Thursday, 2 July 2009

HeroQuest 2 review - pt 1

The second edition of HeroQuest was launched yesterday, and, since the first edition is what I've done most of my game writing for, I immediately picked up the PDF. I've had the preview edition for about a year now, but I didn't want to write a review of it until I'd seen the final, published, version. On the other hand, since my opinion seems to be different from virtually everybody else's, I think that some commentary will be useful now that it is out. Because differing viewpoints are always a good thing.

But let's begin with the positive stuff, and get on to the differences of opinion in later posts.

Perhaps the most obvious difference from earlier editions is that HQ2 is a generic system, not wed to a specific setting (namely Glorantha). You don't need to do more than flip through the book to realise that the intention is that HQ2 will work with any setting you can imagine; it's about general rules for resolving dramatic situations, not about modelling a specific world. And that, to my mind, is a good thing. I have no idea how many people will pick up this edition when they avoided the earlier ones because they didn't fancy the setting - but I am sure there will be at least some. And because the system does work with a wide range of settings, that's a useful thing to do. The downside is that I get less of the specific stuff that I'm after, but I think that's a price worth paying for the ability to do all sorts of other things with the rules.

Of course, it's not really true that HQ2 will work beautifully with any genre imaginable; no system can do that. Any system, as a result of the way it is constructed, will favour certain game styles and genre conventions over others. In the case of HQ2, what it favours is dramatic, cinematic, often larger-than-life genres. It would be good for action films, superheroes, high fantasy, space opera, and many more besides. (It would probably be quite good for soap opera too, were one so inclined). Which isn't to say that it can't do grittier genres, since it's open enough to fit anything, but I suspect it's going to be somewhat unsatisfactory for those. Grim danger just isn't something it does well - just as some other generic systems won't do the cinematic stuff very effectively.

This isn't a criticism, since no game can be all things to all people. In fact, I'd say that HQ2 is about as generic a game as its humanly possible to construct, and that's a good thing. In this respect, then, HQ2 is a clear improvement over HQ1.

And the improvements don't end there, because once you do get a chance to properly read the rules, it becomes clear that they are chock full of advice. And much of it is very good advice, at that. The resolution system in HeroQuest was always a little different from that of most other RPGs, so the addition of even more examples than in the previous edition (which had quite a few) is certainly a welcome feature.

A particularly significant change, in terms of the nuts-and-bolts of the system is the new Extended Contest system. In previous editions, this worked by a bidding mechanism, which, in my experience, never really worked well. In its place we have a much simpler and easier-to-grasp system that relies on a series of simple contests to generate a final outcome. This really is a big improvement, and seems to have been successful the few times I've managed to try it. Moreover, the chapter explaining contest resolution is the biggest in the book, being chock full of varying ways the system can be used, and examples of how to do so. This is, from my perspective, pretty neat stuff. If I used nothing else from this book, I'd use that.

But, aside from a nice rule on p. 57 ("Catch-ups"), is about as far as the improvements over earlier editions go. Still, it's not a bad start, and many of the good features of the earlier editions, such as the scaling, remain more or less intact. It's still a fairly good system, but... well, we'll get to "but..." in Part Two.

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