HeroQuest was the boardgame that started it all for so many of us.
It was published in 1989 by Milton Bradley and Games Workshop, and in all the significant ways it defined the genre of accessible dungeon-crawl adventure games for kids. It remains beloved to this day, despite being out of print for decades and original versions fetching absurd prices on eBay.
Fueled by some combination of nostalgia and market research, game giant Hasbro have launched a crowdfunding campaign for a new release of the board game, but only for US and Canadian backers. It has been launched on Hasbro’s own crowdfunding platform – HasbroPulse – with the arguably modest target of $1 million in pledges.
Stretch goals which include new miniatures, more dice and an entire new QuestBook designed by original designer Stephen Baker, will all be unlocked at $2 million.
Right now, with a month and a half to go, more than $1.1 million has already been committed, so it is safe to say that this game will smash the crowdfunding targets, and likely see mass production worldwide. For those of us outside North America, we can anticipate the game on store shelves in time for Christmas 2021.
The genre has evolved significantly since 1989, and whilst I treasure the memories of late night sessions of HeroQuest with friends (and using the same minatures later for innumerable D&D adventures), I don’t think the original mechanics are going to stand up to the gamer market by modern standards. The 2012 game Mice and Mystics – a dungeon-crawler targeted at 7 year olds and frankly with a more engaging and age-appropriate theme – shares many of the design mechanics, but exceeds them in fun and memorable ways. The spiritual successor to Mice and Mystics – Stuffed Fables – was released by Plaid Hat in 2018, and is a quantum leap in terms of innovation and modern gameplay.
At the other end of the heavy cardboard spectrum, it would be tough to market the rebooted HeroQuest to a gamer audience that has since embraced the complexity and depth of Gloomhaven, the number one ranked boardgame (boardgame franchise?) worldwide with no signs of slippage in popularity.
But of course, this is not the target audience of the HeroQuest reboot. This is a sweet nostalgia hit, and given that it funded in less than 48 hours, it is a hit that will not be denied. HeroQuest was the inspiration and touchstone behind all of the dungeon-crawling games that have succeeded it, for designers and players alike.
And for me as well. I still do room reveals in tabletop roleplaying games exactly how I did 30 years ago playing as Zargon the Evil Sorcerer. The tension and suspense of opening a dungeon door is as thrilling to me now as it was then.
So the decision to remain as close as possible to the original game is a double-edged broadsword. There are welcome changes to the depiction of the genders of heroes and some of the monsters, and some of the Games Workshop lore has been removed for licencing reasons, but on first blush the mechanics and even the card art are deeply faithful to the fan base.
And while this will satisfy us Gen-Xers with fond memories, it is unlikely to hold up on its own merits against its contemporaries in the tabletop genre that have long passed it by on the trial it blazed.