Radio Review #61 – Hero Brigade

 

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(2014 – Game Salute , Zucchini People Games)

 

“It might sound absurd, but don’t be naive….even heroes have the right to bleed….”

 

The superhero theme has become something of a regular ingredient within the deck-building genre of late. A theme that was once, for the most part, a rare if not vacant subject material on the shelf, has now seen Marvel: Legendary, DC Deckbuilding, Heroes Of Metro City, and Marvel Dice Masters (which of the latter I still consider a deck-builder), all released in just the last couple of years. Designer Nicholas Yu (who is also the head of newly formed Zucchini People Games), will release his first game, entitled Hero Brigade. A game that incorporates the superhero theme and deck building mechanic, while using some of elements recently found in such titles as Pixel Tactics and Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game. While its base mechanics is that of deck-building, the way in which cards are played and damage is dealt makes it a surprisingly intriguing game. One that is quite unique from all of the previously mentioned superhero deck builders.

Hero Brigade is a two-player superhero card battle game in which players will take on the role of either the Hero Brigade or the villainous Vile Legion. Both players start out with a base deck of cards representing their specific side. Cards in a player’s deck not only represent the actions and attacks they can perform, but also symbolize the player’s overall health amount. Therefore, if a player ever runs out of cards in his deck, he has been defeated. Players will attempt to add more cards to their decks by taking actions that will allow them to draw from a common resource pool of cards in the middle of the play area. Each card has multiple uses depending on how it is played from a player’s hand and where it is placed in the play area, which adds a wealth of depth and variety to the game. When a particular card is defeated, it will also reference how many cards must be destroyed from a players deck. Players will continue to battle back and forth until a player has either run out of cards (health) or the resource deck has been extinguished.

 

 

 

Components:

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– Hero cards (blue border)

 

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– Villain cards (red border)

 

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– Resource cards (green border)

 

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– Deck Holders

 

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– Damage markers

 

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– Start Player marker & Special Counters

 

 

 

Setup:

At the beginning of the game, players will choose to either control the Hero Brigade or the Vile Legion, each taking the base deck corresponding to their side. All base Hero Brigade cards have a blue background surrounding the title of the cards, while all base Vile Legion cards have a red background. Each player will shuffle their individual decks and create a personal draw pile out of each.

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The remaining green bordered cards (Resource cards) are shuffled together to create the Resource draw deck. This deck is placed into the middle of the central play area, within easy reach of both players. These are the cards that players will be able to add to their own personal decks throughout the game. Four cards are draw from this deck and placed face up near the draw deck in the central playing area. This is considered the Resource Pool.

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All remaining components, including Damage markers, the Start Player marker, and Special Counters are placed in their designated positions in the play area. At the end of this simple setup, the play area should look something like this:

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Gameplay:

Hero Brigade is played over the course of various Rounds until one of the end-game Victory Conditions has been met. A player’s play area consists of a front row and a support row (as seen below), where the player’s characters can be played. Player’s will attempt to use these areas to battle against their opponent, attempting to clear out the other player’s area.

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A Round of Hero Brigade consists of four different phases, played in the following order; the Draw Phase, the Recruit Phase, the Battle Phase, and the Cleanup Phase. Let’s take a look at each and how they are resolved:

 

 

The Draw Phase:

There are two different steps taken during the Draw Phase. To start, four cards are drawn from the Resource Deck and placed face up (because this was done during setup, it will not happen at the beginning of the first Round, however will be performed after each of the following Rounds).

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Then each player will draw four cards from their personal player decks to create a new hand for the Round. As with any deck building game, there will come a time when the player runs out of cards in his draw pile, in which he will need to reshuffle his discard pile to create a new draw pile. However, in Hero Brigade, having to take this action comes with a price. Anytime that a player has to reshuffle his discard pile to create a new draw pile, he will be required to draw the top card off of the newly constructed draw pile and remove it from the game.

 

 

The Recruit Phase:

Players will then take a series of alternating turns playing cards from their hand either by placing them in empty, available spots in their front or support rows, or by resolving the “play” ability on the card itself. Each card has multiple abilities depending on where the card is resolved from. For instance, Bert has 3 separate abilities, depending on whether he is resolved from the front row, the support row, or resolved directly from his player’s hand (his “play” ability).

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When resolving from the front row, Bert delivers a Clobber attack, which deals 2 damage to a front row target. He also resolves Taunt, which will require the opposing player to make a retaliation attack with the character that Bert targeted his attack during this turn. This limit’s the opposing player’s strategy, essentially forcing him to attack the characters you want him to.

When resolving from the Support row, Bert delivers a Rock attack, in which he could deal 2 damage to any target. He also has the Eager ability when in the support row, which will allow him to move from this current support row, and into the front row. While in the front and support rows, Bert has an +1 Armor ability that will reduce any damage dealt to him with an attack by 1.

