1-4 players, Competitive/Solo Mode, 4X Style
Designer: Scott Almes
Artwork: Chad Hoverter
Publisher: Gamelyn Games
Overview of Gameplay
Heroes of Land, Air and Sea will task you with performing the universal four X’s in gaming. Explore, Exterminate, Exploit and Expand in no particular order. So what that all means is that you and other players will be building up an empire in different ways in hopes of garnering the most victory points by the end of the game. So let’s talk about those seductive 4 X’s for a bit for those of you who are not familiar with them. Also whenever any one of these gets attained in the game, each player gets one more round of play and then the game ends.
When the game is first setup there are a plethora of exploration tokens placed all over the board facedown. When any unit moves and stops its movement on a tile with a token it gets flipped and that player gets whatever good (or bad) thing is displayed. Once all the tiles on the board are flipped the Explore end game aspect is triggered.
Next is Exterminate. This one just requires a players main capital building to be destroyed. So while you are out exploring around if you get a wild hair to attack another player AND can drive your way deep into their stating island to lay siege to their capital AND destroy it, there is another end game trigger.
Exploit is probably the most simple of them all. Just build all three of your towers on the board and boom there is another end game trigger. And I say simple but it’s not as simple as just plopping down 3 towers. For one starting out you can only build one tower until you upgrade your capital city then you can build another etc etc. So it does take some time to get all these babies out there, plus you can only build one tower on your main island (two towers in a 2 player game).
And lastly is the Expand X. This one requires you to get all your serfs (workers) and warriors out on the board. So each of the four X’s sound simple enough but each one is balanced to take time and resources in some way, shape or form. Managing how you choose to play is half the fun of the game and interacting with others trying to do the same is the other half. Once one of the end game triggers has been met and everyone has 1 last turn then each player calculates up their overall VP’s based mostly around the stuff they have upgraded and built. Now you would think that attacks and trying for the Exterminate end game would be less favorable but you do get a point for initiating attacks and for playing battle cards during attacks as well.
So on your turn you will be placing a token on a specific spot on your player board to take an action such as recruiting more units or building more buildings. There are two different sets of actions, the batch that allows OTHER players to also take the SAME action you just did if they have an available serf in their capital. And the set of actions that allow YOU to take another action from that set if YOU have a available serf. The first set of actions primarily revolve around your economy, gaining units, buildings, resources, spells etc. The second set of actions primarily focuses on movement (which sometimes can lead to battles) and casting spells. So it’s an interesting dynamic of what actions you should take vs what others take that you might be able to take as well IF you have available serfs. You have to make sure to manage wisely.
This game is super glorious in the component category. Each of the four different characters out of the box (Humans, Elves, Dwarves and Orcs) comes with their own player board that is thick and durable with lots of color. Added to that are the insane amount of miniatures that are all unique from one another and colored differently to easily differentiate them on the board. The cards have a nice finish to them and feel durable and premium. And on top of all that there are these really cool cardboard buildings that you have to assemble out of the box. Now personally I love these things. They give the game an amazing table presence and the way you add another piece to the capital building when you upgrade it is just awesome. That said they are decently durable BUT I don’t trust them to last forever. Right now I have them bagged up based on faction into some good sized bags. Some people just toss them all into the box on top of the other stuff. Either way I do get the impression they will get damaged.
The game board itself looks nice and it’s huge! It’s super colorful and easy to understand the different areas. However as big as it is I have still had issues fitting all the maximum amount of minis on some zones. Each zone can hold a maximum of 5 miniatures so when you are moving an army around or doing battle with another, some zones will be overflowing with units. On top of that if you have a tower built on that zone, well you have even less space. My biggest gripe component-wise seems pretty inconsequential, but it’s the edges of the gameboard. All four sides of the main board are not wrapped, it looks as though they just cut the edges off and went with it. This concerns me as this will cause the edges of the board to fray much easier over time and not only that but it’s just not as nice looking.
Overall though amazing production and incredible table presence once everything is set up. So much that I often forget the minor issues I have seen.
