I did that thing where, while doing my taxes, I stumbled across a vast, huge, unexplainable charge on my credit card. What on Earth could I have Kickstarted for $200 last year? Oh, right. Yeah. I went all-in on Heroes of Land, Air and Sea.

I may or may not have spirited this mess out of view as quickly as possible.

Seeing the ridiculous pile of boxes that arrived Monday legitimately made me fear for my marriage. The pile is absurd. I first saw the boxes in person in the boardgame section at the Arizona Game Fair last weekend.

Happily I have a mostly understanding spouse, and the boxes look like they’ll all pack down into one box once I’ve assembled everything. That means no deep culling in my pretty-much-filled, no-more-room game room.

Two hundred bux for a game does weird things to one’s brain. I still feel the sting with Gloomhaven: after the all-in and the utterly necessary organizer from The Broken Token, it’s like $260ish? I don’t recall. But that much money makes it hard to know for sure whether you’re actually enjoying your game, or falling down a cognitive dissonance hole.

I think I like HLAS. I’m pretty sure that’s not the money talking.

We got in a quick 3 player game Tuesday afternoon before our regular RPG night. Despite the vast sprawl of crap on the table, it really did go by pretty fast. Some of that was because of the quirks of our particular setup, and the fact that I had no idea how catastrophic it would be for the human faction to swat the hornet’s nest of the orc faction.

So it begins. Those little cardstock buildings are the distinctiveness of the game: you also get towers and air/sea vessels to punch out and assemble. ‘Dorbs!

The basics of the game are very straightforward. There are four races (super obvious: orcs, humans, elves, dwarves) and four continents. Each race is mildly asymmetrical: their hero pieces are different, and their buildings do different things. It’s not the radical asymmetry of Root. You spend the game pursuing the very literal 4X goals, any one of which will end the game: exploring all the regions on the map, expanding by deploying all your serfs and warriors, exploiting (abstractly; you have to build all three of your towers), or exterminating an opponent’s capital city. Yeah, so that’s what happened to the poor humans. Happily, the total player elimination isn’t so bad: there’s only one round left after anyone’s been eliminated.

You win by scoring victory points, yawn right? But there are some neat tricks: not only do you get a point for starting a fight, you get one if you play any tactic beyond “fighting.” There’s a whole nifty system where you can spend resources to execute a siege, or a first strike, or recruit serfs from the rest of the continent, barricade yourselves, whatever. And they’re all worth points. Retreating is worth negative points. You coward.

The rest of the game is spent building up your capital city, which represents the faction’s overall “technology level.” Every hero, building, and vessel improves when the capital city improves. It’s very nifty.

Honestly? The game does everything I want a 4X fantasy game to do. There are no real procedural surprises, which on the one hand is a little boring but on the other makes for a very easy-to-learn-and-eyeball game. There’s also real depth in how you might play through any of the factions. And now there are two big-box expansions and a half-dozen small-box expansions, so now there are 10 factions, support for 7 players, and just…a lot of game in there.

Our first three player game was done in about 90 minutes but I’m pretty sure our next three player game will go longer, mostly because it does suck to get overrun and eliminated. And there’s a lot to learn to get good at the game. I imagine a full seven-player game is in the 5ish hour range.

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