I always hate to see things that I like left to languish in oblivion, but over the past few years that’s exactly what’s been happening with one of my favorite games from when I younger, and that’s Hero Quest. See, rumors of a long awaited 25th anniversary edition have been circulating for god knows how long now, but so has the fact that any revival has proven to so far be a complete and utter fraud. But a few days ago, I came across an article that gave me hope we might yet see a new edition, the mention of the filing of a new trademark for Hero Quest: Legacies by Restoration Games. Reading that little bit of news kind of got me going, so I thought why not do a retro review of the 1989 original, because it was, and still is, a heck of a lot of fun.
For starters, Hero Quest was a joint effort between Gamesworkshop and Milton Bradley, the makers trying to capitalize on the resurgence and growing popularity of D&D after the whole satanic panic nonsense of the late 70s to mid 80s. It’s a very early rendition of an all in one dungeon crawl boardgame, with the distinction of having an actual folding game board as a play area rather than building one from a collection of tiles. It centers around the gamemaster taking on the role of Zargon, an appropriately evil wizard that has betrayed his master, the aptly named Mentor. Mentor enlists the players aid to go on a series of adventures into Zargon’s fortress, tasking them with everything from collecting treasure and artifacts, taking down a giant gargoyle, and even rescuing a fellow wizard. If even just one of them can escape with the objective fulfilled, then the players win. But if they should all be taken out or be forced to retreat, then Zargon is the victor.
The game gives the players the choice of four different adventurers to take the role of, being either a barbarian, dwarf, elf, or a wizard of their own. The barbarian is your frontline fighter and tank, while the dwarf serves as a respectable combatant in his own right. The wizard is without a doubt the damage cannon of the group, and the elf is a hybrid fighter and magic-user for support, but kind of struggles with both. With whatever scenario is being played the gamemaster will be given how to set up the dungeon and populate its many rooms, getting all manner of nasty creatures to throw in there, like orcs, goblins, skeletons, mummies, and the heavily armored warriors of chaos. There’s never a dull moment when trekking through the fortress halls, but there’s also never a safe one either.
One thing about Hero Quest is that the gameplay is very old school like early D&D, and by that, I mean it can be a brutal slaughter fest against the heroes if the dice or the cards aren’t on their side. On a D6 there is only a two in six chance of scoring a hit or avoiding a wound, and when exploring a room or killing enemies you draw a card from a treasure deck to see what you’ll find, with about half of them being wandering monster or trap cards to kill you even faster. On top of that, if your wizard or barbarian goes down early, then you’re pretty much screwed, as without the big guns the dwarf and elf just can’t shoulder the weight of the fight on their own. I remember a recent game with my wife and our friends, and within the first few turns the party had split up, unleashed about every monster on the board, and were either dead or running for their lives. I still have the mental image of my wife’s poor little elf frantically skittering down a hallway, pursued by a line of orcs and goblins and two angry mummies. It was a total party kill but also a blast by the end of it, as halfway through the surviving players just said screw it and all launched into a series of various suicidal assaults.
What I really think holds up well about Hero Quest is the overall look and feel of the game, as being produced in 1989 it has the classic fantasy style of the time that’s lacking in a lot of the over worked stuff of today. The board has a throwback charm to it and the pieces are surprisingly well detailed, but then again, they were made by Citadel before Gamesworkshop started price jacking everything and stuck it to their customers. What really helps add to the whole experience are the little accessory bits that you get, as they give you all types of very well-done furniture models to fill up the dungeon rooms. There’s a gothic fireplace, bookshelves, and weapons racks, but we also have some unique pieces like a throne and a few bits of torture equipment for even more character. They all add to the mood of exploring from room to room in the different scenarios, even if you are probably going to horribly die in the process, things will still look good while you’re doing it.
Unfortunately, Hero Quest is long out of print now, and it can get rather pricey trying to track it down along with any of its expansions. I managed to pick mine up at a convention auction a few years back, but I had to get into a bidding with a couple other determined individuals to do it, so it still wasn’t cheap. I really hope the project from Restoration Games is real and pays off, as I’d be more than interested to see what they could do with this classic gem. If a kickstarter pops up in the future I might just have to jump into it, and if you like retro games you should think about it too, so you and your friends can try this one out for yourselves. It’s a fantastic little self-contained night of fun, one that old school enthusiasts shouldn’t pass up if they can help it, I know I won’t if a new edition is coming up. As always, I hope you enjoyed this one, gang. Later.