Heroes 4 Collectible Card and Tile Game Review
Those who played the original computer game developed by New World Computing, Heroes of Might and Magic IV, will instantly be familiar with this title. The Heroes IV Collectible Card and Tile Game makes the transition from the computer to the table efficiently; containing the same units, heroes, towns, skills, spells, artifacts and adventure map locations from the original game, which comprises the 7 card-types in the one card game.
The mechanics of the game are the same - to build up a powerful army using a variety of map locations and creature dwellings that are at the player’s disposal. There are 7 map pieces that are provided when purchasing the Starter Kit, in addition to 120 cards (in the form of 6 town-aligned booster packs), 300 markers, and a 10-sided die.
First Impressions/Main Elements
The game is fairly easy to learn, even from the standpoint of a player who hasn’t had much experience with card games at all. The first order of business is to assemble the map using the tiles provided in the Starter Kit. After the map is assembled (for each map section you can select 10 cards to use in your deck, though the standard deck is 60 cards), each player draws 8 cards, and divides them into 5 adventure stack cards (which cannot be traded) and 3 hand cards (which can). Cards signify income in the card game, so discarding one effectively means you are paying gold – there are no specific resources as such, and the mines merely act as a pre-requisite for creatures that would need them in the computer version (e.g. Alchemist’s Lab for Hydras). To begin the game, you choose your ‘starting forces’, which must all be of a common alignment, and attach them to your hero. The starting forces are comprised of: 1 hero, 3 level 1 units, 2 level 2 units, and 1 level 3 unit.
The play sequence when you start your turn is important, and dictates the order of action for any given turn. The first order of business is to draw one card into your hand for every town or mine owned (this represents income). Then, the player moves into the purchase sequence, where the discarding takes place in order to buy a desired unit/hero/town level. Now, your hero is ready for movement, and he/she can move according to the terrain penalty. (Each terrain type has a movement rate, which can be found by looking at the Terrain Keys). The last part of the sequence is ‘cycling out’, where you place one card from your hand into your adventure stack, and draw the top card from your deck into your hand. Once your deck is empty, you take your discard pile, shuffle it, and re-use it as your deck.
While the goal is the same, there are a few changes to the gameplay style in the three major areas of Heroes of Might and Magic IV. The following sections are designed as a brief tutorial of the three media. For a more detailed analysis and in-depth rules, view the game manual.
In combat, there are two distinct lines, the melee line, and the ranged line. They are self-explanatory, but the difference being the melee line acts as an obstacle for other ‘walkers’, meaning that a Behemoth could not hit any unit on the ranged line, while a Bone Dragon could, since it is a flyer and has the ability to ignore obstacles. However, there must always be at least 3 creatures on the melee line before you can place any on the ranged line. If there are only 3 units in the army, including a ranged attacker, they must all be placed on the melee line.
As a substitute for speed, there are combat ‘phases’, where all creatures marked as ‘phase 1’ units act first, then all ‘phase 2’ units, and so on. Movement does not come into the combat equation. Unlike the computer game, the aggressor has a huge advantage in combat, as when both the aggressor and the defender have units of equal phases, the aggressor’s units always attack first.
Damage calculations for multiple stacks of creatures works following this general equation: Damage = Base Attack + (Number of Units -1) x Unit Level. So, 4 Hydras would deal 7 + (4-1) x 4 = 19 damage. However, the extra element of combat added that signifies damage range is the die roll. The die values range from 0 – 9, so every creature will have a damage range of 9. The die value is added onto this base damage calculation. Interestingly, the retaliation works as in Heroes III, where the enemy creature waits for the attacker to inflict damage, and then attacks after the damage has been dealt. (Note: There is an option to use simultaneous retaliation like Heroes IV).
The CTG delves further into combat tactics, introducing three additional components:
• Sacrificing: The creature, as it takes its turn, sacrifices its attack in order to strengthen the attack score of another unit for one turn. The ‘Sac Value’ of the creature adheres to the following formula: Sac Value = unit level x number of units. So 4 Hydras would have a Sac value of 16. Obviously, an Orc couldn’t sacrifice its ranged attack to help the standard attack value of a Black Dragon, for instance.
• Swarming: Swarming involves your unit sacrificing its turn so that it can double its attack score. We use the same general formula, then double it. This can be a powerful strategy for a low-phase, high-defense unit, as a unit that deals 11 damage to a unit with 12 defense has no impact on the unit whatsoever, and grants the defending unit free retaliation.
• Protecting: Protecting means the unit will add its level value to its defense value, but doing so causes the unit(s) to sacrifice their attack opportunity. So 1 Hydra, when protecting, would have a defense score of 15.
The major difference in the adventure map element of the Heroes IV CTG is that the map is constructed as one plays, there is essentially one base terrain/landscape, and the players construct it according to what cards they have in their hand/adventure stack. This is because there are no neutral guards in the game, and they only appear when an opponent chooses to ‘define’ a location. Note that when the map is assembled, there are no pre-determined locations, instead they are created from map locations in a player’s deck, and as they define it with their chosen card from either their hand or adventure stack, the player’s opponents (beginning from the left and moving clockwise) each flip the top card from their deck. The first player who flips a creature (it could be the defining player themselves) flips the next three cards from their deck, which, if they flip a creature of the same alignment, can add it to the neutral guard stack. Additionally, the guarding player may further augment the power of the stack by placing any cards from his/her adventure stack or hand into the guarding stack. This allows for a random element to the game, in that powerful dwellings or locations may not necessarily be guarded by a high-powered neutral stack.
