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Joshua Buergel
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Advanced Heroquest, to me, is one of the great near-misses of the hobby. When we first gave it a spin, I was absolutely riveted. It was only as we played it more (a LOT more) that the flaws became apparent. Games Workshop had come the closest I had seen yet to the ultimate dungeon crawler, but they hadn't carried the ball all the way. Before I got around to trying to fix it myself, Warhammer Quest arrived, which took many of the better ideas from Advanced Heroquest and fixed most of the problems. But in another world, maybe college and Magic: the Gathering don't intervene for me and I wind up fixing Advanced Heroquest and it turned into the game it could be. As it is, it's a deeply flawed masterpiece.

The Presentation

Advanced Heroquest (AHq, for the rest of this review) comes in the usual Games Workshop big box, and it's yet another nice production from GW. Say what you want about GW, they usually blow it out for their board games. Space Hulk, for instance, is one of the nicest and most effective presentations ever. But I digress. AHq comes with 36 models (4 heroes, 12 henchmen, 20 skaven), a bunch of corridors (all two squares wide) and rooms, an assortment of flat card stock terrain, some plastic doors, monster and dungeon counters, some card stock pieces associated with the included campaign (treasure maps and pieces of a shattered amulet, which is really spiffy), some D12s and a rule book. It's pretty much a top flight production all around - the dungeon sections fit together nicely, the miniatures are nice, the rooms have different floor patterns which is a nice touch, and the treasure maps and pieces of the amulet are an extremely nice touch. The plastic doors are kind of stupid, but the doors swing open, which I suppose is nice. I've yet to find doors in any dungeon crawler that I'm happy with, though, they always get in the way pretty much every time. Overall, high marks though.

The Basics

As mentioned above, Advanced Heroquest uses D12s, not D6s. Personally, I love that decision, for a variety of reasons. First, I like D12s. They're nifty. I know that's shallow, but there we are. Secondly, D12s make creating linear tables with more space on them easier. Sure, you could do D66 for a 36 entry table, but that's a hassle. D12s just are a little more effortless for certain distributions. Plus, it allows for finergradations in things like combat rolls, where gaining a modifier of +1 is only half a step. More games should use D12s, is what I'm saying, and it was a nice show by GW to go for it here. Sure, it's a little bit of a hassle rounding up extra dice, but that's a small price to pay. And if you're an RPGer or a dice nut, you probably have a bunch of un-loved D12s hanging around the joint just waiting to find a home. After all, you can't use a great-axe with every character, can you?

Anyway, characters are described by some of the usual Games Workshop skills, and some unusual ones: weapon skill, ballistic skill, strength, toughness, speed, bravery, intelligence, wounds and fate points. Melee combat involves a comparison of weapon skills: equal weapon skills require a 7 or more to hit, and each point of difference adjusts your target number up or down by a point, to a minimum of a 2 or max of 10. On a hit, you roll dice equal to your strength, and each die needs to equal your target's toughness to cause a wound. A 1 on an attack roll is a fumble, granting an immediate attack to your opponent, while a 12 is a critical hit that allows you to take an extra swing. Certain weapons (two-handers, mostly) can give you fumbles and criticals on 2s and 11s. This can lead to the amusing situation of rolling a hit on a 2, but your opponent gets a free swing first. It can also lead to a series of fumbles, criticals, counter-fumbles and some very silly combat sequences. Similarly, on damage rolls, a 12 on a damage roll allows you to take another damage roll. It all works together well, with a wide variety of results and plenty of space for some really heroic sequences (and some really pathetic runs, too).

There are actually two turn sequences in the game. During exploration, the players can move their heroes 12 spaces each. If they move to where they can see unexplored dungeon, the GM immediately rolls on a series of tables to generate the length of the hallway, the number of doors, the ending and the contents of the hallway. Players can also open a door they end their turn next to in order to generate the room, which again requires a series of rolls for what kind of room, what the contents are and the number of exits. After each player takes their turn, the GM rolls a single die and gets a dungeon counter on a 1 or 12. Players keep taking exploration turns until a monster is reveals, at which point exploration immediately ends and you switch over to combat turns.

