In Reaping the Rewards, I take a look at the final product from a crowdfunding campaign. Today’s topic: Heroes of Land, Air & Sea: Pestilence, in which we really soar into the air and dive into the sea with the addition of Birdfolk and Merfolk. It was funded on Kickstarter in June 2018 and was shipped to backers starting in March 2019. I received a review copy to try out.
In case you’re not already familiar with the base game, you can read my review of base game and the Order & Chaos expansion here.
What Is Heroes of Land, Air & Sea: Pestilence?
Heroes of Land, Air & Sea: Pestilence is an expansion to Heroes of Land, Air & Sea, a 4X fantasy game. (The base game is required in order to play.) Pestilence expands the game to up to 7 players (if you already have the Order & Chaos expansion which adds the 5th and 6th players), ages 14 and up, and takes about 30 minutes per player according to the box. The game retails for $50 and can be ordered directly from Gamelyn Games, or check at your local game store.
My middle daughter has been playing since she was 11: the game has a lot of rules, but they aren’t necessarily difficult rules, and the complexity comes mostly in the sheer number of things to think about. The box’s estimate of 30 minutes per player is also pretty optimistic and I think assumes familiarity with the game. My sessions have come closer to 45 minutes to an hour per player, particularly with the larger groups.
Heroes of Land, Air & Sea: Pestilence Components
Pestilence includes two new factions, the Birdfolk and the Merfolk. Each faction contains:
- Capital City board
- 20 Miniatures (3 Heroes, 5 Warriors, 12 Serfs)
- 3 Hero cards
- 8 Constructs:
- 3 Stackable Capital City levels
- 3 Towers
- Sea Vessel
- Air Vessel
- 3 Faction tokens (2 action tokens, 1 score token)
In addition, the expansion box also includes:
- Floating Continent (with 4 plastic stands)
- Sunken Continent overlay
- 24 Exploration tokens
- 20 Spell cards
- 3 Resource tokens (1 mana, 1 ore, 1 food)
- 7 Tactic cards
- Clear plastic stand for air vessel.
The addition of the extra set of resource tokens, tactic cards, and the air vessel stand allows you to add one more player to the game since the floating continent makes room for one more faction on the board. If you have just the base game, Pestilence allows you to have 5 players; if you have the Order & Chaos expansion, then Pestilence expands your game to 7 players. Realistically, you don’t actually need the 7th set of tactic cards because only two players will ever be using them at any given time, but it’s nice in case players want to study them while planning their moves.
The floating continent looks similar to the existing continents but is a die-cut without any sea regions next to it. Instead, it has four “cloud” areas along its edges that have ferry routes with graticules—these pair up with the graticules on the main board. The continent floats about 5 inches above the main board, thanks to some clear plastic stands; these are topped with small pegs that fit through pre-punched holes in the continent, held in place with small caps. The effect is pretty cool, though we did find that the continent then obstructs your view of the continents that are behind it, which can make things a little tricky when playing.
The sunken continent overlay is a clear sheet of plastic that has blue swirling waves printed on it. The idea is that you place this over the Merfolk’s starting continent, making it look like it’s underwater. In practice, we found that the swirling waves are just a little too hard to see through and they obscure a little too much of the continent—borders are blurred and you may miss which continents have harvesting circles on them. So while I like the idea, we just played without the overlay.
The miniatures and constructs are of the same type as the originals: you’ll need to spend some time assembling all of the cardboard constructs before your first play. I didn’t have much trouble with the assembly, except for the Merfolk’s air vessel, which is a ghost ship with a sort of “balloon.” The balloon itself is a large piece that makes a loop with legs that extend into the base, and I found that the tabs for those legs can make it harder to fit the vessel onto the clear plastic stand. I’m particularly fond of the Merfolk’s sea vessel, which is a giant octopus.
One player mentioned that many of the towers and capital cities, unlike the constructs and miniatures, can be a bit hard to distinguish, since they’re all the same shape. Each one is marked on top with the faction’s logo, but they’re not generally color-coded. Instead, they look like the material they’re supposed to be built from, so you have a lot of greys and brown for stone and brick. That’s not a new issue with this particular expansion, but it became particularly noticeable in a 7-player game where people were spread out and weren’t sure which tower belonged to which player.
The six hero miniatures in my review copy are pre-painted, which was an add-on option for the Kickstarter campaign. If you purchase Pestilence in retail, these heroes will be unpainted. Regardless, the miniatures are a lot of fun. The Birdfolk (in light blue) have an Egyptian-inspired style, and their heroes include a stately hawk, a wise owl, and a murderous raven. The Merfolk (appropriately salmon-colored) are more Creature from the Black Lagoon than Ariel, and they have a really big bruiser with a trident, an illusion-casting mystic, and a pirate-like rogue (who has an eye-patch, two hook hands, and a pegleg).
