Before I knew anything about this game, I was excited as this game just looks epic! The big box. The large array of components. The stirring art. This is a preview copy with only about one third of the final components and it’s still overflowing with gameplay, which tells me the final copy is going to be something very special indeed. You can find the Kickstarter campaign here.
The basic premise of Heroes of the Shire is fighting monsters. You start as a level one adventurer with access to an exciting array of spells and fighting moves. And with the promise of a whole lot more! Either in solo or with friends or enemies, your job is simple. Go out and fight.
There are two ways you can play the game. There is a battle royale mode where you will be fighting your friends in the Arena in a last person standing skirmish. And a campaign version, where players will battle their way through a series of hexes towards the end of level monster. Included in this preview was enough components for three of these campaign levels and four different characters to choose from in either campaign or Arena mode. The final version will have a whole lot more but the flavour of the game can certainly be assessed here.
So, what is that flavour? I would say that this has a blend of different styles. From the grind and leveling up of Dark Souls, the adventure and story of Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth, and the fighting of Direchism. This all combines to a highly satisfying game experience and I am eager to see what the full final version of the game looks like.
The part of this game that I think will appeal to people the most is the player boards. Each character has a unique board, all set with a specific group of spells and attacks. Each character is different and very much mouldable. There is a choice to make in the path you take when it comes to upgrading your character when you level up. It’s not a linear path. You can choose what areas and skill sets you want to develop. It is this flexibility combined with the variety of new powers available that makes this part of the game a stand out feature for me.
And you don’t even get all the final characters from the game in this preview copy, so there may well be even better things to come! But the highlight for me in this version was the Warlock character and their ability to go into ‘Demon Form’. One of the Warlocks spells, ‘Demonic Ritual,’ allows the Warlock to transform into ‘Demon Form.’ This gains the Warlock character 50% more health points and access new to abilities and spells, including immortality for two turns and the ‘Demonic Ritual’ which allows you to increase different abilities for the next six turns. This transformation is achieved by placing a piece of card over your player board, changing your appearance and the spells and actions available to you. It feels deeply thematic in its design and rewards the player using the Warlock with some very exciting new powers.
Other characters included in this preview version are The Paladin, Warrior, and The Hunter. These felt a little more Dungeons and Dragons in their origin, but still came with beautiful art and some real depth in the options available to them.
Each spell and action has a different result and power. The game balances this with a clever ‘cool down’ effect whereby, after each use of every action or spell, you must place a dice on the space for that specific support or attack move. The ‘Marksmanship’ action for the Hunter for example, allows her to deal 50% more damage on her next spell and force the target to miss their next turn. Due to this spells’ huge power, it has a cool down of six. Meaning a dice with a value of six must be placed on it. Each turn, you will reduce the dice face by one until it is removed and that power can be used again.
In the game, you will be taking it in turns to use one of your ‘Support’ or ‘Attack’ actions or spells to either ready a later move or act now. The turn sequence is a well-oiled set of rules which includes a small bit of character maintenance around your cool down dice and any temporary affects that have been added to your character. Before you have the chance to use any special abilities you have and then choosing which action you want to take.
In Arena mode, this will generally be a series of attacks until the other player is reduced to zero health points. Whereas in campaign mode, there are a series of hexes to explore before you start any serious fighting! Treasure and armour will be acquired, actions will be taken, all in a series of battles aimed at not just completing the campaign, but also helping you to level up your character so that you can fair better in the Arena. The affects of the events in campaign made thus affect what you can do in the Arena, and this campaign/legacy style affect appeals a lot to me.
Other than fighting, you will also come across different choices to make in the campaign mode. For example, you may spot what looks like treasure up ahead. Do you investigate further, or leave it knowing it may well be a trap? Decisions are made as a group before a player reads the card and reveals your fate. These action cards are opportunities to gain loot, temporary ‘buffs’ which increase your characters attributes, and also bring new foes to the table!
Some of the characters have the opportunity to summon support characters to help them fight, such ‘Pets’ or an ‘Army of the Dead.’ Playing as the Hunter, you can summon a Wolf for one of you actions. This will add a ‘Wolf’ card next to your player board and this acts essentially as an extra player fighting along side you. They have their own turn in the turn order, abilities, health and opportunities to support you in a fight. There are also Boars, Birds, Bears and Snakes, all willing to come and help lend a hand, or claw, paw, trotter or tail!
The ‘Spell mastery’ is where you can really develop your character in unique ways. Extra player boards are placed next to your main one, showing three main paths of development. Such as for the Warlock who has the choice to follow either a path of ‘Decimation,’ ‘Demon Form,’ or ‘Soul Harvesting.’ All jolly choices! Once per level, each player gains a power cube which they can use to unlock new spells and abilities. Once you have placed a cube in one box, on a later turn when you level up again, you can now place the next cube on the subsequent box or start on a new path. The choice is yours. It builds a tech tree of development of sorts and offers a lot of flexibility and freedom in the way you want to develop and use your character.
There are a lot of symbols used in this game, but there is an excellent quick reference sheet and a brilliant turn by turn introduction to the arena mode which teaches you the game in a very user friendly and simple way. This is like the one found in Wingspan and Root. It is so smooth; it always makes me wonder when I use things like this why all games don’t do it. It’s a brilliant addition.
There is a lot to be excited about in this box. I will continue to follow the development of this with close interest and look forward to the final version which you can read more about here.