During combat turns, players again take their turns first, with the heroes moving in any order. Each hero may move up to their speed and attack during their turn in either order but may not attack in the middle of their move. A wizard may cast a spell instead of making an attack. Following the hero turns, the GM has to decide if the monsters will move first or attack first, and he must stick to that sequence for all the monsters. Combat turns continue until all the monsters are gone, and then you switch back into exploration. Note that the GM doesn't get rolls for dungeon counters during combat.

A Collection of Nice Touches

There are some things that AHq does that you just don't find in other dungeon crawlers. A great example is sentries. Sentries can explore the dungeon. If one makes a break for it, the GM can have the sentry run around, opening doors and trying to scare up more monsters. This can actually get out of hand at times, and is something that just doesn't happen in most other games, where monsters are confined to already explored areas. Another good mechanic is fate points, which can be spent to prevent death but are very precious, so the players have difficult decisions to make.

Unique mechanics continue through the game. The exploration tables that generate the dungeon, featuring an escalating chance of finding an interesting room (a "quest room"), the missile system that treats critical hits differently from melee hits (by halving toughness instead of a free attack), the way death zones can stop movement but can be focused for more interesting tactical movement, how monsters show up in logical places in the dungeon instead of just popping up at random, the way that dungeon counters give the GM interesting (and unknown) options to be sprung at random times, there are a lot of really clever bits to the game. There are even rules for henchmen, a true rarity in dungeon crawlers. They're even useful, vital even. If you use some of the variant rules published in White Dwarf, there are even different kinds of henchmen available. There's scaling of how much reward you get for a quest based on how many tries it takes you to get through it, encouraging you to be extra heroic (in a mercenary kind of way). The bottom line is that there are really inventive mechanics all through the game, some of which haven't ever shown up in another game.

Microeconomics. Really micro.

The economy of the game is another area that is quite unique to AHq. Your character can only carry 250 gold pieces. This may not sound like a lot of money. That would be largely because it is not a lot of money. Not only can you only carry 250 gp out of the dungeon, but you have to pay cost of living when you get done with each trip into the dungeon. Not only that, but your cost of living even goes up as you gain fate points, but your carrying capacity does not. Remember the henchmen I mentioned? Well, this is why they're vital: they can help you carry more loot. Without them, you're going to fill up your cash carrying capacity, and you'll be forced to choose between leaving the dungeon (taking more trips, and therefore reducing your reward) or forging on and possibly leaving gold behind. That's right: you may actually leave gold behind as an adventurer, and it may even be the right move. This is unheard of in a dungeon crawling board game, and is rare enough even in a true RPG. Anyway, those henchmen of course have to be hired. Want to make a will? You probably do, because if you don't, your characters cash won't gettransferred on. But it'll cost you. It'll even cost you to execute a will, so they get you coming and going. Want to save up towards some big character improvement? You can leave your money with the moneylender - for a fee, of course.

So what can you buy? You can increase your characteristics, one point at a time, for 200 gp. You can buy a fate point for 1000 gp, which is pretty funny, actually. You'll have to buy ammunition. If you're a wizard, you have to buy spell components, for 25 gp a pop. Each time you cast a spell, it costs you at least 25 gp, sometimes more. The party will have to help wizards out with that, if they want them to be effective. Not only that, but learning new spells costs cash as well. Overall, the economy in this game is so tight that it actuallysqueaks . You'll cherish every character improvement you make, because you really have to work for it. Not only that, but the game is really stingy with magic items as well. You'll find some crummy amulet that has some minor power, and you'll think it's the bee's knees. Magic weapons? Good luck with that idea, they're truly rare. The way the economy operates is completely unlike any other dungeon crawler I've ever played, and I love the atmosphere. You're truly struggling with advancing, and you feel like you've earned everything you've gained.

Furniture!

Another really nifty aspect of AHq is that they threw in rules to integrate with regular HeroQuest. That means you get to re-use the furniture from it! It also means that a special HeroQuest level can occasionally show up, which is a real blast of nostalgia, and I love that level of integration with the earlier game. Yet another well done area.

That All Sounds Great!