Bert can be play directly from the player’s hand, thus resolving his play ability. Bert can give Protection in this way, which means that, when played, he will reduce all damage to a support row target during the next Fight Phase, Alternatively, he could use this ability to draw one of the face up Resource cards and add it to his discard pile.

 

On a player’s turn, they can choose to resolve one card, and can either choose to place it in their front row or support row (if the card contains a front/support row ability), or he can choose to resolve it directly from his hand, resolving its “play” ability. Most of the cards can be separated into Character cards and Enhancement cards. Each player has 3 available front row spaces, and then beneath those, 2 available support rows spaces in which to place their Character cards. When a player chooses to place a Character card into the front or support row sections of their play area, the card will always go into the leftmost space of that corresponding row.

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Enhancement cards are different than Character cards in that are not placed into the front or support rows by themselves. Instead, they are “attached” to other Character cards, and will enhance that cards ability. Enhancement cards can be found in the Resource deck.

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For instance, the Alien Ship card is an Enhancement, and can either be played from a player’s hand in order to attach to another Character card, or it can be resolved directly for its “play” ability. The Alien Ship can be attached to an Alien type character, which will allow that character to deal an additional damage when it attacks. Alternatively, the player can choose to resolve the Alien Ship directly from his hand, and will immediately deal 5 damage to an Alien type character.

 

The top left corner of each card references the character’s type. A particular type of card can be boosted and affected by other card effects and Enhancement cards. There are eight different characteristic types, and many of the cards will contain multiple types. Types range from Alien, Animal, Fighter, Magic, Mutant, Psychic, Science, and Normal. When placing cards into the front and support rows, the player can not recruit a Character that is already included in his play area. For example, the player’s front and support rows can never contain two copies of Bert at the same time, even though his deck contains multiple copies. All “normal” type Characters however, can be present in the play area at the same time, as well as multiple copies of the same Enhancement card (though multiple copies of the same Enhancement card can not be attached to the same individual Character card).

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Taking a look at Bert again, we can see that he has two different characteristic types; Alien and Science. This means that the Alien Ship could be used as an attachment on Bert. It could also be used by the opponent to deal 5 damage to Bert.

Taking a look to the right of Bert, we see the villainous Henchman. The Henchman has a Normal characteristic type, which means that multiple Henchmen can be in the Villain player’s front and support rows at any given time, unlike Bert.

 

 

 

Gain Ability

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The Secret Weakness card is not an Enhancement or a Character, and does not have a “play” ability on it. Instead it is considered a card with the “Gain” ability. As of the game’s release, it is the only card type in the game that includes this ability, though I’m sure we will see more with future expansions. Its Gain ability is immediately triggered when the player “gains” the card from the Resource area. Taking a look at this card, its gain ability states that when it is gained by a player from the Resource area, that player will immediately place it into his opponent’s discard pile. While it does add another card to the opponent’s deck, it is completely useless and has no abilities going forward when drawn by that player. It is essentially what it states, a “weakness”.

 

 

The Battle Phase:

Players will continue to alternately play one card at a time until either both players have passed, or both players no longer have any cards in their hand. Once this occurs, the Round’s battle between the two side’s play areas will begin. It is important for a player to keep his play area stocked with characters. If at any time, the player has an empty play area (all characters have been defeated), that player will lose the game. Beginning with the start player, players will take turns resolving one card from their play area and using it to attack. If a player has a card in the play area, he is required to resolve it at some point before the Battle Phase is completed. When resolving an attack with a Character, the player will use the effect listed on the card according to its placement in the play area. For instance, a card in the front row will resolve all front row effects when resolving an attacking, whilst ignoring any support row effects listed. Each effect resolves separately, therefore some characters will be able to attack multiple opposing characters on the same turn.

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After a Character resolves its attack, that Character’s card is placed sideways (considered “disabled”) to show that is can not be used again until the next Round’s Battle Phase. The Round will not end until all Characters have either been defeated by the opposing player, or have been disabled from resolving attacks. When a Character is targeted by an attack, it is possible that it will take damage. Each Character has two separate icons in the top right corner of the card. The heart-shaped icon represents the amount of Health that the Character has, while the diamond-shaped icon represents the number of cards the player will have to draw from his deck and banish from the game if this particular Character is defeated.

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For instance, the Vile Legion player decides to attack with his Chinese Calculus character. Chinese Calculus is currently in the player’s support row, thus he can deal 1 damage to every Character in in a single Row. He targets the Hero Brigade player’s front row, which contains Dr. Cat and Johnny Pyro.

