Hex-asperated by all these Hex-plorative Hex-capades…and not a little Hex-ploited by these Hex-aggerated Hex puns…
Press play for a fully immersive read in to this dark fantasy adventure
…on with my knee-length dear-stalker and patchwork nose protector… it’s Hexploring I go. I must point out at this point, a good time for pointing, in fact, that I have a multiple personality disorder…or at least that is how it feels for one moment I am sporting a Demonborn Tinkersmith leather codpiece, the next I am struggling to fit into a Leprechaun Necromancer outfit…so confusing, really. My wardrobe needs to accommodate 352 odd costumes…and that takes some packing into a back pack. I toyed with the idea of burning everything because ashes would be much lighter to carry and would compact better but I haven’t had time ‘cos the Dead King is always just round the corner…oh! Here he is again…leg it!!!!
Oh come sit at both sides of my table as BSoMT delves deeply into the Vally of the Dead King…a land of valleys and of a king…that is dead! And if truth be told, not the most pleasant of rulers!
So What’s All The Fuss About?
A fuss?…fuss about a brand new, still in shrink board game that has high end fantasy themes, exploration opportunities, character development, a certain role-play element, AI controlled Dungeon Master/Games Master…well of course there should be a serious fuss, if there isn’t already, for just the aforementioned hero building adventure features alone!
But that doesn‘t help the unaware become more aware.
Hexplore It is…hmmmm…a tricky one to explain. I shall use the aid of references to existing games that share similarities…a fair number in fact, but you must bear in mind that this is not a copy, nor is it a mimic, nor a wanna-be…this is something that really has it’s own identity.
In the first instance I would say some devious scientist started splicing and melding genetic material from Runebound, Mage Knight, D&D, The Witcher and tiny snippets from all manner of role play systems to create a grotesque, powerful new life-form.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not an ugly game by far, but it is some sprawling entity that, to all intents and purpose just wants to eat the isolated, weak adventurer up as an amuse bouche, swill said adventurer about on the pallet extracting its essence, then unceremoniously spit the poor character out onto the dirty sidewalk.
The tale I am about to recant is based merely on first impressions I have experienced (and it must be added, that me and myself concur) from opening the box yesterday, to laying it out on the table, to walking through a game as I, we, all of us learnt the basic game. I sense that what I have just experienced is merely the tip of an incredulous iceberg.
Immersion or Subversion?
In essence, and in its simplest manifestation, this is a form of role-play adventure game. A player has a fantasy hero character, creates statistics, attributes, skills and abilities before heading off on an adventure of wondrous exploration. But let us not get too hasty now…the traditional roleplay game stereotypically…nay, usually consists of numerous chaps and chappesses sat around a scruffy sheet of dog-eared paper bestrewn with numerous illegible scribblings, whilst a tyrannical Dungeon/games master regurgitates tales of their mis-adventure…offering, if they are lucky, opportunity to make the occasional decision or two.
Hexplore It is something, certainly in my eyes, that is fresh and exhilarating with its approach to this nature of game. (This may not be mould breaking…there may be others I know not of, as my role-play experience/knowledge is limited to my 1980’s AD&D days… so my basis for comparison is small)
HEXplore It doesn’t rely on “wow” imagery to sell the theme (but I will say the artwork is very good) and, although large aspects of the game are card driven, it really is like a sleek exploration roleplay game experience. The flavour text on the cards is, indeed engaging but if you allow your imagination to plunge head first into the game, it is dangerously simple to become completely, totally and utterly invested in your character’s wellbeing and survival. If that isn’t Immersive enough, I am not sure what else is!
The creation of characters is simple but incredibly flexible. A Race of being is selected from a rather large shipping container crammed full of choice. (Demonborn, Gremlins, Trolls, Shifters, Half Elf, Dryad, Fallen ones and that is just the first few picked up at random)
This Race card, containing a unique ability and modifiers that will be applied to a Role card, changing a Characters base roll Vitals, Abilities and skill statistics. A second, slightly larger shipping container full of role cards is available…ooooh the agony of choice (Tinkersmith, Divine One, Oracle, Necromancer and so on).
