A stormy, deadly cold sea. A single longboat left from the entire fleet, struggling through the waves. Finally… Land! A place to set a foot on, rest and do what you came here for. But you know nothing yet. Have no clue about the island and about what’s going to happen. That you’re a part of the final saga.
Something Huge is Coming
HEL: The Last Saga is one of the titles we’ve been waiting for the most, when it comes to board games coming this year. That’s why getting our hands on first promotional materials felt so thrilling. While the Kickstarter campaign has only launched, we can safely say that this is going to be huge. Even the creators at Mythic Games claim that it’s their biggest project.
HEL is an adventure game, with a colossal focus on storytelling, discovering secrets, Nordic mythology – all dressed in an atmospheric visuals and combat/ambush system that spices the gameplay a lot. But first: let’s talk about a certain expedition…
An Expedition Gone Wrong
A strong Nordic clan called “those who are the Peregrines” had an equally strong, godlike king. After what seemed like a prophetic dream, the monarch took his most faithful crew and sailed to find an utopia he had seen in his sleep.
Another fleet followed his steps few moons later. The sea was deadly dangerous: filled with treacherous mermaids, rocky mazes and colossal waves. Finally 13 survivors have managed to find the legendary island. And instead of utopia, it was filled with “hostiles”, eeriness and lurking danger. What happened to the king? What exactly is this place? You and other survivors will have to find for yourselves.
And it should take you quite some time. The entire gameplay is estimated at 80 hours, not counting alternative endings rising from HEL’s non-linearity. Chapters called “Songs” are packed in separate boxes and contain story bits, cards, minis, new rules and tons of other content, revealed slowly as your team progresses. Each Song consists of 3-4 scenarios which are either played at the camp or outside it. The latter, called Expeditions have a lot to do with dungeon crawling games.
A majority of the storyline lies in “The Book of Saga” – a huge tome with over 900 paragraphs. The book is two-sided, and you turn it over after a certain world changing plot twist.
Each piece of text has its own unique number and needs to be accessed in a certain way. When you find a numbered icon during a game – a player reads the related paragraph aloud (unless stated otherwise). Numbers are hidden everywhere: from pages of the Saga book to cards and tokens. Paragraphs may give hints, or pose challenges with risk and reward. Some may even give you powerful items to further boost your character.
Heroes Worthy of Songs
A proper bard Song couldn’t exist without its heroes. Places they ventured through, what they did, whom they helped, whom they betrayed and what their dark pasts were hiding.
Players have a bunch of characters to play as whoever plays who is often determined by drafting. That’s rather unique in a legacy campaign game, but there’s a chance that not everyone is going to survive until the end. That means you will be able to play your favourite more often when the game progresses.
Each character has its own, often mysterious, backstory discovered slowly through story bits splattered here and there. Our heroes also have stats like Valiance, Survival or Perception that are vital for defeating opponents, scouting them from afar and solving mysteries of the terra incognita.
Each survivor also has a main, powerful ability. The Jarl, for example, can order other heroes to perform additional attacks. There are also 3 skills per character, all placed near the so-called Wound locations. When struck, hero picks an ability and places a special token with blood there. After receiving a second wound, he loses this ability until healed.
There’s one more thing that makes characters different: religion. Each hero belongs to a select set of beliefs: Norse, Christian or Wild. They all are tied to cards with powerful bonuses but who knows, maybe they’ll end up more important as the story goes on.
Lurking in the Shadows
Hostiles easily make the top of the list of the scariest and deadliest threats of the island. They’re powerful, large in numbers and a masters of stealth. Many of your moves have a chance of alerting a hostile along his entire family, cousins and Odin knows who else. Also: Hostiles work like predators – they attack when they feel at advantage.
Hostiles are a tad smarter than usual adventure game / RPG cannon fodder. They’re clever and have various ways of picking their targets (“predation priority”). No, It won’t always be some “tanky” person in huge armour, but sometimes someone who has the biggest rank or just happens to be standing the closest.
The number of hostiles you’ll face is often a mystery but some character skills and high defensive stats can help a lot.
Writing Your Story With Sword and Strategy
HEL: The Last Saga is first and foremost an adventure game. You will traverse various areas of the isle looking for clues about the king and things that can help you and other survive. Movement takes place on a hexagonal board. Some hexes contain additional info like the amount of heroes that can fit there, entry costs, visibility (important when scouting for hostiles), available covers, obstacles etc.
Tests make for an important part of the system. They’re used in combat and other less dangerous situations. The better a character is at something, the higher the number of dice he can roll in test situations. Winning, like you’d expect, usually leads to rewards while losing might give you wounds or make the scenario (and others that follow it) take a huge turn.
Turns and Phases
In HEL: The Last Saga each turn consists of 4 phases. In the Event Phase the current Leader of the party assigns roles to others. Then, if a Saga Token is present near a Turn Marker he has to resolve it. Meanwhile The player assigned to being a scout reveals this round’s Fate Card.
In the Hero Phase players activate their characters and decide what they’ll be doing. Available actions include healing, praying, movement, attacking, deploying familiars, hunting and others. Afterwards, a Hostiles Phase comes and gives your enemies a chance to end your not-so-merry adventure. In the End Phase the leader applies effects from the fate card and the entire party prepares for the next turn.
HEL: The Last Saga on Kickstarter
As we’ve said above the game is huge, but luckily it has a pretty smart (and not too brutal) saving system that will allow you to continue your adventure anytime you want to.
The rather easy to grasp and yet fun combat and attribute systems make HEL: The Last Saga much more accessible than other games of this calibre. Additionally the feeling of mystery both in the storybook, illustrations and even miniature designs is one-of-a-kind.
The campaign has launched on May 12th and you can still support it by clicking the link below: