the gamebook boom. Fantasy gaming was as big as it ever had been (or was again, until World of Warcraft pushed it back into the public eye). With its over-the-top TV advert that looked like those games that the big kids were always playing, combined with proper Citadel miniatures (most games back them either had generic pawns, or cardboard counters) it attracted my interest, and the interest of countless others.

With one player as Morcar, the Evil Wizard (essentially a GM) and up to four other players stepping in the shoes of either the Barbarian, Elf, Dwarf or Wizard, you journeyed off on quests, and stabberised up Orc after Orc after Orc; and it was in the quests that the game differed from anything else that had hitherto been seen.

With most boardgames you set up, you knew what the goal was...and you competed to try and complete it first. HeroQuest, however, took its cue from the field of role-playing games, and each “Quest” was a different one. Some meant you have to journey into the heart of a dungeon and destroy a vicious Gargoyle. There was one where you had to rescue a prince and help him to escape. And I remember there was one where the heroes all started split up, and you had to find each other before the rest of the quest could be completed!

Sure, that doesn’t seem much now, but back then it was virtually unheard of to be able to walk into somewhere like Toys R Us, Argos or Woolworths and pick up what was essentially an RPG.

Of course, all this waffling and backstory would be for nothing if the game turned out to be a bad one – but, it wasn’t. As I mentioned earlier, it was a perfect gateway game. The heroes turn was incredibly simple...movement was 2d6 per turn, and you could move, and attack or use a special ability. The Dwarf could remove traps, the Elf and the Wizard could both use magic, and the Barbarian could...well, he couldn’t do anything else, but his attack was camel punchingly hard anyway, so that never rained on the Barbarian player’s parade anyway.

The Morcar/GM player’s turn was similarly easy. The monsters had their movement, health and attack scores on quick reference cards, and they moved and attacked as the player wished. The levels WERE generally weighted in the favour of the heroes, but that never seemed to matter too much, as everyone was generally having too much fun to care.

HeroQuest was supported by a number of expansion packs (another first for a mainstream boardgame, as far as I’m aware), including Return of the Witch Lord (a direct sequel to the last adventure in the base set), Against the Ogre Horde and Wizards of Morcar, which added extra rules and monsters in the base set.

HeroQuest’s influence can still be felt in every dungeon crawl board game, from Space Crusade up to Castle Ravenloft. I still have my copy and, whilst it may have been superseded by Fantasy Flight Games’ Descent: Journeys in the Dark, I’d still never part with it. I’ve got too many good memories invested in that box.

HeroQuest is currently out of print, but copies of varying condition turn up at bootfairs and eBay very frequently.

Words: Brad Harmer

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