HEL: The Last Saga is the next game that we’re going to launch on Kickstarter. It’s a project we’ve been working on for almost two years, led by the design team of David Rakoto (Game Design) and Christophe Madura (Art Direction), who previously created The World of SMOG: Rise of Moloch for CMON. Teased for the first time at Cannes in February 2019, HEL: The Last Saga has recently begun to appear on our various media channels, originally with cryptic and mysterious messages… just like the game’s setting. From the first images shared, from the first promises, HEL: The Last Saga has always aroused incredible expectations, perhaps even more than for our previous games. The excitement is such that a private Facebook group has already gathered in less than three weeks more than 2700 extremely active fans, and it continues to grow every day.
Recently, we’ve shown the first miniatures, and now it’s time to talk more about the mechanisms. In this period of lockdown, where it’s obviously more difficult to get together, film videos, and send prototypes, etc., we’re going to offer you a series of articles featuring the core mechanisms of the game. This first article will give you a very general presentation of the highlights of the game system. You will soon have other more detailed articles on the narrative engine and tactical aspects, each with concrete examples of gameplay. Furthermore, you’ll also get video interviews, excerpts from games filmed on Tabletop Simulator, and a few other surprises.
What kind of game is it?
HEL: The Last Saga is a narrative and cooperative board game with miniatures, set in a Viking fantasy world of survival horror. It mixes dungeon crawl mechanisms with exploration phases on a modular hex-tile board that allows you to gradually discover the island on which the adventure takes place; and mechanisms focused on resource management where you have to manage three fundamental resources to survive: food, wood and morale.
The game lets you lead a small group of 13 heroes, members of a clan, “Those who are Peregrines”, who have survived a horrific sea voyage to an unknown island to join their king. All these characters are quite heterogeneous, with different occupations, a detailed past not necessarily known to all, and ranks corresponding to their station in Viking society. But despite their differences, the survivors will have to cooperate if they want to survive the extreme conditions in which they find themselves: cold, hunger, madness and the threat of unknown “Hostiles”. Additionally, they will have to solve the mysteries surrounding the disappearance of their colony and prove themselves worthy of the Saga that will remember their name.
HEL is played as a huge campaign made up of 13 “Songs” (or main acts), which are divided into 3 or 4 scenarios each. It’ll take you at least 80 hours to finish the campaign. If players fail in one scenario, the system and the story will modify their next attempt, for the better or for the worse, depending on the actions performed previously.
The game is designed for 2-4 players (but will also include a solo version (focused more on survival than the coop game), and unlike most dungeon crawlers, players do not play as a single character for the entire campaign. Instead, they will take turns playing each of the survivors and will gradually learn the individual stories and skills of each of them from one scenario to the next. Often, the scenario offers you the opportunity to draft from a selection of available heroes, but rarely the same ones. Each hero has a unique story and a particular faith that will influence his or her fate and progress, and for some, even a familiar. The heroes have RPG-like statistics that can evolve, and they can also acquire new skills, pets, allies or artifacts, usually in the form of cards. These improvements will sometimes also be an opportunity for the players who play them to learn more about the hero’s past and about their secret motives, if any. This will come in handy as our brave survivors become scarce and players are increasingly asked to play the same character more often.
Mystery and Legacy
The game incorporates a lot of mystery, surprise, the thrill of exploring new unknown places, meeting non-player characters, fighting terrifying enemies, finding disturbing clues, and even discovering the dark side of your character’s companions and allies that you thought you knew so well.
To maintain the mystery and surprise, you will discover certain elements of the game only as you play. Thus, all the elements of a “Song” are gathered in a Song box that you open only when you play it, which contains the Fate cards (Expedition and Camp), Objective cards, Threat cards, Hostile cards and the Bookmark needed to play the scenarios of each Song. This box may also contain Prayer cards, Objects (Artifacts / Herbs / etc.), special rules and additional heroes, and sometimes other surprises! There will be one box per Song, so 13 boxes in total.
The Saga Book offers nearly 900 paragraphs to be read aloud when the heroes trigger certain events by going to places specifically marked on the game board, or if Fate or Objective cards ask for it, etc. Some of the clues are in sealed envelopes, which you will only open when asked.
The miniatures will be grouped by “family” in opaque boxes like an “advent calendar”, with a system that allows you to see and remove only the miniature(s) needed for the scenario, without revealing or removing others. The packaging has been thought out and designed from the start, and all the elements will fit in the big game box.
As you may have noticed, the game has “Legacy” aspects to it, in the sense that some parts of the material and gameplay will only be discovered gradually, but also because players will regularly be asked to make decisions that will have a definitive influence on the rest of the campaign. As such, there’s no turning back. The rules of the game can change, and if HEL starts indeed as a cooperative game, there are no guarantees that things won’t evolve by the end of the campaign according to the players’ choices. In the end, it is more than likely that your saga will be very different from that of another group of players, making each campaign a potentially unique experience. On the other hand, you don’t destroy material during the game, and this is why we are not calling it a “legacy game”.
Seven Highlights of the Game
As previously stated, we will go much further into the details of each mechanism in future articles. Let us first present the main features that make the gameplay of HEL: The Last Saga special:
1 – A Narrative Game
The campaign is based on a dynamic narrative system supported by a booklet of nearly 900 paragraphs. Several narrative arcs and secondary plots are thus developed throughout the saga. The system is based on the discovery or triggering of events that lead to narrative chapters. These events can be hidden on the game board, placed somewhere on the turn-counter cards, or on any other game element. The resolution of these chapters moves the story forward, and this resolution is done either by making choices, testing, or simply by listening carefully to the reading of these chapters. Often the narrative parts, when triggered, are read aloud to everyone. But some are discovered individually, and the player in this case reads the passage silently and secretly, free to communicate the information to other players or not.
2 – Colourful Characters
Each member of the clan has their own history, strengths and weaknesses. You will discover these character nuances by playing them and acquiring new individual hero cards in a non-linear fashion. Some will be obtained as the result of key choices and brilliant actions that you make during the adventure. Keep in mind that each hero is more than just a warrior, has a role to play and has a character card with different characteristics. The score in each characteristic indicates the number of dice to be rolled during a test: you must reach or exceed the target number set by the game system to succeed in your action. Dice are ONLY rolled for heroes, never for enemies. You always think from the hero’s point of view. If you attack, you roll dice to try and hit your enemy. If your enemy attacks you, you make a test to defend yourself. The 6-sided dice are special dice, with 0, 1 or 2 successes and special sides which are triggered in certain situations.
In addition, each character has skills that give them passive or situational bonuses. Each of these skills is linked to an injury slot and forces the player to make tactical choices about the most important abilities to keep for their character in a given situation. When all injury slots are filled, your hero is knocked down and will only be able to get back up if a friend heals them or through an exceptional effort.
3 – Varied Scenarios and Suspense
HEL: The Last Saga is a scenario-based game. Each Song is broken down into 3 or 4 successive scenarios. There are two kinds of scenarios: exploration and camp scenarios.
- The exploration scenarios are of the “dungeon crawling” type and take place on a game board made up of hexagonal tiles (14 centimeters in diameter) representing the wild and hostile environment of the island. New portions of territory are added as the heroes progress through the scenario.
- Camp Scenarios are played on a fixed board, divided into hexes the same size as the Exploration Tiles. Exactly the same rules apply for both movement and combat, but with more resource management aspects (wood, food and morale) and the construction of buildings to add certain functions to your camp or to protect it. But beware, even in your camp scenarios there will be action, adventure and unexpected events.
No two scenarios are alike. All use the same rules (even if sometimes special rules are introduced). But the development team has been careful to offer a wide variety of situations and objectives: manhunt, race against the clock, investigation, infiltration, tower defense, hunting party, escort, punitive expedition, raid, etc.
Heroes must complete the objectives imposed by one scenario to reach the next one. The system takes into account failures and allows a scenario to be replayed integrating what happened the first time. Like a television series, the scenarios or the Songs regularly offer revelations about the island, its occupants or the heroes themselves, and often end with a cliffhanger.
4 – A Mechanism of Predators and Prey
Enemy tension is reinforced by a hidden threat system. Heroes will need to use their perception and familiars to reveal these threats before they are ambushed and potentially killed.
The system uses an AI based on predation. Each enemy has its own priority list of prey. For example, the most cowardly of them will attack the most vulnerable heroes when their champions target the most valiant ones.
5 – The Call to the Gods
Each hero embraces a different faith (Nordic, Christian or Wilderness) and will be able to use his or her willpower to perform resource offerings to pray and provide favors for all who share the same faith. The choice of available prayers will expand during the Saga.
6 – Survival…
In HEL: The Last Saga, survival is ever-present. You evolve in a harsh and hostile environment. Recovering and managing scarce resources will be essential to survive and maintain the cohesion of your clan. You will have to hunt for food and collect wood, a precious resource that will be both your source of heat and an essential element for the construction of your camp. But above all, you will need to maintain a high morale that will allow the heroes to surpass themselves and not sink into distress and despair.
7 – …Horror
When you get to this island in the far north, it’s daylight…constant daylight. But eventually it will get dark. And the darkness will last for months. The second part of the campaign will be entirely set in darkness, but only for those heroes who survive long enough to see the sunset.
When that time comes, forget everything you think you know. Forget all the small victories and certainties you thought you had won. The rules will change, as will the threats and the goals.
HEL: The Last Saga
Coming soon on Kickstarter!
Find us on:
Join the private HEL: The Last Saga Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/265388951129071/?ref=share