Game Spotlights

Published: April 15, 2024

Adam Knight

Heroscape: Battle of Legends Makes Its Comeback

When it comes to fantasy duels, Spiderman vs. Grimnak, an orc riding an armored T-Rex, must surely have played out in a thousand fever dreams. In reality, the opportunity to play out this epic clash exists only with Heroscape, a miracle of tactical combat and licensing prowess that seems like it shouldn’t exist. Somehow, someway, it does, and with a new set releasing this fall, it’s time to take a look at how you can re-enact the wildest ideas of your younger (or current? We don’t judge.) self.

What is a Heroscape, exactly?

The bloodless description on the box labels Heroscape (Stephen Baker, Rob Daviau, Craig Van Ness) as an “expandable turn-based miniature wargaming system”. I prefer to call it “hexagonal chaos tactics”.

Heroscape does share some traits with its more mature skirmish brothers like Warhammer 40k or Combat Commander, like a customizable grid battlefield, units with specific statistics, and keywords galore. But, and this is a big one, Heroscape largely kills its complexity there. You won’t be building miniatures, buying specific codexes, or paging through a rulebook to follow specific artillery strike steps. In fact, Heroscape divides its play into two versions: a simpler variant that strips keywords for younger players, making matches a slugfest, and the ‘master’ ruleset, which throws in all the spice once players are familiar. Thishsfigcol4a.webp (900×900) might not seem like a big deal, but when a game comes with your kiddo’s favorite superheroes and dinosaurs, providing an easy way to jump in is a brilliant move.

Once you’ve picked your style, you’ll open one of the scenario books, build a map from the stackable, plastic, and pre-painted terrain, and decide on the match goals. Maybe it’s taking spots and holding them, nuking the opposing team, protecting a character, or something different: variety here is key, and as you’ll usually pick the scenario prior to drafting your army, you’ll be able to customize your force to suit.

Did I say draft?

Yep. In Heroscape, much like in the Mythic Battles series, you and your opponent(s) will alternate snapping up wild characters like an American GI wielding a katana, a warrior angel, or some straight up mummies. Each one carries a point value, so you’ll fill up your force to the agreed upon limit, trying to find synergies while blocking your opponent from the same. After you get a few matches under your belt, the drafting element becomes a game of counters in and of itself.

Once teams are decided and deployed, play swings in rounds. There’s no tricky decks to shuffle or hands to manage. Instead, each player decides which three units you’ll be activating in a round by placing five markers, three of which with ascending numbers tallying the order of activation and two dummy ones. A little bit of bluffing, a lot of strategy, without taking much time. Deciding whether to send your dragon in first to guarantee a hit, or hold its move till the end in hopes it could wreak mass devastation is a tricky choice, especially when, you know, Thanos might just smack your fire lizard down early.

When the monsters do meet, combat is a smooth, easy affair: opposing dice rolls pit skulls against shields, and any skulls remaining deal damage. Keywords tweak things here and there, but that’s largely it. No convoluted re-rolls, splits between hitting and wounding, or symbol medleys to decipher. The dice fly and the fight’s done, onto the next.

Heroscape doesn’t abstract everything in its fantasy world: shoving a character off a cliff can inflict falling damage, for example, ensuring tactics have a place beyond just getting the most dice onto the table. That said, you won’t deal with measurements, what-you-see-is-what-you-get miniature abilities, and long playtimes. Line of sight is determined by literally putting your eye next to your figure’s head and deciding whether you can see your target, no fiddling with cover systems or imaginary lines.

hstcol45a.webp (900×900)Even with setup, your Heroscape matches should be wrapped in under a couple hours, making it an easy game night pick. With four players, you can dive into team-based scenarios or whacky free-for-alls, with the objectives reducing the king-making so often apparent in games like these.

