Orcs quite often appear in all kinds of games. However, the games in which they play the main role are scarce like a three headed unicorn. There are even fewer titles that gave justice to featuring orcs as the protagonists. All this will change thanks to MAZE Games, who took their own spin at the legendary HeroQuest, throwing out stereotypical heroes in shining armor, replacing them with the green-skinned Orcs. What was the result of this brave venture? Above all, a fast and fun card game in which violence and dirty tricks are the key to victory!
Over the years, only a few games have managed to faithfully portray these green-skinned fantasy creatures in the role of the protagonists. The glorious examples certainly include Chaos Marauders from Fantasy Flight Games and Gertchinz!, the latter of which was published in Poland by Black Monk Games. The French publishing house MAZE Games, however, has decided to add to this list with OrcQuest – a series of games that parody the legendary HeroQuest game (or perhaps they draw inspiration from it, at the same time paying tribute to this legendary adventure game?). So far, this publisher has released OrcQuest The Card Game by Yoann Bugny and Thomas Maufroid which I will focus on in this article. Also currently under development is the sequel which will be a dudes on the map style adventure game slash dungeon crawler called OrcQuest: Warpath, which I hope I will have the opportunity of reviewing after its premiere in 2019. Both titles were created with the help of financial support from the Kickstarter platform.
What is OrcQuest?
In game terms the players become members of a orc pack, who try to collect as much gold as possible to show their rivals that they are better than them (Orcs are so humble, aren’t they? ?). Each of the participants of the game receives several starting cards and a character card with an amount of health tokens equal to the value presented on their character card. Each character except an illustration and a unique name also has a special ability that he or she can use once per game. The game itself takes place over a few dozen or so rounds, during which the participants of the game will try to overcome a challenge from the main deck in the middle of the table. Alternatively, they can play their own challenges from the cards they hold in their hands, sorting it out on their own or forcing one of their rivals to do so, while they will reap the benefits if the rival can handle the task. A card played from one’s hand can be a fight, a trap, an attempt to catch someone or something, or a so-called cheap shot! The active player must try to complete the challenge by using cards from his hand or by throwing dice to meet the challenge’s conditions. If he succeeds, he will receive the prize indicated on the challenge card. In case of failure, he will lose some gold, health or cards from his hand. At the end of the game, the player who has the most trophies for the defeated challenges (gold) will be declared the winner.
A quick look at the components
The game comes in a small square box, the size of which is almost identical to that of games like Battle for Rokugan or DiceWar: Light of Dragons, both of which I had the pleasure of reviewing on this blog in previous months (my reviews of these games can be found HERE and HERE). The title of the game as well as the logo on the reverse of the box are covered with a reflective film, which distinguishes them from the overall matte surface of the rest of the package. The element that immediately catches our attention, however, is the illustration on the cover – a parody of the scene known from the cover of the HeroQuest, but in this case, instead of a guy resembling Conan in the middle of the image, we see an orc an his companions.
I admit that I had a lot of fun when I saw this image for the first time. It makes a great reference to the original, while giving tone to what you can expect from the game itself. We will also learn from the information on the box that this title is intended for 2-6 players aged 14 and up, and the play time should not exceed 20 minutes, which I found is true.
Inside the box we will find 92 cards with a dotted surface that facilitates shuffling. There are also 76 cardboard tokens for determining the level of health, a first player marker and 6 eight-sided dice in thre colors: red, yellow and green. The set is completed by a manual which is printed on gloss paper. The components are characterized by very nice graphics and good workmanship, which does not give way to the products of even the largest publishing houses. Cards have black borders and are of appropriate thickness, so the game should withstand many games without showing wear and tear.
The box also holds an unquestionable treat for collectors: a large, two-sided poster. On one side it presents the full, panoramic version of the illustration from the box cover. On the other, it shows the characters of orcs and goblins, whom the players will play during the game. The poster was printed on thick paper and covered with a glossy varnish, which will make it a nice decoration of the game room of every self-respecting player;)
A hero in shining armor? Tastes best grilled in a homemade sauce!
