Thursday, February 12, 2015

Quick Review - Gauntlet of Heroes - Kickstarter Preview

Gauntlet of Heroes
Designers: Aaron Detmar
David K. Jordan
Publisher: Flame Stryke Games
Quick Review - Gauntlet of Heroes

Gauntlet of Heroes has launched on Kickstarter and I was fortunate enough to get an early prototype copy to try out.  The artwork is still being finished up and the card designs are being cleaned up some, but the copy I received was very nice.

The Kickstarter campaign goes from Friday, February 13th to Sunday, March 15th.  The funding goal is $13,468 and the pledge of the base game is $26 with free shipping to the US ($15-$25 for the rest of the world).  Pledge levels range from $1 to $300.  Specific stretch goals haven't been announced, but are said to include Custom Dice, Additional Heroes, Additional Mystery Elites, and Additional (Cursed?) Treasures.  Check out the Kickstarter here:

So what is Gauntlet of Heroes?  Well, it's a dungeon crawler and mock-RPG, of sorts.  This un-cooperative game for 2-5 players mirrors serious dungeon crawlers and RPG games with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor, much like Munchkin does.  But this isn't just a Munchkin clone.  The game is completely card and dice driven and contains a slew of heroes, monsters, and treasures to flavor the game.  The object of the game is to have your Heroes explore the dungeon, complete challenges, collect treasures, and win by having the most Victory Points.  Victory points are earned by defeating monsters, completing challenges, and collecting treasures.

In Gauntlet of Heroes each player controls three Heroes from one of several standard fantasy races (including humans, dwarves, elves, orcs, etc.) and class (soldier, priest, rogue, wizard, etc.) and are each endowed with four attributes of varying strengths.  Might, Guile, Magic, and Faith are divided so each character has a total combined strength of 10.  Each Hero also has a different set of attribute strengths that total 5 when he/she is injured.  Heroes have special abilities, too.  Sometimes the ability is available when they are healthy and sometimes when they are injured.  An injured Hero's card is turned sideways, thus displaying the injured ability text.
Three of the Hero cards.  We have Helga, an Orc Rogue, Chook
the Chin, a Human Barbarian, and Fergus Rockson, a Dwarf Noble.

The game is setup by laying out Treasure cards face down in a pyramid with two cards at the peak.  Then one Challenge card is placed face down over each Treasure, except the peak treasures.  These challenges represent rooms of a dungeon and the obstacles present in each room.  Some of the challenges are monsters that have to be fought, some are traps that will do different things to the Hero that stumbles upon it, and a few are helpful.  At the peak of the pyramid of rooms an Elite card is placed face down instead of a Challenge.  The Elite is a very powerful monster that must be defeated.  Once a Challenge is completed or the Elite is defeated the Hero that was successful wins the Treasure that was in that room and then opens up access to rooms deeper in the dungeon.
The basic setup for 2 players.
(With three face up Treasure cards for a small variant I tried out.)
Optionally other dungeon layouts can be used.
So how do I explore the dungeon?  Throughout the game you'll be able to equip your Heroes with weapons, spells, and other items that will increase their strengths.  Each turn starts with a player choosing to either equip a Hero with an item from his hand, or healing a Hero that has been injured.  Then the player chooses a Hero to enter a room of the dungeon and find out what the Challenge is.  If the challenge is a monster then combat is required and the player chooses which attribute he will use to fight with.  Sometimes the Challenge is a trap, obstacle, or reward that you can complete without combat.  But the monsters are the really fun part of exploring a dungeon, right?
Equipment can be added to a Hero to enhance their strengths.

Each Hero can carry up to 4 items.  Items are equipped in slots so that their
enhanced attributes display on the corresponding side.  Each slot can have one
item (unless an item allows more) and the Hero's strengths are increased by the
total value.  So here, Chook the Chin would have a total of 11 Might, 6 Guile,
4 Magic, and 3 Faith.

A few of the monsters and other challenges you may encounter
in the dungeon.  Monsters have their own attribute strengths, other
challenges just have text that tells you what to do.  All challenges
are worth Victory Points when they are completed.
So how do you defeat a monster?  Well, the game has a pretty simple, yet effective method of combat.  The Hero's strength in each attribute can be enhanced by the weapons or other equipment the Hero is carrying.  Combat is determined by simple dice rolls.  The player rolls two dice and adds that value to the total strength his Hero has in the chosen attribute.  Then another player rolls two dice for the opponent and adds that value to the opponent's total strength in the chosen attribute.  The winner is the combatant with the highest total.  If the Hero wins he gets to place the monster into a Victory Pile along with any treasure the monster was protecting.  If the Hero loses he will be injured (or killed if he was already injured).  Injured Heroes are turned sideways and then their attribute strengths and special abilities change.  Heroes that lose a fight also lose one piece of equipment to a monster, which can then become equipped with the weapon or tool.  This weakens the Hero and strengthens the monster.
Here Helga and Fergus Rockson are injured.  Fergus has a new special
ability that only takes effect when he is injured.  Helga has lost her
special ability since it only applies when she is healthy.  Also,
Helga is resting, something Heroes must do for one turn
after facing any challenge.
This is all pretty straight forward and somewhat uninteresting at first.  But what makes the game more than just an exercise in dice rolling is the stage that comes between the Hero revealing a challenge and rolling the dice to determine the outcome.  Between these two steps each player has a chance to play a Battle Card.  These cards can drastically change the outcome of the battles by adding or removing special abilities, adjusting the attribute strengths of the combatants, negating weapons, and more.  Or they may affect other aspects of the game, like letting players get extra equipment, healing injured Heroes, injuring healthy Heroes, swapping Heroes, stealing cards from other players, etc.  This is really where the un-cooperative aspect of the game comes into play.  There are lots of chances to help your opponents or really screw them over.  If you like that type of play, this game as a ton of it.
A few of the many Battle Cards that really add to the player
interaction and backstabbing in the game.
The game proceeds until all of the rooms in the dungeon are cleared out.  Usually the last monster to be fought is the Elite, although there are cases where the Elite can be battled earlier.  The Elite is generally much stronger than the other monsters in the dungeon.  Elites get one piece of equipment immediately when revealed and have to be defeated twice.  Like Heroes, Elites can be injured when they lose a fight and that can change their various attribute strengths and special abilities.
Elites are much more powerful than other monsters and
get injured before they are defeated.
Once every room in the dungeon is completed players total up their Victory Points by adding the numbers in the small gold coins on each card in their Victory Pile, Heroes, and items equipped on Heroes.  Items still in a player's hand do not count toward victory.

