Keep the Heroes Out is a fantasy themed tower defence game where you play as the monsters protecting their dungeon from rampaging heroes, think Vlaada Chvatil’s Dungeon Lords only about 80% lighter. And it is a game that is in my collection solely because of how damn cute it is!
I mean… look at these guys!
But is it a good game? It’s an interesting one for sure. Keep the Heroes out is a deck building game, except you could go the whole game without buying cards. Each player takes control of a monster group that comes with their own prebuilt deck, Imps generate traps and move fast, while Gnolls are good at killing heroes and Ratkin can duplicate themselves like tribbles!
This asymmetry from the off means that players don’t need to spend time and resources building their decks to be different from the other players, they already have a role and so you only need to buy cards to enhance your deck a little and maybe give yourself access to some special powers.
Each round of the game players draw 5 cards and play them for the actions shown. They can move about the dungeon, fight heroes or generate resources that can be traded for new cards. They can also lay traps for heroes and activate portals that allow the monsters to move around more freely. One last action they can always take is to throw a hero into the cells for 3 extra cards… 3!!!
Why wouldn’t you do this? Well, if a wizard is ever thrown into the cells he breaks out all the heroes and they rampage through the dungeon. So, because of this, a wise monster will make sure to systematically butcher the heroes in the cells, which is admittedly a little dark but entirely necessary for the game engine to function.
Once the monsters are done being utterly depraved, heroes turn up, kill monsters, trash resources, disarm traps and loot treasure. After a hero takes an action it exhausts and waits for another hero to appear in its room reactivating it. In this way the heroes chain their actions together, leapfrogging deeper and deeper into the dungeon. If there are ever 4 active heroes in the horde, they open the final treasure chest and the monsters lose!
Keep the Heroes Out then is a simple game with a few core actions and lots of replayability, 20 missions and 9 different monster decks will keep things fresh from game to game. The art is gorgeous, verging on whimsical and the production quality is pretty fantastic. However, the game can be slow with new players and a higher player count will exacerbate this and I’m not sure if the core gameplay loop of do actions, spawn heroes, repeat is interesting enough to keep players coming back to the table over and over unless the missions really add depth as they progress in difficulty. However I have only played the game twice so far so this is just my gut feeling, we’ll see how it fairs over the next year.
On the fourth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me... four heroes to roast on the spit.