Heroes of Tenefyr is a fast-paced, push-your-luck, deck-building, cooperative Dungeon Crawler. It’s extremely quick and easy to pick up, but still a real challenge to beat, and it’s the new favourite game on our table right now.
What’s in the box?
Heroes of Tenefyr comes in a nice box – at the same size as Carcassonne, it’s probably a little bigger than necessary, but it does mean that you can fit the game and its expansion in, fully-sleeved if you want, with a bit of room left for any future releases.
The card-stock is nice, as is the art, and there’s plenty of flavour text to give a spot of character to the setting. 95% of what you get here is cardboard (there’s a wooden skull for tracking time), but everything is solid, and does what you need it to.
In terms of the specifics, there are lots of different cards-types: starting cards for your decks, monsters and bosses to face, heroes, and reward cards for the various dungeons.
There are even a nice set of dividers although – bafflingly – the dividers are taller than the box, so are only really usable if you have all the cards leant back at a jaunty angle.
How does it play?
The premise of Heroes of Tenefyr is simple. You start off with a deck of Basic Cards (6 worth 1, 6 worth 0) and in each fight, the cards played by all players have to equal or exceed the fight value of the current enemy. Eventually (after a limited number of rounds determined by the difficulty setting you choose), you need to face off against the Boss, defeating the entire Boss deck in a single turn. However, beating the boss with your starting deck is going to be straight-up impossible, so you need to venture into the various dungeons arrayed before you, defeating the monsters there in order to power up ready for the final showdown. You’re very unlikely to have the time to clear all the dungeons, so you’ll need to carefully consider which ones to explore in order to maximise the benefits.
How do we fight?
On your turn, you draw 3 cards from your deck, and decide to either play or discard. If you discard, those cards go straight to your discard pile, and you draw 3 more, then repeat the “play or discard?” decision. Once you start playing cards, your turn is locked in: in the early rounds, there won’t be much to do, but as the game progresses there will be more and complexity to consider as you look to optimise your turn: drawing extra cards, discarding cards, searching and shuffling.
If you have a hand with 3 basic zeroes, then the chances are that you’ll want to discard it and look for a better hand. If you’ve drawn enough cards to 1-shot the enemy, it’s probably an easy decision to keep the hand and play it.
Where things get interesting is the other 80-90% of the time, when you’ve drawn enough to damage the monster, but not enough to defeat it. Once the first player has had their turn, everyone else will try, one-at-a-time. Depending on how much you’ve been able to soften the creature up, they might have an easy time finishing it off, or a near-impossible search for the perfect hand. Like you, they can draw and discard their 3 cards until they get a hand which they like, but your decision to stick with a low hand might force your partner to burn through most of their deck before they get enough attack to finish the job that you started (if you play solo, your deck has double the number of cards, and you take 2 turns per monster). Enemies have health totals that scale by player count, so no matter how many of you there are, there’s still likely to be some uncertainty for the players going later.
Turning Enemies Upside Down
Defeated enemies go into your discard pile, and that brings us to one of the key features of Heroes of Tenefyr, the dual-nature of Dungeon Cards. That enemy that you’ve just fought now gets rotated 180 degrees before entering your discard pile, and it’s now a resource for you to use in future fights.
Dungeons cards will either have higher numbers of raw fight power than your starting cards, or abilities that you can exploit to manipulate decks or discard piles (by the higher levels, it will often be both). I really like this mechanic: it’s so simple, keeps the contents of the game very streamlined, and is executed very well from a thematic standpoint: that Ogre who didn’t have a special ability, just lots of health? – well he’s going to turn into a card that’s got a higher fight power and no special ability. That sneaky goblin who made you draw fewer cards? Well now you can sneakily draw an extra card.
After you defeat the enemy, you need to decide what to do next. Do you carry on? Or leave?
If you carry on, you will flip the next Dungeon Card, and attempt to defeat that enemy too – however you won’t be resetting your deck before doing so, so if you’ve already discarded half your deck before you felt comfortable taking down that first enemy, you might quickly find yourself running out of cards.
If you leave, the day is over, and you advance the time marker 1 space – when it reaches the skull space on the track, you will have to fight the boss, whether you’re ready or not, so you simply don’t have the time to leave every time things look like anything less than a 100% cert.
However, if you are defeated – i.e. you don’t manage to get enough attack between you to take down a monster, not only are you kicked out of the dungeon, but the time marker will advance two spaces! It looks like you can’t afford to be too reckless either.
