In 2015 I was asked to write a column for new magazine about Tabletop Gaming. The column was to take a look at a historic board game each issue and so I was delighted to accept. We settled on the title "Tabletop Time Machine" and I continue to contribute to the magazine every issue. I wanted to choose something very special for the first edition and I wanted something that modern board gamers would identify with so I chose one of my all time favourites, HeroQuest!
By the 1980's Fantasy Role Play Games with their tomes of rules and complex combat systems had created a barrier for new players. Milton Bradley (MB Games) was the number one name in family gaming at the time and in partnership with Games Workshop they created a board game that would smash through this barrier and make fantasy role play gaming for everyone.
HeroQuest was the brainchild of Stephen Baker, an employee of Milton Bradley. He kept the rules simple and players could only choose from four predefined characters; Barbarian, Dwarf, Wizard or Elf. This eliminated the need for a character creation system and allowed players to get involved quickly. Players were then guided through each quest by a Games Master who revealed the dungeon and its monsters one room at a time, using the miniatures and props supplied with the game.
HeroQuest was successful but short lived, the managing director of Games Workshop at the time was Bryan Ansell, founder of Asgard Miniatures and inventor of a game called Warhammer Fantasy Battle. In 1991 Ansell bought Games Workshop from its owners Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone and from that point on Games Workshop focused entirely on the Warhammer product. HeroQuest was actually set in the Warhammer world but the only reason you would ever know this is from a map printed on the back of the “Return of the Witch Lord” expansion pack.
As a product HeroQuest was extremely well presented with fantastic artwork throughout by Games Workshop artists Gary Chalk and Les Edwards. The dungeon furniture and miniatures were detailed and helped to create a believable world leading to HeroQuest winning an Origins Award for “Best Graphic Presentation of a Boardgame of 1991”. The game continued to have some support through several expansion packs and each brought more miniatures, overlaid room tiles, and a whole new book of quests. Even with a static board design, these expansion packs and the versatile layout of the rooms meant that playing HeroQuest always felt like you were exploring a new dungeon.
The fact that HeroQuest was a board game rather than a role play game didn't stop the Game Master from being creative, there was an official “Adventure Design kit” available for creating your own campaigns and the initial quest book came with a blank template to photocopy. The game was officially expanded to more traditional role play style later when Milton Bradley brought out their sequel Advanced HeroQuest.
HeroQuest is still popular today with both players and collectors meaning very high prices are paid for second hand copies and expansion packs. There is also an “unofficial” 25th anniversary edition launching soon from Gamezone. HeroQuest's popularity today is justified; it provided its players with a fantasy adventure and a slowly revealed environment to explore, its world was inhabited by dangerous foes but full of treasure, best of all it's a cooperative game that encourages us to work together and reap the rewards of friendship both in and out of the game.
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