Hero Brigade Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the game’s final prototype. The art, game bits, and the rules discussed are all subject to change. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s official web site or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!


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The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up (publisher suggests 13+)
  • For 2 players
  • Variable game play length

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Fight to the bitter end to determine who will rule the Earth once and for all!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

After centuries and generations of waging a secret war, tonight will be the end of it. The world’s greatest Heroes and the world’s worst Villains are about to have their final battle. Legends will die and a new order will be born. When the dust settles, humanity will be ruled by justice and order or malice and chaos. How well you lead your forces will  determine Earth’s final fate!

Hero Brigade, designed by Nicholas Yu and published by Zucchini People Games LLC, will reportedly be comprised of 20 Hero cards, 20 Villain cards, 50 Resource cards, 10 standard ten-sided dice, 2 play mats, 1 turn marker, and 5 tokens. As this is a review of a prepublished game, we will not comment on the game component quality. Technically, we cannot even comment on the card layout as we understand that it’s slightly in flux. We can say with utmost confidence that the proposed artwork for the game is simply excellent. The example art we were provided is sure to make lovers of superheroes and supervillains squeal with joy.

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The proposed final card layout and artwork is VASTLY different to what we were provided for our game review – makes me sad

The Good, The Bad, and the Surprisingly Useful

Hero Brigade is made up almost entirely out of cards. This makes perfect sense as Hero Brigade is a non-collectible deck-building game. And like most deck-building games, you best know what the cards are all about before you start building your “card driven engine”.

In total, there are only three different card groups. These are Hero, Villain, and Resource. The groups can be further broken down into two specific types: Character and Enhancement. Each card type has multiple attributes that not only provide information, but also choice. Hero Brigade gives the players the ability to use their cards in many different ways, making each card something like a Swiss Army Knife. But like the multi-tool that comes with a sharp blade and a toothpick (which has always struck me as odd), each card is only as useful as the player makes it and the game conditions suggest.

Character Cards

The Hero and Villain cards are equal in strength and jam-packed with characters. Except for their coloring and that fact that one faction is not the “good guys”, there is no real difference in the card anatomy. Each card is unique, however, with each Hero or Villain having specific powers and abilities that make them a possible assets or meat shield to further the player’s interests and obtain victory.

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Not the final artwork – used for example purposes only

  1. Card Name: more than just window dressing, the Card Name is also used to quickly identify and reduce multiple card types. Some Character cards have multiple Heroes and Villains with different outfits. Regardless of the color of their leotard, spandex briefs, or mask, the Card Name will always remain the same.
  2. Hit Points: despite being super strong, super smart, or super (insert adjective here), Heroes and Villains are not immortal. When they get hit, they hurt. If they get hit enough, they go down. Hit Points identifies how many of those hits the Character Card can take before they drop out of the fight. The ten-sided die are used to keep track of each card’s Hit Points.
  3. Value: What separates an average member of the team from an indispensable one is the value they bring to the whole. The Value on the Character cards lists how many cards the player will lose from their deck if the Character card ever succumbs to their wounds and loses all their Hit Points. In Hero Brigade, the loss of every Character card is felt and does real damage to the player’s deck.
  4. Type: these are nothing more than textual values that further define the Character card. They have no functional use other than being the “hooks” that other cards can latch onto.
  5. Abilities: ah, now we’re talking! Each Character card brings to the table a number of unique abilities that can be triggered and used, but only if the card is played a specific way and in a specific position. There are three different abilities available to the Character cards, but not all Character cards might use them. Abilities can be passive (always on) or active (triggered) and can sometimes be used by the player if they want or are mandatory regardless of how the player feels about it. The three different Ability categories include:
    • Front: these abilities are only available from the Character card if the Character card is placed in the player’s front row.
    • Support: these abilities are only available from the Character card if the Character card is placed in the player’s support row.
    • Play: these abilities are only available from the Character card if played from the player’s hand during the Play phase of a game round.

Enhancement Cards

Players can equip their Character cards with additional equipment, boost their powers, and even give them new powers by attaching Enhancement cards to them.

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Not the final artwork – used for example purposes only

  1. Card Name: just used to help identify and provide a hint what the card can be used for.
  2. Enhancement Type: this specifies what Type values must be on the Character card before it can be attached.
  3. Abilities: like the Abilities on the Character card, the Abilities on the Enhancement card indicate when an ability can be used and its impact to the game play.

The Calm Before the Storm

To set up the game, first separate the Hero, the Villain, and the Resource cards into 3 different decks. Each group will have different colored text on their front making it easy to quickly go through and put each card into a specific group.

Second, shuffle the Resource group to create the Resource deck and set to one side of the playing area, face-down.

Third, shuffle the Hero group to create the Hero deck and shuffle the Villain group to create the Villain deck. Each player decides which side they want to play as and takes one of the two decks, sitting across from each other to play the game.

Fourth, place the 10 standard ten-sided dice to one side, along with the tokens, and the turn maker. If using the play mats, hand one to each player.

You are now ready to play! Decide who will go first and hand them the turn marker.

Epic Battles of Epicness

Note: The rules to Hero Brigade are still being worked on. What you read here might or might not be what the official rule book states or even the most up-to-date draft details. Consider this a snapshot and we’ll only be summarizing the game play here. We encourage you to review the latest release of the rule book for additional details and full descriptions of game play.

The game is played in rounds with each round made up of 4 phases. A typical round of play is summarized here.

Phase 1: Draw Cards

At the start of each phase, both players will draw the first 4 top cards off the top of their deck. One player should also draw the first 4 cards off the Resource deck and place each of the four cards face-up. These are the available resources the players can grab during this round. Players should keep their card hands hidden until played.

When a player has to reshuffle their discard pile to draw their 4 top cards, they first draw as many cards as they can to exhaust their draw deck. Then they shuffle their discard pile to create their new draw deck, but before they draw more cards, they draw the top card from their draw deck and discard it for the duration of the game.

Phase 2: Play Cards

The player with the turn order marker goes first and then players alternate taking a single action until either they cannot play anymore during this phase or choose not to. Each card, once played, is fully resolved before the next player has their turn.

Character cards can be played to the leftmost empty position in the player’s front row (front row can only contain a maximum of 3 cards), played to the leftmost empty position in the player’s support row (support row can only contain a maximum of 2 cards), or discarded to resolve the card’s Play ability. If there are multiple options listed for the Play ability, the player chooses which one they want to use. The only other restriction is that a player cannot play to the front or support row a Character card that shares the same Card Name with a card that is already in play. If the card is an Enhancement card or has Type value of “Normal” listed, this restriction does not apply.

Enhancement cards can either be attached to a Character card that has the same matching Type value or discarded to resolve the card’s Play ability. A single Character card can have multiple Enhancement cards attached to it, but only if each Enhancement card is unique. No two of the same Enhancement card that share the same name can be attached to a Character card at anytime.

If a player ever “passes” during this phase, they cannot take any additional actions for the duration of this phase.

Phase 3: Fight!

Now it’s time to get to business! The player with the turn order marker goes first by selecting any Character card in their front or support row and executing all the Abilities (from left to right and from top to bottom) that are listed for the specific row the Character card is currently in. For example, if a Character card was located in the front row, only the Character card’s front row abilities would be available. Once the player has taken all the actions they can, they tip the card sideways to show it has been used and can no longer be activated during this phase. The next player now goes repeating the same process.

A player can only “pass” during this phase if all their Character cards are “Disabled” (tipped sideways). This phase concludes once all the Character cards are tipped or removed from play.

Note that phase 3 is skipped during the first round of play.

Phase 4: Cleanup

The last phase forces both players to discard any remaining cards in their hand into their discard pile, discard any unclaimed Resource cards into the Resource card discard pile, tip all the cards in the front and support rows back to their starting (ready) position, and pass the turn marker to the other player. A new round now begins and starts with phase 1 noted above.

Death, Dying, and Dropping Cards

Every Character card has a Hit Point value. Through combat and card play, Heroes and Villains will fall. When they do, they are removed from their row and placed in the player’s discard pile, along with any Enhancement cards that were attached. Additionally, a number of cards off the top of the player’s draw deck equal to the fallen Character card’s Value are drawn and permanently removed from the game!  Removed cards should be set aside for the duration of the game.

During the fighting phase, players can do more damage to a row than there are Character cards to receive it or to a specific position in a row where a Character card is not currently located. Any damage not deflected or absorbed by a Character cards in a row is referred to as “unassigned damage” and results in the same number of cards being drawn from the top of the player’s draw deck and discarded.