Each player begins his turn by picking a card from the mail deck. Then he must play one card from his hand or take on the challenge lying in the middle of the table. Theoretically, they can also pass after picking a card, but no one likes cowards, so this behavior will be met with a punch in the nose from the other orcs and a loss of life. Should the player decide to play a card from his hand or face a challenge lying on the table, it’s worth knowing that there are four types of cards in the game:
Challenges – cards constituting the core of the game. Among them, we distinguish: brawls, traps and capture attempts.
Treasures – every orc likes to come across these cards. Just play them from your hand to add them to your pool of gains.
Magic stuffs – Although normally orcs prefer cold steel, from time to time they tend to get their hands on some tinsel, which after being rubbed the right way turns out to be a magical weapon. Then, fun takes on the colors of magic and the orcs smirk, revealing an uneven row of yellowed teeth.
Cheap shots – Yeah…. Each orc has several sharp retorts or tricks up in his sleeve with which to put a log under the feet of his rivals or find a naive fellow who can be persuaded to go and fight the guards in the camp of these pesky humans on their behlaf. Cheap shots can be played in any number, both during your own turn and during the turns of your rivals. Skilful use of them can often make the difference between winning and losing the game.
As I mentioned, the core of the game is to overcome consecutive challenges. Regardless of whether we take on the main challenge from the middle of the table, or play one of our own, all share one common element – the requirement of the challenge is determined by the illustration at the bottom of the card. From it we will learn how many successes we need to obtain and on which colors of dice.
Our die roll determines the result of the challenge. If we achieve a required number of success symbols, we will receive the prize indicated in the bottom right corner of the card. In the event of a loss we will face a penalty found in the lower left corner of the challenge card. In addition to the success symbols on the dice we also find re-roll symbols with a positive or negative symbol. Depending on the symbol, we get to re-roll the challenge with an easier die („+”) or a more difficult one („-„). For example, when one gets a re-roll outcome on a yellow die, green dice will be considered easier and red ones will be the ones with higher difficulty. Each of these types of dice will contain more or less success symbols respectively. After the end of the turn, the player draws as many cards to have seven in his hand, although the bluff element allowed in the game is the possibility of having more of them if we do not admit it to other players. So always keep an eye on your rivals so that they do not hide more cards in their hands than they are allowed to. Them cheating orcs …
Players make their turns clockwise for as long as there are cards in the deck to draw. As soon as they are out of the pile to draw, the last, special round is played out. During it, each player has the opportunity to play one last card card with a bell symbol on it, if they have one. The bell icon reminds us that this is „our last bell” to get points (thus, cards with this symbol can not be played outside of the last round).
When all players have dealt with their last challenge, all that remains is to sum up the final score – the sum of points from cards in each player’s play area – also known as that player’s „gains”. The player who has collected the most points is the winner. Worth mentioning is that orcs do not tolerate draws. When two or more players are tied, the win goes to the next person who has the next highest score (due to which, players who ended up with a tie effectively lose – well … Orcs are uncompromising!).
One Waaagh! of a game
OrcQuest is a fairly simple card game, in which the assumptions of the game come down mainly to playing cards and throwing dice. Although it might sound a little repetitive, this monotony is broken with an extraordinary, slapstick sense of humor that brings to mind games from the Munchkin series. Although that said, Munchkin is not quite my cup of tea, I enjoyed OrcQuest a lot and the humor in the game is well balanced and is not forced or too rude, despite the nature of the game. Only the booklet, which has a strange proclivity of trying to be funny is where one can get a sense that the humor is forced, but I think it is caused by the fact that the rules have been translated too directly from French, where the humor might have workd, but lost its charm in translation.
