Reviewed by Herb Levy
HEROPATH: DRAGON’S ROAR (Unique Games, 1 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 60-120 minutes; about $49)
A Dragons is terrorizing the land. But a bunch of heroic adventurers have come to rid the land of this terror. They all have different abilities but they are joined in a common goal: rid the land of the fierce and formidable Dragon. In this design by Izik Nevo, players, as these adventurers, these Heroes, journey ahead on the Heropath: Dragon’s Roar.
The realm of the Dragon is represented by a large and colorful mounted board divided into six areas: The Fog River (Riverbank), The Goblin Cave (Caves), The Dark Highlands (Mountains), The Ruby Mountains (also Mountains), The Weeping Willows (Plains), and The Ancient Woods (Forest). The Dragon begins in the Ruby Mountains but he is not alone – 22 assorted monsters (represented as circular chits and ranging from goblins to skeletons to warlocks and more, each with their own battle values) are placed face down in designated areas (except for 1 turned up at the entrance to The Goblins Cave). All players choose one of the four characters of the game (Sorcerer, Elf, Wizard or Warrior) and receive the mini of that character (placed on the board’s starting space) as well as its Hero Board and an Index Board.
The Hero Board consists of four sections: Attributes (5 types: Vitality, Faith Experience, Skills and Wisdom), Supply (for accrued Food and Gold), Armament (where weaponry will be assigned) and Resources (where the various Magic and other Equipment as well as any Companions recruited along the way can be cached). Attributes are tracked using clear gems. Each Hero starts with some Attributes, food and gold. But players can also shape the nature of their chosen character through the game’s Character Draft Building system.
There are several decks of cards in the game: Arms (weaponry), Market (a source for animals, allies and equipment), Abilities (benefits and enhanced powers), Magic (spells) and Fortune (generally – but not always – a dose of good luck to aid in the quest). These decks are shuffled separately and each player dealt a hand of 2 Arms, 1 Market, 2 Magic and 4 Abilities cards, (Fortune cards come into play differently. More on that later.) Each player chooses 1 card and passes the remaining cards to the left. This continues until all have a new set of 9 cards and then everyone chooses 2 cards to keep. Now the remaining 7 cards are passed are passed and , once again, cards are drafted until each player has 9 cards in hand. Now 3 cards are chosen and and the drafting continues. Finally, on the fifth round of drafting, a player chooses 6 cards of the final 9 card assortment with the unchosen 3 cards returned to the bottom of their respective decks. These hands of 6 cards are then placed in the appropriate slots on each player’s Hero board.
The Index Board serves as a player aid, detailing the many sites that may appear in the game, what they do and how they can affect a player’s turn. Now a word about those sites.
Sites are places where you can trade Attributes or gold or food for other Attributes (or gold or food) and, in some cases, purchase cards on display to add to your Hero Board later. Sites are represented by 3 D triangular pieces (cardboard folded into thirds and held together by plastic pieces at their top and bottom). These full color pieces are tossed into a bag with 8 randomly placed on “Settlement” spaces on the board. (More Sites will appear as Heroes explore and the Dragon attacks!)
Each player turn allows for 4 actions from a menu of choices: Movement (where a Hero may move up to 4 spaces, horizontally or vertically but not diagonally), Rest (to get Vitality, roll the green Search die to get food or gold or maybe even a Magic or Fortune card and/or trade with others in the same space), Visit (a Site), Fight (where you can gain or lose Vitality and, if successful, gain Experience and a Fortune card) and Encounter (where one Hero can ambush, steal or snatch items of interest from others occupying the same space).
All Heroes have five spaces available on their profile on their Character card: Head, two Hands, Body and General. Cards may be placed in the appropriate spaces (a sword in one of the Hand slots, a Helmet in the Head slot, a Magic spell in General etc.) to enhance his/her combat prowess. (Cards held as Resources can be moved to these slots when that Hero “Rests”.)
