HeroCard: Orc Wars
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Deep within the orcish caverns, the drums begin to beat. High in the treetops, the watch sounds the horns of the hunt. The Clans are on the move; the ancient war begins anew. The Elven Champions gather, test their weapons, draw up their resolve.
Under the earth, the Orcish King rails against the Elves, exhorting his troops to blood frenzy. The Queen of the Elves bids her heroes to her, impresses upon them the nature of their task. Tonight the battle will rage. A thousand Orcs will come to slaughter, and a handful of Elves will return the favor.
HeroCard Orc Wars is two games in one. The first is the basic HeroCard engine, a card-dueling game. The second is an asymmetrical, scenario-based game that uses HeroCard to resolve conflicts within the game. One player plays a horde of Orcs against individual Elven heroes. HeroCard Orc Wars ships with five scenarios with more available online.
- 10 Map Tiles
- 3 Elf Role cards
- 1 Paladin Figure
- 33-Card Paladin Deck
- 14 Wound Markers
- 33-Card Orc King Deck
- Orc King Figure
- 5 Clan Cards
- 21 Orc Figures
- 25 Orc Figure Bases
- 11 Squad tokens
- 8 Dirty Trick Cards
- 7 Pig Figures
- 5 Treasure Tokens
- 3 Treasure Guide Cards
Average Rating: 3.5 in 1 review
TableStar continues to put out games that are compatible with their HeroCard system. I like the combat system that forms the core of each of these games and enjoy it most when it is combined with a strategic game with a bit of minor complexity. HeroCard: Orc Wars (TableStar Games, 2007 – Nico Carroll) certainly looked like it matched this description, as it has a modular game board, quite a few pieces packed into the small box, and multiple scenarios. Most interesting of all, however, is the fact that the game is asymmetrical: with one player taking the role of the Orcs and the other player(s) assuming a heroic Elf.
I have to say that I’ve enjoyed this game the most out of the series, because of the high variety between the missions, and the unique way in which a player must play the Orcs. It’s fun to be an Elf, a superhero-ish, powerful figure that can tear through swarms of Orcs like melted butter. On the other hand, there is a real zest to the challenge the Orcs provide, as a player must attempt to stem the tide of the seemingly unstoppable Elves. The game scenarios seem balanced, although some are quite basic; and the pieces are rather interesting and colorful.
Before I talk about the game, let me explain the HeroCard engine. Each player takes a deck of cards to represent their Elf (one player takes the Orc deck). Interestingly, players can use decks from the other games (i.e. I can use a Shogun deck in the Orc Wars game); and other than some theme clashing, they work fairly well. Three Attribute cards are included with each deck to represent the player's Body, Mind, and Attribute "X". These cards have a number on them that ranges from "3" to "10", showing the character's strength in those skills. The rest of the cards in a deck are "Action" cards and are associated with one of the three types of skills. Cards are Fast (play whenever you want); Restricted (play on your own turn); and Exclusive (play on your turn - limit of one). Players arrange their attribute cards on the table.
In a duel, a player has four phases. They first discard as many cards as they want to from their hand, then draw up to three more - not exceeding seven. After this, players "clear" up to three cards that they've played on the table, placing them in their discard pile. At this point, the player takes their one exclusive action and as many restricted actions as they can.
Most exclusive actions are attacks. The player must play one "Base" attack card and as many attack modifiers as they wish. However, each card played has a cost in one of the three attribute types. As a player plays a card, they place it on the table, where it stays until cleared. The total cost of all cards on the table cannot exceed the number of the attribute. Therefore, players who play many cards have fewer options available to them on turns. The player being attacked then may play one "Base" block and as many Block modifiers as they have room for, still making sure they stay within their attribute limits. Both players may continue to add modifiers, until they have no more or decide to play no more. If the attacker's total is higher, then they "hit" the opponent; otherwise, play passes to the next player.
Now, this game makes one basic change to the system. If the scenario calls for the “Orc King” to play, then the Orc player uses a character with three preset stats, like normal. However, if a player is using a band (or more) of Orcs, then the number and type of Orcs in that band determine the stats of the band, meaning that the Orcs’ stats actually decrease, as members are killed. Each “Brute” adds four to Body, each “Tactician” adds four to Mind, and each “Shaman” adds four to Attribute X. So if I have a squad of three Brutes, a Tactician and a Shaman, that Orc squad is a “12/4/4” – rather imbalanced, actually.