So what did I think of Gauntlet of Heroes?  Well, the concept of the game is great.  The artwork is excellent, although the cards are a bit busy.  The execution of the concept left a bit to be desired though.  When I first started playing I found that getting new equipment for your Heroes was a challenge.  The rules that came with my prototype copy state that you must add treasures won into your Victory Pile.  This makes finding new weapons and building up your Hero somewhat of a challenge, especially when losing a fight might mean you have to give up weapons to monsters.  With little influx of new equipment I found the game both challenging and dull.
Vulcan's Hammer adds a lot to your strength,
and gives you 3 Victory Points.

But the good news is that the developers have been working on several different options to keep the equipment flowing in the game.  Ideas I know they are trying out (some of which I suggested, some which are their own, and some we both hit on independently) include getting to add discovered Treasures into your hand or Victory Pile, special rooms in the dungeon that are always available for combat, and a village market where players can buy new equipment.  So it sounds like the specifics of the rules are still in flux a bit.  I know the few adjustments I made to the game really added to the choices and decisions and made the game much less random.
When your strong Hero has to rest the weaker ones tend to get pummeled.

Another aspect that I know the developers are working on is the artwork and card layout.  While the characters are really great, the cards are busy and the fonts are tiny.  The guys at Flame Stryke Games are working on cleaning all that up and making the fonts much easier to read.  There were also several typos throughout the cards, rules, etc. but I'm confident those will be cleaned up in the final version.

That said, the humor in the cards is great.  There are plenty of spoofs of common fantasy themes.  Each card has a bit of flavor text that enhances the humor of the game.  And the artwork on the cards is light hearted and occasionally hilarious.
Great characters and lots of humor keep the game light-hearted.
I'd also like to see more Elite monsters to add to the end-game variety.  Some of the Elites are definitely more challenging than others, which just increases the need for alternative ways for players to be able to add equipment to their Heroes.  And actually, given more ways to 'level up' your Heroes, I'd actually like to see more of the difficult Elites.  There already is a lot of variety to the Elites that are present since the Elite will get equipped with a weapon upon being revealed, but a pool of more than the eight base ones would be great.  Maybe a Kickstarter stretch goal?  UPDATE: Yes, more Elites are a planned stretch goal!

The Battle Cards were also a bit of a sticking point.  Despite their role being a core part of the gameplay I found that many of the Battle Cards have very little effect.  Maybe in games with more players the number of Battle Cards would be OK, but in games with 2 or 3 players there seemed to be a lo of Battle Cards that were only useful in very specific situations.  There were also a lot of Battle Cards that became less valuable as more of the dungeon was explored.  There are also a few weapons that have abilities that can only help in very specific situations, although the designer has said they've been tweaking abilities to balance this better, and the weapon abilities were less of an issue.

My wife also found the method of equipping Heroes by sliding cards underneath the Hero to be a bit cumbersome and messy.  She likes her games to be neat and well organized and having to slide around piles of up to 5 cards and keep them organized was a big turn off for her.  I didn't mind, but I like fiddling with cards (which just added to her annoyance).
Stacks of cards get messy sometimes, but aren't too unwieldy.
With a few aspects of the game balanced better and the artwork cleaned up a bit this is a very solid game.  And with the right adjustments this could be a really awesome game, poised to give games like Munchkin a run for the money.  Honestly, I enjoyed playing Gauntlet of Heroes more than Munchkin after tweaking the rules just a little bit.  With the rules I received I'd rate the game at a 4, maybe 5 - it needs some better ways for players to control how they can equip their Heroes rather than relying on the luck of the draw.  With the adjustments to the rules that I know are coming though, the game is a solid 6.  And with some of the potential changes that I know the designers are testing out and playing around with, my rating could climb even more!  I'm very excited to see how the final game looks and plays once the Kickstarter launches!  Gauntlet of Heroes has the potential to be a really great, fun game for anyone who likes fantasy, humor, backstabbing, and a good time!
A nice sized box for all the cards, although I'm not sure
what happened to Chook the Chin's legs...
Preliminary Rating: 6+/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

Great character art on the Heroes.

Stoneheart can't be killed by another Rogue.

Fergus Rockson is strong and cunning.

Working our way through the dungeon.

End of game Victory Piles.  My heroes were pathetic.
I lost by nearly 50 points!  OK, so maybe it's mostly my
ability to roll dice that is pathetic...

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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