Clearing the Dungeon
If you empty the Dungeon, then you get a reward for doing so. There are 4 reward cards for each level, and you randomly select 1 for each dungeon at the start of every game. Typically these will let you remove cards from your deck, discard cards for the next fight, search for cards, look ahead, or even grab dungeon cards from elsewhere. The cards will also vary in who they apply to (choose together / each choose 1 etc), so there’s this added dimension of variety each time – the same reward for defeating enemies, or different rewards for fighting a very similar line-up of monsters all add to the variety.
A Touch of Class?
When setting up the game in heroes of Tenefyr, you will be picking a class – Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Thief. This means that you will add a card to your starting deck which is zero attack, but has a thematic power for that class: the Barbarian draws extra cards (allowing for big hits, but burning through her deck very quickly) the Bard can buff the power of other cards, the Cleric can allow another player to ‘heal’ (shuffle some cards from discard back into their deck), and the Thief can ‘steal’ leftover dungeon cards straight into their discard pile, without going through the hassle of fighting them. The class you take can also impact the utility of other cards that you draw later, as you will find that some of the Dungeon Cards also refer to your class – “draw a card. If you are the Barbarian, draw 3 cards instead.”
Again, these class elements felt like a fun addition that is executed in a fun and simple way – enough to give flavour without slowing the game down too much. The fact that the starting cards have zero fight on them also adds an additional layer of decision-making, as you can only trigger the ability if you actually keep the hand and play the cards, not if you discard it in search of higher numbers: is it worth playing this 1-fight hand, and hoping that your team-mate can pick up the slack whilst you upgrade for a future turn?
If you’re playing solo or 2-player, you get to chose more than 1 card, meaning that you get both classes’ starting cards, and you count as being both classes for any card that says “if you are the X” – this both helps to ensure that you don’t have lots of cards that can’t be trigger and – most importantly – means that my wife can channel her D&D character by playing as the Bard-barian (a much more effective D&D combination than a Wiz-bard…)
Given how much we’d enjoyed playing Heroes of Tenefyr, adding in the expansion seemed like a no-brainer. The Second Curse is a small box that packs in a lot of content: six new hero classes, new monsters for each level of dungeon, new bosses, new dungeon rewards, and extra challenge cards to create level 6 dungeons.
By-and-large, the new classes are a bit more complex than the ones in the base game: for example, the Enchanter has a deck of large cards that he can use to “enchant” dungeons, the Ranger has a miniature “wolf” deck, and the Technomage will collect and spend Gears for various effects.
The drawback we found with the expansion, was the way it dilutes the Dungeon cards in the game. When playing the base game with 2, every card that says “If you are the X, do Y” will apply to someone, and it’s an interesting challenge to either make sure that the right player draws it in the first place, or to give it to them once you have it.
As soon as you have 10 different classes kicking around in the pool, you find yourself in a position where you’re much more likely to meet a monster whose card applies to a character that isn’t even in the game. It’s pretty galling to struggle your way past a monster, only to discover that (because of the hero line-up you’ve selected) the card you get to add to your deck is a zero fight card with no additional effect! On top of that, the fact that you’re adding all these cards for other classes means that it’s much more likely that you get through the 8 cards in the 2 Dungeons of that level without drawing one that provides an extra benefit to you. The main reason that this feels like a shame is that it dilutes the distinctive flavour of each hero.
Whilst I still think the expansion offers a lot of bang for your buck, it’s definitely tempting to add a bit more work to set-up, to house-rule that the class-specific monsters which are being added to the pool are at least ones which characters in play can actually interact with.
If you’re looking for a dungeon crawl game that plays in under an hour, then I’d really recommend Heroes of Tenefyr. It’s really easy to understand and start playing, but has good variety and replay value. It’s pretty hard, at least to begin with, and the push-your luck mechanism means that you’ll very rarely be able to just math things out (Although there’s definite value to be had in a bit of light card-counting as you go through your deck). I think my favourite thing about Heroes of Tenefyr, is that there’s almost always a decision to be made – which Dungeon to visit? which one to skip? risk a low-value hand to keep cards for next turn? or make sure that you kill the thing now? Focus on enemies that look easy to defeat? Or enemies/dungeons that give the best rewards? You’re never going to be able to do everything, so corners have to be cut somewhere.
If you’re going to play the game a lot, then the expansion is also worth a look. It definitely ramps up the difficulty, and it pays to give a little thought to how you’ll integrate the cards, but easily rewards your effort, more than doubling the number of available heroes, and ensuring that no two games of Heroes of Tenefyr will be the same.
I was provided with a free copy of this game & expansion to review by TradeQuest. No money changed hands, and I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.