Here to Slay (Unstable Games, 2020)

Date played: November 27, 2020

Basic details: 2-6 players; 15-90 minutes; competitive

Gist of the game: You’re an adventurer, trying to bring heroes into your fold, fight monsters, and avoid being thwarted by your opponents. The first player to slay 3 monsters or build an adventure party with 6 classes of heroes wins.

To start the game, each player takes a party leader card (and because I pledged embarrassing amounts of money on Kickstarter, playmat, meeples, unicorn dice, and acrylic standee!). Each player receives 5 cards and a draw deck is formed. Three monsters are placed face up and the remaining monster cards form the monster deck.

On each turn, players receive 3 action tokens to spend (but cannot be rolled over across turns). There are three one-action-point options: drawing a card from the main deck; playing a hero, magic, or item card from the player’s hand (if a hero is played, the player may roll to use the hero’s effect immediately); and rolling two dice to play the hero’s effect. Players cannot use the same hero’s effect twice, even if the first roll was unsuccessful. For 2 action points, players can attack a monster, and for 3 action points a player can discard their entire hand and draw a new hand of 5 cards. Turns end when players are out of action points or choose not to spend additional action points.

Hero cards are played into players’ parties, and there is no limit on the number of heroes in a party. Item cards are played onto a hero. Positive effects can be provided to a player’s own heroes while negative effects can be played on opponent’s heroes. That is, you can equip another player’s hero with an item. Magic cards have a one-time effect and are then discarded immediately. Modifier cards can be used any time a player rolls the dice to manipulate the outcome of the dice roll. Modifier cards are discarded once they are played. Players can also modify opponent’s dice rolls. Players can play any number of modifiers at a time, and multiple players can modify a particular dice roll. Challenge cards are used to try to stop a player’s opponents from playing a hero, item, or magic card. When a player challenges another, each player rolls 2 dice. If the challenger wins, the other player must immediately discard the card they were trying to play. If the challengee wins, they play their card as normal. Modifier cards can be played in challenges. The card that the challengee is trying to play can only be challenged once.

Heroes and party leaders belong to 9 possible classes (party leaders can also belong to more than one class, but only one class at a time when contributing to the class representation of the adventure party). Party leaders, in addition to having a class (but not counting as heroes), also have a skill. Skills can be used any time its conditions are met, possibly multiple times per turn, whereas heroes’ effects can only be played once per turn.

To attack monsters, players must meet that monster’s party requirement in terms of number of heroes and possible class representation of the heroes. If those conditions are met, the player rolls 2 dice. If the dice (along with any modifiers) are higher than the monster’s requirement, the monster is slain. Low rolls meet with negative consequences, and middling rolls carry no effect. When a monster is slain, the player’s party gains a new skill for the rest of the game (listed on the monster card). A slain monster is also replaced by a new monster from the monster deck. The first person to slay 3 monsters or have 6 different classes in their party (including one of their party leader’s classes) wins.

Color commentary: The rules are pretty simple and manageable, making it pretty easy to dive right in without having to constantly refer back to the rules. In the first game, I came out with an early lead in party members, but ended up winning by slaying monsters. I only used 1 modifier card in the first game, when M was trying to fight a monster. I had very luck rolls in this game, whereas M mostly had unlucky rolls. M ended up sacrificing both his heroes (and I stole one), so I probably could have drawn a new hand (I ended up having pretty much nothing but modifiers, and even most of those were to harm an opponent rather than to help my own rolls) and tried to win using the party condition anyway, but the monsters provide a neat little thrill, especially with the risk of experiencing harm if your dice roll is too low. However, there were 134 cards and our card shuffler broke, so the first game in general was marred by inconsistent shuffling. I ended up with nothing but modifiers I didn’t need and the deck ended up literally stacked against M, with a hand full of items and challenge cards he simply couldn’t play.

I won the second game with a full party, and another bad run of cards for M. No monsters were slain.

M won the third game via party completion. He had another bunk hand to start the game, so we agreed to allow him to redraw his hand to be on more even footing (because constantly losing due to bad luck sucks all the fun out of the game, and we didn’t want that to happen to a game with so many bear options (all fighter cards were represented with bears, plus the bear party leader, bear meeples, bear playmat, and bear standee).

For people who enjoy “take that” dynamics, challenges and modifier cards are definitely the way to go. We don’t tend to like “take that” mechanics all that much, which made simply collecting the appropriate mix of party members slightly more appealing. I actually liked the monster combat a lot, and even without negative modifiers, there’s an element of chance. When we play again, I may focus more on monsters than my party. Then again, it probably depends in part on the cards I draw and what seems like the most feasible path to victory. The important thing is that the game can accommodate both “take that” strategies and strategies that want to avoid “take that” but still provide enjoyment. Avoiding “take that” tactics reduces the interaction between players, but if that interaction is just going be aggressive, I’m ok with that.

Thoughts from M: I like that bears are so well represented in this game. It’s something you don’t see enough of in the industry, and I’m happy we found a game that seeks to remedy that. I think I like the game, though I’m not sure how much strategy there really is. There’s definitely a lot of luck involved in terms of what cards you end up with. I wonder if picking either monsters or the party and sticking to that goal is the way to go, as opposed to trying to strike a balance between the two.

Petra’s rating: 6/10
M’s rating: 6/10

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