Thursday, July 24, 2008

HeroCard: Orc Wars

This time my journey through my game collection brings me to a game that I only picked up in the last couple months. HeroCard: Orc Wars is a combination between a board game and a card game. The HeroCard system is a series of games that share similar mechanics. Each player usually has one character, with three different numerical attributes: body, mind, and "attribute X," which changes from character to character, and game to game. Players have a hand of up to seven cards, which consist of attacks, blocks, attack modifiers, block modifiers, and cards that do special things. The key to the game is that each of these cards requires a certain amount of a specific attribute to play. For example, in the Orc Wars game the default enemy of the orcs is an elven paladin. He has two types of attack cards: one requires 6 body, of which he only has 8, and the other requires 3 attribute X, of which he only has 6. Thus, you are limited in the cards you can play by the attributes of your character. Thus, you need to make sure that you aren't using a bunch of cards that all play off the same attribute, or you will quickly be unable to make any further card plays.

Combat goes back and forth, with one player attacking another player. For example, let's continue with the elven paladin making his attack against some orcs. The 6 cost attack card has a strength of 7. If the orc player can't block it, his orcs will die! So, the orc player will search his hand for block cards. He needs a basic block, and then maybe block mods to get his score higher. The blocker needs to have a block score high enough to at least tie the attack score. As you can probably imagine, this leads to players playing lots of mod cards back and forth to try to make an attack successful, or get a high enough block score to foil the attack. This is further complicated by special cards. For example, the orc player has a special block card that doesn't give any block points, but does knock the base attack value down to "0," thus negating the need for regular block cards unless attack mods then get played. This back and forth can be fun, but the attribute ratings keep it from happening more than a couple times at most. This keeps the game flowing.

So that is the basic combat system for Hero Card. This specific game, Orc Wars, changes the basic game setup in a number of ways. First, each game is a specific scenario, taken from the rulebook. There are also two scenarios available for download from the publisher's website. As noted above, one player takes the elven paladin, though there can be multiple elf players if you pick up the ranger and/or sorceress expansions. The other player gets to play the orcs, of which there can be a lot. Each scenario specifies the number of orcs the player gets, and it varies depending on how many elves there are. The game board is made up of hex tiles that have a number of smaller hexes on them. The tiles are double-sided, with meadows/forests on one side, and caves/tunnels on the other side. The scenario tells you how to set up the board, and where to put the pieces initially. The elves all have nicely-molded plastic pieces to represent their positions on the board, while the orcs get plastic cards that have punch-out orcs on them, the same plastic used for the Pirates of the Spanish Main game. This works perfectly well, and is better than just having minis for the orcs due to the various clans available to the orc player.

Let's focus on the orcs for a minute, here. There is an orc king, which is just like an elven hero in that he has set ratings for the three attributes. Unlike the elves, however, he only has one hit point, so after the first successful attack, he dies (to contrast, the elven paladin takes four hits to kill). However, all the rest of the orcs work differently. They work in squads, and different squads can belong to different clans. There are also three different types of orcs: brutes, tacticians, and shamans. Squads are made up of the different types, and the attributes of the squad are based on how many of each type of arc are in the squad. Brutes provide body, Tacticians provide mind, and shamans provide attribute X. Each individual is worth four points. So, for example, a squad with two brutes and one tactician has a Body of 8, a Mind of 4, and an Attribute X of 0. When that squad activates, the orc player can only play cards up to those limits, so such a squad can play a few body cards, probably one mind card, and no attribute X cards at all. Thus, the orc player needs to really pay attention to the make-up of his squads, to make sure that he can actually play the cards in his hand with that squad.

Let's talk about cards quickly. I have mentioned that you have seven cards at the start of the game, and you play cards against your attributes to make attacks and defend yourself. Every round, you can dump as many cards as you want from your hand. You also get to draw up to three more cards, as long as you don't exceed seven in your hand. You also get to remove up to three cards from your attribute stacks. So, if over the last round you played six cards against your attributes, you can only remove three, and you have to remove from the top down for each attribute. In such a situation you don't completely clear your attribute stacks, which means that at the very beginning of your turn you are limited in what you can play from your hand. Thus, sometimes it may pay to retreat for a bit to clear your stacks and recharge your hand. Of course, this lets your opponent do the same thing.

So, how does the game play? I've played two different scenarios, and I have to admit that I don't find the game to be very fun. It's alright, but there are other games that I enjoy more. This mainly stems from the fact that the game is weighted against the orc player. The rulebook explicitly admits this, too. It's bad enough that the orc player can have "dirty tactics" cards that break the game in various ways, in order to help balance the game. In my mind, if you have to include special rules breakers like this, couldn't you have just designed the game to be balanced in the first place? Seriously, that's just lame. Another reason that the orc player gets dumped on is that when an elven player attacks and scores a hit on a squad of orcs, ALL orcs next to that elf get killed. Yes, it is great cleave time all over the map. Granted, when you are the elf, this is pretty fun. But it sucks when you're the orc, as your guys just die in droves. Granted, every turn you get to recharge one orc on each squad, but they can die so fast it doesn't really make up for it.

So, HeroCard: Orc Wars has an interesting premise, good production values, and an interesting combat system. However, the lack of balance between the two sides makes it a tough game to recommend to people. The varied scenarios are good, too, but in the end this is a game that probably won't be played much at all in the future. Oh, well, maybe I can use that elf paladin as an alternate character for Runebound, or something.

No comments: