Here is our third article focusing on the gameplay of HEL: The Last Saga. You can read the first two here and here . This time, we will focus on the mechanism of predation, managed by the AI. And just to be clear, the prey are the Heroes!
The enemy is everywhere!
The survivors of the Peregrin clan are subjected to extremely inhospitable conditions,
which means that hunger and cold will frequently push them to their limits. But they also face more insidious, lethal threats from terrifying indigenous peoples and strange, malevolent creatures. These Hostiles exploit the island’s rough terrain and the constant fog to hide from their new prey. Spied upon, stalked and harassed, the survivors will have to track down an invisible enemy as quickly as possible to escape being ambushed.
In creating the predation system, our intention was to put pressure on the players by relying on the stress generated by the fear of the unknown. The idea was to create for each Song (scenario) an oppressive threat, the nature of which would only be revealed with difficulty during the course of the game.
At the beginning of a Song, the enemies usually appear hidden, represented on the board by Threat Tokens. These tokens symbolize an abstract threat, a kind of sword of Damocles, whose nature is still unknown to the heroes. Each token displays an icon on the front side indicating a type of Hostile.
With this icon, players will be able to identify the behaviour of each token using the Threat card of the Song, which displays the hostiles’ priority lists of prey, and includes information relating to their movement and any special skills. Additionally, it shows the order in which Threats and/or Hostiles will activate.
In the Hostile Phase the Threat tokens will move towards their prey to harass and ambush them. The AI is based on a predation system and each Threat has its own priority list of prey. For example, the most cowardly of them will attack the most vulnerable Heroes, whereas their champions target the most valiant ones. However, you will discover other, more original predation criteria during the Saga.
The list of the prey for this Threat is (from left to right):
- Nearest Hero
2. Hero with the highest Valiance
3. Hero with the highest Rank
Sometimes multiple Heroes will be tied for the same predation priority, in which case the criterion from the list are applied to break the tie. The last criterion, societal rank, will ultimately break all ties, as each member of the clan has their own unique rank.
Example: Let’s apply the above criteria to a game situation. The Threat token must move to its prioritized prey, i.e. the nearest Hero. Bergunn and Geirolf are both eligible targets because they are both adjacent to the Threat. Therefore, the following criterion is applied, i.e. the Hero with the highest Valiance. Bergunn (VAL 5) is better than Geirolf (VAL 2) in this area, so the Threat token moves into the area of the valiant Warrior… and she may have to pay a high price!
Ambush is one of the most dangerous game effects and it usually occurs when a Threat token enters an area containing at least one Hero. The token is then flipped over and reveals the number of Hostiles that befall the survivor!
Replace this token with the corresponding miniature(s) for the associated Hostile card. If this card is not yet visible, players must reveal it and leave it so until the Saga Book indicates that it needs to be replaced or discarded. Then, the targeted Hero suffers 1 Wound per Hostile deployed…without being able to defend himself/herself! More Ambush effects will be integrated during the Saga.
Let’s go back to our previous situation. The Threat token moves into Bergunn’s area, resulting in an Ambush. The token is flipped over and reveals the presence of 3 enemies. This is the first confrontation with this type of Threat, so players put the corresponding Hostile card into play. They discover that 3 Sluggers must be placed in Bergunn’s area. She therefore suffers 3 Wounds. In addition, another Wound is added because of the Sluggers’ Ambush skill. Unfortunately, Bergunn finds herself in a critical situation, especially since she has to get rid of these creatures…
Ambush is an effective way to keep the pressure on players, even when they have become aware of the nature of the Hostiles hunting them. The number of enemies sheltered under each Threat Token (1-3, but there are other surprises in store for you) is unknown to them, so they are unaware of the danger of future “ambushes”. In addition, the AI of certain Threats already known to Heroes may evolve in the Saga and sometimes during the same Song. With this principle, it is possible to confuse players by breaking the behaviour routines of their opponents.
Ambush is certainly not the ideal way for Heroes to “unmask” their predators. Luckily, they have some options to counter this disastrous effect.
To flush out the enemy alone…
There’s a two-fold benefit to revealing a Threat token. The first is, of course, to avoid being ambushed, and the second, equally important, is that as long as the Hostiles are hidden, they cannot be attacked.
A Hero adjacent to an area containing one or more Threat tokens may perform a Scan action in an attempt to reveal them. The Hero’s effectiveness as a tracker is closely related to its PERCEPTION Rating (PER) and the topography of the area (Visibility Rating) in which the enemy is hidden.
Example: Frodi is adjacent to two areas each containing Threat tokens, so he has two options. He can perform a Scan action by targeting the Forest area (Visibility Rating 3) or by targeting the Clear area (Visibility Rating 1). Note that if the area doesn’t have a Visibility rating, it is considered to be 1. His PER score of 2 being rather low, Frodi decides to maximize his chances by scanning the clear area. Frodi must perform a PER Test with a difficulty value corresponding to the Visibility Index of the area, i.e. 1. Frodi’s Controller rolls 2 dice (PER score) and scores 2 hits. Each Success allows him to flip 1 Threat token. With that same dice roll, Frodi would not have been able to reveal the one in the Forest, as he would have needed to roll 3 hits because of the forest hex’s Visibility Rating of 3.
…or with the help of a Familiar
It is relatively risky to attempt to flush out enemies by directly scanning an adjacent area, because if you fail, your Hero is subject to a backlash. To avoid this danger, six members of the clan exploit the wild instinct of their Familiars. Their masters let them loose in the wild so that they can force the Hostiles to manifest themselves, and come out of the shadows.
Petronilla spends 1 Action (and 2 food) to deploy Rolf up to 3 areas away (Rolf’s AGILITY score of 3 gives him 3 movement points). It is not necessary for Petronilla to have LOS on the target, and like Hostiles, the cost to enter each (legal) area for a Familiar is always 1 Movement point. To reveal the Threat token, Rolf will attempt a Difficulty 1 PER test (Visibility Rating 1) with 2 dice (his PER score is 2). Of course, the hound also has other specific abilities, but we’ll come back to that later in another article about these brave beasts.
Fans of Dungeon Crawlers have certainly made the link between the famous Space Hulk Blips and HEL’s Threat tokens. However, we wanted to take this concept a step further by developing the threat revelation mechanism. Our wish was to emphasise the symbiosis of the Hostiles with the island. These creatures naturally exploit the vegetation and the different reliefs of their environment, which implies that it will not be easy to prevent them from falling on the Heroes by surprise.
With the Familiars’ deployment range, Heroes will have the opportunity to more easily control the surrounding threat. However, they are unlikely to avoid the blood and fury of battle! We’ll attend to that in the next article.
Soon on Kickstarter !
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