When I think about the most important games in my personal tabletop history, a few big names come to mind. Obviously the childhood "we didn't know any better" classics like Monopoly and Candy Land make up my very early years of gaming, and Catan and Carcassonne introduced me to the wider world of hobby gaming in my twenties, but there's one game, one crucially important game that came in between those two moments that truly shaped who I am today as a gamer: HeroQuest. Originally published by Milton Bradley in conjunction with Warhammer publisher Games Workshop, HeroQuest took the burgeoning popularity of Dungeons & Dragons and streamlined it for a board gaming audience. Now, Avalon Hill - as part of Hasbro's crowdfunding program called Pulse - has reprinted this absolute classic for new audiences to enjoy. But do its old school mechanics get in the way of the game itself, or does nostalgia carry it through? Find out now in our review of HeroQuest.
How Do You Play HeroQuest?
In HeroQuest, one player takes on the role of the Game Master (also known as the evil sorcerer Zargon), controlling all the monsters and running through each of the fourteen included scenarios in the game. The other players take on the role of one of four heroes (or more than one, if there aren't five players), which include: The Barbarian, The Wizard, The Elf, and The Dwarf. In true classic Dungeons & Dragons fashion, Elf and Dwarf are their own sort of combination of "classes and races."
To play the game, the Game Master consults the current quest in the quest book, which details where on the game board the players' starting room is located. As they open doors and explore rooms, enemies, treasure chests, traps, and furniture are laid out on the board. But before an area is explored, it's left completely blank. Players are given a goal at the start of each quest, sometimes they need to find an injured player hidden in the map, slay a particular enemy, or find an ancient artifact. While there are variable loss conditions depending on the mission, in general if the players all die, they lose!
Each character moves around the map by rolling two six-sided dice (meaning no one character has a set speed), and combat is resolved with rolls of six sided dice determined by your weapon. Roll
What Are The Heroes Like In HeroQuest?
The four heroes in the base game of HeroQuest are, as mentioned above, the classic archetypes of: Barbarian, Wizard, Dwarf, and Elf. But how do they play? In general, the Barbarian starts the game with the best starting weapon, and has the most health points. He's meant to take up space, block doorways, and swing away at enemies. The Wizard is the weakest in terms of health, and starts with a lowly dagger, but they have access to nine spells, each of which offer various boons and boosts. The Elf is a mix of the two, with a good sword and access to three spells. And the Dwarf is hearty, with a decent weapon, and can search for and disarm traps in the dungeon without buying a special kit.
Over time, the players will earn gold for completing quests and finding treasure, which can be spent between quests to buy better weapons, armor, and gear.
How Does HeroQuest, A Game From 1989, Play Today?
Very little has been changed from the original version of HeroQuest to this re-release, and there are certainly several aspects of the game that feel a bit out of step with modern game and dungeon crawl design. First, there's the roll-and-move aspect of the game. While it's thrilling to roll an 11 or 12 and get to zoom half-way across the board, it can feel just as frustrating to roll low, and have your character stuck in the same zone when they really want to be out in the thick of the battle (or, if you're the Wizard, running for your life away from battle). Also, the fact that players can only move in the four cardinal directions, and can't move diagonally, feels a bit outdated. Changing that, of course, would likely mess with a whole bunch of balance and difficulty issues, but there's something limiting about not being able to move as freely.
Also, the players in my test group who played the spellcasters were surprised and a bit disappointed by the spells available. Though they have great utility, they're old-school in nature. Back in the day, a wizard was special because they could put an enemy to sleep, or walk through a wall, or breathe water. Today, we expect our spellcasters to be "glass cannons," meaning yes, they're weak physically, but a single well-placed blast from them can destroy a horde of enemies. That's just not how HeroQuest does it. Spells in HeroQuest can only be used once per quest, and allow players to do things like make an enemy miss their next turn, heal a few hit points, and other utilities like that. When they do deal damage, they're dealing 1 or 2 points of damage (which an enemy can avoid with a good dice roll). That's not to say that clever players can't truly change the nature of the game with these spells, but at first glance they may seem underpowered.
What is a nice breath of fresh air, however, is the lack of complexity. Today, dungeon crawling games like Gloomhaven and Descent are of course in-depth, wonderfully detailed games with tons of player options, but it can lead to a lot of complexity bloat. There are really only a few things each player can do on their turn, and while it's a bit limiting, it keeps the game moving incredibly fast. In a two-hour gaming session, our party of five players ran through three different quests.
What Are Our Final Thoughts On HeroQuest?
It's so hard to separate my nostalgia for the game with its actual, current-day merits. As I mentioned at the top, this game was absolutely crucial to my development as a gamer. It kind of cracked my brain open, showing me that board games can be more than buying properties in Atlantic City or becoming the prettiest princess. From here, I sought out Dungeons & Dragons. And so, in a way, without my friend and I making our parents drive us to toy store after toy store to find a copy of HeroQuest (circa 1996 or so), which we then stayed up all night playing, I wouldn't have started down the path that leads me here, in 2022, reviewing the re-release as the Tabletop Editor of the site. It's the cornerstone for me, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.
That being said, of course there are many elements of the game that could have used a refresh, as mentioned above. The game features new sculpts for the heroes and villains, which look incredible (even if we do get some plastic bending leading to a few wobbly war-axes), but the rules and quests are almost identical to the original version. This leads to a bit of repetition that I didn't mind when I was a mind-blown ten-year-old, but I feel it now. With reprints of classic expansions, and more content in the works from Avalon Hill, I hope the game will be further fleshed out, so a new generation of would-be tabletop fanatics can experience the magic that was, is, and always will be HeroQuest.
Should I Buy HeroQuest?
If you're new to the dungeon crawl genre of tabletop gaming, have fond memories of the original game, or are the parent of children who could get down with a dungeon crawler (the game was originally intended for kids, it's easy to forget!), HeroQuest is absolutely a must buy. If you're used to playing in-depth, strategic dungeon crawl games, and like the level of depth and complexity that comes with them, HeroQuest may feel a little thin and lacking for you.
The copy of HeroQuest used in this review was provided by the publisher.