The box is very huge and honestly it needs to be to hold everything once assembled. There are plastic holders for the miniatures that work pretty well that also hold the cards. You can bag up the few tokens and lay the game board on the bottom of the box and then set all the constructed buildings on top of everything or bag them up if you desire. Either way I had little trouble fitting everything inside the box. Also the box art and colors are fantastic. The game really stands out on my shelf always beckoning me to unleash it.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Another win for this game. As I mentioned above the box just screams with the art and colors. The different factions all look outstanding between the mini sculpts and the player boards adorned with the imagery you would expect from the races involved. All the constructed towers and capital buildings and flying machines and boats for each race is different as well. Well the capitals and towers are all designed the same, just have different colors and art on them. Now the boats and flying machines are all completely different designs.
The theme itself is your pretty basic and standard fantasy theme. There is some flavor text on the hero cards and in the manual but for the most part you won’t be focusing on that while playing the game. I don’t think this really detracts from the game at all but it would have been nice to have an original story or perhaps even a solo campaign that involves all of the races in some way.
I won’t deny this game took me some time to learn. The rulebook isn’t terrible and it’s actually super easy to reference as the pages are oversized and sections are color coded to allow easy findings. Personally I think they went a little too far with the battle mechanics. They made fighting too complex to the point where it not only confuses players with the need to reference the manual but also slows the game down considerably. Otherwise the game runs at a smooth pace with little downtime to be had. But when a battle starts each player needs to figure out what the strength of each piece involved is, add those up. Then decide if they want to play a battle card, add those totals together. THEN play a tactics card that possibly can further add to their strength. It’s not something that is super difficult after you’ve done it multiple times but first time players are going to be struggling a bit.
Most everything you need to know concerning most of the rest of the game is listed on the individual players boards such as the cost of each unit and building so that’s super handy once you understand what it all means. There is also a large reference sheet that lists what each of the exploration tokens means on one side and then a turn structure on the other side. You will for sure want to keep that handy as you play as you will be referencing it often.
Table Talk/Fun Factor
There is no doubt that this is a fun game. It’s exciting building up your empire while also skirting the lines between your border and the other players. Not knowing whether they are going to attack or if they just want to be left alone. The thing is you really need to get out there off your starting island if you hope to win. Those precious resources and exploration tokens lay in wait on other islands ripe for the plucking. Or I mean you COULD just turtle up and recruit all your units onto your own island but then you would be missing out on those glorious end game VP’s by not building more towers (only one on your main island unless playing two player).
The bottom line is there are many ways to play this game and honestly none of them are wrong if you are having fun. Even on your turn other players can also perform that same action as long as they have a serf to pay for it. So lots of users will stay engaged on every turn not only for those extra actions but to keep an eye on their own borders for any possible build-up of military….
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
So the game can be played solo and even has a dedicated solo mode that I have played. This isn’t some tacked on solo mode either. There is a deck of solo mode A.I. cards that are used and even a different side of the player board. The rules are changed drastically for the solo AI player and let me tell you it is a challenging game! The only gripe I had with the solo mode was the enemy movement was pretty confusing at times, usually when it came to them utilizing the air or ship vessels. Other than that I had a blast playing the solo mode and am still working my way through each new game with a different race to test out their differences.
In a two player game there are a couple minor differences such as the ability to build two towers on your starting island rather than one. The other is that one of the 4 starting islands on the board is not used at all and as such cannot be moved to. I really liked this actually and enjoyed the 2 player game a lot because of it. This gives each player their own starting island PLUS one more free for all island that battles could be waged at or even a good staging point for invasion…..
The three player game is much the same with one extra open island that anyone can jump on and harvest those precious exploration tokens or toss up a tower on. And if you are wanting a longer, more epic game then the 4 player mode would work for you. Now in a 4 player game there are no “free” open islands. All 4 players are taking up all the land on the board so ANY expansion to another island will likely be met with resistance. Personally I like this as it creates an immense amount of player interaction but for those of you who don’t like the in your face battles then this might not be for you. Although personally I would recommend it.
The Fuzzy Llama Silver Seal of Distinction
Positive Final Thoughts
If you have been looking for a 4X style game then look no further. I believe this game encompasses everything that a good 4X game should and it does it well. The colors, art and components are all great and the table presence is outstanding, one of the best that I have seen actually. There are so many routes you can take to win and methods you can utilize. Even if you are not playing to win (I never do) you will have a great time just managing and upgrading your empire.
Negative Final Thoughts
The game can run LONG with higher player counts especially if you are playing with new players. Teaching it can be a chore as there are many different aspects to learn and ways to win so this can be confusing starting out. The battling is overwrought and I think would be more fun if toned down a bit. The one main component miss was not wrapping the edges of the game board to prevent fraying.