Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Game Review: Hero Kids

Game Review: Hero Kids

Cover Art for "Hero Kids" be Eric Quigley 
©2020 Hero Forge Games
: Justin Haliday
Publisher: Hero Forge Gsmes
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG
Engine: Hero Quest

Two months ago I when the complete library of Hero Kids in a contest. The publishers had asked parents to describe their children's imaginary superheroes. I described my little guy's hero Fire Bum, a pro wrestler with a light saber, super strength, and a collection of cursed monkey heads, who knows a few magic spells, but wins most fights by simply summoning the goat from the video game Goat Simulator to wreak havoc on his enemies.

Honestly, putting my son's imagination up in a competition feels like cheating.

So far, I have only run him through a couple of scenarios, but it is rapidly becoming one of his favorite tabletop games.

Hero Kids is based on the Citadel Miniatures / Games Workshop for game Hero Quest, which meant it already was a winner for me. I owned Hero Quest and it's first two expansions when I was about 12, and played every last scenario. Sadly, my copies disappeared when we moved from Canada to the United States. I would already have the new Avalon Hill re-release of the game that came out earlier this year, but sadly the shipping to get it into Canada costs more than the game itself. I'd be willing to pay $100 for the game, but not another $100 for shipping.

Hero Quest

The quick summary of Hero Quest (and this engine) is in order. 

Hero Quest and games built on its engine are played on battle mats or game boards. Players have a character with multiple dice pools representing their talents in close combat, self-defense, magic, and ranged combat. The same dice pools correlates to their ability to engage in feats of strength, handle tasks requiring endurance and patience, testing their knowledge, for performing feats of agility in acrobatics.

Because this system is primarily designed as a skirmish game, most rolls are done as opposed rolls between two characters. Both characters roll an appropriate pool and keep the highest number. They then compare those two numbers to determine the winner of the contest. For example, attacking a foe with a sword is a roll of your combat pool versus the enemies defense pool. Player characters and non-player characters alike have a pool of hits they can take; player characters have a similar hit point total to the boss monsters of the average skirmish.

Image "borrowed" from GeekDad

Each turn player character may move up to four squares and then take an action.

Beyond this simple setup, each character has two passive and one active special ability determined by class. These are usually opportunities to split dice over multiple targets, or an additional effect when they win a particular type of competition.

If there is no opponent, characters roll their pool and succeed if at least one die shows a five.

Hero Quest and its derivatives like Hero Kids are not built for complex and abstract role-playing scenarios. They work pretty much only for skirmishes and dungeon crawl scenarios.

Hero Quest was The Games Workshop answer to TSR's Dungeon!: a game that was designed to explore the core concepts and give a rough idea of the gameplay of a more complex product line. Dungeon! was designed to sell Dungeons & Dragons, Hero Quest was designed to sell Warhammer Fantasy Battle or Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing Game. It was designed in cooperation with Milton Bradley. 

And like Warhammer , hero quest was very miniatures oriented. It came with a large board that had an assortment of sized interlocking dungeon rooms, a collection of miniatures sufficient to represent all the monsters in a given dungeon crawl, a series of wall tiles, miniature sarcophagi, weapon racks, bookshelves, torture devices, etc to create interesting visual environments, and cardboard stand up doors - both open and closed - that would allow the GM to place walls and doors to build hundreds of different possible dungeons on the same board.

This was an idea later grabbed by dungeons & dragons in the black box basic set released in 1990.

The Dungeons & Dragons Black Box, (©1990 TSR) 
Took a lot of cues from Hero Quest about presentation. 

Hero Kids' Major Innovation 

Hero Kids, on the other hand, relies on the fact that almost every household where the game is likely to be played there is a often neglected computer printer sitting on standby. Each scenario has printable Battle maps that fit on an 8 1/2 x 11 in piece of paper. Player characters come with both the printable card and a paper standee in the back of the book. Later scenarios always come with paper craft print out Pages at the back of the book.

My son playing with the minis after successfully 
Completing his first Hero Kids adventure. 
Thus, when you want to do adventure, you can print out three to six battle mats, and any additional miniatures you need, cut them out, if you are good to go with a very visual game.

Which for kids, is very engaging.

What I loved

Amount of supporting material

I was very lucky to have won the entire library of Hero Kids material. It is a real treasure trove. To dates there are a dozen adventure modules, each running 4 to 8 and counters and maps. A Hero Kids Creator's Guild punishes dozens more community adventures. 

There is also several expansion sets, including a bestiary that has 480 pages of printable paper miniatures, both of creatures encountered in every module today, plus a number of recognizable fantasy creatures that are Staples of both Dungeons & Dragons, Hero Quest and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game.


The fantasy setting for Hero Kids is the world that doesn't really resemble medieval europe, but borrows elements from it. It also has things that matter to kids today, like restaurants where ice cream can be had. Although it doesn't overdo these.

