Heroes of Black Reach Drop Pod #1 is a preview of the upcoming full release of Heroes of Black Reach from Devil Pig Games based in the Warhammer 40,000 IP by Games Workshop. Drop Pod #1 is a sampler of the bigger release they have penned for later this year and includes enough units of Orks and Space Marines, rules, and cards for some introductory games.
Heroes of Black Reach is played using DPG’s Heroes system, from the successful Heroes of Normandie tabletop game and subsequent video game. The Heroes system operates on a map with squared grids, which allow you to move and fight with your units using the grid squares to count movement, range, and the unit tiles which detail the unit’s stats and abilities.
We’re going to save our review for the full release, so in this article we’ll simply talk about the system and our experience with it.
At first glance, HoBR appears to be a simplified version of Warhammer 40,000, an easy travel companion without the need to transport huge cases of figures and filter through huge rulebooks. Pretty much everything you need is written on the units themselves, the action cards, and tiled map. It shows comparisons to Games Workshop’s Age of Sigmar skirmish game Shadespire with its card decks and tiled board, but they are in fact very different games. HoBR is not as simple as it looks; the basic game mechanics are simple, in theory, but during a game there is regularly a lot to work out, and it’s a very unforgiving, extremely tactical game.
The game consists of a number of turns, of three phases, which are the Order, Activation, and Supply phases. During the Order phase, you issue orders to the amount of units that you have order tokens for, which is worked out by counting the order symbols on the unit information cards. The units given orders are able to attack or move in the activation phase; all of your other units will only be able to move in the supply phase. This creates the first tactical challenge for each turn, working out the optimum orders, and also in which order they will work. Turns alternate between players and go in the numbered order of the order tokens issued, so if you plan to take out an opposing unit with your heavy weapon, but it moves out of the way in your opponent’s turn, then that activation might be wasted. Units can engage in hand-to-hand combat by attempting to move into the square occupied by an enemy and in this introductory game; that’s what you end up spending most of your time doing after the Ork’s advance.
The rulebook isn’t a straight forward read, and it is better to sit down and thrash out your first few games, while trying to get the hang of the rules. Your first few games will be complicated, flustered affairs while you remember and find rules you had forgotten about, but once you’ve worked them out, things do become a lot easier. During our test games, our only major concern was with shooting; rather than being a streamlined system, as you might expect from a tiled game, line of sight is still measured direct between units, so we found using a range stick or measure tape was required to work out what terrain line of sight went over. Range, however, is measured in tiles themselves, like movement, which sometimes goes through different tiles than line of sight. Grenades also have a different firing system and are measured from the corner of tiles and affect the four tiles that connect the corner hit. None of this is a big deal, but just seems strange when having to work out a complicated line of sight system when you have a tiled board.
The introductory games themselves will be extremely one sided to the Space Marines to start with. Units can usually only move or shoot in the Activation phase, which means that in order for the Orks to bring their numbers to their advantage, they have to use their orders to move their units across the battlefield. The Space Marines, however, can move and shoot in the same turn, with a small modifier to hit, which means they can control the battlefield early. The Space Marines are also fairly decent in close combat, which means that the Orks’ only real advantage is numbers in the introductory games. The Space Marines feel extremely powerful in these games; the Heavy Bolter can move, fire and still take out Orks as well as any other unit if attacked in close combat during the Ork turn. Once you’ve played a few games, however, the Orks can be quite powerful, but a lot more difficult to pilot that the Space Marines.
The game itself is extremely challenging and very tactical, with a lot of planning and thought required for each turn, which is not what you expect when first looking at the game. The graphics and colours of the cards make it look like it’s aimed at a much younger audience, and even reading the rulebook doesn’t give the full impression of how in-depth games can be.
We’re looking forward to the full release, as having more options in terms of force building might go some way to alleviating the initial one-sided nature of the Drop Pod #1 forces.
If you enjoy extremely tactical games, then this is for you, stick through the first few games and you’ll have a really challenging tabletop game. But this isn’t a pick up and play system, the rules are straight-forward and it’s easy to understand, but the depth of play is extremely surprising.
Are you thinking about picking up Heroes of Black Reach? Have you played Heroes of Normadie?