One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall

The game can end several different ways.

  • Total Party Whipout: the game comes to an immediate end if one or both players ever have no Character cards in their front or support row at the end of phase 3. If only one player remains with Character cards, they are the winner. If both players have nuked themselves, the player with the turn marker wins.
  • Deck Depletion: the game comes to an immediate end if one or both  players cannot ever draw 4 cards during phase 1. If only one player can draw 4 cards, they are the winner. If both cannot, see Tie-Breaker.
  • Resource Depletion: the game comes to an immediate end after the round completes if there are less than 4 cards in the Resource deck at the start of phase 1.
  • Tie-Breaker: if there is ever a tie between players, it is broken by looking at each player’s highest total card value by adding up all their Character cards in the front and support rows.

There are a number of detailed card ability and subtle game play rules we did not go into for this review. We highly encourage you to learn more about Hero Brigade and dig a bit deeper into the game play by visiting the game’s web page or visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Prediction

I think the Child Geeks who are not already familiar with deck building games are going to have a moderate learning curve with Hero Brigade. The cards are very text heavy (per their current design) and there are a lot of choices to be made with each card. That can be feel overwhelming at first, especially when the game is new to the player. However, the game itself is not particularly difficult to grasp. Each card offers a lot of choices for the player, but where they place the card reduces the actions the card can take to something very specific. This means that every card in the player’s hand has multiple uses. For an individual who likes flexibility in their games, Hero Brigade is sure to please. For those who learn games better when the path is set before them and wiggle room is almost null when it comes to what you can and cannot do, Hero Brigade might intimidate.

For the Child Geeks we are going to put the game in front of, half of them are going to be familiar with deck-building games. They have already played games like Salmon Run and Eminent Domain – I expect little difficulty  teaching and playing the game with this group. The other half will be Child Geeks who have heard of deck-building games but have not played them before. Essentially, this will be their first deck-building experience, but they have expressed great interest in it because it includes superheroes.

I don’t think any of the Parent Geeks we will play the game with will have a problem, either. The game is, again, not that terribly difficult. The phases of game play are logical and the card uses are very straightforward  Knowing when to use the cards is going to be the real trick, however. I have no doubt the Parent Geeks are up to challenge.

Gamer Geeks are going to really enjoy Hero Brigade. There’s a lot going on that makes the game feel big but it plays fast and is easy to manage. It might play a bit too fast for some of the Gamer Geeks. If you have the right cards and willing to take a risk, a game could end a lot sooner than expected. The end result will be confusion, disappointment, and a demand for a rematch.

Teaching the game to my 8-year-old wasn’t that big of an issue. He already knows how to play several deck-building games, is rather good at it, and was eager to learn all about Hero Brigade because of its theme. I let him look through all the cards and read the rules before we played, which also helped. Being familiar with what is being discussed helps the mind learn faster and make connections to key points. Based on the cards he saw, he wanted to play the Villains. After going through a quick round of game play (I also let him watch the instruction videos – very helpful), we were ready to play. He only had a question regarding when the cards in his deck were removed versus discarded. This can be a bit confusing at first, as they both sound like the same thing. Other than that, no problems whatsoever. While he shuffled his deck, I asked him his thoughts on Hero Brigade so far.

“I really, really like how this game looks and what it’s about. Reminds me of other superhero games we have played, but none of them are like this.” ~ Liam (age 8)

A true statement based on his game playing experience so far. Let’s shuffle our cards, deploy our soldiers, and see if the epic battle fought results in an epic win or is a total failure.

Final Word

Let me just get this out of the way up front. The favorite card in the entire game for the Child Geeks was the Excrementalist. As you might guess, this card represents a Villain made entirely out of poop, sludge, and other nastiness. The Child Geeks adored it, much to the chagrin of some of our more “proper” Parent Geeks.

The Child Geeks had a great time with this game. As predicted, the Child Geeks who had not had a lot of experience with deck-building games had more difficulty upfront when learning how to play the game. But they did learn it and were playing just fine with little in the way of assistance after their first game. The Child Geeks who had played deck-building games before were only lost for the first round and then had no problems after that. We are going to suggest the learning curve for children is still moderate because there are a lot of cards to use that do different things. Learning how each card is used and how they work together will take a bit of time, but is hardly difficult. All the Child Geeks we played the game with really liked the game when they won and really hated it when they lost. To us, that means the game is doing its job. All the Child Geeks agreed to approve of Hero Brigade and eagerly await the published version (turns out that hand drawn illustrations do little to excite little geeks when it comes to superheroes).

