I discovered this game in December of 2007. Someone I was chatting with in DMTools Tech Support brought the game to my attention. It's a dice-based miniatures game that takes place on hex-shaped terrain. Usually you start out buying a master set which will contain over 25 miniatures, dice, and terrain pieces that make up more than 250 hexes for the miniatures to stand on. Afterwards, you add more variety to the game by purchasing additional miniature packs or terrain expansions that add hazards, different types of terrain and places to hide from view.
- the official site for the game. You can look up all character stats here,
in case you lose any of your cards. There are also some extra scenario maps
you can download.
HeroScapers.com - the premium HeroScape fansite. Here, sightings on products and good prices are discussed, as well as every other facet of the game, including unit strengths, strategies, maps, battle reports, and map software.
Shadowlock's HeroScape Site - nice site with a library of maps that really show off the kinds of maps that can result from a good collection of terrain.
- mapping software for HeroScape. Very handy!
HeroScapers Power Rankings - thread that grades all the units in HeroScape for comparison.
About the game
The game is fairly simple in that each miniature has a certain amount of life, number of spaces they can move, how far their attack can reach, and how many dice they roll for attack and defense. The strategy becomes more complex in that you can only take a turn with 3 of your army cards each round, and the order in which you use them can make a big difference. For instance, when the game first starts and armies are moving into range of each other, you usually want to move your ranged shooters towards the fight last in the hope that they will have something to shoot at after they move. In later rounds, you may want the ranged shooters to go first so that they can concentrate their fire on distant targets before they are taken out (armies consisting of more than one figure only have 1 life, so they can die easily).
Each army card represents a single powerful hero figure or a squad of 2-4 smaller but still effective combat units. Each card has a point value that you use to assemble a force up to a total point value that the players agree on before they draft their armies. A typical game might have a 500-800 point army on each side, with each card worth from 30-220 points.
You place 3 order markers on your army cards to establish which armies you will use and when. A fourth unused order marker is also placed to throw off your opponents - they are placed facing towards you, and you turn them to reveal their numbers to your opponents as you take your turn. You can place multiple order markers on a single army card to get more turns with it. Wound markers are used to keep track of how much life each figure has left (this isn't necessary for army cards that have more than one figure, since each of them only has 1 life, but there are many singular figure cards that have well more than 1 life).
The terrain itself can also present some interesting strategy. A map where each end is fairly flat but has varying heights of terrain in the middle will allow a fast approach but force you to think about where you will place your figures once they reach the bumpy terrain. Height is crucial because it gives the figure more attack and defense dice, which can make a significant difference in the fight. It also slows down the opponent because it requires extra moves to climb terrain. Adding to the difficulty might be water, lava, ice, and snow that can damage, hinder or even destroy your figures as they move. Flying creatures can avoid all these obstacles, but they must land at the end of their move.
Most army cards also have some sort of special ability that trumps the normal rules of the game, much like Magic the Gathering. There are agents that can avoid all damage by successfully rolling only 1 shield on their defense. A large flying dragon that comes with the main master set can breath a line of fire 8 spaces long and damage everything in its path. A flying valkyrie provides 2 extra defense dice to every ally she can see within 4 spaces. A viking warrior, after he is killed, can be placed on one of your army cards to boost the attack of that army (apparently, his spirit inspires them), and so on.
Finally, there are glyphs that can be placed up or down on the terrain which provide mostly beneficial effects to your entire force (such as +1 attack, +1 defense, +4 range, etc.) but can also be harmful (one glyph causes every creature on the board to roll against 1 wound).
Additional rules like line of sight allow figures to hide behind ruins, trees, even terrain to keep from being hit by a ranged attacker. Rules that handle being adjacent to an enemy figure can make close combat an ugly affair as well. Large figures will be unable to fit in tight spaces - this promotes using the actual figures rather than substitute something else and "pretending" you have the real one.
The primary master set, Rise of the Valkyrie, was first available back in 2005. It offers plenty of terrain along with a nice variety of figures to try out the game with. It's just enough to get a feel for what the game could be like with more expansions and terrain, as the game is naturally geared to make you want to collect more pieces to give the battles more variety and make the maps more interesting and lovely.
A second master set, Swarm of the Marro, was released in September 2007. It provides 5 more hero figures (2 of which are updates from the Valkyrie set) along with many Marro figures, which are basically skinless swamp-dwelling aliens. Swamp terrain was introduced with this set as well. Since it is a master set, it comes with everything needed to play, but truthfully, if you want to try the game, I recommend the Rise of the Valkyrie set. You get a much better sample.
So far, 7 waves of small figure expansions are offered, and there are 4 packs in each expansion (28 figure packs in all).
A number of large expansions are also available, including 2 large hero packs, forest and road terrain, tundra with glaciers, and a lava set.
A castle expansion adds much more to the game by providing tall walls, battlements, ladders and a door that can be busted down.
I've taken quite an interest in the game and have been collecting a fair number of pieces for it since I received my first set in December 2007. I've been watching for store deals and avoiding paying full price. The months from October to January are apparently the very best time to start collecting, because the prices are low either for the holiday season or end of year clearance. Many times I can get a master set for 25-50% off. Other items (castle expansion, some large expansions) I got for between 30% and 50% off. I have yet to see the small expansion packs for more than 20% off. Waiting until year end can make you wait for stocks to fill up again, however. I have yet to get any forest packs because the online stores that sell them for a decent price are currently empty.
The more terrain you have, the more varied maps you can create, especially when building them vertically. Adding any height to your map really uses up the pieces quickly. So if you really want to make some nicely sculpted maps, you'll need a number of master sets. Terrain can be purchased separately from online collectors as well (try ebay).
For well balanced maps, you usually want the following in this ratio:
This ratio will usually provide you with a very nice balance of map aesthetics (the Marvel set contributes least to this). Naturally, if you want to load up your map with more tundra or lava, you'll need more of each. One particulary beautiful map I saw made use of 4 RotV sets and 4 tundra sets. Seeing maps like that make me want to collect more! But I really shouldn't go overboard, as you can see by the prices. By ratio, the forest, tundra and lava sets cost much more for what you get. The castle expansion can offer a lot depending on how often the fights actually take place inside.
Avoid paying full price! Hunt for deals at your local stores (Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, Toys R' Us) or watch for deals online. Use ShopWiki for starters, then search on HeroScape items at the stores that come up. Hasbro.com is a good place to get the large expansion packs, but the small packs are cheaper at WalMart and Target. Watch out for overpriced items!
If you want to spend as little as possible, just try to pick up one or two Rise of the Valkyrie sets on clearance. Some places might be selling them for as cheap as $10 to get rid of their stock, but you will be more likely to find them at $20. Collecting starts getting expensive when you want the more decorative expansions, like the Forest and Tundra. Rarely will you find these for cheaper than regular price.
Here are some examples of the kinds of maps you can make with varying sets and expansions:
1 RotV, 1 FotA, 2 TT, 2 RttFF
2 RotV, 1 TT, 2 RttFF
6 RotV, 6TT, 3 RttFF
5 RotV, 1 FotA, 2 RttFF
(Map graphics sampled from Shadowlock's HeroScape Site, generated by VirtualScape)
Usually, maps are geared towards 2 or 3 players/teams facing off against each other, as you can see by the various symmetries. More organic style maps can also be made, but if you aren't careful, one team may have a distinct advantage over the other. Some maps do call for allowing different point values for each army (for instance, a scenario included with the Castle expansion allows for a 500 point army inside the castle walls, and an 800 point attacking force).
The many army cards available for HeroScape offer an incredibly wide range of themes and abilities. HeroScapers.com has a thread that discusses their comparisons in detail and is a good read. Opinions naturally differ (for instance, Sudema got a low score but can instantly kill any hero figure with a good roll, turning the tide of the battle), but the thread provides a good baseline.
I'm not big on collecting the figures yet, but I wanted to have a decent variety available so that the players could try them out and we could all discover the interesting combinations that can take place. So, I picked up a few small expansion packs ($10-$12 regular) as I saw them available at local stores, and also acquired Orm's Return and Raknar's Vision ($20 regular, two large expansion packs).
I'll say it right now and get it over with. Raknar's Vision has 5 very awesome heroes that are well worth getting. Very few figure packs offer such a tight combination of high-graded figures (according to the HeroScapers thread) for use in the game. Orm's Return, however, was not so impressive. I bought it only because it was 70% off online.
Getting more figures adds variety to the game, but picking up the small expansions can get pricy very quickly, especially if you're trying to collect figures that complement each other well.
HeroScape is nice in that you can set up just about any goal you want for a map, as long as it's balanced for each side. Here are some examples:
The master sets include scenarios in the back of their rule books with various ideas along these lines.
These are some of the tricks you can use to help make your HeroScape campaign victorious.
1. Use multiples of common squads, especially if they are ranged attackers. If you manage to advance both squads into the battle, you can freely choose which ones you use when their turn comes up. This means if you put two order markers on the same card, you could advance one squad twice, each squad once, or a combination. It also means if you lose any when you have an unrevealed order marker on their card, you can place the killed figures on the other card instead, allowing you to still use all of the figures of the card with the order marker on it. The Swarm of the Marro set comes with 2 squads of Marro Stingers, a very good ranged attacker. The 4th Massachussets Line gets high marks as well, but the expansion pack they come in only provides one squad.
2. If the other team has only adjacent attackers (Range of 1) and you are down to a few ranged attackers, retreat to keep them at range and keep attacking. It might be enough to win the game. If the adjacent attackers have a larger movement rate, good luck.
3. As said before, when approaching the fight in the beginning stages, move ranged attackers in last. Otherwise, you may move them forward and have nothing to fire at, wasting their turn. On subsequent rounds, use the squads of ranged attackers first so they can get their attacks in before they are killed.
4. Use height advantage whenever you can. That extra attack or defense dice has a very real impact on the game.
5. How you draft is just as important as how you play! Choose figures that counter the other players or deny them a piece that you know helps complete their combos!
Wondering how big your map will be on your table? Use these conversions:
10 hexes in a
straight line take up 17.5"
10 hexes staggered take up 15"
Measure out a comfortable playing area on your table, and use these figures to approximate the largest size map you can accommodate!
For my table, 39 staggered x 19 straight or 34 straight x 22 staggered is the largest I can go and still have space for army cards, etc. I might be able to squeeze a width of 24 straight or 28 staggered if I want to just keep the army cards at the ends.
Graded Small Expansions (and Large)
This is an ordered list, based on the Power Rankings thread at Heroscapers.com. It lists how the figure expansion sets compare to each other, based on how many good graded units you get with the set. I weighted heavily for units graded A, moderate for B, and zero for C and down, to suggest which sets you may get the most use out of. This isn't an exact science, so entries may be off by 1 or 2, as I see it.
From best to worst:
HeroScape is simple enough to provide a quick and satisfying gaming experience without the complexities of the much fancier miniature-based games. It also possesses enough strategy to make for a competitive good time!