You may also notice that the cards in my game are sleeved; the sleeves were provided by Gamelyn Games and are available as an add-on, but aren’t included in the game. They’re pretty nice sleeves, with printed backs that match the card backs (except for the hero cards, which are double-sided and have clear sleeves).
Although Pestilence has about half the components of the base game and the Order & Chaos expansion (both of which have 4 factions, with two trays of miniatures), the exterior box is the same size. Normally I might complain about that, but I was just recently trying to figure out a good storage solution for the various mini-expansions, so I may end up storing them inside the Pestilence box. Just be aware that the constructs will have a lot of room to slide around inside this box. (As for those mini-expansions, stay tuned—I need to get my gaming group up to speed on the game before I feel comfortable throwing even more at them!)
How to Play Heroes of Land, Air & Sea: Pestilence
I won’t explain the full gameplay here since that’s already been covered in my review of the base game. However, I’ll explain some of the new rules and effects in Pestilence.
The Floating Continent
If any player is the Birdfolk, then they must start on the floating continent. Otherwise, any other faction may choose to start there.
The floating continent is placed over the central sea region. It has “2” graticules on the east and west edges and “B” graticules on the north and south edges. These match up with the graticules on the board itself, and these locations are all considered adjacent for marching, so you can march directly up to the floating continent.
Flying to the floating continent requires at least 2 points of movement: one to fly into the central sea region, and then one to fly to any of the “shore” regions of the continent. There is no way to sail to the floating continent. If the Birdfolk build a sea vessel, it starts in the central sea region below the continent; while it’s not considered adjacent, they are able to board the ship from their capital city above.
The Sunken Continent
The sunken continent is only used if the Merfolk are in play, and is their starting continent. Instead of land exploration tokens, the sunken continent starts the game with sea exploration tokens instead.
The land regions on the sunken continent are considered “shallow water,” so they behave pretty much like land elsewhere—you march across them, build towers on them, and so on. You cannot sail sea vessels into the shallow water. The only difference is in the sea exploration tokens.
When sea exploration tokens are found in shallow water, some of them have slightly different effects (to account for the fact that you won’t have a boat with you).
There are a number of new spell cards that get shuffled into the deck. These are marked with a “P” icon so that you can separate them out if you need to, but none of the spells seem to be specifically tied to the new factions or the floating or sunken continents, so you should be able to add these to the game even if you’re using the core game factions and boards. The “Plague” spell (lower left in the photo above) is a new one because it’s a “Cast” spell that cannot be scribed—before now, it was only “Combat” spells and “Interrupt” spells that could not be scribed. The spell cards themselves seem fairly self-explanatory.
New Exploration Tokens
There are six new exploration types in the game—three for sea and three for land—with 4 copies of each. These are also mixed into the supply during setup. As with the previous set of exploration tokens, they have illustrations but no iconography, so you just have to refer to the reference sheet until you learn what they do. I do wish at least that the tokens that are worth end-game points had the point values printed on them. The reference sheet for Pestilence does include all of the exploration tokens, so at least you can just refer to the one sheet instead of having to have the core game’s reference sheet as well.
Here are the new effects:
- Wreckage: Immediately gain 3 resources of your choice.
- Coral Reef: Harvest 1 resource of your choice during collection phase; worth 2 points if you control area at the end of game.
- Giant Crab: Kill 1 lone serf up to 3 regions away.
- Dragon Egg: Place into your tower; worth 2 points at end of game. If you destroy a tower with an egg, you steal it and place it in your tower. If you have no tower, the egg is discarded.
- Pyramid: A one-way portal to any desert region.
- Harpy: Either you lose 1 unit in this region, or the player to your left may pick up one of your units in this region and move it up to 3 spaces away.
The new exploration tokens introduce new ways to mess with people—the giant crab means that lone serfs are vulnerable as soon as somebody has the ability to sail, and the harpy makes it dangerous to travel alone on land. The pyramids make it easier to travel long distances, but only in one direction. It’s an interesting mix of abilities.
Heroes of Land, Air & Sea app
There’s a new companion app for the game too! Available for free on iOS or Android, the app helps you with things like setup, rules, and scoring. It includes a rules reference, and you can look up every faction’s abilities and lore. There’s also a digital mini-expansion called Events of Aughmoore that presents randomly selected events every round. It’s definitely a handy app, particularly if you need reminders about what particular exploration tokens mean or how to score something.