Each of these Role cards contains 2 special talents/abilities to add to the mix. It must be becoming very clear just how ridiculously many character combinations are possible. I ought to be diligent and look this figure up but, well ner!…I suspect it must be in the region of 700+ combinations…maybe? There are 30 odd Race cards and 24 odd Role cards…I will let the statisticians do the Maths here. That is a staggering figure, what ever the outcome, to contend with when considering replay-ability and all this before the game has even begun.
Although there are a significant number of small details to be aware of from a rules point of view, the actual gameplay is very straight forward. A nice Game Procedure board is supplied outlining each phase of the game which is a nice touch reducing the need to refer to the rules too often during those early steps within the Valley of the Dead King.
Movement, not unlike other exploration games such as Mage Knight and Runebound is hex to hex with various key points of interest such as cities, ruins, shrines and locations nasty “horrible bosses” can be found. A nice touch, I felt with movement, was the choice of distance. Moving slowly with caution helps avoid some of the more unpleasant potential wilderness encounters we so often dread when out alone…right up to the damned right Reckless. Moving recklessly means care is not taken observing surroundings and rolls have to be made against navigation skills, failure of which result in wandering off course. Movement also incurs Survival and Exploration rolls which, unless you are on the point of starvation merely indicate how much of your packed lunch you have chomped through or how much gold you find lying on the dirty road, carelessly abandoned by someone with more money than sense.
I very nearly forgot probably the most important element of the game. The Hex map. A modular map, obviously divided into hexes to facilitate movement and exploration, hence the name of the game make up the play surface. There are four large sections which make the basis of the Dead Kings’s valley but as the inquisitive hero ventures towards their edges, further tiles become revealed and wondrous locations flaunt their wares for the passer by. Ruins and shrines especially, become revealed which can be crucial to furthering the success of the hero’s progress
Visiting towns or other points of interest allow adventurers to acquire provisions, incremental additions to skills and various other skill improving buys. Quests are also a big feature which have five always visible in the play area. They vary in requirements of completion from simply visiting a particular location to making skill rolls to the more complex multiple task completion quest.
All these quests allow the acquisition of rewards and can be “cashed in” at various locations for Power Up cards. These Power Ups themselves are especially helpful when players are wishing to increase character skill levels…and as I met a young dragon on the second turn of my first game, the quicker you find ways to equip your heroes, the better it is.
After the heroes have done with their faffing, Circumstance cards are rolled for. Usually bad situations that need to be resolved from simple fighting off beasties to more long term effects like poisoning…again this happened to me on turn 3. Ye Ghads! This game can be brutally unforgiving of novice adventurers.
But what is the point of all this exploration, travel and levelling up?
Did I mention the Dead King? Well this whole adventure is all taking place in his valley, after all. His presence is ominously overshadowed by his absence at the start of the game but at the end of each round a die is rolled which dictates whether he appears or not. His first opportunity of springing to life is on a 1d6 roll of 6. Subsequent rounds this lowers to 5, then 4…you get the idea. As time goes on the odds of his appearance increases. Once on the board, however, he systematically (albeit through random selection) travels from city to city, with increasing speed, turning everything in his path to rubble. Each fallen city increases his speed of travel and becomes one less location we can visit to trade and level up. The ultimate goal would be to face him and rid the land of his presence once and for all…many have tried…all have failed…until now!
There are interesting little mechanics, nuances etc within the game but it is fundamentally a series of rounds comprising Movement, skill checks, Circumstance rolls, Events and movement of the Dead King.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits
The component quality in this game is ridiculous…ridiculously good, that is. The printing is crisp, the graphic icons are clear, the illustrations are pretty amazing (most of the game is illustration free as would be expected seeing as it should be our imagination that creates this world but the Boss cards and the reverse of the player Role cards do have lavish illustrations on them). The map tiles also have what I initially thought was bland topography. But on closer inspection it is a rather incredibly detailed landscape, undeserving of my initial assessment. The cards are nice and thick as are the map tiles…in fact there is a huge amount of thick card in this game. The Player role cards, Boss cards, tokens…and so on…
…but probably the most innovative concept is the dry-wipe surface applied to the Character Roll cards. This allows for continual additions and amendments to be made, with ease, to the ever changing character statistics. It does make life so much easier and there is no longer the need for stacks of stat pages. Everything is contained on a roll card or the Battle card (useful for additional information and for keeping tally of enemy life and energy points)
I suspect the durability and longevity of this system may be called into discussion. The boards appear sturdy and the surface looks like it will take some hammer. The drywipe pens are less robust but there are loads in the box and replacements are easily sourced from stationary outlets so I don’t for-see issues here but I guess time will tell.
I was most impressed with the box insert, however. Which has no bearing on the game what so ever but uses a very well thought out multi-layered stacking vac-formed insert that securely stored every component (all decks of cards have their own tuck box which tidily tuck away too..
Meeples and Standees
- Game Design: Jonathan Maariucci
- Game Publisher: Mariucci J Designs
- Boardgamegeek Page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/214484/hexplore-it-valley-dead-king
- Playtime: 60-180+ minutes
- Gangs of one: 1-7 players cooperatively
- Age of Consent: 14+
- DOB: 2018 (Kickstarter version)
- Stand Alone Expansion: on Kickstarter The Forest of Adrimon https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hexploreit/hexplore-it-the-forests-of-adrimon?ref=b2eid8
It is rather interesting that although this is principally a co-operative game for 2-7 players taking on the game and in such circumstances it would be normal to expect we, the solitaire gamer to play the game as intended, but to operate multiple heroes ourselves…well obviously this is one possibility here but there has been thought put in to solitaire play as an entity in its own right…for which I am grateful…there are minor adaptations/changes to the way a hero may use certain abilities simultaneously and adjustments to the Dead King’s movement. The game remains the same despite these changes, which are really just scaling devices to adjust the difficulty for one player. It is also interesting that there is the possibility for a player to operate the Dead King against a party of live heroes.
A specialist deck of cards has been included to facilitate this one versus all mode. Whilst talking about adaptations, the game can be played in two further modes; once changing the win conditions to extend gameplay allowing for more interaction with the game and a second that speeds up play, allowing for the same adventure experience but reducing game length. Nice to think that the game can now be accessible to a wider audience of playing styles/requirements.
There are quite a few stats that will require constant adjustment but that is the nature of this sort of game experience. It is nothing that will overwhelm the solo adventurer and as the whole game play is simply and succinctly laid out, whether the soloist operates on or more characters, the game plays smoothly and doesn’t get bogged down with rules heavy segments of modifiers and statistic mad engagement. Don’t be fooled though. Some characters have numerous abilities that can influence the group resulting in temporary changes to everyone’s stats so it’s not all plain sailing…funny I should say that because you can actually buy a ‘folding boat’ to help navigate some of the larger bodies of water…how do you fold a boat?
The Real Nitty Gritty (thanks to Carbon Dragon for suggesting this section)
- Winners and Losers: So is this a sinch to win? Hmmm! Well, actually playing the game is pretty straight forward and the player turn card adds user friendly prompts for turn sequence. BUT this is no five minute wonder. Game length can be adjusted for difficulty but it is, in the end, a seriously large scale adventure with exploring a plenty to be undertaken. Wise choices regarding movement can reduce the potentially cataclysmic encounters, help avoid dreadful beasties and keep a hero alive long enough to reach the next town. It is winnable but it will test you along the way and victory is by far from guaranteed!
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The rulebook is 30 odd pages long but it is only A5 sized and has numerous illustrations within so is not, in real terms, a lengthy affair. The rule explanation is straight forward and does a pretty good job of informing us how the game fits together (I would like to have seen a number system by which a rule explination can refer to a direct passage like GMT use rather than just referencing the page but this doesn’t impede the overall understanding) There will, obviously, be some referencing back to the rules during the first play but the player aid boards cover most details required for day to day play reducing that stumbling, bumbling first game feel.
- Lucky Buggers: Luck does feature highly in this game. All movement relies on dice having to be thrown to see if the party are reckless and get lost or off track, to see if fortune shines on the party (finding discarded coins along the way), and to see if too much energy has been exerted resulting in the compulsory scoffing of a packed lunch. Of course there are ways within the game to mitigate this luck and a skilful development of a character means you need not worry about dice so much. Encounters also require random dice rolls but again these can, through careful planning, be negated. Combat/confrontation is less luck based. This is you choosing how you will use your individual talents to whittle down the last opponents health and power. This is where team work (or for the soloist, using all his characters well together…unless you have one hero…then you are literally on your lonesome. And finally drawing bonus cards is a random affair but as all bonuses are….we…a bonus, we shouldn’t grumble. To surmise, luck is involved but it can always be minimised by wise players…but is also part of the fun of this adventure. This is not a dice fest, lucky roll game, so dice haters do not panic.
- Ups and Downs: This has a darker fantasy theme with a variety of dark encounters, afflictions and beasties…and when you become so invested in your characters, building them, growing them as rounded…multi-racial, multi-class beings, emotions can run high. There is a lot at stake, after all. The overall content, theme and ‘feel-ness’ of the game is not a doom and gloom depress-fest, but be mindful, it is not a glossy Disney film either.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: This is a sizable game. The map is modylar in nature so set up could be up to the player but we must also consider the layout of encounter cards and such as well as the player boards, associated cards and dice…all in all there is a fairly hefty footprint. I just managed to squeeze everything in to a 1 metre x 1 metre space playing 2 characters but I would advise a dining table at least…unless you gave a pretty sizable coffee table in your abode.
- Building It Up Just To Knock It All Down: There are numerous components to the board set up and four decks of cards ( which fortunately all come with their own tuck boxes) and the player boards/race/trait cards and the hex counters. Now none of these components pose any time-consuming elements to set up and once familiar with the game ten minutes or so is enough for set up. What does take the time (and really is part of the roleplay experience, is setting up individual character stats. These are obtained through means of combining characters and classes, each having modifiers to the various abilities and traits…cards also alter these as the game progresses. There will be the compulsory rolling of dice added to this procedure and a small amount of rudimentary maths but, although we don’t imediately dive into the action! This should be viewed as part of the gaming experience rather than game set up. Depending on how much we dilly dally, this can be an additional fifteen minutes (depending on the number of characters we are mad enough to try and operate during the game as a lowly soloist. Considering the size of game experience, the set up is almost negligible in comparison…and even better news…the tear down is a sinch. There is a clever storage system and once familiar with where everything lives, packing up should be only a five or ten minute job….just remember to firmly place caps on the pens!
Me, Myself and I
I was unsure about this title, I will admit, after the campaign ended. I liked the concept and the principles behind the game but wondered if it would be a little dry, dull, mundane, especially after watching a couple of youtube videos (nothing wrong with the vids, by the way)
…but a package arrive out of the blue…totally unexpected and so I tore into it. Just taking the components out I was super-impressed before I had even sat at the table. Even though the first play was, as would be expected, a slight fumble, as I worked through the rules…but the rule book is logical, well laid out and for all but the quest cards section very helpful (it may have been me but it wasn’t immediately clear how I was to implement the quest cards but once I figured it out, there was no issue)
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread…and I did…and I paid a heavy price facing off a dragon at the start…but the game flowed well for me (and myself…I just watched as only two heroes went adventuring). Planning the most effective use of skills and abilities…brilliant…looking at how combinations of skills bouncing of each other worked well…managing limited funds and food worked well and movement (with the skill checks) proved to be interesting…the Dead King constantly hounding you down, raising city after city to the ground making the game very time sensitive with regards to levelling up and preparing for what would be an ultimate battle…I say ‘would have’ as my trusty heroes, through my naivety and mismanagement, died horrible, gruesome deaths.
Yay or Nay?
Nay?…how could I even consider a Nay…this is scratching that D&D roleplay itch I have had for years but without the need for others, without the need for DM’s and not really a need for roleplay (other than in the dark recesses of my own head)
Hexplore It, in all of its myriad of guises, characters, encounters thoroughly explores a BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (8.5)….how is 8.5 possible?…well, it is fantasy roleplay, after all?
…so forwards trusty steed…let’s hope my thick brass Automaton Necromancer costume doesn’t weigh you down and I lose that +1 movement bonus….mind you we are accompanied by a Half Giant Cartographer…perhaps he could carry us all across a much smaller map? All I know is that, that King of the Dead chap is shutting down all the shops and markets…and is getting a little too close for comfort. There’s no legging it quick sharpish in this bloody stupid costume, I can tell you!
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Something For The Weekend, Sir?
- Hexplore it Website:
- Hexplore it on Twitter
- Board To Death review
- How to use the Battle Mats
- Hexplore It 1 player/solo playthrough
- Beyond Solitaire: How To Solo…
- Saving Throw Plays a multiplayer game (pre-kickstarter)
- Rolling Solo unboxes Hexplore It