My little geek smiles with joy as he brings out his favorite villain, the Extrementalist!

My little geek smiles with joy as he brings out his favorite villain, the Excrementalist!

The Parent Geeks were somewhat skeptical when it came to the game. A few of the Parent Geeks that played Hero Brigade were not comic book fans and sat at the table with noticeable disinterest from the start. After playing the game, they said they enjoyed the experience, but not the theme. As far as we are concerned, the theme is icing on the cake. If you still enjoy the cake, the icing in inconsequential. The Parent Geeks who did enjoy comic books really enjoyed Hero Brigade and said if felt like a real “final showdown” between two opposing forces. They enjoyed the game with their family members and with their peers, with a noticeable uptick in aggressiveness when an adult played against another adult. Despite what Parent Geeks will tell you, we always play with a softer glove when playing with our little geeks. Those gloves come off when we play with adults. All the Parent Geeks, even those who did not like comics, thought that Hero Brigade was a lot of fun and had no problem approving it.

The Gamer Geeks, being geeks, had a great time with Hero Brigade. They didn’t think it was the most difficult game they had ever played, but really liked how much control and the large number of choices they were offered when playing the game. More choices means more tactics. More tactics means a lot more strategy and indepth thinking about what to do next. This is perhaps what the Gamer Geeks enjoyed the most about the game. It’s not enough to have the right card to win. You must also have the right card in the right position. When combat occurs, the game shift gears from deck-building to strategic and tactical wargaming, with each player shifting and making sure that each card’s timing is specific and its impact lethal. The deeper the Gamer Geeks dug into Hero Brigade, the more they found and liked. Their only complaint was that there didn’t seem to be enough cards. Of course, we must keep in mind that the Gamer Geeks are used to playing deck building games with hundreds of cards. For a first release and what is being offered, the Gamer Geeks all agreed to approve Hero Brigade, but hope to see more from the game in the way of expansions when the game is finally released.

The game can be very “swinging” at times. One player will be on top and then suddenly on the bottom. This can feel a bit irradiating for some, but the game does a great job of making the players feel they are in a tug-o-war between two equal opposing forces. I didn’t observe anything to suggest the game it out of balance, but card draws can make one player feel like the game is one-sided. Like most deck-building games, the strength of a player’s hand is only as good as the cards they put in it. This is where the Resource deck comes into play and is key to victory. The player must keep tabs on their front and support rows at all times, because not having any strength in either position will cause them to lose the game. However, both decks (Heroes and Villains) are evenly matched which means the player can only get the advantage to win if their opponent plays poorly (fat chance when playing against skilled players) or a key Resource card is introduced that could tip the odds. Since just about every card has up to 3 ways to use it, but each way can only be used once per round, the choice of bulking up strength versus grabbing equipment or a new character can be very difficult to make at times. Often, a player will only know if they made the right choice after a round or two and suffer the regrets or bask in the glory of perfect hindsight.

Hero Brigade is a lot of fun, challenging, fast, and gives the players a lot of choices. But not once did I feel or observe from our players that the amount of choice was a crushing weight on the players’ shoulders. Each card is like a miniature tool box. Often times, the right tool needed is clearly identified and the player knows exactly what to do. This is incredibly empowering and it’s a great feeling that each card you draw is useful.

Is Hero Brigade for everyone? Certainly not. The game’s theme is heavy and if the players don’t care for superheroes and masked supervillains  the game is going to fall flat. Which is a shame because the game is a good one. I can’t say it’s a “great one” until I see the final product and play it with family and friends. Until then, all I can say is “I like what I played, a lot”. It left me feeling excited, frustrated, and eager for more.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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One Response to Hero Brigade Game Review (prepublished version)

  1. Nicholas Yu says:

    Cyrus:

    Thank you for such a thorough and well-thought out review. I knew the theme wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but I’m glad the mechanics were still strong enough that even those who don’t care for heroes and villains still had a good time playing it. Also, I’m glad the Child Geeks got a kick out of The Excrementalist; he’s my favorite character, too, Child Geeks, it’s okay! 🙂

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