When it first launched back at the start of 2019, Heroes of Tenefyr was seen as something of a surprise hit. The first print run sold out quickly, and fans of the game really enjoyed the mixture of light deckbuilding, push your luck and dungeon exploration, as well as the cooperative gameplay. With a new expansion due to Kickstart later this year, we thought we’d take a look at the original game in more detail.
Heroes of Tenefyr supports one to four players, each of whom will choose one or more heroes from the four available (barbarian, cleric, thief, bard.) The actual number will depend on player count, and there are some minor tweaks to the normal rules when playing solo or at two players, but it’s nothing too heavy.
The game itself is easy to set up, although the first few times you do it, you may find it a bit cumbersome. This is because, in short, the players must lay out ten piles of four cards in two rows of five. These piles will be ordered based on their number, starting with two stacks of number one cards, then two stacks of number two cards and so on. A number of cards will always be leftover, forming a reserve.
In addition, each player will receive a specific card representing their class skill, as well as twelve basic skill cards, six of which will show zero and six more showing a one. One of four bosses will be chosen, and the four cards relating to it will be shuffled and placed face down, with the top card being flipped face-up.
A countdown track is placed to the side with a boss miniature on whichever space the players choose to begin with — easy, medium or hard. The game begins with the players choosing a dungeon to raid, which will usually be level one, to begin with. The first player (denoted by a token that will pass clockwise around the table) will draw three cards from their hand and decide whether to keep them or not.
If the player keeps them, then they will add up the value shown on all cards (which, bearing in mind the starting cards show no more than one) will be between zero and three. They may also draw their class ability, and if applicable, they will take the action described in the text. If the player does not keep the cards drawn, they will discard them, draw three more and this time they must accept the result.
Each player does this in order until either everyone has played their cards, or the total value of the cards played so far is equal to the strength of the current enemy, as shown alongside the current player count. If everyone has taken their turn and their cards do not equal the monster strength, the players are defeated, kicked out of the dungeon and must advance the time track by two spaces.
Hopefully though, this happens infrequently and instead, one of the players adds enough strength to the total to defeat the current enemy by matching its strength. At this point, play pauses and the player who landed the killing blow will pick up the monster card, flip its orientation and add the card to their discard pile. Play then continues with a full round of turns, starting with the next player in order.
If the last monster in a dungeon is defeated, the players will leave under their own steam, advancing the time track only one space instead of two. They will also receive a reward card, which usually has two options on it. These options allow players to permanently remove bad cards from their deck, search the reserve pile and several other things depending on their level.
There are two core principles to Heroes of Tenefyr to consider. These are the push your luck element when drawing your cards and choosing whether or not to redraw them, and the deckbuilding element of defeating monsters and claiming them as new abilities. These two things are obviously inextricably linked, as is the need to balance your need to advance against the risk of forcing the boss track to an end too quickly.
The most notable thing about Heroes of Tenefyr is how addictive this loop is during the first few games. Players can quickly assess what they want to do and will have some idea of how likely they are to achieve at least one victory (since the top card of each dungeon is face up). They also feel immediately rewarded, since defeated enemies turn directly into new abilities.
There are a few flies in the ointment though, in that whilst some rewards and abilities allow players to swap cards around, it can work out that one or two players simply happen to end up landing the killing blow over and over again. This problem compounds as the players who do gain new skills become stronger and stronger.
As I said, there are ways to swap these cards between players fairly frequently, and the fact that many of the cards relate to specific characters suggests that this is definitely a design choice. Nonetheless, it can be frustrating for a player who can’t seem to draw into the cards they need to defeat an enemy, or indeed for a reward or ability to appear that allows swapping to happen.
Another minor issue is the nature of push your luck games in general, which have a ceiling when it comes to depth. Many abilities allow players to draw extra cards or cycle them, whilst enemies often force players to discard or draw a reduced number of cards. Regardless, you will ultimately be drawing an average of three cards each turn and you’ll simply play them or discard them and draw three more — that’s it.
With those two negative points on the table, most people come into a board game night hoping to have fun, and Heroes of Tenefyr delivers on that almost every time. It is simple to learn and play, it has a rewarding flow that allows the players to feel as if they grow more powerful throughout — because they do — and it has about the right playtime for a game of this weight.
Not only are the systems simple and fun, but the card art attractive too. This is classic fantasy fayre, with orcs, hobgoblins, rats and the like, but there’s a unique style to their look that is both detailed and eye-catching. Also of note is the fact that the iconography is very clear, so even from a distance it’s possible to see the level or strength of an enemy.
From game to game the players will notice the same cards appearing amongst the decks, but it’s also true that each game only uses about half the cards. If a new expansion were to be successfully Kickstarted, then I would hope that a large part of it serves to expand the existing content without changing the base rules too much.
I’ve enjoyed playing Heroes of Tenefyr and I am looking forward to whatever additional content appears. I could see how the game might suffer for a few more complex rules and additional modules, but at the same time I really love the simplicity of the game in its current guise, and there are few better choices of entry-level deck builder.
You can purchase Heroes of Tenefyr from Cool Stuff Inc.