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     " Overall, Heroscape is one of the more pleasant surprises to come across my desk... "

      Title: Heroscape by Hasbro / Wizards of the Coast

      Format: Tabletop Strategy Game

      Reviewing Monkey: Mojo Jojo

      The Hype: Anyone who's been involved in the tabletop industry for the last decade has seen a dramatic shift in base from the hard-core, "crunchy" geek players to a more casual, main-stream type of gamer. Well, that transition has finally caught up with the traditional strategy now that Wizards of the Coast has released Heroscape through its parent company of Hasbro.
          Effectively a classic miniatures battle game (in the vein of Warhammer or Battletech), what separates Heroscape from the rest of the field is its widespread marketing (its available in every type of retail store known to man) and its accessibility. But will these changes spell doom for a game that still relies in large part on a traditional gamer base? Read on, fellow Monkey, and find out.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Playability: At its heart, Heroscape is actually a fairly simple hex-based miniatures game that uses some straightforward rules that are instantly familiar to anyone with miniature gaming experience (and especially so to people who's geek knowledge dates back to games like Battle Masters). Each miniature has stats for movement, range, attack, and defense. On their turn they can move a number of hexes equal to their movement and attack targets up to their range in hexes away. To do so they use a now-common set of special dice that features a combination of blank sides and skulls. Each skull they roll is a hit. The target defends by rolling a separate set of defense dice featuring blanks and shields. Subtract a skull for each shield and the skulls you have left equal the damage done.
           It's a simple mechanic, but one that works exceptionally well. With no elaborate stats to keep track of, and no protracted charts, graphs, or sub-rules to factor in, each turn flows smoothly and occurs in a very reasonable amount of time. Even things like line of sight are handled in a very straightforward and easy manner: when in doubt, get down and look from your mini's perspective and compare it to a silhouette on the target's character card. If you can see a valid target area, you're good to go. If you can't, no attack is possible. It's a good system that allows for hassle-free, social games.
          Which is not to say that Heroscape is remedial. By incorporating two sets of rules (a basic game, good for kids, and an advanced game that brings initiative, terrain, and special abilities in to play), the game gives players plenty of options for strategy and depth, just without bogging them down with book after book of material that needs to be referenced.
          It's definitely a solid model that works well for the genre. 4 out of 5

      Layout and Presentation: One of the things that I, as a classically crunchy gamer, am still getting accustomed to is the marvels that the new mass-production age is bringing to gaming. Gone, apparently, are the days of foldout cardboard maps or crudely drawn markers on vinyl mats. With Heroscape we get the next generation of hex boards: textured plastic terrain tiles that snap together to form any kind of live game board you can imagine. With colors on each face to represent grass, water, and rocks, and each tile stackable to give you different elevations, you can construct a game board that is as varied, or mundane, as you feel like playing on (though the game does include scenarios, which are supplemented on the company's website, for ideas if you're too uninspired to think of your own).
          That same kind of mass-produced mentality is transferred over to the miniatures included with the game, though to much less of an impressive result. Functionally the same in quality as Wizards' Star Wars minis, the plastic pieces are fairly shoddily molded and downright shabbily painted--though I know many people would argue that having a pre-painted, ready to use medium-quality miniature is a heckova lot better than having to assemble and paint your own high-quality fig (especially if you're playing with kids). They also have no thematic consistency to them at all, so you get what feels like a totally random assortment of characters ranging from Vikings to robots to aliens to WWII infantry--which, I have to admit, probably bugged me more than it should have.
          Still, the miniature presentation is the only dark spot, as everything else, including the army cards and rulebook are full color, high-gloss works of proverbial art. 4 out of 5

      Value vs. Cost: So Value is the category that, if the layout and playability of Herscape hadn't already hooked me, would have made me a fan for sure. The starter (master) set costs about forty bucks, depending on where you get it, which is about the same as the rulebook for a standard miniatures game. The difference here is that for those forty bucks you get what could probably be described as a stupid amount of stuff.
          The game includes rules, 30 minis, including 2 oversized ones (a large dragon and a medium dinosaur with rider), 2 pieces of ruins as terrain, 85 hex spaces, and a slew of dice, counters, and markers to help you keep track of your game. All in all, it's more than enough for 2 people to get started, and ample product for 4 to play a decent-sized game. 5 out of 5

      The Verdict:

       Overall, Heroscape is one of the more pleasant surprises to come across my desk in the last several years. It's not only a good game; it's also a great value for your money. Simple but refined, it occupies that nebulous space between a serious tabletop strategy game and a more traditional board game...and is a very, very good thing.

      The Good: Solid core mechanics that are a lot of fun to play and at a killer value.

      The Bad: The cheap and eclectic minis leave something to be desired.

      The Overall Ugly: Don't think of it as a replacement for your seriously geeky gaming, think of it as an addition you didn't know you needed.

      What it's Worth: Market

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