This week our On The Tabletop report is on River Horse Games’ Highlander the Board Game, which comes into retail from a successful Kickstarter at the start of 2018.
In Off The Shelf we will look at what’s in the box along with covering how the game plays. This is followed by On The Tabletop where we will talk about our first playthrough games and finish with feedback from the On The Tabletop team.
The On The Tabletop play-through articles catalogue our initial experiences with a game; as a result, mistakes will be made. On The Tabletop should also not be taken as a full review. These articles are simply our first impressions of a game.
Off The Shelf
Highlander the Board Game comes in a punchy box, with a window showing off the miniatures before you even open it. Inside is a set of cards, a set of different colored dice, a playboard, a small set of tokens and the seven miniatures and playboards for those characters. It seems like a modest amount of components compared to some of Kickstarters these days that push out hundreds of miniatures, but the box is extremely portable and it’s actually refreshing to see a game that feels this tight.
Games of Highlander the Board Game take place over a number of turns, with the amount of turns dictated by how quickly you get through the era deck. Each turn players roll off to see who gets the initiative, and then place their miniatures on one of the three game areas. When rolling for initiative if two players roll the same number, they both go straight into the arena without getting to chose which area to spend their turn.
Players can voluntarily enter the arena to fight with the other characters there, or they can Hunt, which usually results in forcing another character to enter the arena with you, or your character can Lay Low, where they can face challenges to gain weapons and allies.
The dice mechanic in Highlander the Board Game is simple, characters are allocated a dice type for their three stats. Cunning, which is used for initiative and some tests. Influence, which is used to determine how many cards you draw when hunting or laying low and for some tests, and Power, which is used for battling in the arena. The stat determines the type of dice you roll either a D4 (four sided dice) up through a D6, D8, D10 and D12. If a modifier from an ally or weapon improves your dice, instead of rolling your normal dice, you would roll the next in line. For example, if you were rolling a D6 and you improved your dice once, you would roll a D8. If you were rolling a D10 and your dice dropped twice, you would roll a D6.
Players Hunting or Laying Low roll their Influence dice and get to draw that many cards, they chose one and the rest are shuffled back onto the top of the deck. This gives an interesting element of control if you’re able to view a few cards, possibly denying another player getting access to one card by choosing it yourself, or placing one that they may struggle with back.
Players in the arena roll off against each other with each player rolling their Power dice. If there are multiple players, the player with the highest roll draws the top fate card, which usually has an effect on the player with the lowest roll in the arena. In the fate deck, there are two fate cards per player, plus the behead card. The behead card essentially ends the game for the player who rolled the lowest in the arena, but some actions occur afterwards, like discarding D12’s worth of cards from the Era deck.
Once all players have completed their turns, the miniatures are removed from the board and a new turn begins. Turns continue until their is either only one player left, in which case they win the prize, or if the era deck runs out of cards. If that happens, the gaming board is flipped over to the Gathering side and players continue to battle in out in repeating arena turns until there is only one immortal left.
Highlander the Board Game was released alongside the Princes of the Universe expansion. We didn’t use it in our play-through, but it has some new characters, alternative sculpts for the core release characters and some great new weapons, era and encounter cards. The new cards all contain the great images from the film carried through the core set, and include some great event mechanics that can help speed through the era deck if drawn.
On The Tabletop
Setting up Highlander the Board Game is incredibly fast. A couple of the card decks require an amount of cards depending on the number of players, so those need to be counted out, shuffled and placed on the game board along with the other decks. Then each player chooses a character to play.
Anna choose Naminaga Minamoto, Lizi randomly drew Connor McCloud, Sam chose the Kurgan and between the ones left, James picked Kastagir and I went straight for Ramirez. Only James and I had any background with Highlander, so we knew the characters and their backgrounds, everyone else either chose randomly, or chose the character who appealed to them the most.
