Since Return of the Heroes offers a solitaire play option, I sat down alone the night the game arrived to try it out.
Setting up the board is a fairly lengthy affair, with all of the chits that need to be placed, some at random and some in specific locations, as well as all of the other game bits assigned to their proper locations.
The solitaire rules include a countdown timer of 45 turns before the game ends, and the game starts with the Nameless One already in residence in his black tower and surrounded by his guards. Also, every few turns one of his servants appears on the map in an assigned location. To further increase the difficulty for the solo adventurer, the hero begins without a quest, and must travel to town to receive one from the king. On the bright side, a market and the cart maker are on the map at the start of the game, so you've got access to artifacts and increased speed if you need it.
I set out to find some monsters to slay, hoping to add gold to my purse and experience cubes to my skills. I wanted to gain at least 3 dice in all skills before fighting anything too tough. My Heroic Deed was to rescue Daphne. First I needed to kill a ghoul that was already on the map to get a key. On the way, I battled against a couple of giants and the thief, and gained a nice amount of EXP and gold for the trouble, although my hero took a couple of hits in the process. At a market, I purchased a piece of armor that added 2 HP. As tokens left the board and new ones were drawn and placed from the random bag, the location of the archery trainer, magic trainer, and the other market were revealed. Since I had collected a task that required me to seek out the archery trainer and then immediately, and for free, improve my archery skill by +2, I headed that way first. I spent an extra turn, and an extra gold coin, to add an additional +1 to my archery skill before heading back out.
The ghoul turned out to be no real threat, falling to my first melee attack. With the key in hand, I now needed to wait until Daphne actually appeared on the map before I could rescue her. This didn't happen for several turns, and when it did, I was a good 7 turns from reaching her. It looked bleak at this point, as I had wasted more than half of my allotted 45 turns and my Heroic Deed wasn't even half completed, nevermind the nameless one in his guarded tower.
So, in a very un-heroic manner, I quit. This was just a test run to get an idea of how the game would play out, after all.
The outcome? I think this is a very cool fantasy game. It's well planned, with a good mix of random and set events, and I think it will move along quickly even with the full complement of four players, unlike games liek Talisman or Runebound that can get bogged down between turns. In Return of the Heroes, you move and take one action. Since combat is quick (generally one or two rolls of the dice and it's over) it's not a negative factor either. I also like that although all of the players will be working to be the first to defeat the nameless one, there's no real aspect of player conflict, something that can really kill a Runebound session, in which one vastly overpowered player can swoop in on another and destroy his chances of winning. Here, you can place monsters in the path of other players, but that's about it.
My solo session of Return of the Heroes has left me with high anticipation of playing the game with a full group.