In combat against an enemy, the Hero adds up all of his/her Attributes (a maximum of 5 per Attribute), rolls 2 yellow Battle Dice (valued from 2 to 6) and adds any bonus received from Armament cards on his profile and/or a special die. The total is the Hero’s attack value. All monsters have a base combat value (for example, the Werewolf is valued at 10) and will roll 1 or 2 red Battle Dice (with a possible result from 4 to 10) plus the current “Scale of Evil” value. If the Hero’s total is equal to or greater than the enemy, the Hero receives an Experience gem and draws a Fortune card. A lesser result costs the Hero 1 Vitality. If the Hero has no more Vitality to lose, one Faith is lost instead. Lose all Faith and that Hero dies! (But not out of the game. That Hero is resurrected on the starting space of the kingdom with everything he previously had plus 1 Vitality.)
As monsters are vanquished, their counters are placed on the board’s Scale of Evil track. Each step on the track adds to the combat value of a foe when battle occurs. When the number of defeated monsters placed on the track exceeds the number of players, the level rises by 1 and the game (and that player’s turn) is immediately suspended as the Dragon takes a turn!
The player who triggered the Dragon’s turn will control the Dragon now. The Dragon may move to any of the 3 specified Dragon regions. In addition, the Dragon Flare die is rolled. Regions rolled are hit with a flare and any Heroes in those areas suffer a loss of one Vitality. All players randomly choose a new monster token and place it face down on a space at least 7 spaces away from them. Finally, the player controlling the Dragon (and the player to his/her left) draws a new Site from the bag onto a new Settlement site (at least 7 spaces from their current locations). Now, the player, whose turn was interrupted, resumes play.
Game play continues until the Dragon is defeated. In order to win, the Dragon mus be defeated in combat but the Dragon is a formidable foe as it has a base value of 15 augmented by 2 red Battle Dice rolls plus the current Scale of Evil value. The Hero who has vanquished the Dragon is the winner!
Although the game is for 1 to 4 players, two expansions have already been released. Heropath – Allies adds a Giant and a fifth player. Heropath – Fire & Light adds a Wizard and a sixth player. (Expansions are about $25 each.)
Heroes begin on the same space but will quickly separate and follow their own paths. Defeating monsters is the quickest way to build up a Hero’s Attributes, making them stronger adversaries for the Dragon. But as monsters are eliminated, the Scale of Evil rises, making the Dragon stronger! This gives a certain sense of urgency to the game dynamics in getting to the point where Heroes can face the Dragon before the Dragon gets too powerful.
There is a lot of variety to be found here. Movement is not limited to the land. Water travel can be done by boarding the game’s raft and sailing to any land on the river. Air travel is possible too as a Hot Air Balloon may be commandeered (in the denoted spaces) and, via die roll, transport a Hero to a region. And the mode of play can be changed according to taste including a solo version, a cooperative mode (eliminating the ambush and stealing between Heroes) and team play as well as the ability to adjust the difficulty of the game (by making the Dragon even more powerful).
Graphically, the cards and components are of high quality. The game offers a pleasing 3 D landscape with the emphasis not on minis (there are only 5 in the game) but on those stand-up sites. Site placement is not standard so when and where they appear (and all may not appear) as the game unfolds is guaranteed to change each time, adding freshness to the game play. (Although, once put together, putting away those Sites is a bit tricky. A deeper box would have made putting away the game a lot easier.)
HeroPath: Dragon’s Roar is a mix of Euro (card drafting) and American (dice rolling, a little “take that” unless going cooperative) game mechanisms with the scale tending to tip towards the American style of play. There is a lot of dice rolling here, from Hot Air Ballooning to searches to combat, so you need to be okay with that. The nature of this design fits very comfortably into the niche of previously released and highly regarded games of that genre such as HeroQuest and Heroscape: Rise of the Valkyrie. So, if you are searching for a full bodied game of Swords & Sorcery, then set your sights ahead and follow this path: Heropath: Dragon’s Roar. – – – – – – – – – -Herb Levy
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