Another prevalent difference is the scouting element of the game. Obviously, the whole map is revealed from the beginning of the game, so there is no Fog of War and the need for scouts is reduced. Scouting remains an important skill, as it allows the hero to access or define a location from a further radius, making moving adjacent to location superfluous with even advanced scouting.
Town development has been greatly simplified, where the only improvements that can be made is upgrading the town’s level from 1, 2, 3, and 4 to recruit the creatures at those respective levels. Upgrading to these levels also provide unique bonuses depending on the town type, for example, being able to learn spells from level 1- 2 and later on, 3 – 5. I would have liked to see unique town buildings included, such as the grail, or structures such as Asylum’s Battle Academy, or Order’s University.
Gaining experience in the Heroes IV CTG has also been abandoned, but instead, after every battle, regardless of the comparative difficulty, the hero can learn a skill. Skill development works in the same way as the computer game, with the Primary and Secondary skills having the same pre-requisites, and working in a similar fashion. On the one hand, there is no incentive for fighting harder stacks to gain added experience, but conversely means whoever has fought the most battles (and therefore has been more adventurous and aggressive – shortening game time), is likely to be at a higher level.
The specialised (advanced) hero classes are absent from the game, which is unfortunate, as they would have given the hero development and skill-selection element of the game an added dimension in deck-construction. Players familiar with the computer game will also have a good knowledge of the spellcasting system in the CTG, with the various skill levels of magic corresponding to the spell level, and spells being learnt in a town free of charge. Upgrading your town will allow the learning of higher level spells.
Indeed, the Heroes IV CTG is not a game that can be quickly set-up at a local park bench and played in any situation. Just like the computer game, the CTG involves strategy and added micromanagement (since there is no computer to formulate damage calculations, hero abilities and effects, spell durations, adventure map movement, etc.) On average, it would take an hour to learn the basic rules outlined above effectively, but if you have a friend willing to give you a tutorial of these rules in action, it may only take half that. The game itself necessitates concentration on behalf of the players, and generally takes in excess of 2 hours. Game times can range from 1 hour in a 1 vs. 1 contest, to over 5 hours for 4+ players. You may want to set aside a few hours before commencing play.
The Heroes IV CTG offers a more tangible atmosphere of real interpersonal contact, also enabling you to see your opponents’ moves before your eyes, making the learning experience much easier than in the computer game. Of course, the game is highly dependent on the cards at your disposal, and therefore if you want to succeed in the game, you’re encouraged to buy more cards. The computer game does grant more options to the player, but hotseat games, or even online games can become excessively elongated without turn-time restrictions or simply a poor connection. The CTG’s strength is in the ability to use your cards in a unique manner – allowing the player to make the choice whether they will modify the map for increased economy, quick rushes, or high-movement. The computer game is much easier to ‘pick up and play’, but it lacks the intense multiplayer action and constant conflict that the card game offers.
The separate booster packs come with 20 cards, and are alignment-based, meaning that they will all come with a hero of the alignment, 6 level 1s, 2 level 2s, 1 level 3, 1 level 4, the corresponding resource mine needed for the level 4 creature, a town that enables the player to recruit the creatures he/she has been given, 1 primary skill card, 2 secondary skill cards (all three related to the hero type, e.g. a Death Knight hero would yield tactics + offense + defense), and two random cards, ranging from artifacts, map locations, and spell cards for a spellcasting hero. Once out of every 5 boosters or so, you could receive a neutral creature booster. The alignment-based boosters make building a powerful deck quite easy, but it also renders the multitude of level 1 creatures redundant. It is also difficult to collect your favourite hero, or a specific map location, artifact or spell that you dearly need to complete your deck.
Due to the complex nature of the computer game, the card game, too, follows suit, making the initial rule-learning and set up of the game difficult to comprehend entirely. This is particularly pertinent for players new to the series entirely. If you are such a person who has never played any Heroes of Might and Magic game, you may want to rent the Heroes IV computer and familiarise yourself with the basics of skill learning, spellcasting, movement, and the impacts various mines and map locations have on a given map before buying the CTG.
That said, staying true to the Heroes Series, the CTG offers an abundance of strategic decisions and generally does not depend on luck (except for the die-rolling in combat) and requires the player to make calculated decisions, especially when the only form of resource is the players very own cards – and the only form of payment – the sacrifice of the very cards that they may need to utilise in the future.
If you’re a player new to the Might and Magic Universe looking to broaden your horizons in a card game, and you’re willing to invest time and effort in collecting and learning the intricacies of the Heroes IV CTG, you will be greatly rewarded, as the game is a unique experience in itself, removed from the computer game due to the pseudo-random map and multiplayer. Even if you’re not new to the series, the Heroes IV CTG makes a great hobby, and is a thoroughly enjoyable pastime – just make sure you have some friends.
- reviewed by ThE_HyDrA.
Mini-Game in Progress (click to enlarge)