What makes it an interesting setting is the backdrop: The characters are children apprentice to great Heroes and Defenders of the community of Ravenshore. A Dark Lord has risen and challenges the kingdom to which Ravenshore is apart. And so the teachers and mentors of the player characters have heeded a call to arms, and left the defense of the hometown to their apprentices. The player characters are a group of squire knights, training warriors, apprentice warlocks, amateur thieves, and the like who now find themselves trying to keep their heads above water as some of the forces of evil that have not joined Dark Lord's forces are taking advantage of the fact that a Town's defenders should be away to strike.

Hero Kids character art by Eric Quigley, ©2020 Hero Forge Games 

Its down to these kids to hold off pirate raids, monster incursions, hauntings, and infestations of dire rats to keep the hometown safe and ready for when their mentors return.

Leaning into the clichés

When you run a game for kids, you don't need to avoid the clichés. The (kinda') legitimate argument for avoiding clichés is that they are predictable; they deprive players of surprise. They are used so heavily that they have become hackneyed.

This is not a problem for a role-playing game made for children. They don't know the clichés. That the first adventure is about clearing a restaurant seller of dire ratz is perfectly exciting to them, because they have never done it before.

They will never learn the clichés if they don't get to see them in action.

Adventure Presentation 

The average adventure for Hero Kids features well designed maps, terse but effective adventure hooks descriptions at the beginning and end of each encounter, excellent guidelines about how many of each creature and where they should be put on the battle map to balance each encounter, and a how-to guide to stepping it up if the players are proving to be tactically savvy.

Monsters have their tactics clearly delineated on the Monster cards. All of which have exciting art on them to depict the monster.

Most importantly, however, the front cover lists the number of encounters, the expected difficulty of the adventure, and how long on average it will take to play. This makes choosing what scenario I'm going to run with my son really easy.

Copy of "Mines of Martel", my favorite Hero Kids
adventure, featuring time, difficulty and number of 
Encounters. Art by Eric Quigley; ©2020 Hero Forge Games

Character card for the Warrior, with Art by
Eric Quigley ; ©2020 Hero Forge Games

The hero quest engine is ideal for fast and simple gameplay that a kid can understand. My son had the rules, even some of the advanced rules down by the end of the first adventure.

Growth points

Skill Cards Should be in the Core Set

Hero Kids has an optional skill system has represented on the character cards as icons (lower right). These are described in the core rule book, but it wasn't till later expansion that cards were created to represent those skills. If I were to take anything from the later books and put them in the core book it would be skill cards.

Paints Itself into a War Games Corner 

While Hero Kids certainly has the potential to be played as a role-playing game, it sets itself up for failure in that regard. All of the published modules, perhaps with the exception of The Wizard's Tower and The Mines of Martek, are skirmishes with only minimal opportunities for making decisions other than combat. It could be hard to get a child interested in playing Hero Kids as anything other than what they became used to after a half dozen skirmish scenarios. 

I think incorporating some role-playing challenges into the earlier modules woukd help improve its potential as a role-playing game.

A More Compact Scenario Format Would Allow a Higher Content Output 

This is one where I'm of mixed minds. On the one hand, the modules are very well written and easy to understand. They offer a lot of information on tactics, piece placement, and balancing encounters. However, the original Hero Quest had an excellent format for this where they could present dozens of adventures in a small booklet.

I think it would be smart of Hero Forge Games to experiment with a more compact format in order to be able to release booklets with multiple short scenarios. 

As is, at the price they are asking Hero Kids modules are pretty good buys, but I imagine that there is a market for people who want to buy a weekend's worth of adventure in one file.

The Kid's Eye View 

The paper miniatures, with their cheerful, cartooning art really spoke to my son. Whike I made a good set on glossy paper too keep in a box, I had a test print that he begged to keep. And they saw a week of solid play, until they all got crumpled to bits. You just can't beat the appeal that those paper minis have to kids.

Aside from Square Dungeon, and Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, Hero Kids is the only game my son has requested directly for play. He enjoys the swift play and visually exciting experience.

At five, He grasped to the rules immediately., Which is definitely speaks to both the strength of the engine and its presentation. That said, he also intmated that if we were playing a role-playing game he'd rather be doing Square Dungeon or DCC RPG; he sees hero kids as being a different kind of experience


Hero Kids takes a venerable gaming engine and makes it new. They take great advantage of the internet and affordable computer printers to make the Hero Quest engine into something that will appeal to little kids, that is super affordable, and that can be picked up and played very quickly.

The presentation is solid, easy to learn, easy to teach, and easy to read.

By using the cereal box trick included in the section on paper minis in The Dozen Dooms by Baldrage, I was able to make some beautiful and durable paper toys.

Some of the accessories, like the bestiary add a lot to the game. And are worth checking out, if you're going to invest.

It is more a kid's skirmish game than a rolelaying game. And in that niche it does a beautiful job. If teaching children to play games with puzzles and nuanced social encounters, or theatre of the mind, you may find  it insufficient. On the other hand, if you are looking for a good time on a rainy Saturday afternoon, It might be all you need, especially considering awesome visual components and simpke engine. 

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