Many games promise you epic adventures filled with heroic combat, sweet loot, and satisfying character progression. Heroes of Terrinoth is not that game. However, with only so much time to play games, Heroes of Terrinoth does give you at least a little adventure that might just be worth it.
How To Play
Heroes of Terrinoth is a cooperative game in which players work toward defeating the onslaught of enemies in a timely fashion. This familiar dungeon crawler formula culminates, of course, in some kind of end goal, typically requiring you to kill a particular quest’s nemesis.
In a given round, players will take their turns performing actions. Each player chooses one of the three hero cards available among four classes. A full 4-player party will consist of a Warrior, Mage, Scout, and Healer. While there are minor differences among the classes’ activation cards, each player will have a card for Attack, Explore, Aid, and Rest. The actions themselves are fairly self-explanatory. Attack allows you to target and harm enemies; Explore lets you earn tokens to progress along a party’s active location; Aid provides success tokens for other players; and Rest allows you to recover wounds and ready your used activation cards. Regardless of the action you choose, they all rely on rolling dice and counting the successes on the hero dice. Then, the rolled enemy dice resolve and you take wounds accordingly.
The next three phases in a round at shorter, mostly consisting of maintenance. After players finish their actions, enemies activate and inflict wounds. Then, the party moves the peril token along its track, causing new spawns/events to take place. This is also the time when players can upgrade their heroes, swapping out basic level action cards for better ones in one of a class’s two specializations. Lastly, if players have enough progress tokens on a current location, they can travel to the next one.
As expected, the game ends when all players have been defeated or the party achieves the victory condition laid out by a given quest.
You Have My Sword, And My Bow, And My Axe
Heroes of Terrinoth’s best quality is its simplicity. At first, I was a bit taken aback by the seemingly limited actions. However, after a few rounds, I started to see how things flowed together and you could even do a few little combos, like activating a card that lets you ready an exhausted card (yours or even a party member’s). That said, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for particularly clever play. You use the actions you have available to you, planning them out the best you can so as to stave off the horde and make progress on your location.
Because of this game structure, it is both easy to cooperate with others while also not always needing to. Working out who can kill which enemy on the table is important, but sometimes your options are limited. You can only do what so much on a turn. For every one step you make toward cleaning up the bad guys, it feels like they get two on you. This isn’t to say victory is impossible; it’s not. However, there is a repetitive to the game that means sometimes you’re doing more administration than playing.
Another issue is how Heroes of Terrinoth purports to be an adventure game, but gives you very little character progression. Quests vary in how many times you’ll actually be able to upgrade your activation cards. Even if you’ve gotten most or all of them upgraded, it hardly gives you that pride in how powerful you’ve become that so many other adventure games provide. This isn’t to say the upgraded cards aren’t objectively better than the basic ones nor that they aren’t fun to have. They are. But it’s for that reason that, without a campaign mode, having to reset everything at the beginning of each game feels that much worse. And while the individual flavors of hero cards are interesting (and arguably some are better than others), more differentiation would have provided a much more engaging and unique experience.
I know it sounds like I’m bagging a lot on Heroes of Terrinoth, but despite these quibbles, the game is actually compelling. There are some enjoyable moments that come out of the weird space that the game occupies. As a cooperative experience, the joy in working together and defeating the enemies gives you a semblance of that feeling that makes RPGs so great. You’re all in this together and with your various traits/specializations balancing each another out, making it through the quest seems difficult, but possible. The fact that the Aid ability is present, allowing you to provide others with success tokens for future rolls, only underscores how much of a team game this is.
On top of this, Heroes of Terrinoth unabashedly requires you to constantly chuck dice, which means you make all the whoops and hollers when rolls gone well and loud expletives when things don’t quite go your way. Close calls and barely scraping by keep you pulled in. With the variety of quests, you want to see what the next adventure is about and how well you can test your mettle. Despite character upgrades not carrying over between games, more plays do give you the sense that you’re getting better at the game. In this way, it’s like a video game that starts you out slowly and gradually progresses you into harder content.
It’s very clear that Heroes of Terrinoth isn’t trying to be something it’s not. For the big box dungeon crawler connoisseurs, Heroes of Terrinoth may seem like a trifle, easily dismissed as a “Why bother?”. But sometimes it’s not always about eating that steak dinner. Sometimes, you need a quick hamburger that’ll get the job done. Heroes of Terrinoth is that hamburger. It’s cheap, fast, and despite its obvious flaws, there’s still something moreish about it.