“I DEMAND to be bricked”
Ludosity has been reliably producing bangers for over a decade at this point. That’s a wild sentence to write, a testament to both their level of skill and the unstoppable advance of time. Many folks know them from their platform fighters but my favorite entries have always been their digital-only board games: the single player CCG Card City Nights and its shockingly different sequel, the competitive Minesweeper mindbender Psycard (which I only just learned got a PC port!), and my personal favorite XESS, the single most bonkers Chess variant I have ever played. With a ludography so varied it becomes impossible to predict what they’ll do next, so why not an Ameritrash-style fantasy adventure game where you beat up everything to save the kingdom?
Heartwood Heroes will feel immediately familiar to folks across the gaming spectrum, both board and video. You explore the relatively tight board by spending move points and flipping tiles – no rolling to move here. Wherever you end up has a random event happen, including a monster encounter. The battle system is essentially turn-based JRPG combat. Long fights can cost you multiple in-game days, and getting your ass whooped returns you to the castle with full health and full shame. Players can’t fight each other – the game never goes full Dokapon Kingdom – but the game offers plenty of randomized resistance.
That randomization is arguably the most compelling piece of the game’s structure and also where we hit a snag or two. Selecting a scenario only dictates game length and a few other parameters; the game you play is cobbled together from a wide variety of randomized dialog, characters, map, items, the works. This helps keep each play fresh in terms of what you’re looking at, but not so much in terms of actual gameplay. The flow is the same from play to play and scenario to scenario – find a town, get a job and some basic gear, farm cash and XP, race to complete quests until the final boss falls. Games are short – no longer than 90 mins which is damn impressive for a fantasy adventure crawl – but that repetition was definitely felt as we played more and more games.
This is not a wholly surprising thing. Many Ludosity games start a little bit thin and bulk up post-release, and the crew there has reliably supported their titles for years. There’s also an immense amount of potential in the game’s Steam Workshop support, which is apparently pretty easy to make content for. As of right now that’s also quite light as the game only just came out, but I’m optimistic that custom scenarios will add some spice. In the meantime this is plenty replayable, but I’d suggest you not chain sessions back to back like we did or the seams will become a bit too visible.
The game also currently has no support for bot players, meaning you’re going to have to play with friends. Ludosity doesn’t just recommend that you use Steam Remote Play for this, they even built the game around it. As someone who got intimately familiar with remote play thanks to the pandemic I can say with confidence that this is the smoothest experience I’ve had with the oft-temperamental feature. Granted the game is turn-based, but not a single player struggled with delay or experienced a single desync. Setup is as easy as assigning players colors and everyone hitting a button on their control method of choice, no fuss no muss. I was a bit skeptical of how well a remote play-focus would do, but that skepticism was completely overcome. I’m sure the lack of CPU players will irritate some people, but I’m not those people.
What makes HH sing despite its limitations is the trademark Ludosity sense of humor. These games have always been incredibly funny, so getting to share that together in real time has been priceless. Everyone’s characters are ridiculous little gremlins that you slap gear onto like paper dolls. Combat is chock full of goofy descriptors of the battle, with enemies threatening to sue you upon defeat as they fall to your fearsome pillow cannon. The random events and quests, though not wildly varied in terms of gameplay, feature a massive range of characters and about as much dialog. Sometimes you’ll start a fight with an adorable critter only to have it absolutely shellac you in a single turn, other times you’ll cautiously battle a fearsome demon and suplex them. Worth noting is the sheer amount of opportunites the game provided us to “demand to be bricked” (a positive defensive status). This became a running gag, made all the funnier by a player later running into a pile of bricks and hurting himself while he was bricked. Everyone was bricked up, all the time, forever.
If you couldn’t tell, I like Heartwood Heroes. If it wasn’t as quick or as funny as it is I’d probably like it less, but it is, so I do. Recommending it is pretty easy for its asking price, especially since you only need one code per group of friends. It likely won’t become your group’s next long-term obsession, but even if its workshop remains empty it’ll still hold up for plenty of plays assuming you space them out across your game nights. Ludosity still, regardless of genre and against all odds, does not miss.
Review code provided by publisher.