Team TokuNet writer Ashton Liu takes a look into the tabletop board game based on the hit American morphenomenon, Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid.
Renegade Games may not be one of the most recognizable names in the board game community but its pedigree is beyond reproach; headed by industry veterans that have worked on tabletop products based on Yu-Gi-Oh!, DC, Marvel, and World of Warcraft, the company has various games under its belt, including Trajan, Raiders of the North Sea, and Paladins of the West Kingdom. More recently, Renegade has taken on the daunting task of replicating the exciting world of tokusatsu in their newest board game, Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid. How does it hold up, and does it successfully recreate the monster-fighting action we all know and love in tabletop form?
Buying a tabletop game is always a risk, because even if the consumer watches videos and reads descriptions of the gameplay, there is no telling if the final product will be as enjoyable as it tends to be represented. This is compounded when the product is being funded through a Kickstarter campaign, which asks of backers to pledge their hard-earned money while the game is still in development. That said, Renegade deserves kudos for running a transparent Kickstarter campaign with frequent updates that answered as many of the backers’ questions as possible. Funding a game through Kickstarter is a stressful affair for both creator and consumer, and with the many horror stories of Kickstarter campaigns that did not meet expectations, or even worse, failed to present a final product, Renegade Games deserves recognition.
That being said, how does the final game play?
Heroes of the Grid places players in control of a Ranger team fending off the forces of evil attacking their hometown of Angel Grove. The enemy will have the usual Putty Patrol or Tenga to serve as foot soldiers, as well as monsters of the day to serve as lieutenants, and final villains can range from generals like Goldar all the way to the top bosses like Rita Repulsa and beyond. Two to five players can play the game and create their own all-star Ranger team from the Rangers available to defend Angel Grove.
Every Ranger has its own deck of ten combat cards, which have a variety of effects that range from utilizing their signature weapons to deal damage, granting them special powers based on their Ranger forms, or using their unique skills depending on their role in the team. The deck serves as more than the Rangers’ method of attack; it also allows them to defend against enemy attacks, and once the deck runs out, the Ranger is defeated and must return to the command center to regroup. If the Rangers are defeated too many times, the game ends in a victory for the forces of evil.
Each round, players can take two actions out of a possible three: attack, which engages the enemies in combat; recover, which shuffles a predetermined number of combat cards back into their deck; and move, which allows the player to move their Ranger to one of the other locations on the game map. Players take their turns in any order they choose, with the round coming to an end once every player has taken a turn.
The game map is made up of a centerpiece representing the command center, which is the players’ starting position and where they regroup when they are defeated, and four surrounding pieces that depict different areas of Angel Grove, such as Angel Grove High or Ernie’s Juice Bar. Enemies are drawn from a deployment deck that will dictate how many enemies will spawn in which locations. Each location has a panic value that causes that area to become panicked when the number of enemies in that area equals the panic value, and when all four locations surrounding the command center are panicked, the game ends with the players’ defeat.
Combat is handled in each location independently, with the players in a specific location clashing with the enemies in that location. Enemies have their own combat decks from which they draw combat cards to battle the rangers. Disregarding cards with special effects changing combat order, players can take a turn before and after each enemy action. Each combat card has a health value, and any combat card that is defeated is removed from play, thus it is to the players’ advantage to defeat enemy cards before they are triggered.
Foot soldiers are the easiest to take down, with players only needing to destroy one combat card to defeat them. Monsters are harder, requiring four combat cards needing to be defeated to vanquish them. Finally, bosses and generals are the most difficult to triumph against, with the mandatory destruction of six combat cards before their threat to Angel Grove is ended once and for all. Defeating enough enemies and monsters grants players Zord cards which they can assign as they see fit, and each Zord grants special effects that can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
I played Heroes of the Grid multiple times with a variety of different map configurations, Ranger team compositions, and enemies, and in the end, I came away simultaneously impressed and disappointed.
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. The miniatures are sculpted well and aesthetically pleasing, with each Ranger, monster, and boss villain clearly represented in painstaking detail. The Ranger characters are, of course, color-coded to match their Ranger color, with the enemy units using a dull gray to separate them from the vibrant colors of the Ranger pieces. Tabletop connoisseurs who love detail in their miniatures likely will not be disappointed in the amount of detail present in the figures.
The aesthetics of the game are top-notch. The cards have a clean, easy to understand layout, and the artwork for the Rangers is provided by Dan Mura, one of my personal favorite comic book artists who beautifully illustrated the Boom Studios Power Rangers comic series. Dan Mura’s artwork elevates the game from a cheesy Saturday Morning Cartoon affair into a comic book action game, and it cannot be understated how the artwork on each card and map piece contributes to that.
The game is also very modular. Outside of the map pieces provided in the base game, expansions provide a variety of different location pieces and even the center command centerboard piece can be replaced. Many of these new pieces offer ruleset changes that forces players to adapt to more difficult situations. These expansions also provide new Ranger units and enemies to integrate into the game. As of this writing, the expansion for Power Rangers Zeo has just released.
Regrettably, despite doing a lot right, Heroes of the Grid falls flat at the most important aspect of a tabletop game: the gameplay. While the game is fundamentally easy to understand, the actual combat system – the meat of the game – is unwieldy, clumsy, and ultimately unsatisfying. Allowing players to take turns in any order they wish and splitting up the group to tackle different objectives sounds interesting in theory, but in practice, it slows the game down and makes each session somewhat of a slog.
Instead of shorter turns that keep players engaged, or longer turns that encourage strategic thinking, Heroes of the Grid employs a round system in which players split up into groups that engage enemies in combat independently. Combat often takes a long time to resolve, and more than one session I played in had a group of two or three people waiting ten or more minutes for the players in active combat to finish their turns so that they could act. Theoretically, it is possible for multiple groups to enter combat at the same time, but the nature of a board game means that this would result in a lot of people talking over each other, so generally, it is limited to one group entering combat while the other group stares at their phones while they wait their turn.
This, unfortunately, is a cardinal sin when it comes to a tabletop game. For any player to have to wait for a prolonged period before they can act in a medium that needs constant engagement in order to have fun causes the enjoyment of the game to plummet precipitously. Much like how a video game can have clean, pleasant aesthetics and a deep, enjoyable character customization and progression system but be marred by a clumsy, unenjoyable battle system, so too does Heroes of the Grid fail to stick the landing in a critical gameplay aspect despite being built on a foundation of strong design and art.
A lesser criticism I have of the game is that there are no PVP elements, but that’s somewhat understandable as Power Rangers is a franchise that lends itself to cooperation and teamwork more readily than it does rivalry and competition. That said, I would have appreciated a PVP element of the game to keep players engaged with each other, as well. It would have added a layer of gameplay complexity that I feel the game lacks.
Ultimately, while I am impressed by the art, miniatures, and customization options of Heroes of the Storm, I came away feeling disappointed because gameplay-wise, the game wasn’t very fun to play due to a combination of being very slow-paced, notably low complexity, and long stretches of time where players are sitting around doing nothing. Perhaps future expansions or rule revisions can help the game reach its full potential because beneath the slow combat system and chaotic “players go when they please” turn order lies a game with untapped potential to one day be the Power Rangers tabletop game of everyone’s dreams.