Classic Board Games: HeroQuest

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November 27, 2013 by briantshock

I’m pretty terrible at board games. All these nerdy board games my friend Mike wants me to play like “Battlestar Galactica” and “Smallworld” and “McWorld” go way over my head. If the rulebook is more than 15 pages or multiple decks of cards are involved, I’m probably too dumb to play it. My brain just isn’t wired that way to promote winning strategies. That’s why I’m instead going to talk about the classic board games I played growing up. Today, I’m going to take you all on a high adventure in a world of magic, a true HeroQuest.



Milton Bradley/The Games Workshop, 1989/1990

This game was for 2 – 5 players. One player had to be “Zargon”, the “game master”. This was the guy in charge of controlling all the monsters and setting up the board. The other players each selected a hero character and worked together to accomplish whatever the goal for that particular level was, usually in the form of locating the exit after some kind of optional task. Cooperation never lasted long and whenever a treasure chest was revealed the game devolved into bedlam. The base HeroQuest game and each expansion game were divided into 10-15 smaller levels each lasting about an hour or so.

The heroes could pick from any of the cherished fantasy stereotypes. You had a large nearly naked man with a sword who had the most health but sucked at magic, the wizard who could use magic but sucked at staying alive, a dwarf with an axe who could disarm traps for some reason, and of course there was an elf who had limited magic and resistance. Since this was a fantasy game from the early 90’s, there were no female characters, unless you count the elf, since those usually seem to work either way. I was about to apologize for potentially offending elves then realized that is pretty unlikely. If there are any elves out there, I’m sorry. Please call me, I am fascinated by your ways.

Zargon the Game Master was in charge of guiding the game along and trying to thwart the heroes. The same board was used for every level, though the entire board was rarely utilized. The game master book described the maps and what monsters and treasures should be used, as well as what walls should be erected to block off sections of the map that would be unused. The game system was built to be played free-form, with custom maps and adventures, though I don’t know anybody that took the time to do that. I barely even knew anybody that had heard of this game.

Characters, monsters, and room effects like tables and bookcases were all represented by small plastic figures. These were all remarkably detailed so they were also fun to play with aside from the game. My friend Jay, having no idea how this game worked at all, would often just amuse himself by setting up all the pieces on the board in some kind of elaborate situation before getting bored and knocking them all over my room. See, this game truly was a free platform for other game types!

Movement and combat were handled by rolling dice. Movement dice were the standard dice-fare but combat used special dice that had skulls and shields and stuff on them. The attacker would try to roll skulls, and the defender would wants shields. Shields block skulls, and any unblocked skulls would cause damage to the defender. While dice introduce the dreaded element of luck, at least you feel like you have some tactile control over what you are doing. This is also a rudimentary equipment system to help turn the odds in your favor if you are horrendously unlucky like me.

This was a really fun game and I have good memories of playing it. I liked how the game structure was divided up into levels, so you could have a short gaming session every here or there but continue to progress your characters towards a larger goal. I think this is pretty much a gateway drug into Dungeons and Dragons and all those other tabletop games but I never really pursued those. For me, there was only one Quest. (well: two, if you count the old Quest For Glory computer games, those were awesome!)



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