Thus far, all I've written about are the things that AHq does well. You've got a number of thoughtful, well-implemented, unique rules; combat mechanics that not only work well but also give you some great far end of the bell curve results; you've got D12s and HeroQuest furniture; you've got a tight economy that forces you to earn everything you get and you've got a nice production. So, what's the problem? There has to be some reason I refer to the game as deeply flawed. The first big problem, and it's a huge one, is the lack of variety of characters. You have two types, warriors and wizards. And wizards are so limited (but necessary) that you'll almost always have three warriors and a wizard. But due to the way characters are generated, some of the warriors will just be better than the others. And there are no skills to differentiate them. You have three characters with the same capabilities, but they'll be of varying quality. This is a crippling problem, as if you're stuck with one of the losers, you'll have a terrible time because you'll do so little. This problem is relieved somewhat if you play with fewer players, say with two people with two heroes each. But having heroes who are nothing more than ballast in a party is really rough. It's also exacerbated by the second huge glaring problem.

"The Meat Grinder"

Because monsters are placed inside of rooms (with the exception of wandering monsters and ambushes, but those are smaller encounters), the characters and monsters will be separated by a door. The heroes could run in, but this will get them killed. Combat is sufficiently deadly that that's just really a non-option. The only rational thing to do is form a formation we called "the meat grinder". You have your best hero standing directly in front of the door. He swings, moves one step to the side. The character directly in front of the door (but one step away) now fires an arrow into the room. And then the second best hero completes things by moving to block the door and taking a swing. Lather, rinse, repeat. If you do not do this, you will probably get killed. The GM doesn't have to play along, of course. He can hide alongside the walls. But then the characters will just leave, and if there are no monsters in line-of-sight at the end of the turn (or two turns if it involved closing a door) the heroes have "escaped". As a result the GM has to pursue into the two spaces wide hallway, where the heroes still have narrow frontage. Not only that, but the heroes can always wander into another part of the dungeon if they don't like the looks of an encounter, and it's almost always the right direction due to the way dungeon generation happens. It really wears you out after a while, and there isn't any other rational way to play it.

A Maze of Twisty Passages, All Alike

The third problem is that there isn't enough variation in the dungeons, and they're usually not small. You wander through corridor after corridor, looking to scare up some action, and sometimes it can take a while. You feel like you're trapped in a huge maze, and sometimes there isn't even any cheese anywhere to be found. The sameness of the dungeon can alse wear you out.

The Good

An extremely well done set of core rules that are interesting, playable and fun. The most interesting economy of any dungeon crawler I've seen. A wealth of atmospheric rules and touches. A spiffy production. A very well done four-part campaign. Henchmen and furniture.

The Bad

A combat system that breaks down into the same static formations. A dungeon generation system that can result in some dull dungeons. Insufficient variety in the characters. The bestiary is somewhat limited, although it's not too hard to convert your favorite Warhammer or Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay creatures over. The scaling as characters gain in experience is very demanding of the GM, as you have to carefully construct new encounter tables. The encounter tables that come with the basic game are limited.

The Expansion

If you like AHq, the expansion that was printed, Terror in the Dark, is essential. It includes a bunch of new encounter tables, an OK random adventure generator, a new five-part campaign, a new type of wizard and new types of henchmen, and some assorted components to support all this. The campaign in the expansion isn't as well done as the one with the main set, but it's really worth having, and the extra rules are nice. There were also a number of articles in White Dwarf over the years with new adventures and the like, and they're quite nice to have as well.

Conclusion

So close, and yet so far. Some of the deficiencies of AHq are fixable by a dedicated GM. The so-so random adventure system can be replaced by programmed campaigns like the one included in the box. The encounter tables that are somewhat boring after a while can be easily spiced up, by creating some new monsters. The scaling is fixable by tweaking those same encounter tables. But the two big problems that are left are tough ones. The character differentiation needs to be fixed, and it's not an easy one. The characters need to have different core capabilities, so you don't have one character who is just like another, just worse. That will require some creativity and some balancing. The other problem, of the static tactical situation, is much harder to fix, without breaking the way things work. You can have monsters come at them from all sides, but then combat is probably too deadly for that. It's a difficult problem to solve, and we never really got a chance to sort it out.

