Preview: Hirelings: The Ascent

Preview: Hirelings: The Ascent

Enrico Nardini, Play Unplugged

Important Note: This preview is based on an unreleased beta copy of Hirelings: The Ascent. There may (and probably will) be some changes prior to release. As this product has yet to be released, there will also be no Play Unplugged Breakdown.

Who likes an underdog story? Almost everyone. What characters embody the traits of the underdog more than hirelings? Nobody! These downtrodden, oft mistreated, and ignored RPG party members are transformed into the unlikely protagonists of Hirelings: The Ascent from Prolific Games.

You may already be aware of Prolific Games, and its owner, lead designer, head of marketing and communications, and all-around wear every hat in the company guy John Harris, from his previous success with Flapjacks and Sasquatches. If so, you’ll notice the trademark humor of that game’s theme and design are also present in Hirelings. In Hirelings, the titular characters are the soul survivors of a “TPK” preformed courtesy of a deadly dragon. Now these zero-level characters have only one option… escape!

Hirelings has a humorous art style.

In Hirelings: The Ascent you lead your scroll-caddie on a harrowing journey back through the dungeon in an attempt to be the first to reach the surface. The beta version of the board, cards, and stand-ups are attractively illustrated, and the art style does a nice job conveying a comedic and fun, family game atmosphere. The board I was supplied with was printed on poster paper, but I am assuming that is because this is a developmental copy of the game, and the production versions of the game board will be printed on thick, board game card (though this is not specified on the Kickstarter page).

The game utilizes a deck of cards that enhance movement and evade die rolls. There are many types of these cards, each accompanied by a whimsical illustration, but essentially they all enhance a number on either your movement or evade rolls. Cards are very straight forward, play them and add them to your die rolls.

Each player draws an eight card hand and the youngest player gets to go first. During your turn you move (using a six-sided die) and evade monsters (using an eight-sided die). As you move through the dungeon you have a number of decisions to make. There are long paths with easier to evade monsters and shorter paths with monsters that are more difficult to avoid. There are also rooms with special encounters that also contain branching paths. The tactical aspect of this game comes from making those decisions, and will be influenced by the types of cards in your hand.

When moving you roll a d6 and add movement cards (if you play them). You move a number of squares equivalent to your roll, plus the applicable modifier. There are also a number of monster squares on the board. To cross them you need to roll a d8 and equal or exceed there evade number to continue. Fail and you must stop there.

The game can support up to six players. In my test games it seemed more exciting with more players, as there is a mechanic that allows you to steal your opponents’ cards. This makes games with more players more chaotic, with cards changing hands more often.

Hirelings components laid out.

One other complication is the dragon’s fire. On the fourth turn the dragon releases a ball of flame which travels down the dungeon on a pre-determined path. This definitely makes you want to keep moving, but whether by luck or design, my hireling never seemed to be in danger of getting caught. That said, it did make me spend the occasional movement card for added insurance.

Hirelings is a fun, family oriented romp that you can learn to play in literally minutes. This game is definitely more oriented towards a “family game night” atmosphere, relying more on dice and card draw luck, than sound tactics. Think of it as a traditional family board game with a modern aesthetic makeover, and you won’t go far wrong. Diehard strategy board game fans should probably steer clear. That said, if you have a family and are looking for a fun game to play with the kids that has enough decision making to keep you interested, you may want to purchase Hirelings. The easiest way to get your hands on Hirelings: The Ascent is to support their current Kickstarter. You can get a copy of Hirelings: The Ascent by backing this project at the $35.00 level.

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