Why You Should Play Heroes of Land, Air & Sea: Pestilence
I’m a big fan of Heroes of Land, Air & Sea, though I don’t get to play it as often as I’d like. It’s what I call an “event game”: the sort of thing you plan a game night around, rather than something you might break out just on a whim. At least, not until everyone is familiar enough with the game that you can cut down the game length a bit. I’m so often trying to keep up with the latest review, so even favorites like HoLAS don’t hit the table much.
But that’s one of the reasons I was excited for Pestilence: it gave me a good excuse to round up the gang and break it out again. Over Memorial Day weekend, I ran two 7-player games of Heroes of Land, Air & Sea, with both of the new factions and a mix of factions from the older sets, and with some overlap between the two groups. The games were extremely long and ran late into the night, but I had a great time both nights (and paid for the lack of sleep the rest of this week). I do have some things to nitpick about, but overall I think it’s a fun addition to the line.
Let’s start with the bad: as mentioned above in the Components section, I was a little disappointed in the sunken continent overlay: my group just didn’t find that to be very functional, and ended up just setting it aside, which is too bad because then the sunken continent doesn’t really look sunken, and the only real difference is that it starts with sea tokens instead of land tokens. It is a little less of an issue on the cardboard game board, which has slightly more vibrant colors than the neoprene game mat, but I really prefer the mat, so the overlay is out.
The floating continent is an amazing spectacle, and it is visually impressive. We didn’t have any real issues with stability, even though it wobbles slightly when you move things around on it. The big downside (also mentioned above) is that it’s in the way—you simply can’t see what’s going on in the regions directly behind it from your perspective. When we were evaluating the “Explore” end-game trigger (all the land exploration tokens have been revealed), one player kept missing the token on my continent because it was obscured by the floating continent. I’m not sure what the best solution would have been: lowering the continent would make it easier to see past it, but then you couldn’t sail boats underneath it.
The game length can be something of an issue, and I imagine that will be one of the biggest barriers to entry. I did have one player drop out mid-way through the game just because it was getting so late on the first day, and even the players who were having fun were getting tired by the end. We laughed a bit at the box’s “30 minutes per player” because we were closer to an hour both nights, but each group had two players who were learning the game for the first time, and several players who had played before but not in a while. I think it’s possible to reduce the length significantly, but it would take a bit more practice, plus everyone paying more close attention—but then that can cut into time spent just relaxing and chatting about things other than the game itself too. And every player you add also adds in little inefficiencies and delays here and there, which can multiply the downtime. The saving grace about HoLAS is that many of the actions can be followed by other players, so you’re often doing things during other player’s turns, and not just sitting and waiting for your own.
Now for the good: the new factions are a lot of fun to see in action, and they have a great mix of abilities to unlock. The Merfolk can unlock the ability to swim without a sea vessel, allowing them to move quickly to other continents, or just hang out in the sea regions, where they can harvest food. They’re also pretty good at drawing new spell cards. The Birdfolk, likewise, can gain the ability to fly without their air vessel, and there are other related powers, like swapping out heroes using the Fly action, or placing recruited serfs directly into regions with warriors rather than their capital city—basically, the birds can just drop in out of the sky. We had a lot of fun finding out what these two factions were capable of, and looking for different strategies to combat them.
Meanwhile, even though the floating continent is up in the air, it’s actually not that hard to get to, because you can simply march along the ferry routes to get to it, as long as the Birdfolk haven’t stationed themselves on those borders. That means that you don’t have to wait until you’ve built an air vessel to start claiming territory there. The sunken continent is similar—it’s basically a regular continent except for those sea tokens. The difference, though, is that some of those sea tokens can have bigger effects—bigger risk, bigger rewards. We had one instance where the Merfolk player encountered two pirates and two sea monsters on his continent. He lost some ore and a warrior to the pirates, and then had trouble recovering from that. On the other hand, our second Merfolk player was just awash in riches: double-resource tokens, island traders, and other mostly beneficial tokens.
Overall, I’m a fan of the Pestilence expansion. I will probably leave the new spells and exploration tokens mixed into the game even if the Birdfolk and Merfolk aren’t involved. I’m not sure if I would use the floating continent every time if the Birdfolk aren’t involved, and I’ll definitely plan for more time if I attempt a 7-player game again! I really haven’t played the base game and first expansion enough times that I feel like I’ve played those out or need new factions, but it’s always fun to have some more options. In this instance, it means that we could go up to a 6-player game without using the four core factions, which some players feel are a little less exciting. I still usually recommend the four core factions for starting players because the strategies are a little easier to figure out, but I love the variety of powers and abilities in the expansions.
For more information about the Heroes of Land, Air & Sea series, visit the Gamelyn Games website!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.