The game is fairly simple. Each scenario outlines what each player is trying to do (usually the Orcs are trying to kill the Elf, while the Elf might be killing boars, Orcs, or discovering treasure.) If three or four players are involved, then the extra players each play an Elf, which allows the Orc player to use more Orcs in the scenario. Orcs can move with some “fog of war” by using tokens and only activating them during certain parts; and if the Orc player is inexperienced, they may use some “Dirty Trick” cards to give them an edge. The Elf player may find treasures that give them added bonuses, such as extra movement, or a free attack each turn. The game comes with the Paladin Elf, who needs to be hit four times to die and can attack all adjacent Orcs. Expansions, which allow more than two to play, can add the Sorceress (ranged attacks) and/or Ranger (can move multiple times and attack twice).
There are more rules than this, but let’s talk about parts of the game…
- Components: There are ten double-sided hexagonal board pieces,
each made up of smaller hexes. These can be put together to form
either a forest area or a cavern. The artwork on both these tiles and
the cards is very well done and is a bit more “bright” than some
dreary fantasy stuff I’ve seen. The cards are very nicely done,
although I wish it was easier to sort out the Orc and Elven decks. I
know that the backs are generic so that you can use other decks in the
game – but does anyone ever do that anyway? One plastic piece is
included for the paladin, but all the rest of the pieces are made of
thick plastic cards that have to be punched out – in the style of the
very popular Pirates of the Spanish Main. There are a LOT of these
pieces to be punched out, and some of them (the skulls used as life
points) are quite tiny. Others are assembled to form bases for the
Orc warriors, which is a time consuming process. I’m really not sure
how I feel about these yet – I understand the plastic allows some
incredible artwork to be shown, and they are rather sturdy; but I
still tend to enjoy plastic. The little boar tokens crack me up; but
you will most definitely need plastic bags with this game, to keep all
the little pieces from pouring out each time. One has to keep the
bases, Orcs, boards, skulls, treasure chests, and squad tokens
separate! The box is the same size as the other games in the series –
small and sturdy.
- Rules: There are twenty-one pages of full color rules, ten pages
of scenarios, and a few more pages of tips for both players.
Everything is explained clearly, with the rules for dueling on a
separate section for folks new to the system. The first scenario is
rather basic and allows players to ease into the game, which is
certainly more complicated than the prior games in the series but
still isn’t really that difficult, as long as it is taught a step at a
time. When teaching new folk, I teach the duel system first, then the
rest of the game.
- Scenarios: There are five scenarios included in the game – one in
which the Orc King must free prisoners, another with Elves attacking
an Orc camp, the third with Elves hunting for treasures in a tomb,
another with the Elves hunting down individual Orcs in a cave, and the
fifth having Orcs defending their sacred boars from the Elves. I
wouldn’t mind more scenarios (and I’m sure the internet will pop up
with more), but slight modifications allow for a lot of variety when
playing. The Elves will pretty much play a scenario straight, while
the Orcs often have the ability to bring in different combinations of
Orc bands, giving them different tactics to try out.
- Fair: Elves kick Orc butt. It’s that simple, as the massively
powerful Paladin will make mincemeat out of every Orc that comes
across him. An Orc King? – toast. A squad of Orcs? – practice time.
And if there is treasure involved, the Elf only gets more powerful,
something that will make little Orcs cry. The Orcs are fighting a
battle in which they hope that their numbers will eventually overwhelm
the Orcs. The Elves can move much easier than the Orcs, who are
forced to move around brush; but the Orcs just need to keep hitting
the Elf until a blow goes through, and then start again. When playing
the game, the experienced player should always take the Orcs; because
while I feel the game is perfectly fair, the Orcs take some learning
to use them well. The game does balance this with the “Dirty Trick”
cards, giving the Orcs cards that annoy the Elves, possibly giving
them the game. A player’s experience determines how many of these
cards they get.
- Fun Factor: Fantasy battle games are always fun, and I’m glad to
see one using the very clever Duel system. I’m personally a fan of
the Orc, who can use the “Zerg rush” factor; as they keep throwing
troops at the Elves, attempting to overwhelm them. Others seem to
enjoy playing the godlike Elves, as they go around mowing down Orcs.
Either way, the HeroCard duel system sits at the base of this game,
combined with a light tactical action sequence.
- Players: I haven’t played with anything other than two players,
as one would need expansions to use them, but I don’t really care.
This makes an excellent two-player game and can be finished in thirty
minutes (much less time than the 60-90 minute time limit on the box).
Players can add in the extra players to give the Orc player more of a
challenge, but I think the base game is good enough as is.
This is my favorite of the series so far, not just because of the fantasy theme – although it helps; and not because of the variety, although any reader of my reviews knows I love it. Rather, it’s because playing both sides feels extremely different, although the Duel system is still at the core of the game. I’m not sure how far the HeroCard system can be taken; but this game incorporates it with ease and allows players to play a quick, unique two-player fantasy game.
“Real men play board games”