But Games Workshop did. They took many of the ideas of AHq, and re-implemented them in Warhammer Quest. The exploration system is similar, but you don't have the long boring stretches. The bestiary was expanded and you have good encounter tables for a long time that will keep the variety going. The characters are now different, and wizards are not nearly as limited. And on and on. AHq still has many, many things going for it, and there are things that still haven't shown up elsewhere. I actually really enjoy playing a few adventures of AHq every now and again, because there are a lot of clever things going for it. But I can't play it for too long at a stretch, because of the things that will eventually grate on me. If you have a dedicated GM who is willing to grapple with some of the difficult problems of the game, or if you don't mind that you only play it for a handful of adventures at a time, AHq has some really brilliant stuff going on in it. But as your go-to dungeon crawler, it has issues. As I say, it's one of the true near-misses of the hobby. Just a little further, and this would have been the king, and not Warhammer Quest.
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Luca Iennaco
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While I agree with most of your review, I think that Warhammer Quest (one of three most-played-games of my life) has its fair share of flaws marring the good ideas as well (that is what I consider the typical GW style ).
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Joshua Buergel
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I agree, Warhammer Quest has flaws as well. The flaws it has are easier to fix, though, and the biggest one (that of high level parties being relatively immune from harm) is one that doesn't really cause problems until later on in the game. Warhammer Quest isn't perfect, but it's the dungeon crawler I keep over all the others. I really need to clean up our assortment of house rules and post them here.
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Luca Iennaco
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Well, just as AHQ has a "core flaw" in the "block-the-door" tactic (I remember it well! ), WQ has a core flaw in the "how to die" rule (going to zero wounds being irrelevant as soon as someone heals you before the end of the turn... and thus the "protect the Wizard, who cares if all except him die, cast Healing Hands; if unfortunately him dies use a healing potion on him" cliche that quickly become as boring - and feels as wrong - as the "through the door" combat in AHQ).
Besides, WQ scales (from low levels to high levels) VERY poorly.

Of course we've heavily customized it as well (with house rules, new items, etc.) and we wouldn't have played it as much as we did if it wasn't an enjoyable experience to do so. But I still think that the "perfect dungeon crawler" has yet to come (just a personal opinion).

Have fun! meeple
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Joshua Buergel
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I agree with you that the perfect dungeon crawler is still waiting out there, somewhere. I'll some day finish up all of my notes and tie together all the loose ends on my own system. It certainly won't be the perfect game for everybody, but it'll be to my tastes.
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Tristan Hall
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Another great review.
This game came to us too soon I think, we were all quite young and HeroQuest was the main game at the time. A few frightening games of this with the poor heroes getting repeatedly slaughtered put us off and sent us running back to the more basic version.
It had some really interesting ideas though, do you know where I can download a copy of the rules? Wasn't there a random adventure generator or something? Thought it would be cool to combine with WHQ.
Sorry to ramble off topic but there's little I'd add to your review. Except: having only Skaven (with different bases for different ranks wasn't it?) for bad guys was a bit rubbish . . .
Keep it up, looking forward to your next review!
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Joshua Buergel
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I'm not aware of anywhere you can download the rules, it hasn't gotten the Blood Bowl living rules treatment. There was a random adventure generator that was published in the expansion, but it was pretty basic. In order to get a great experience out of the game, you had to really put some work into encounter tables and lay out some interesting adventures for the players. Without that work, you ended up really seeing the same things over and over again.

Thanks for the kind words, I'm having fun going back over these games and putting up my thoughts. I've spent a lot of time playing and thinking about dungeon crawling games, it's nice to share them with folks.
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Rick Herrick
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An interesting review indeed, Joshua! Thanks for taking the time to write it. I'm interested in both games as I actually have them. Sometime back I wrote the piece about the game shop here in town that never opened after moving to it's new location. I mentioned that coming across my copy of Advanced HeroQuest reminded me that I also had Warhammer Quest and that, in turn, reminded me of the game shop itself. It was a sad feeling to make a final purchase from a little shop that never reopened. Anyway you can see what I'm talking about, if you're interested, at:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1108562#1108562

My copy of Advanced HeroQuest is opened but unpunched and my Warhammer Quest game is still in the shrinkwrap so as you can see I've not gotten around to playing them yet. I was very interested in what you had to say about the games as it's nice to know what to expect when heading into them. (I don't know when that will be. At the current rate I'm going it may be well after I retire!) Anyway I, for one, would be very interested in what you've come up with to fix the problems with the game and enhancements you've created to make it more fun! That goes for the Warhammer Quest game too.

