17th May2019

‘Heroes of Land, Air and Sea’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

heroes-las-box

In Heroes of Land, Air and Sea, one to four players will compete for victory points by mastering the classic 4X’s – Exploring, Expanding, Exploiting and Exterminating. This huge and visually impressive game is the brainchild of Scott Almes and a Gamelyn Games production, making it a very exciting prospect indeed. Let’s dive in to see if it lives up to expectations.,

At first glance, Heroes of Land, Air and Sea is an impressive sight to behold, thanks the vast box it comes in. When opened, the players will be treated to two large and well produced inserts that are chock full of miniatures in four different colours. There are serfs, warriors and heroes in each colour, representing human, orc, dwarf and elven forces.

It would have been easy for Gamelyn Games to justify using tokens or standees for a subset of these characters – the plentiful serfs, for example, but the fact that they chose to provide detailed minis for each one is admirable. What is even more impressive is the inclusion of a three-dimensional cardboard ship, an aircraft and six buildings for each race. Even when built, all of this, along with tokens, cards, manuals and thick player boards still fits in the box neatly, which is perhaps the most amazing thing!

Fold out the huge, double sided map and the level of presence only increases. The map is dual sided to accommodate for the five (or more) player mode that can be accessed via one of the already-released expansions, but both sides provide an almost identical look. Several islands litter the map, each covered in the same kinds of terrain, albeit in a unique arrangement. Thirteen sea spaces connect them in perfect (albeit visually uneven) symmetry, ensuring that the whole board is used in every game.

With the board laid out, the players will place their large player board beside it, then place their miniatures and buildings nearby. Their smallest capital building is placed onto the board on one of the islands and then two serfs and a warrior are readied. A deck of tactics cards is given to each player and then one spell is drawn for later use to kick things off and the game begins.

On a player turn in Heroes of Land, Air and Sea, the player will use an action selection token to indicate which action they wish to take, with two kinds of action to choose from. Capital Actions include Recruit, Build, Research, Scribe and Tax. The second set of actions are called Command Actions, and they include March, Sail, Fly and Cast.

The most important thing to note about the different kind of actions is that Capital Actions can be copied by any number of other players, if they have a serf at the ready to perform it, whilst Command Actions may never be followed. Whilst each of these actions is somewhat self-explanatory, I’ll describe a few of them to give you an idea of how the game works.

Recruitment and building work similarly, with the active player needing to pay resources equal to the value shown on their player card, next to the unit they want to recruit or the building they wish to place. Each action allows a single recruitment or build action, except for serfs which can be recruited in a pair, albeit at the premium of additional gold. Foot units usually require only gold, whilst buildings and vehicles will require a combination of resources.

On the subject of resources, there are a couple of ways to obtain them. Firstly, by using the March action to move serfs outwards from your capital (which is where all units are recruited to) and onto the board. Each space generates one or more of a specific resource and being in control of that space (with either a serf or a military unit) will allow the player to claim its bounty during the Gather Phase, which follows the players taking their actions.

Serfs add an additional unit of whatever kind the space would otherwise generate, but as you can imagine their combat value is very low. Warriors, heroes and units all have a variety of combat values and special rules or abilities that can influence a fight, but since they offer no resource gathering benefits, they are best used alongside serfs or instead of them in frontier locations.

Combat is handled quite an interesting way in Heroes of Land, Air and Sea, especially considering that it manages to be both symbol and powerful. Combat is initiated when a player uses the March, Sail or Fly action to move their units into a space occupied by another player, and ach unit has a base combat value. Serfs are a one, whilst warriors are a two, and then each hero or unit has a particular strength of its own.

Combat is resolved by adding up the total combat value of all units on each side of a conflict, then adding the effects of any spells played and the Tactics card that each player uses. Tactics cards all change the rules of combat wildly based on a complex system of base values and trumps. Whilst each tactics cards simply adds a value to the combat strength of the side it is played by, the text on these cards will also potentially cancel out or adjust other effects. In short, some of the more powerful base value cards can essentially be nullified by some of the weaker ones, but there is a bit of guesswork and chance involved.

Unlike in some games, combat in Heroes of Land, Air and Sea is quite fundamental and reasonably punitive to the losing side, who lose units equal to half of their combat strength. Buildings can be destroyed, and territory lost, meaning that if you’re really against the extermination part of 4X games, then Heroes of Land, Air and Sea might be one to avoid. That said, the game does end as soon as one of the players is eliminated, with them the loser and the winner being determined by points scored overall.

There are a lot of other interesting nuances in Heroes of Land, Air and Sea that contribute to making it an interesting challenge. The ability to follow at the cost of using a serf is one of them, because it means that a player might get an extra (and powerful) Capital Action, but that serf won’t be available to play on the board until the next round. Similarly, when a building is constructed, it will allow access to powerful heroes and often beneficial effects, but in this case, a serf must be placed permanently onto the player board to man that building.

Spell cards add an interesting level of unknown complication and come in several forms. Some spells can be used instantly, for example to generate resources or affect combat, whilst others can be readied and placed face up beside the board, offering a passive effect. The various races each have their own unique vehicles and heroes, which ensures that the players feel a lot of difference between each, which generates a desire to replay. I wouldn’t call Heroes of Land, Air and Sea asymmetric, but there is enough different between the races to make them feel individual.

Between the impressive miniatures and the hugely impressive table presence, Heroes of Land, Air and Sea looks fantastic when setup, but it’s much more than just style over substance. I like the simplicity of the gameplay that matches perfectly with the action selection system and yet somehow offers a range of powerful and interesting actions. I like the way combat is resolved based mostly on true strength of arms rather than luck, although I do find the Tactics cards a bit hit and miss – even if they do add an exciting edge to combat.

The rulebook is clearly laid out and straightforward and the components aside from those I’ve already mentioned – tokens, wooden bits of food and lumber etc, are all fantastic. It’s also fabulous that Gamelyn Games have already begun to expand the game with several additional content packs and whilst I am only guessing, I imagine at six players Heroes of Land, Air and Sea is a heck of an impressive sight and probably a lot of chaotic fun.

Great looks, interesting mechanics and lots of big decisions make Heroes of Land, Air and Sea a really interesting addition to a collection for players that want either combat focussed area control, Ameritrash or traditional 4X experiences. The game is relatively quick for its scale and it has clear endgame scenarios that make it easy to pick up, but quite addictive to keep returning to. A keeper for me that probably slots in to my top three games of this kind.

**** 4/5

Heroes of Land, Air and Sea is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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