Crossroads of Heroes review
Crossroads of Heroes, a game of impeccable presentation and component design, has confirmed a thought I’ve had about Kickstarter games’ stretch goals: they should be used to improve the quality of the game, rather than adding new gameplay elements or items that could complicate the production and break the core mechanics.
Your first experience with a game – opening the box, looking through the rulebook, unpacking and setting up the components – will affect your predisposition towards it for future plays. Even if the gameplay is subpar, the look and even the clarity of the rulebook can affect your relationship with a game. Having been burnt on a few crowdfunded projects where it was clear where the budget was stretched thin across the quality of components, opening Crossroads of Heroes was one of the most delightful first experiences I’ve had with a board game.
From its artwork, taking a clear influence from traditional Chinese art then stylised with cartoonish elements, to the rulebook – in this case, a beautifully designed thick paper book – the look and the feel of the game are incredible. That is almost certainly because the Kickstarter stretch goals focused entirely on improving the quality of components of the game. While these additions might feel small, like a linen card finish, they were worth doing.
This beauty is the backdrop to a mixture of a grid-racing and martial arts board game, where players take control of the virtuous heroes on the path to complete their training and become masters of wulin. Throughout, players learn new techniques of fighting, encounter strangers during exploration and duel against other masters of wulin as well as their fellow players.
Almost every possible action in the game feeds back into the eventual duel, whether that’s visiting your sect guardian for additional abilities, gaining stratagems that can be used against other players or picking up helpful items.
The duel itself is a mixture of luck and strategy. It is partly dependent on the techniques a player has already learnt, but supplemented by additional random card draws. The latter serves to level the playing field if, for example, one player has learnt fewer fighting techniques then their challenger. As the duel is the best of three rounds, there are enough opportunities to bluff or mislead an opponent and use your available cards in a strategic way.
The limited number of moves available and how long it takes to learn them feels a little bit like a let-down given that fighting is the core mechanical attraction of the game – especially as messing up players through stratagem cards feels more fun than the actual duels themselves. Stratagem cards also come with an intriguing twist that can change the overall gameplay significantly.
As heroes, players are supposed to perform virtuous tasks, so if they do evil deeds, like attempt to poison their opponent, they obtain a xie token, quantifying their nefarious action. Once four such tokens have been collected, the hero becomes – appropriately named – ‘evil scum’. Their winning objective is now different to other heroes, bringing a bit of pleasant variety to the overall gameplay.
Crossroads of Heroes is an unusual martial arts game. There are definitely fighting games that do combat in a better, more exciting manner. However, Crossroads of Heroes has a lot of interesting supplementary ideas and a stunning presentation that lift its slightly average combat gameplay.
A complete visual delight, Crossroad of Heroes brings a lot of whimsy to martial arts, with heroes that can walk off their predetermined virtuous path if they feel a more sinister calling.
Designer: Pat Piper
Artist: Pat Piper
Time: 45-90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.