Thursday, August 27, 2020

Playing HeroQuest, first time after 30 years or so

As I wrote a few days ago, I am getting back to HeroQuest after I found a second-hand complete set online, and I managed to pay a reasonable price for it (not cheap, just reasonable considering it was missing nothing, and everything was in very good shape).
When I received it by mail, I opened the outside anonymous box, and it was exciting to slide out that old, black box with its powerful cover image. It smelled of mould and dust, but it was in good conditions, with just a split corner. I called my 15 years old daughter to the living room, and told her to open the box.

I just wanted her to experience the thrill I felt myself, 30 something years ago.
Perhaps it's not the same for a teenager girl (although she's quite into fantasy and anime and all the rest...) as for a 12 years old boy in the early '90s, but still...
She was excited about the miniatures, the board, the furniture, everything. She looked at monsters and compared them. She admired the hell out of the whole thing - she might have even said something with a certain degree of admiration for the game concept, and for the amount of material, for such an "old board game".
And she said perhaps she should be getting the Stranger Things D&D box for chistmas :-) 

Then the box had been sitting there, in a corner of the living room, for a couple of weeks. In the meanwhile I hunted for some additional miniatures (original fimirs and goblins, for a start). 
I want to start painting the original miniatures, but I want also some spare parts in case I make a mess.
I wasn't a good painter 30 years ago, and even though now I have a bit more patience, and better colors and tools, I expect the first few tries to be mediocre. Still, using a mix of contrast paints and regular paints, and testing on modern miniatures, have let me decently confident.
I would like to have a full painted set for the christmas vacation period, but I doubt I'll succeed... Well, we'll see.

Anyway, after a few weeks, we arranged the first game.
It was me (age 42) running the game for my daughter (age 15), my partner (age 40+ and little love for fantasy), my young sister (age 25) and her husband (age 29). My sister and her husband are both very much into fantasy and games (but too young to have seen HeroQuest back in the days), and so is my daughter, so my partner played along.

My daughter jumped on the wizard and I encouraged her not to hold back on spells - I told her the quest had less than 10 rooms to go through.
I tought it was important to say this: I remember many games when I was little with the wizard playing no part in the adventure and just finishing the game with almost all the spells still available. To play a part, the wizard must use the spells - and I prefer for her to end up short a few times than to just sit passively there.
This I think is an important part which the original game missed: I am thinking about a little house-rule to force the GM to give an approximate "size" of the dungeon to the players. In fact, getting some info or a partial map could be sometimes part of the adventure setup, or of the previous adventure.

My sister was quick to snatch the elf, while her husband took the barbarian (he has more or less the same physique), and my partner ended up with the dwarf (and couldn't care less, of course!).
After a very brief introduction about the movement and action rules (they would have been bored by a long explanation, I just gave them the basics and made sure to correct mistakes or oversights in the first few turns), we started The Rescue of Sir Ragnar.
It's easier but especially, more focused than The Trial, and I am sure many modern players just do the same as I did.
The Trial seems to be a bit too hard for beginners, and everyone liked the idea of having to save Sir Ragnar (except my partner who was wandering why they should waste time on someone who was uncapable enough to be captured. The 240 gold coins persuaded her).

They messed up things a little and of course ended up splitting the party (at least with some balance: the wizard with the barbarian, and elf and dwarf together on the other side of the board).
They got into trouble in small corridors - the wizard ended up often in the front line and was exposed to my monsters. This also meant that the barbarian could not get an attack in the first turn afterwards, having to wait for the wizard to move out of the way.
On the other hand, this gave my daughter plenty of opportunities to use spells, and play an important role. With the barbarian, they found some treasure and even detected the needle chest trap before it was triggered.
The barbarian was a little bit unlucky with the dice and this also made the monsters - even the little goblins - feel like dangerous foes. They were surprised when the first few of them went down easily with just one hit, but in the end all except the dwarf had 2 or 3 body points left at the end of the quest, and didn't even explore all the map.
They will respect the monsters next time, I am sure of it.

The elf and the dwarf went exploring in the "right" direction, and were close to Sir Ragnar, although taking some risks.
The dwarf rolled low on the movement dice and the elf didn't wait for his companion, so ended up facing an orc alone, and then two of them in the next room. He was surrounded for one turn before the dwarf could catch up and kill one of them.
This costed the elf several body points and next time my sister will be a bit more careful in her desire to reveal all of the board in a hurry. Again, a valid lesson.
Then they found the secret door and Sir Ragnar, which was represented by an alternative, badly painted wizkids miniature (the first I tried after the aformentioned 30 years hiatus). They called him looser and wondered why he would walk so slow, and not take part in the fights towards the exit.
Even my partner - very much not into role playing nor complex board games - had slowly succumbed to the part. It was a confirmation of how powerful even the simplest story can be, and how strongly a table full of figures drags you in, regardless of your initial stance.

Sir Ragnar was saved, as expected, but they took a few risks and in the very last round the wizard killed an orc, which could have killed him instead if the attack roll failed.
It was exciting and my daughter was initially a little worried (she had a few unlucky turns, before), then really cheering and saying nasty things to the cadaver of the orc. That's how you do battle.

The game proved to be a success, of course. Now, about the "technical" side of the evening:

1- Keep rules discussions short, before the game. It's better to explain a little more between the various turns and give a few initial suggestions during the game, than to wait too long before starting because of complex rules or too many options to present etc.
2- HeroQuest is great just because of this: it's simple! Move and act, and not much more. For anyone who played it already (or a similar game), it's dead simple, but for a beginner? (move with dice, understand the spaces on the board, act and move or move and act - then waaaait! - enough actions for sure, understand combat, start to discover the underlying strategies... there's more than enough).
3- Keep a decent balance between interesting rules and interesting "fantasy" materials (miniatures, stories, etc.). Optimal rules without stories are boring. New miniatures (i.e. monsters) will keep players entertained even on basic rules, for a while. Then more complexity or something new is needed, to give life again to the old materials. Then new materials can be introduced again, etc... Keep a decent cycle and the game will remain not just entertaining, but will provide that little sense of wonder we all risk to lose with our "we've seen it all" attitude.
4- It's better to add complexity game after game. I will have to think a little more about this, but perhaps if I start to write the fanzine with an HeroQuest reboot, the first couple of quests should not have all the basic rules coming into play. For example, a quest without monsters will allow players to understand movement and searching. It would be challenging to make this interesting... well, perhaps a complex labyrinth where there are early traps to make players understand that they need to be careful, then dead ends which will teach to search for secret doors, locked doors to teach to search for treasures (keys), etc. And a final monster so they can get their hands bloody.

NOTE to self: I need to be careful especially with the many house-rules I started to think about. These too should be introduced little by little, even for experienced players, or the auto-pilot of old rules will kick in (or just boredom for new players having to learn too many rules).

About the actual rules:
- Perhaps something at the start of the quest to give players some minimal info (rumors, suggestions by the GM, partial maps)
- For now, narrow corridors and monsters have earned some respect, as did outnumbering the lonely elf (no changes for now)
- Movement dice: yes, it's a thing of the past, but look what it did to the elf. And I like the idea that players do not have a fixed movement (especially when they need to stick together, or if they need to run away... it just adds to the thrill of the game!). So for now, they're definitely staying
- Just a random thought - give up two spells to recover a used one? (probably not right away; seems like a nice power for an artifact)

Unfortunately, only one picture was taken (and not a very good one...).
And the head of the Gargoyle was broken when my sister was trying to understand how the pieces fit together... well, this happens to everyone who plays, right?

Friday, August 21, 2020

The situation is fine, thanks!

 I've been away from this blog (and gaming) for a while now. I received a few mails inquiring about the current situation and I want to reassure everyone: I'm fine, and I must consider myself lucky. I've not been affected by the covid situation (moreover, basically no one I know had the virus nor suffered too much from a personal or ecomical point of view). This is something to be grateful for.

I want to thank anyone who reached out - these were unexpected kind gestures and I am grateful for them.

I also hope to find you all in good health and that this covid situation did not cause any serious trouble.

Continue to keep safe; autumn is approaching (and winter is coming). The situation is still serious and there is not going to be a silver-bullet solution to this problem, I'm afraid. The virus will not go away easily, and we all might face more quarantine, more economical issues, more personal losses.

I imagine it's hard to give up hope, but facing reality does not mean being hopeless nor helpless. It means to be prepared. I am not sure of what's going to happen in the next few months, but I can only suggest to keep an eye on the numbers. Numbers don't lie. 

Do your best to separate numbers from how they're presented. Read what scientists say, rather than what politicians or gurus say - or at least, that's my personal suggestion. Be prepared for a winter as harsh as it was when quarantine begun.

Now; enough of this. This is a blog about RPGs and especially OSR. For those of you who understandably are interested only in my gaming materials, just be aware that I am switching my focus.

I bought on ebay a second hand HeroQuest box, I bought miniatures and paint, and I am traveling back in time 30 years to the '90s. 

This is what the blog will be about, when I will start posting again. See you soon!