Coming back to the game, overcoming challenges with the help of dice rolls can be exciting in its own way, because it is associated with the element of pure luck. The re-roll symbols appearing constantly on our dice cause us to throw different-colored dice all the time, which only raises the pressure and evokes real emotions of the players who often cheer the player during his attempt. Nevertheless, OrcQuest is a game about orcs, and orcs above all else prefer to reveil in their rival’s defeat, especially if in the meantime they can snatch his spoils for themselves! And here comes to light the aspect of this game that sets it apart from the crowd. Players can interact with each other through magic items and cheap shot cards which they play on each other to put a log under their rivals' feet (I will not mention the proverbial pig, because these orcs prefer to eat it and certainly will not give it to their rivals, depriving themselves of a tasty dinner!). Playing cheap shots introduces a huge amount of negative interaction, which makes the game more addictive in my opinion. We can thwart someone else’s plan, which is important because challenges in the game, beyond fighting enemies, also include traps (these we will try to avoid, letting our rivals do the work for us thanks to cheap shots) and attempts to capture someone or something. The latter allow players to regain life points, because these tend to disappear quickly, if you listen to „good advice” of your colleagues who claim that there is no fire-breathing dragon in the cave just behind that corner. You can therefore die during the game, and when this happens, our mundane possessions will get divided between the surviving players. We, in turn, will have to start from scratch with a new character, although this effectively eliminates us from competing for the win, because catching up the difference in points is rarely possible. Fortunately, the game lasts so short that premature death does not leave too much bad aftertaste and the rematch will come swiftly as this game plays in around 20 mins and rarely ends in one playthrough 😉
OrcQuest reminds me of the book trilogy „Orcs” by Stan Nicholls. Just like in the book, the main heroes are orcs who set out on a war expedition to destroy, murder and, above all, plunder what only falls into their hands. All this is maintained in the convention of light dice rolling combined with a strong element of take that negative interaction!
The game’s visual style comes as the next positive attribute. The game really shines on this plane, because the graphics we see on the cards can rarely be found in this type of game. They give the impression as if they were intended for a much more elaborate title and this is certainly the case. As I mentioned, OrcQuest: The Card Game is the first game in the series. Another, OrcQuest: Warpath will be a fully-fledged dungeon crawler, inspired by the original HeroQuest board game. Regardless of whether the graphics from the cards will be re-used in the subsequent installments of the series, here they make it difficult to turn one’s eyes aways from the game, and their style definitely deepens the immersion into the world portrayed herein.
The variety of cards provides replayability of the game, ensuring that each time there will be other challenge cards on the players' hands as well as on the table. In addition, along with the game there appeared a number of add-ons which increase the pool of cards, enriching the gameplay with additional items, cheap shots or various enemies such as mummies, gnomes, elves or scary gryphons, basiliscs, etc. The last of the mentioned expansions also changes the way game is played. I will describe the expansions in greater details in a separate article in the near future.
In summary, OrcQuest: The Card Game is basically a simple card game, in which somewhat repetitive gameplay is rewarded with eye-catching graphic style and tons of negative interaction. It should also be remembered that this is really a filler game, which we will pull on the table not as the main point of an evening but between other, heavier titles. With the ability to play with up to six people and an average play time of 20-40 minutes (may vary depending on the number of add-ons integrated with the game, if you buy them) OrcQuest is also a title that will perform very well for casual beer meetings in pub or as a party game. So if you like light games that are filled with negative interaction and slapstick humor, OrcQuest is definitely the title you should reach for!
No Orc or Goblin was harmed during the creation of this review.
- Very attractice art on the cards.
- Big potential for creating chains of actions from cards (combos).
- Uncanny, slapstick humor.
- Simple rules and non-binding nature of the game.
- Short play time, but has the „one more round” syndrome.
- The Take that! game mechanics is the dominant element of the game.
- I got the impression that the skills of the heroes are not completely balanced. Some players will find it much easier to play during the game, while one or two characters' skills seeed completely useless.
- The humor in the rules booklet poorly translates from French to English.