Updated: May 1, 2021
Subtitled, ‘An Epic Game of Epic Fails’, Hero Master offers us a new variant on a dungeon quest game. Designed by Jamie Noble Frier and published by The Noble Artist, Hero Master is neither an RPG or a dungeon crawler but it draws heavily on the tropes from both these genres.
In Hero Master, players’ avatars are not elite mages and warriors, they are the dregs left in the tavern after all the competent adventures have banded together and gone off on their exploits. In this game, your characters have joined together in the same party but they are out only for themselves. You are all fighting monsters together but you are not actually working in co-operation: although you are never directly attacking each other, it’s in your interest to sabotage a fellow adventurer’s attack so that you rather than they get the treasure.
Shown here is a prototype of the game which is due to launch on Kickstarter on 18 September. We’ll add a link on Board’s Eye View when the Kickstarter goes live. In the meantime, you can go to the Hero Master site and register your interest to benefit from a free gift (bonus card) if you subsequently back the KS campaign.
The game comes with four classes of hero (Wizard, Barbarian, Rogue, Priest) and four races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling). Players each form a combination of these two, forming their unique deck of the cards that correspond to their hero race and class. Four of each gives 16 possible combinations, so successive games are likely to play out differently.
Hero Master is about hand management. Players have a limited hand size and cards that are played aren’t replenished until the party moves to a fresh location. You will encounter several monsters at each of the locations drawn, so players need to pace themselves: if they expend all their cards against the first monster they encounter, they will have nothing left to face the next one that comes along.
Running alongside this mechanic is a deck building element: treasures add to players' decks, and, unlike most deck builders, they can be utilised straightaway. There are 20-sided dice used to resolve combat and to allow for the ‘critical hits’ and ‘critical fails’ that you might typically find in a role-playing game. However, whereas an epic fail in an RPG will typically be the result of rolling 1 on a 20-sided die, here that fail risk is likely to be higher as your ‘comrades’ throw Bungle cards in the way of your attacks. Epic fails will mean a player drawing a Critical Fail card and applying its effects.
As you might imagine from the theme, this is a light-hearted game. It will particularly appeal to fans of the brilliant Youtube animation series Doraleous and Associates. Often games that go for humour are themselves ‘epic fails’ because they try too hard and the humour pales, especially after a couple of plays. That is a trap that Jamie has successfully avoided with this game. Jamie Noble Frier is best known for his artwork on an number of games, including Hands in the Sea (Knight Works) and expansions for Perdition's Mouth: Abyssal Rift (Dragon Dawn Productions), which we featured last month on Board's Eye View. With Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails he has really excelled, producing charming artwork that is attractive and entirely appropriate to the game’s humorous theme.
In keeping with the mood of the game, there is no player elimination. If you lose so many hit points your character dies, they are resurrected, albeit at the cost of a reduced hand size. Meanwhile, there are catch up mechanics, with the player with the least gold at each new location able to draw a ‘Protest’ card.
Hero Master takes 2–4 players. It is fun to play but it doesn’t play quite as quickly as perhaps it should. The cards all have text on them, and though it’s usually just a line or so, players have to work evaluate how each card’s text interacts with the other cards in play and in their hand. Not a huge problem, but just be aware that it can make for a slow game if you find yourself playing with a player prone to AP (analysis paralysis). You may also find you need to find card racks to hold your hand (similar to those shown in our Board’s Eye View 360º photo, tho’ in actual play turned so that other players can only see the backs of the cards). We found we needed racks because you cannot fan cards in your hand and readily read the card text.
The prototype for Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails was being demoed at the UK Games Expo in June and it attracted a lot of interest and plenty of positive comments, so we’re expecting it to do well on Kickstarter...