Hasbro recently announced an updated re-release of the 1990 board game HeroQuest. Originally developed in a partnership between Milton Bradley and Games Workshop, HeroQuest served as a lightweight and accessible introduction into the wider world of tabletop roleplaying games. There’s been a lot of talk about it in the past week due to the already hugely successful crowdfunding campaign. For those of you that weren’t around in ye olden days of 1990, let’s take a quick look at the history and legacy of HeroQuest.
HeroQuest 101: What is HeroQuest and Why is it Being Re-Released?
What is HeroQuest?
HeroQuest is a dungeon-crawler board game made by the Milton Bradley game company in partnership with Games Workshop that was released in the US in 1990. It included a lot of features that would set the standard for modern dungeon-crawling board games with mechanics that were lifted straight from tabletop roleplaying games. Being a Games Workshop product it, of course, included a wealth of detailed miniatures and 3D pieces, like doors, chests, and furniture.
The gameplay was a hybrid of a tabletop roleplaying game and classic board game. One player acted as the evil wizard Zargon, the “Dungeon Master” position for the game. They were responsible for revealing the layout of the dungeon by putting down pieces as the players explored and controlling any monsters that were discovered. Up to 4 players controlled the heroes that embodied various tropes of fantasy characters — the hearty dwarf, the powerful barbarian, the woodland elf, and the magical wizard. The heroes wander around the dungeon, revealing the layout, battling monsters, and searching for traps, treasures, and the ever-elusive exit.
Each player was given a card that had their hero’s stats on them, and a tear-away character sheet to keep track of progression.The dwarf and barbarian heroes were combat-focused, letting the players bash bad-guy heads in with brute force, while the elf and wizard heroes were spellcasters, sharing several sets of elemental magic between the two characters.
In a typical game, Zargon would consult the Quest Book, which had several scenarios mapped out, gave an objective for each, and included some flavor text to set the stage for the delve. They would place objects based on the hero’s line of sight and continue placing objects and monsters as the dungeon was explored.
Winning the game came down to completing the objective listed on the scenario that was being played, and usually reaching the exit safely once you had. The heroes may have had to slay a particular monster, find a specific artifact, or clear an entire floor before claiming victory and heading to the next adventure, making a stop of at the shop (which was printed on the inside of the box lid) to purchase items before their next foray into the deep.
Questing in Style
One of the major factors that set HeroQuest aside from other board games being offered at that time were the components. From the level of detail on the printed pieces to the overall quality and quantity of the miniatures, it was obvious from first glance that this game existed on an entirely different level from most household board games.
The game board was huge, with stone pathways winding around 22 individual rooms. As the players work their way through the dungeon, the player who controlled Zargon would place doors, 2D tile pieces to block off hallways, monsters, and furniture in each space. This all depended on line-of-sight for the actual heroes, which really added to the level of immersion.
The Evil Wizard had their own version of a DM Screen, giving them a bit of privacy for their evil machinations, with a chart of the available pieces on the opposite side, so you were never left digging through the miniatures or tiles for too long. You also had a quest book that gave the entire layout for one of 20+ premade adventures.
The miniatures were fantastic, even by today’s standards. You had a huge selection, including orcs, goblins, fimir, chaos warriors, skeletons, mummies, and the awesomely scary gargoyle. All told, the game included 35 miniatures.
The furniture that was included was pretty ingenious for the time — a cardboard pieces was folded into place, inserted into a plastic side-piece that held it in place, and then capped off on the opposite side by a second side-piece. Desks, bookcases, an alchemist table, and an altar were among the 15 different 3D pieces included in the set.
Semi-3D doors, comprised of printed 2D pieces sticking out of a plastic base, added a little mystery to the game. There were open and closed versions of the doors, which Zargon would swap out when the heroes would open a closed door. It’s a small thing, but it added to the flavor of the overall experience.
On top of all of this, the game included 64 individual cards for spells, treasure, and equipment, a pad of tear-off character sheets, movement and combat dice, and character template cards. That’s a ton of stuff jammed into one game box.
Fantasy for the Masses
What made HeroQuest so appealing? Why re-release it today, and why is it so successful? Well, to answer those questions, we have to take a trip down memory lane.
Roleplaying games got a bad wrap during the satanic panic of the 80’s. Dungeons & Dragons was the primary subject of unfair and baseless accusations, oftentimes being associated with introducing children to satanism, witchcraft, and the occult.
These accusations left fantasy roleplaying games, and particularly Dungeons & Dragons, with a stigma. They were viewed as counter-culture, something that “weird” kids did, and kept the association with the occult and satanism through the remainder of the 80s and throughout the 90s. When HeroQuest came out in 1990, it gave younger kids a step into the world of fantasy roleplaying without that stigma attached to it. Milton Bradley put the game on toy store shelves around the world, aired commercials during Saturday morning cartoons, and distilled the complexity of tabletop gaming into an easy-to-play board game.
The overall accessibility of the game not only made it successful, but also made it an instrumental introduction into the world of roleplaying games for an entire generation of kids. It provided a foundation for the core principles of roleplaying games, things like a DM, dice-rolling, and character progression that was easy to grasp and quick to play. A quick look at any forum that is discussing HeroQuest usually has a ton of comments that echo this sentiment with fond remembrance.
You can see HeroQuest’s legacy in modern dungeon-crawler board games as well, and though it could just be the natural progression of the genre, it wouldn’t be outside of the realm of possibility to think that some of the same kids that played HeroQuest grew up to create some modern dungeon-crawling games like Gloomhaven and Descent.
Personally, I was inspired by my experiences with HeroQuest when we were doing the initial designs for the Mimic’s Grid for Cursed Crypt. When discussing the possibility of creating or adapting 3D pieces with magnets, I would frequently bring up the way that HeroQuest’s 3D pieces were designed and how they were placed on the board. It had a huge impact on me and is partially responsible for helping shape my love of fantasy and roleplaying games — something that is likely shared with many others my age.
HeroQuest had several expansions and new content released over several years, some of which included new miniatures and cards. It spawned two moderately successful PC games that were faithful recreations of the board game experience, a toolkit for creating homebrew adventures, and eventually an advanced version. The partnership between Milton Bradley and Games Workshop would continue with an additional two lesser-known (but equally as awesome) games, Battle Masters and Space Crusade, both of which we’re planning to cover in future articles.
30 Years Later… HeroQuest in 2020!
Hasbro announced the return of HeroQuest this week, which is probably why you’re here reading this article. They are planning on re-releasing an updated version of the game, along with multiple stretch goals and two expansions, through their crowdfunding service Hasbro Pulse. The two expansions that are being re-released along with the core game are Return of the Witch Lord and Kellar’s Keep, both available as part of the “Mythic” tier. As of writing this article, the campaign is fully funded at $1.45m, and is now working towards unlocking stretch goals, many of which are awesome. Go check it out, and even if you didn’t get a chance to experience the glory of HeroQuest back in the day, you should back it and give it a shot!
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