All that said, what makes Heroscape so accessible might make it less appealing for those searching for a deep, thorough game system. Anything that has Venom dueling a viking warrior stretches any veneer of realism. The minis come pre-assembled and, often, pre-painted, making Heroscape a great choice for those less interested in the hobby element of miniatures wargaming. Lastly, it’s also been in and out of print, though Noble Knight is, as ever, a great resource here.

But then, there’s a reason you’re reading this piece now.

Heroscape is coming back.

Getting Started With Heroscape

After a roundabout rights circus, the Heroscape license wound up with Renegade Games, who are releasing a new ‘master set’, the Age of Annihilation, this fall. Master sets, in Heroscape parlance, are like the King Size candy bars of skirmish boardgaming. We’re talking terrain, a collection of mix-and-match units, and all the rules, scenarios, and dice to support them. If you’re looking to venture into Heroscape, you or someone else in your gaming group’s going to want to grab one of these.

Now, Heroscape’s existed since 2004, and at stores like Noble Knight, which purvey in the harder-to-find wares, including those that don’t always come right off a manufacturer’s shipping crate, you can find earlier master sets. The original, Rise of the Valkyrie, does indeed contain a valkyrie, along with our t-rex riding orc. There’s 28 other units and 10 unique scenarios that can be remixed any number of different ways, giving you some very substantial bang for your buck. As with most skirmish systems, I’d recommend starting with Rise of the Valkyrie or one of the other master sets and getting your feet wet there beforeheroscapeterraincoll46a.webp (900×900) looking into smaller expansions.

Once you’ve had a taste, you can expand your interdimensional army ahead of Renegade’s new release through figure and terrain collections. These vary in price and content, but offer loads of figures and the map-building hexes. You can take those—again, pre-painted and with no assembly, so right from the box to the battlefield—and launch into an almost endless number of fan-made scenarios, modes, and more all a quick Internet search away.

Best part? Renegade’s ensuring all the previous content is compatible with all the existing Heroscape goodness. There’s no versioning, no making your favorite unit obsolete. That’s right: the Gorillinators are canon and always will be.

So to get your Heroscape adventure going, just pick a master set that fits your time and budget, and get to battling.

Also, for those who do like painting minis, be aware Renegade is offering Age of Annihilation in two editions. The premium painted version comes, er, painted, so when those come around, make sure you’re grabbing gray if that’s what you prefer.

Games Like Heroscape

Heroscape belongs to the crowded miniature wargaming genre, chock full of options if the idea of one on one (or two on two) tactical battles appeals. If, say, you like the idea of Heroscape’s wild collection of characters, Malifaux (Matt Carter, Mason Crawford, Aaron Darland, Kyle Rowan), with its gothic horror, western, and steampunk vibes is worth a look. You’ll have to build and paint these minis and scrounge up some terrain, but you’ll gain story-driven missions and eclectic teams that might pit a mystical actress against a nightmare version of Little Bo Peep.

Or you could dive full into the biggest miniature wargaming experience out there with Warhammer, either in its dystopian future 40k version or the recently heroscape.webp (900×900)revamped Age of Sigmar fantasy setting. Both offer starter sets to get you going, with battles getting to massive sizes, albeit with added helpings of complexity and miniature hobby elements.

If the figures aren’t a big draw, though, there’s opportunities to pitch your wits against a friend or family member with cards alone. Dueling games like Level 99’s Sakura Arms (Bakafire) and Exceed (D. Brad Talton Jr.) provide a varied cast with the tense timing decisions Heroscape offers, while Summoner Wars (Colby Dauch) is played on a tactical grid, with factions and deck-building options to offer deep strategy without all the hobby work.

All these options are just scratching the surface of what is one of tabletop gaming’s biggest genres. Take a little time, do some digging, and you’re bound to find a great time for you and your group.

Marvel, Monsters, and much, much more

Heroscape, with its medley of accessible skirmish game ideas, ability to throw dragons and the Hulk onto the same battlefield, and replayable bang for its buck is a throwback to a more whimsical tabletop era, one very much worth visiting today.mlb53881.webp (900×900)

And, with Renegade’s re-release, tomorrow.