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Hero Master, the game of epic fails, has finally been released after a long-anticipated wait. This game is special within the Coaching For Geeks community because it’s from one of our very own, the noble artist, Jamie Noble Friar. Jamie has not only designed the game, he has also done all of the artwork for it too! With his solo (ad)venture now completed and in the hands of yours truly, I’m going to share with you my first delve into Hero Master.

The Sweet Smell of Neoprene

Our first quest was the moment when we got to savour the new game – the unboxing. That moment when the box slides out and the new game smell wafts you in the face. I got a whiff of the neoprene matts; one of the Kickstarter stretch goals successfully attained. All of the components are of the decent quality that any budding board game enthusiast has come to expect. It really is the artwork that stands out however; Jamie’s simplistic, cartoon style really works for the game.

Hero Master blends the mechanics of a deck-building game with elements of a role-playing game; namely, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). In fact, the very theme of the game is that you’re not the typical hero archetypes we expect to play or meet in D&D. Instead, you’re the other guys. You’re the guys the heroes don’t pick to be in their super awesome, dragon ass-kicking, suicide squad, i.e. you’re the unfit outcasts that get picked last in the football team at school.

Example of the Player Board setup with two attack cards played

The Rules

The objective of Hero Master is to finish the game with the most gold. You do this by travelling to locations, defeating monsters and taking their treasure before everyone else. To defeat monsters, you must encounter and fight them using attack cards. However – and here’s the fun part – you can also bungle your opponent’s attacks, usually making it more difficult for them to win or giving yourself some sort of bonus.  

You and your ragtag party of heroes will squabble over who is the party leader, which essentially acts like a player one token. Being the party leader allows you to choose which location the party visits, which monsters they encounter, and to attack first in combat. It can also be effected by other cards which may result in positive or negative effects being applied. The party leader token switches player regularly throughout the game. It’s a neat mechanic that is well implemented and adds to the theme of the game. 

Example of a Location Board setup with the Orc Warrior encountered

Bungle, Bungle, Toil and Trouble

The bungle cards also contribute to this theme, representing the clumsiness and downright stupidity of the heroes as they bumble their way through locations. There are also protest cards, a card awarded to the player with the least amount of gold at the end of an encounter, which they get to add to their hand to use as a bungle at the next location. It’s the kind of mechanic that gives the losing player a chance of turning the tide, which is something that is lacking from many a game. There’s nothing worse than getting so far into a game with no hope of a potential victory.

Moving onto combat, Hero Master utilises 2d20s – two twenty-sided dice. One represents the hero’s attack and the other represents the monster’s. Just like in D&D you roll to hit against the monster and vice versa. You also have an armour value, primarily from your basic class gear, but the value can be modified by action cards. If the roll meets or beats the armour value of the monster, the hit is successful. If the hit is successful, you’ll need to do enough of one damage type in order to defeat it. Unlike D&D, there are no hit points for the monsters in Hero Master, if you hit it and deal damage successfully, you have defeated the monster. 

Action Cards – Attacks and Bungles.

Damage Types

Damage in Hero Master is perhaps one of the more complicated mechanics to wrap your head around. There are 4 damage types for your attacks: regular, fire, ice and spirit. These are represented along the top of the action cards. These values represents how effective the attack is for each damage type. You calculate the final value by taking the attack card’s basic values, and then adding or subtracting value from the weapons or bungle cards added to the attack.  If any of these damage types meet or beat the monster’s corresponding damage resistances, then you have defeated it and you claim the rewards and become party leader – whilst presumably gloating about it.  

Just like in D&D, when you roll a natural 20, that’s a critical hit! In Hero Master that doubles your damage, but the monster’s damage to you is also doubled on a critical hit. Also like D&D if you roll a 1, that’s a critical failure! You can also get these due to bungle cards, which can raise the threshold for a critical fail to say, 7. E.g. If you roll a 7 or lower on an attack that has been bungled, it’s a critical failure. The critical fail cards have a number of helpful bonuses or harmful penalties, as well as contributing to the theme of the game. Personally, I’d have liked to have seen these cards inflict only penalties on the player, without the boons. 

Hero Master has the theme and mechanics to be a great game, but I can’t help feel a little overwhelmed by the whole experience. Perhaps it’s, in part, due to the delayed fulfilment or my prior expectations of the game, but throughout playing I just found little things that bothered me. My contrasting interpretation of what critical fails and bungles should be, the grammatical errors, and a card that seems to reference a token that does not exist. Combine this with some ambiguous rules and the game just feels clunky, like a lot a design has been thrown in, but not enough play-testing to make sure it all works properly. 

Potion cards are considered attacks

The Treasure Attack

Let me give you an example of a situation that can come up fairly regularly during play, yet the rules are not clear enough. Two rules are presented:

  • In order to join an encounter, you must play an attack card. 
  • Once you have joined the encounter you can then either (when it comes back round to you) play another attack, play a bungle, or pass and play no more cards.

My interpretation of this is that in order to have joined the encounter you must be attacking. Makes sense, right? Herein lies the problem: certain treasure cards are listed as attack cards, and some of those get immediately reshuffled into the treasure card pile after their effects have resolved. 

By the rulings above it is fine to play that card, but the dilemma is that you have now joined an encounter without an attack on your player board. Furthermore, according to the rules you may carry on playing bungles and then pass without playing another encounter. In our game, we allowed the attack card to be played, but then the next card must also be an attack card or a pass (as if the hero refused to join the encounter). There’s approximately an 11% chance for one of the starting treasures to be one of these attack cards. It just feels way too overlooked and it’s this sort of thing that irks me. Players shouldn’t have to figure out a rule. It should be clear.  

In Conclusion

With that said, it is a fun game with some interesting mechanics. It’s a lot like Munchkin in both style and gameplay, but fails to deliver the same kind of backstabbing simplicity that makes Munchkin so great. It did however, end with a surprising twist of events in my first playthrough. Throughout the game, one player was consistently behind the other two who were neck and neck, until the very last two encounters where – through fluke or ingenious strategy – the losing player went from 0 gold to 19 and beat the other two who were tied at 12.