When I was younger I was into board games and D&D. I remember having HeroQuest, and a lot of the TSR produced knockoffs or board game based D&D games. I remember when Heroscape came out, or at least seeing commercials for it. As someone who enjoys history and alternate history it sounded intriguing. I never did buy it though, as my interest in board games had fallen off at the time. The idea of people from all across time battling in one place is great, but the execution is tough.
A few weeks ago I got a copy for Heroscape D&D Battle for the Underdark for cheap. It’s relatively simple, and if it’s not simple enough there’s two ways to play. If you can’t figure out how to play it via the basic rules there might be something wrong with you. But the advanced rules are the real way to go, taking multiple factors into account on the battlefield. The advanced game is a much more filling experience, it’s like the differnce between playing BattleLore with and without the Lore.
Setup the map, pick your army (either preset or draft). Then use markers for when you are moving which units in a turn (either 1,2,3 or X, with X being a bluff) and have at it. Combat is all dice rolls possibly modified by special abilities. The attacker rolls his dice (modified with blank spaces, hits and blocks) looking for hits. Defender rolls his dice looking for blocks. Every block counters a hit.
What always stands out about Heroscape are the incredible maps that one can create. As long as you have the pieces and can imagine it, you can create it. The landscape becomes a living breathing part of the battle. In the Underdark game, units standing in Shadow (all black tiles) spaces get bonuses. The thief for example hits much harder when backstabbing.
It comes at a cost though, the maps can be time consuming to put together. I can see why people buy/get together multiple sets for when they play. I’d much rather take the time to make the map as huge as possible and just keep playing it all night. If you were to play all 4 Rooms in Underdark, you would probably spend at least 2 hours setting up and breaking down in a 4 hour session. It’s probably why the drafting of armies is so popular, its an excuse to continue using the same map while replacing the fighters.
Playing Underdark has me interested in possibly picking up some of the original Heroscape games to see how they are. It’s unfortunate that the series has been canceled by Wizards of the Coast. From what I hear the D&D branding of Heroscape was a last gasp attempt of saving the line. The D&D Heroscape figures are actually repaints from the D&D Miniatures line.
Which brings me to my main problem, there’s no way to create your own warriors/fighters. The generic fighters are never as entertaining as what you can create yourself. From what I’ve read this isn’t as much of a problem with the original Heroscape. But it feels like it ignored one of the most fun aspects of D&D. Leveling your characters, buying new gear and abilities and so on. Instead you have Urist McDwarf whose about as interesting as wallpaper. I would rather create my own Dwarf, who likes to drink and has an irrational fear of spiders and fights with a large stick instead of a regular weapon.
That seems to be a large part of the problem, there’s very little “D&D” involved here. Yes, you have a Dungeon, you have a Dragon and a 20 sided die, but there’s almost nothing enjoyable from D&D added here. I’m willing to go out on a ledge and claim that other then the Minis being from D&D there’s almost no ties to D&D. So the D&D branding really falls flat.
Over the last two months the price of Underdark has dropped more and more. Also some of the Blister pack heroes are dropping in price too. I paid 30 and it’s already down to 20 and will probably drop more. If you’ve never played Heroscape before it’s probably worth a go at that price. But remember I did warn you of the setup/breakdown time and that it appears to be impossible to get everything back into the original box. If you liked the old school 90s TSR modular board games that were released for D&D, you’ll probably enjoy this.
Obligatory video after the jump.