I was recently asked to try out a prototype version of the board game unPerfect Heroes: Battle Lines. I offered to play it with various members of my gaming group and also asked my digital arts students to give it a try. The game was met with enthusiasm across the board, but as with all things gaming, there were some complaints from players as well as a few gamers who just did not “feel it.”
Let me begin by describing the groups who tried out the game over the past few weeks. The first group consists of my regular gaming group. A bunch of 30 to 40-year-old guys who get together once a month when our wives decide it is time for a girl’s night out. The other group that played the prototype was about 8 of my digital art and design students at a small state university. In general, my gaming group likes card games such as Smash Up and Sentinels of the Multiverse. We play dice game such as Machi Koro and our newest favorite Cavern Tavern. The students play almost any board game they can get their hands on including classics such as Betrayal at the House on the Hill and Lords of the Waterdeep as well as newer games such as Dark Souls the board game and Star Wars Rebellion. With these player interests in mind, allow me to describe the game and our reactions to you, the reader.
unPerfect Heroes is a card game that requires the roll of dice, or if you prefer, it could be called a dice game that is affected by the stats on certain cards. As the cover says, “cards AND dice. It’s like two games in one!” You begin the game by choosing a scenario. Each scenario consists of the players trying to be the first one in line for something. The prototype came with two scenarios, racing to be the first in line for a buffet, or being the first to use a portable toilet. The gamers who played it a few times began envisioning their own scenarios, such as being the first to safety when running from a zombie horde. The scenarios are window dressing on a theme involving a family of misfits competing to be the first at whatever it is they have chosen to compete at.
The game begins with players choosing a certain character marker to represent their spot on the scenario card. It does not matter where you start on the card as your ultimate goal is to reach the top of the game board. Starting higher on the board leads to a shorter game, but overall the game is fairly quick. We consistently played the game as a two-player game, although it can be played with additional players. In the two-player game, the active player only had the other player to choose as an opponent, and that opponent would choose a bad guy to defend their “spot in line.” The defender plays a Bad Guy card and then the person trying to move forward on the game board would choose a Hero card. The Bad Guy and Hero cards each have various stats on them and special abilities that may affect the outcome of the upcoming dice rolls or bonuses on future turns. Many of these special abilities are triggered against opponents that have a certain trait such as Lazy, Gassy, and Enthusiastic. Both players can then play an assortment of additional random crap cards that also can affect the outcome of the upcoming dice rolls. These effects include things such as adding a die to the Hero’s dice roll or forcing the Hero to move fewer spaces when attacking or bribing. Speaking of attacking and bribing, the main actions that a Hero will attempt to accomplish are attacking the bad guy, bribing them, or running away. These actions are accomplished by rolling dice. Five dice are the standard roll, but the stats and powers on the various cards might increase or decrease the number of dice that the Hero gets to roll. The actual outcome of the dice rolls was a little confusing to those players, especially the digital art students, that did not have an experienced player present to walk them through how the game was played. The rule book was a bit confusing to them, and a few stated that they would have liked more actual examples of how a turn would work step by step using actual cards, sample dice rolls and the results of the player’s actions and why they did an action. Other players found it easy to comprehend, especially when they simply dove into the game and tried it.
Once a Hero rolls the dice, they compare their results to both the Hero and the Bad Guy card to decide which action is best. After the results, both players discard their played cards and any other cards in their hand they no longer want and then draw back up to five cards. Sometimes during our games, a Hero card would end up getting a better movement result by attempting a bribe instead of attacking. The variety of card interaction was a welcome feature as it kept everyone from always trying to attack the Bad Guy. Sometimes the dice would simply not allow for a successful attack. For example, the Hero may need to attack a Bad Guy with a stamina of 14, but the Hero can only count any rolls of 1 or 2 toward his attack strength. With only five dice it would not happen easily. Playing a Random Crap card that added additional dice might have helped until the Bad Guy plays a Random Crap card that took away two of the attackers dice. This constant back and forth is exactly what my gaming group craves, and even my students formed rivalries amongst themselves. Many rematches were initiated due to close game results or losing because of a last second bad roll of the dice.
There is quite a bit of strategy involved once players have played a few gamed and have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t and when to play certain types of cards. The traits that each Hero or Bad Guy have attributed to them adds to the theme, for example, the gym teacher might be strong and the bratty teenager might be gassy. Unfortunately, the traits also made the game grind to a halt. Quite often the players had to look at their opponent cards and try to decipher the small graphic that represented the traits, then they had to look up the trait symbols on the back of the rule book. Some players recognized a few traits after a couple of games were played but overall the constant glancing at each other’s cards and the symbols in the rule book was one of the biggest complaints. Another issue that developed in a few games was the extreme “luck factor” as one player described it. Some games would only take 4 or 5 turns. One game I played, ended with my character barely moving up the scenario board while the other player won by 8 or 9 points. This did not distract from my enjoyment, it simply led to many a rematch. Some other players though were turned off when things did not go their way turn after turn. Luck definitely plays a big part in this game.
Despite these issues, I felt the game is truly enjoyable with the right gaming group. A group with a good sense of humor is important. Some of the characters specials were truly unique, such as the gym teacher. When played the gym teacher made the defending player roll five dice instead and if the result was less than 20, the gym teacher automatically moved two spaces. The special ability was called “Drop ‘n Gimme 20!” and brought a smile to my face when I was able to play it for the first time. The character cards are one of the standout features of unPerfect Heros. One of the first things that the art students did, upon being asked to play the game, was to dig through the cards. They looked at the artwork while announcing the character names, and phrases, such as the waitress “it’s hard to resist her pretty face. just stay away from her breath.” Gamers who would enjoy this game need to be thick-skinned. There was an incredible amount of trash talking during the various gaming sessions. I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys a quick game that involves both dice and cards. Keep in mind that unPerfect Heros might be considered a “filler” by some gamers, but get ready to play multiple games in a row in order to settle rivalries that are sure to develop!