Heroes of Land, Air & Sea by Scott Almes and Gamelyn Games is a 2-4 player 4X game. Made by the team that brought you the Tiny Epic series, this game is an epic, epic game! You play as one of four races available in the base game: Humans, Orcs, Dwarves or Elves.
Set-Up & Gameplay
To set-up the board, randomly place the land and sea exploration tokens face-down and one player places one of each of the resource tokens (ore, manna and food) in their hands and then places them on the tax tracker on the game board in the order they are dropped. Place your score counter at the base of the score track.
Now place your level one capital city building onto one of the four continents on the board. Prepare your 20 detailed miniatures; 12 serfs, five warriors and three heroes, placing two serfs and a warrior on your sizeable courtyard (player board) and the rest together in a supply. Grab a spell card and make sure you have got your battle tactic cards ready. Place resource markers on your courtyard on the resource tracker and make sure you have your two wooden action markers and you are ready to go.
As a 4X game your race has to work towards completing one of the four X's: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit or eXterminate. In Heroes of Land, Air and Sea, the final turns are ushered in once all the exploration tokens have been flipped and resolved, a race has expanded by getting all their serfs and warriors from their supply into play, a race has exploited the map by having all three of their towers in play on different continents, or has exterminated a race by destroying their capital city.
To complete one of these X objectives takes time and a good deal of strategy. The game is beautifully balanced, and you have to manage a number of different options to ensure you can make the most of your two actions each round.
So, how does it play? This game is brilliantly designed to make sure down time is minimal and player interaction is high. Players have two key types of actions; capital and command. Capital actions are used to RECRUIT units into your city, either more serfs or warriors or once you have built specific buildings, your warriors and your sea and air vessels.
You can BUILD a number of buildings that are on your player board, you use a serf that remains on the appropriate space on your game board for the rest of the game along with paying the resource cost to build that building.
Building allows you to recruit additional heroes or vessels and depending on the level of your city, will offer additional bonuses. You can build a tower on a continent, where you have a serf, and this costs ore, based on the distance from your capital. You can also build additional levels on your capital city that will increase the power of your city and provide additional bonuses. To build you need resources and these can be obtained using the capital action TAX where you receive two, three or four of each resource, the amounts change after each round as the resources cycle on the tax track.
You also gain resources after actions have been completed. Regions you control and or have towers or serfs on yield their bounty to you. Another capital action is RESEARCH/SCRIBE spells. Spells are really useful offering special actions or can be used in combat, which will be discussed later.
When you have chosen a command action the other players can follow your action (copy the same action out for themselves) by placing a serf on the same action spot on their board. This is brilliant as it allows you to complete more actions per turn, but obviously uses up valuable serf resources, so needs to be used carefully.
The alternative actions are command actions. These include MARCH where you move your armies around the map. Each character has a natural strength and speed, and your army is able to move as many spaces as the slowest character in the ranks. You can SAIL or FLY in vessel, which can carry up to two characters. Remember, when you move your armies and land on an unexplored space you turn over the token and look at the key to resolve.
There are loads of different tokens with flavour text and resources aplenty. Some will stay on the map and provide bonuses or setbacks at the end of the game, others will require a decision with immediate costs and benefits. The exploration tokens add above little touch to the game and make exploring both land and sea valuable. You can finally CAST a spell that you have prepared in the Capital actions, remembering to pay the cost illustrated on the card.
Whenever you encounter enemy troops you must battle, this comes down to your army's natural strength along with any additional support in the form of spells which you must use resources to unleash and finally you can pay resources to add a specific tactic card, the cards available depend on the characters in play and whether you are attacking or defending. The winner takes the region and the loser has to return their army to the capital city but loses characters or building to the value of half the natural strength of their army. Choosing who and when to fight is vital as going into battle without enough resource can decimate your troops and leave you needing to build up resources and recruit for your next few turns.
In game scoring happens when tactic cards are played and with some tokens. Once one of the four X conditions have been met, the round is completed, one final round is played and then final scoring takes place with players receiving victory points based on characters and building in play, spells, etc. The winning race is the one who receives the most victory points.
Final Thoughts on Heroes of Land, Air & Sea
Heroes of Land, Air & Sea is stunning! The artwork is amazing, the board is of a great quality, the courtyard player boards are large and have a lot of detail on but this makes gameplay so much easier and you are do not need to be constantly referencing the rule book.
The game is easy to pick up and within a couple of turns it is clear what needs to be done at each phase. The joy of Heroes of Land, Air & Sea is in how much you can do and how finely balanced the different actions are. Focus too much on one specific type of action and you will come unstuck, but spread yourself too thinly and you will not amass the characters and buildings or presence on the board to gain sufficient victory points for the end of the game.
There is a lot of game here and the quality of the components is amazing; 80 detailed miniatures, three cardboard towers and a three tier capital city for each race and a cardboard sea and air vessel for each race along with the resource tokens and a whole load of spell cards make this a truly epic game. But it is not just a box full of content, the game is just so much fun and although there is a potential for a whole lot of strategy to be employed rounds move quickly and the game builds really well. New players pick up the rules quickly and as the majority of the scoring occurs at the end of the game it is not clear who has won until the final scores are totted up.
So....pick your race, build your capital and decide whether to eXplore, eXpand, eXploit or eXterminate your way to becoming a hero of land, air and sea.