Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why Heroscape Will Always Be My Favorite Game

For many people, their "gateway game" was something like Settlers of Catan or Carcassonne. Or perhaps it was something like Dominion, like for my friend Christine. For me, however, the game that definitely got me into the hobby was Heroscape. Maybe not the most traditional gateway game, but I mean....who can argue with a board game that looks like this:

It started in the Spring of 2007. Heroscape had been out for a little over 2 years, but I had never heard of it at that point. My then 5 year old son, Evan, saw an ad for a Heroscape set in a newspaper flier. He begged me to get it for him! I looked at the ad and saw aliens, ninjas, cowboys, robots, and WWII soldiers all in the same set. My first thought, honestly, was "what a messed up piece of crap!". I set it aside and told him "no". Over the next few weeks, that ad suspiciously made its way to my desk over and over again. Each time, I set it aside. Then one day, my son and I were at Fry's and they had the Rise of the Valkyrie set and the Fortress of the Archkyrie set (the castle expansion) on sale for a ridiculously low price. I can't remember now how much, but it was something like $20 for both. Needless to say, my son was ecstatic and begged me to get it for him. Finally, inevitably, my will caved and I said "okay, we'll try it". I bought one of each set.
Rise of the Valkyrie
Fortress of the Archkyrie           

When we got home, I cracked open the rulebook and read the rules for the Basic Game. It was quite simple, overly simplified in fact. My son and I played 2 quick games but became disheartened at the idea of a massive, red, fire-breathing dragon being killed by a single hit from a samurai. Yes, I was even more convinced now than ever - this game sucked.
A typical Heroscape card
So we took a break while I read through the Master Game rules. Hmmm.....this was interesting. These rules were not very complicated at all, and they added a lot of depth to game. They were, in fact, quite elegant. And better yet, they looked easy enough for my 5 year old to grasp, outside of being able to read all the powers on the cards. At that point he could read well enough to read the stats and the names of the figures, but not quite well enough to parse all of the special power text. But still...perhaps I had misjudged this little game?After a while, we set up another scenario and, this time, played with the Master Game rules. Wow, what a difference! Now this game was fun! We played game after game that day, well into the night, until my wife made us stop so we could put our son to bed.
The next day, we broke out the castle set and played even more games. Then at one point, we got stuck on the specifics of a rule so I decided to search for an answer online and came across a little website that would change my gaming life forever - I got my rule question answered (the members on Heroscapers were very prompt and helpful), I noticed people on the forums talking about figures that we didn't have in our set. Huh?! This game had expansions?! Off we went to scour every local Wal-Mart, Target, and Toys 'R Us. Suffice it to say, over the next year our collection grew to include one of everything that had been released to that point. By now, our Heroscape collection filled a big Rubbermaid tub. Then we started seeing the value of having multiples of the common figures and terrain, so our collection grew even more. Eventually, we were forced to move our 3-4 Rubbermaid tubs into the garage. Today, we have an entire room dedicated to gaming, over half of which is exclusively taken up by Heroscape terrain and figures. One day, I will post pictures of our gaming room and the amazing work my wife did with helping us put it together.Then we started making customs. Oh, the customs...that was so much fun! My son and I made more and more. To this day, we have made around 800 customs (which I will post at a later date). Roughly half of those are in the superhero genre and the other half are Star Wars, with a few other random ones thrown into the mix.
Eventually I became more and more involved in the customs community, which is a thriving community on Heroscapers, even today after the game is no longer in print. I was part of community customs projects and even helped to found some of them - TNT, NM24, HoSSC3G, and C3V/SOV, just to name a few. C3G and C3V, in particular, have unofficially replaced the official expansions now that the game is out of print, and have done a remarkable job of it. But most importantly, I made some great friends and became part of a welcoming and productive community. There are many fine members whom I admire and respect - Griffin, A3n, Hahma, Spidey'tilIDie, NecroBlade, GrungeBob, Balantai, tcglkn, whitestuff, Sherman Davies, Matt Helm, Allskulls, and many, many more. I almost hesitate mentioning names for fear of forgetting some that shouldn't be forgotten. In particular, though, I would like to call out one specific member that, in many ways, became sort of a mentor for me, and in every way became a friend, Nick (IAmBatman on Heroscapers). Without his guidance, friendship, and humor, my time on Heroscapers would not have been nearly as enjoyable or fulfilling.
In addition to getting involved with customs, I also got to know, both personally and by reputation, several of the designers and playtesters behind Heroscape. The best testament to their skill and hard work is the fact that I would buy any game they put out without knowing anything else about it. In fact, I have already done so - Summoner Wars by Colby Dauch and Battleship Galaxies by Craig Van Ness. I bought both without ever reading reviews or even knowing anything at all about them, purely based on my knowledge of their designers. I was not disappointed in the least. I know there are other games by the same people, as well as by some of the other designers and playtesters, and rest assured these are all on my short list, as well.
So this is why Heroscape is my favorite game. Between the bonding experience with my young son, the wonderful friends I made, and the amazing community I became a part of, nothing will ever displace Heroscape's position in my heart and mind. If you ever look for me on Heroscapers, I go by the username GreyOwl. Feel free to look me up! Note that I have, unfortunately, been on hiatus from the site and all the customs projects for a while now, due to personal life issues (you can read a little about that here, and maybe you can even help out two kids in need!), but I still hold out the hope of returning one day to rejoin the community. It is always on the back of my mind, and I constantly resist the urge to go to the site for fear of immediately getting sucked back in before the time is right.


  1. Great introduction to Heroscape! I also got into the game a bit late, but it's still thriving at my household. I was wondering if my 5 year old would be able to play the Master Rules; and now that I see you successfully did it with your 5 year old, I'm more willing to try it with mine.
    Keep up the good work!

  2. I found that it helped him pick up reading faster than normal, because he was highly motivated to read the cards. It also improved his memory and concentration, because up until he could read them he would have me explain the powers to them and memorize them. Every. Single. One. :)

  3. Hasn't been the same on Heroscapers without you, John! There's a reason you were given the title of "Caretaker of the Custom Realm" and that C3V named one of their best units after you (Captain John Varan)!