While my journey as a role-playing game enthusiast arguably started with playing the original Final Fantasy at my best friend’s house, my first step into pen-and-paper gaming and game mastering was the HeroQuest board game that was sold by Milton Bradley in the early 90s. It was my first experience with sitting behind a screen while players struggled to explore a dungeon, and the experience got me hooked. For that reason, thinking about intro role-playing games, like the new Red Box or Castle Ravenloft, always leads me to nostalgic thoughts on how they compare to HeroQuest. (Maybe I’ll do an actual comparison post at some point.)
The HeroQuest game is basically a hybrid between a board game and a pen-and-paper role-playing game. It is nominally set in the Warhammer Fantasy world, but I didn’t learn that until years after getting the game. One player takes the role of the evil wizard Zargon and acts as a game master, while the other players each control one of four heroes: the Barbarian, the Dwarf, the Elf, and the Wizard. The game includes a booklet of fourteen quests that formed a campaign story that culminates in the heroes confronting the Witch King in his stronghold of Barak Tor.
When my family and I played through the quests, I took up the role of Zargon while my parents and siblings played the heroes (yes, I have an awesome family). Even though I don’t think we finished the game’s entire campaign, I remember having a ton of fun playing the game around the dining room table.
HeroQuest’s mechanics are pretty simple, but they were perfect as an introduction into the idea of role-playing. Attacks were handled with a dice pool using special dice that came with the game (six-sided die with three skulls, two white shields, and a single black shield). An attacker counted the number of skulls rolled and then subtracted the number of shields rolled by the defender (white shields for heroes, black for monsters) to figure out damage. In addition, the Elf and Wizard got a selection of spell cards that they could use each adventure.
The game incorporated most aspects of a traditional dungeon delve: exploration, monsters, loot, and traps. The game master initially only set up the portion of the game board visible to the player characters and the rest was slowly revealed as players rounded corners and opened doors. The rooms and corridors were often filled with monsters (goblins, orcs, undead, and deadly chaos warriors) that did their best to stop the heroes. Once the heroes finished off all of the monsters in a room, they could search for treasure which could be either a useful item or gold to spend between quests. Heroes had to be cautious even when monsters weren’t around though because, like any good dungeon, the quest maps were filled with traps.
After playing HeroQuest, I started looking at other pen-and-paper games which eventually led me to buy Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition’s core books (starting with the Monstrous Manual) and plenty of fantasy miniatures to use in games of my own creation. It’s hard to imagine that I would have role-playing as a hobby if I wouldn’t have taken up the role of a mad wizard nearly a decade and a half ago.