I love these kinds of games. My friends and I still play the old original HeroQuest game and I'm been working on ways to add more to it to give it more varity without breaking the game itself. D&D is great, but so complicated that it's hard for my friends to get into it and really learn it. An easy to play game with lots of things to buy and do is much more to our tastes. That's what I'm wanting to do with the old HeroQuest.

Anyway consider this one vote for posting your mods for those games. I'd love to see them! Also I'm curious if you've tried Fantasy Flight's dungeon crawl, Descent: Journeys into the Dark, and what you think of it.

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Joshua Buergel
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Rottenshot Rick wrote:
Anyway I, for one, would be very interested in what you've come up with to fix the problems with the game and enhancements you've created to make it more fun! That goes for the Warhammer Quest game too.

My WHQ notes are extensive and extremely poorly organized. I had a core group of friends that I played that game with obsessively, and we all churned out a vast number of variants, modifications and additional material. Some of it was great, some of it so-so and some of it was poor, but it was all fun. Unfortunately, some of it was never written down in any coherent form, so it'll be tough to reproduce some of the better bits. Others don't really deserve to live on, like our encumbrance rules that were dodgy at best. It is a project of mine to try and write up the best parts though, and as soon as I can.

Quote:
I love these kinds of games. My friends and I still play the old original HeroQuest game and I'm been working on ways to add more to it to give it more varity without breaking the game itself. D&D is great, but so complicated that it's hard for my friends to get into it and really learn it. An easy to play game with lots of things to buy and do is much more to our tastes. That's what I'm wanting to do with the old HeroQuest.

I hope you've taken a look at the stuff available on the web for HeroQuest, there is a wealth of additional material available out there. Not all of it is great, but it's free and you can really pick through and find stuff to your taste. Obviously, my opinion of dungeon crawlers is that WHQ is the king of the bunch, and it's probably my second-most played game behind Magic: the Gathering. The basic rules aren't that much of a step up from HeroQuest, and once your group has mastered those, you have all of those fantastic advanced rules waiting for you.

Quote:
Also I'm curious if you've tried Fantasy Flight's dungeon crawl, Descent: Journeys into the Dark, and what you think of it.

I've written up a full review of it here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1548214#1548214

I've actually been going through and doing reviews of all of my dungeon crawlers. They're games that I've always loved, and I've played a bunch to exhaustion, so I feel well-qualified to comment. Thus far, I've done Warhammer Quest, Descent, HeroQuest, Dungeonquest, the most recent D&D board game and Advanced Heroquest. They're all here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/browser.php?itemtype=thread&art...

I plan on keeping going while I still have games to write about. I'm in the middle of writing up Dark World right now, and Dungeoneer is on the list after that. I'm not sure where I'll go after those two, I haven't yet decided if I'll branch into the other pseudo-RPGs like Talisman and Runebound yet or if I'll stick to the dungeon crawlers. I love the entire category of games and have played a lot of them to death, so it's fun to go back and remember what they're all like.

That's a great story about the old game shop, by the way. You should really give WHQ a try, it'll be a heck of a legacy for that shop to have passed on.
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Chris Morse
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Nice review.
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col_w
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jbuergel wrote:
During combat turns, players again take their turns first, with the heroes moving in any order.
This bit's not quite right. Both sides roll for surprise. Whoever wins (remembering that some characters like the elf may have a bonus to their roll) lays out the monsters however they like, then the other side can move each monster 1 space. Then the winner of the surprise roll takes their combat turn first. I.e. sometimes, the bad guys will strike first.
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Joshua Buergel
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col_w wrote:
jbuergel wrote:
During combat turns, players again take their turns first, with the heroes moving in any order.
This bit's not quite right. Both sides roll for surprise. Whoever wins (remembering that some characters like the elf may have a bonus to their roll) lays out the monsters however they like, then the other side can move each monster 1 space. Then the winner of the surprise roll takes their combat turn first. I.e. sometimes, the bad guys will strike first.

Thanks for asking that, it's been a while.
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