Each turn in Highlander flows very smoothly, with a simple roll for initiative and then each player deciding on what they would like their character to do. We were using the rules for the full game, with no ‘new challengers’, which meant once your immortal was eliminated, you were out.
Everyone soon got the hang of the dice mechanic, after a couple of turns and Anna was eliminated by the Kurgan early in the arena. Lizi followed soon after and Sam, James and I entered into a dodging grind to try and power up and avoid each other. We played a couple more turns and decided to start again to bring Anna and Lizi back in.
We set up the second game using the Innate Quickening and New Challenger rules, which meant the era deck was half the size of a regular game, and the first two players removed would be able to come back as the two characters we had left in the box.
I was playing Kastagir to start and I was taken out almost immediately by James playing the Kurgan. I came back in as Ix-Tlalli and a couple of turns later, myself and Anna were taken out simultaneously by the Kurgan in the Arena. Anna, having not had a second chance got to come back got the last immortal from the box.
Both of us being taken out together discarded the rest of the era deck, and everyone apart from myself was throw into the Gathering. The play board is flipped over and only the Fate Deck is carried over. The Immortals start battling in the Arena until only one remains. We ended up with James as the Kurgan, facing off against Lizi as Connor. Lizi had been lucky enough to draw an incredible life event, which boosted Connor’s dice by two with no negatives, so after a few turns of duelling, Lizi beheaded the Kurgan and took the prize.
Adam – As a huge fan of the Highlander series, I was keen to get hold of this and also interested to see if the mechanics carried across outside of the theme for the players who hadn’t seen the movies.
I love the portability of the game, how simple the rules are and how fast paced it can be, especially if you are playing the Innate Quickening rules. Playing the full rules with several players can be a grind mid game if players aren’t burning through the era cards, which can mean a long wait for any players taken out early.
The random Fate Deck mechanic of single beheaded card in the deck meaning that every loss could be fatal is great and very thematic. I talk about theme in games a lot, and how important it is, and Highlander the Board Game fully encapsulates the theme. The images, quotes and overall feel of the game are spot on and to make the game even more portable for those who want it, tokens can be used for the characters which reduces the overall size of the components you need to the board and a couple of decks.
The miniatures sculpts are well done for the limitations of the plastic, they’re not the high-quality you would expect from an established companies wargame, but for a straight-out-of-the-box board game, they more than serve their purpose.
I will definitely play it again and I hope that players discover the movies through the game.
Adam is the righteous leader of the On The Tabletop Team and is an experienced tabletop gamer. He has played physical and online CCGs to a very high competitive level. He also has a background in roleplaying, board and wargaming and has playtested and produced content for several companies. A veteran tabletop writer who’s favourite games include Dark Souls the Card Game, The Legend of the Five Rings LCG, Shadespire and Bushido. You can read his work here on TechRaptor and follow his exploits on Twitter – @StealthBuda.
Lizi – Highlander the Board Game was pretty easy to pick up and go along without instructions once we’d started. There seemed to be two main elements, Improvement: collect allies, weapons and lives to try and improve your chance of winning in the arena, and then the Arena, which is roll to fight.
The arena is a risky business, but does come with the possibility of good improvements for the next fight, and each time you win you have the chance of knocking someone out of the game. I like that you can choose your own tactics based on which player you chose and which cards you keep when you pick up. I also like the way you can choose to collect and store Quickening tokens to use them all in one important fight or to as you go to get into a better initial position.
This game is a fight until everyone else is out game, which isn’t really my favourite type of gameplay; especially because it’s possible for a player to be killed quite early on and then be sat out for a while. However, we played the alternate rules the second time which was faster and allowed whoever goes out first to come back in as a new player, which I much preferred.
It is a good game and got exciting at the end when we got into the Challenge phase. I’d play it again but I don’t think it’s an every week sort of game – for me anyway.
Lizi is a mathematician, the closest she’s ever been to being a gamer is almost completing Lego Batman on the PS2. Her favourite games are Codenames and Zombicide.
James – Highlander is a classic. Big explosions, swords and soundtrack, full on 80’s smash bash. Sure it’s got ‘girlfriend in the fridge’ syndrome to an extent, but it also has French guy doing a bad Scottish accent and Sean Connery not even trying to be the Spaniard he’s meant to be.
That sounds more like a film review than game first impressions, but it actually has a point; the film is a guilty pleasure for many, and not knowing it can detract from the game.
The game itself seems very binary – either really simple and quick, or longer and more grindy. We played through twice, the first time easily taking double the time of the second. This wasn’t because it was hard to get into (the opposite, I think we were all onboard by about turn five 20 minutes in). It seems that events can mean quick death to all or slow demise with occasional stabbing.
I feel like the mechanics were fairly simple and fun to get into and the different dice made it visually easy to understand. The upgrade system was also easy to understand but surprising hard to calculate. The small size of the pluses and minuses on the upgrade cards, as well as the modifiers applies by multiple sources meant working which dice to roll seems a little crunchy despite the simplicity of the system.
The last thing to mention is the narrative of the game. Anyone who’s seen the film will know it straight away and get the idea. I even found myself smiling a few times at the game art and lines.
However the other players seemed slightly unsure what was going on as it was so closely tied to the film – why the back flip guy was funny, why the quickening was a thing and what to do with the Kurgan seemed a little lost to non film watchers, and I think that might be a barrier to some players. Overall though, it was fun, bash-y and unique – just like the film.
James is a long-time tournament wargamer (but he’s not as horrible as all that), RPG and board game player. He works designing and producing games of all types, and is launching his own company Black Cats Gaming in 2019. Follow him on twitter @Guilensturn and @followblackcats and check out his company at Black Cats Gaming.
Anna – Today we got to play Highlander the Board Game. This is another game based off of a movie that I haven’t watched but the others did a pretty good job of filling me in on the concept of what Highlander is. As someone who had no idea of the premise I think I wouldn’t know what I was doing if it wasn’t explained, however once I got going it was pretty fun to play.
We played two versions of the game, the proper game and then a shorter, quicker version. The game seemed pretty fun in theory but the full game too long to get through. Instead of drawing a number of cards, picking one then discarding the spares the game made you shuffle the cards then place them back on the deck which made getting through the game very long winded. There also wasn’t very much in the way of variety in the card effects, so it became more of a chore to go through cards then actually playing them.
The arena challenges were pretty boring at first with some characters a lot weaker than others. Once people were stacking abilities and weapons the arena challenges became more fun as we came to understand how to boost our characters. I tried hard not to go in the arena because I always seemed to get the Geisha immortal who is incredibly weak compared to the other characters. As a result once I started going in the arena I used my special ability to just mess with the others despite me being one of the first out each time.
The shorter version of the game is what I expected the full game to be, it made for a much faster paced and exciting game that was fun despite not knowing the lore.
Anna is a cosplayer and photographer. She started roleplaying a few years ago and now runs several of her own games. Her favourite games are D&D, Betrayal and the Witcher series. You can follow her gaming exploits and see her cosplay work and photography here.
Sam – Highlander the Board Game was a fun design, good components and graphic design, but I feel like my enjoyment of the game would have improved twofold if I’d seen the movie. The guys who did seemed to have a great time reminiscing about the characters on offer and how things went down in the movie compared to our antics, but to me, it all too often came down to a straight dice off, with pretty obvious results. Picking on your friends is fun, but the results aren’t very surprising when it’s a dice off and you have a D10 to their D6.
Sam Webb is a role playing game developer and twitch streamer. He has been playing games of all types for years, and is now the head of RPGs at Modiphius Entertainment. He is also the Creative Director at Black Cats Gaming. You can find him @RPGwebby on twitch and twitter, and @followblackcats.
This copy of the Highlander the Board Game was provided by Asmodee UK.
Are you a fan of the Highlander movies? Have you played the board game? Does the theme come across well to you? What did you think of the game? Let us know in the comments below.