Of the games I got from Gemany, Die Rückkehr der Helden was the most intriguing to me for some reason. I’m a big Magic Realm fan, or was anyway back when the amount of time & effort involved in playing the game seemed quite reasonable. However, this one has a lot of German on the bits so I wanted to give it a run-through with Kim to determine which player aids would be needed and what paste-ups I might need to make (and, of course, if it was any good or not).
The general idea is that each play plays a hero(ine), questing through the land to increase his or her own prowess until they are capable of facing down the Dark Lord. You accumulate items, experience, and money by fulfilling little sub-quests (many of which involve simply visiting some area of the board) and taking out various random adversaries that may pop up in your way. As you accumulate money, you can cash it out for more stuff, training, etc. At some point, one play will complete the “major” quest they were given at game start, which then allows them to also make a move on the Dark Lord if they wish (there are about 5 Dark Lords with different powers, discovered only when you enter his Tower). Completion of parts of the major quest also trigger the deployment of the Dark Lord’s many minions.
The good news is that the German isn’t so bad. The vast majority of the mini-quests are of the format “go to location X” or “retrieve item X and take it to location Y to receive item Z” (for a while, the game is almost a pick-up-and-deliver type game). It took us a bit, but before long we were dealing with the German fairly comfortably.
In the end, though, the game didn’t quite compel me. It seemed like there weren’t as many real decisions as one would hope – you run around the board discovering face-down tiles, picking and choosing which quest to pursue, occasionally stopping by the Bazaar to pick up equipment when you have cash. Also, as the Elf, I must admit I never really felt challenged. I racked up experience fairly quickly, and once he’s rolling three or four dice on attack he becomes very tough; none of the monsters on the board were much of a challenge.
Now, that being said, there were still some neat decisions, and some planning required which I like. The Elf is probably the least interesting character as he is so one-dimensional; all archery, all the time. The other characters have more balance between the melee, archery, and magic skills and so have some choices; in the case of the Elf, melee might as well not exist. Also, I think the game would benefit a great deal from more players; there is a reserve supply of chits with more allies, adversaries, and quests that enter the game only as existing tiles are removed, and with only 2 players you cycle those chits slowly. With 3 or 4 players more of the cool chits would come out more rapidly, and we’d see a bit more choices. There would also be more competition for tasks & items, which could only be good.
So anyway, while I wasn’t terribly impressed with the first game, I think more players and having a play under my belt will help – while it isn’t a complex game (it’s rated as a 10 and up, which is probably fair), there is a fair amount of “stuff” and it’s tough to get a handle on out of the box – I think understanding the available options right from the start will be a bonus. The game definitely has some promise; although clearly it won’t be up to Amun-Re or Domaine for the serious gamer, it’s go potential to be a fun diversion. It also might just be flat, so we’ll see after having another go. At least it’s reasonably short.