 

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After Chinese Calculus has declared his attack, he will be turned sideways and is now disabled. He will deal 1 damage to both Dr. Cat and Johnny Pyro. Johnny Pyro has 6 Health, therefore he takes a damage but is not yet defeated. Dr. Cat however, already had 1 damage on him and only has a base Health of 2. Therefore, this 2nd damage would defeat him. As referenced on his card by the diamond-shaped icon, when Dr. Cat is defeated, the Hero Brigade player must draw the top 3 cards off of his draw pile and remove them from the game. This is the penalty for allowing Dr. Cat’s defeat.

Dr Cat is then placed into the player’s discard pile and may return later in the game, however the player has lost 3 cards from his deck, thus he now how less Health and could have potentially lost some powerful Characters, Enhancements and abilities to his team because of these lost cards. Remember that once a player can no longer draw a full amount of cards from his draw pile, he loses.

 

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Normally, Chinese Calculus would have been able to attack all three Characters in the front row with his support row attack, however there were only two cards in this row. In this case, after attacking the other two Characters, the attack dealt to the empty space goes unused. However, it is important to note that if you are resolving a row attack where there are no cards in the entire row, the opponent will be forced to remove cards from his draw pile equal to the number of damage you would have done for each space in that row.

For instance, in the previous example, if Chinese Calculus were to have targeted the front row with his Ki Blast (support row attack), but there were no cards in the Hero Brigade player’s front row, the Hero Brigade player would have had to draw 3 cards off of his draw deck (Chinese Calculus does 1 damage to each space in the row) and would have to remove these cards from the game. So it is important to attempt to keep at least 1 Character in both rows, when possible.

 

 

The Cleanup Phase:

After all cards have either been disabled or defeated in the play areas, both players will place any remaining cards in their hand into their discard piles. Any face-up Resource cards still available at the end of a Round are also discarded, however these cards are removed from the game. Players will then turn all disabled Character cards to their normal, active side in preparation for the new Round, and the start player maker is passed to the opposing player.

 

 

 

End-Game Conditions:

There are three ways in which a game of Hero Brigade can end, some of which we’ve already discussed. The game will end if a player’s play area is completely empty at the end of the Battle Phase during a Round. The game will also end of either player can not draw back up to four cards during their Draw Phase. If there are less than 4 cards remaining in the Resource Deck after the Draw Phase, the game will end after the completion of that Round.

While the winner is easily determined as the opposing player who did not run out of cards in his play area or his player deck, if the game ends because of the expiring Resource deck, then player will total up the diamond-shape values on their cards currently in their play area. The player with the highest total is the winner.

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Thoughts:

Hero Brigade introduces some unique and interesting ideas and concepts. Primarily in how damage is dealt during the game. With a majority of card battle games (the most popular example being Magic: The Gathering), damage is done directly to a player’s overall health. Hero Brigade takes a different approach however, in that players are attempting to damage the other player’s draw deck as a whole. This concept was also recently used in Pathfinder the Adventure Card Game, as the size of a player’s deck also related to his character’s overall health, but with Hero Brigade being a duel battle game as opposed to a cooperative one, it adds a bit more decision making in what to add to a deck, and how to use those cards once they are in there. The damage done to an overall health meter versus the mechanic of having damage dealt to the actual deck itself may not seem like a huge difference at first, but it opens up a wide variety of strategy and depth. Considering the victory conditions relate to running out of cards in a deck, player’s must pay attention to keeping this thing full. It will force players to take card actions that allow them to draw more cards into their decks from the resource pool, but even more intriguing is deciding which cards to place out in the play area at which time.

For the most part, the more powerful, damage dealing character cards are also the ones that when defeated, will require the owning player to remove a larger quantity of cards from the game from his draw deck. So, now comes the question. Do you place that Character into the play area early on in the game that can easily wipe out an opponent’s entire front row, but at the same time if it is defeated itself, forces you to lose 4-5 cards from your deck? It’s an interesting decision, and one that elevates Hero Brigade from a run-of-the-mill superhero deck-building game, and places it amongst some of the more creative designs in 2014.

Additionally, each card provides multiple options in how they can be used (seen similarly in the way character cards work in Pixel Tactics), whether it be attacking from the front row, support row, or played directly from a player’s hand. This not only allows players a bit more flexibility in forming a strategy of how and where to play cards from their hand, but it also reduces the amount of luck from card draw in the game. Even though a player only has four cards in their hand each turn, they may really have over 8-12 various ways in which they can use those cards. Adding even more depth to an already strategically stacked game.

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this one. The deck-building genre has seen a plethora of releases in the last few years, and with each new release it seems harder and harder for these designs to stand out amongst the best the genre already has to offer. Hero Brigade however, does enough differently and does those things well enough in order to stay on the community’s radar for some time.

 

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