The original Star Wars movie (I still can’t think of it as A New Hope) has a scene when everyone is holed up in the Millennium Falcon for the long trip to Alderan. Two of the characters are playing a vaguely chess-like game with holographic projections of monsters. I like to think of Hero Academy as the closest current technology can get us to that on-screen game.
Hero Academy is a vaguely chess-like game with a fun mix of strategy and tactics. It’s a capture the flag variant played on a chess board. Each player has 1-2 crystals on their side of the board and the idea is to smash your opponent’s crystals before he gets yours or to destroy all her pieces before losing your own. You’re presented with a Scrabble style slate of pieces to use in your attempt at domination.
You can use one of three different teams of pieces based on various fantasy races (Dwarves, Elves, etc…). Abilities of the pieces roughly correspond, but the strengths and weaknesses vary a bit from team to team and it takes a little practice to get familiar with them all. You also have the ability to add armor or offensive power through the use of various power-ups. You start with a random mixture of six pieces and power-ups to put on the board each turn. In the early game the pieces you use are replaced, but supply quickly dries up and you’ll find yourself making a lot of strategic choices about when to use your best stuff. Each turn you and your opponent get five actions which you can use to move a piece, attack your opponent, or use a power-up.
There’s a random match making system to find opponents, but there’s no attempt at equalizing player skills so you can end up facing a veteran of 100 games or a brand new rookie. The app does have a built in hook to Facebook and Twitter so you can recruit friends to play as well. You’re also required to set up a player account with the game developer, but they don’t require any personal info beyond email.
The game uses an asynchronous play style so that both players don’t have to be playing at the same time. It’s your basic ‘play by mail’ set-up. One player makes his moves and the game saves them and sends them for the other player to contemplate at his leisure. This is handy because you can play at your own pace and the game doesn’t need your full attention for an extended game time. Sadly, this is also the biggest drawback because your opponent has the same leisure to take his turn and you could end up waiting a long time if they aren’t paying attention. It also includes an option to cause your pieces to taunt your opponent and a rudimentary chat program for trash talking.
Hero Academy works on the ‘freemium’ business model. The basic game is a free ad-supported download and comes with the Council team enabled. You can pay $1.99 for access to one of the other teams and various cosmetic enhancements. I picked up the Dark Elf team because I spent enough time playing that I felt like the developers had earned some of my money (and it was also a small price to pay to get rid of the ads and the extra load times they caused).
I’ve been really enjoying the game, and for a while I had as many as a dozen games going at a time. My win-loss record was pretty favorable until I convinced a friend to play. Unfortunately, not only was he was a quick study, but he also lets his son ‘help’ so I’m doomed to being trash talked by a four year old who I’m not even allowed to put in time out for no good reason.
I’m always in the market for new opponents, so if you decide to try Hero Academy leave me a note in the comment section and we’ll start a game.