Look at that. I didn’t even have to come up with some silly double entendre to punch up the title of this post because Heroes Wanted is plenty ridiculous on its own. It certainly doesn’t need any help from me.
I mean, really, I’d like to claim it was my amazing creative choices that landed me playing a hero named “Leather Computer,” but I was trying to find the best combination for the job and that’s just what I ended up with. Poor Leather Computer….wearing that S&M getup, his winky face emoticon often gets disastrously misunderstood.
Anyway, so right off the bat we can establish that this is a fun game. Well, okay, all board games are fun for me, but Heroes Wanted goes out of its way add party game elements to the mix, and I am pretty impressed with the results. It essentially provides that fun on multiple levels – with a solid point optimization game and by allowing you to laugh with/at your friends around the table with silly names (complete with pun-filled flavor text) and ridiculous quirks.
We’ll get back to the quirks, though, because first I’d like talk about the game play. So you’ve got you’re unfortunately-named hero and you plop him down into the middle of 1 of 4 scenarios which generally require you to beat up on as many people as possible in one form or another. Depending on the scenario, there may be other mechanics involved, but I just played the basic “Littering, Loitering and Jaywalking” scenario where the only other thing to do was picking up litter and throwing it away (I never actual accomplished this heroic task, though, as I was too busy beating people up).
You move around a hex grid and do damage to other characters by playing a single card on your turn. Everyone has the same set of cards, plus a few extra based on your class and name. And the goal is just to use those cards to get the most points possible – knocking out villians and your fellow heroes is worth points, as is completing objectives specific to the mission you are on and randomized objectives set out at the beginning of the game.
You also want to keep cards in your hand to use for defense, though, because after all the heroes take a turn, you’re then going to get attacked by any minions around you and possibly the villain, as well. Each card has a number in the upper right representing stamina or defense. You can discard a card to essentially absorb that amount of damage coming at you. And if you can’t absorb the damage, you get knocked out, take an injury and lose points, which is a bad proposition for the most part. On your turn, instead of playing a card, you can always rest to get back all the cards you’ve played and discarded.
So this all adds up to a pretty cool, thematic mechanic of expending stamina to run around and punch people until you get tired and have to rest, but if someone attacks you when you’re tired, they’ll knock you out and ruin your day. Everything essentially boils down to move, attack and block, which is pretty easy to catch on to in a turn or two, but you also quickly realize that this is a pretty deep game of hand management, as some cards allow to put cards back in your hand or play other cards, and whatever card you played last is often important to what is going on with the villain.
In addition, you’ve also got a nifty leveling up mechanic where, by completing the objectives (throw away trash, KO 2 henchmen, deal 10 damage to the villain, etc.) you can unlock an extra card for your hand or get instant extra actions. All of this adds enough depth that you can start to make plans with how you are going to play out your hand over a series of turns, and that always makes me happy.
I’m not saying it’s a perfect system, though. Poor Leather Computer I think didn’t have a whole lot of options with his starting cards and position. I ended up repeating the exact same series of turns with my first two hands (superpower twice, strike, rest, repeat). At the end of that second cycle, though, I got enough objectives to unlock another card and some other actions which then allowed me to not have to rest for the remainder of the game, which was nice. So the beginning of the game dragged a bit for me, but it was mostly due to my own decisions. I decided to start off in a corner by myself with a hero that didn’t get any extra actions. Though if I had gone off to an area of the board where there were other heroes and the villain running around, there would have been so much competition, that I think I would have fared a lot worse point-wise.
Let’s talk about the end of the game, though, because I have another small nit to pick. You see, KOing a villain is worth a lot of points. You can rack up points by doing damage to him, but landing the final blow – that’s a huge point swing. So when a villain get’s close to death, you can get into a sort of chicken situation where no one wants to be the guy who brings the villain within one hit of defeat. Because then the next guy in the turn order jumps in and takes all your glory. I was so focused on just doing whatever damage I could to eek out points, I let stupid Tiger Machine get the killing blow and he ended up winning by that 8-point swing.
I’m sure there was a solution to that problem. Better hand management. There are a lot of ways to switch around who is first player (maybe too many, but that could just be my antiquated Agricola sensibilities), so if I had calmed down and planned it a bit better, I probably could have out-smarted Tiger Machine, but that whole chicken aspect of landing the killing blow feels a little gamey to me. Just a tad. And it could just be that I am a poor sport.
But, oh man, let’s get back to the good things! Quirks? Totally awesome. Quirks are just weird things you are forced to do on occasion or lose points. For instance, my quirk was “former sidekick,” so I had to high-five my neighbors whenever they KOed one of the villain’s minions. There’s a load of these and, like I said earlier, they really just add an extra element of fun to the game and force players to pay attention when it is not their turn, which is always a good thing. And the most surprising thing is how the whole quirk system doesn’t feel tacked on at all. Sure, it’s modular, such that you can play without it if you want to (why would do that, though?), but given the theme and mood of the game, it fits in rather perfectly.
And obviously there is a whole lot of variability going on here. With the nigh-infinite combinations of heroes and 4 different scenarios. What intrigues me, though, is the inclusion of a cooperative mode where the alpha-player problem (I’m looking at you, Robinson Crusoe) is solved by the inclusion of hero-specific quirks that just make it harder to communicate with each other. One guy can only speak in animal noises while another must phrase everything he says as a sports metaphor. Sounds pretty fantastic to me.
So what we’ve got here is some solid game design, with an extra layer of fun baked in and enough replayability to shake a leather whip (USB cable?) at. I would certainly enjoy playing this again to try out some other scenarios and hero types.
Oh, by the way: Based on player feedback, the designers are working on tweaking the game to lessen the importance of landing the killing blow on a villain. This is amazing. Going into a Kickstarter campaign with something that is malleable and listening to fans about their concerns I think is key to not only a successful campaign but also providing your backers with the best possible game once the campaign ends. Obviously any suggestions need to be filtered through the overall vision of the game, but the fact that the designers are open to criticism speaks very highly of them.