From Titans to Penguins: Forefathers of Heroes & Fantasy Strategy

The old Heroes games developed by New World Computing. Please specify which game you are referring to in your post.

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From Titans to Penguins: Forefathers of Heroes & Fantasy Strategy

Postby cuc » Feb 25 2016, 11:27

Recently I've been looking into the inspiration behind the fantasy strategy genre, and some answers have emerged. Let's take a look at three board games.

Titan (1980)
In Titan, players maneuver their legions of mythical monsters on an intricately designed board. The board consists of hexes each belonging to a terrain type. The players grow their forces by "mustering" residents of the land, e.g. when 3 Ogres land on a Hills hex, they can recruit a local Minotaur into their legion.


Battles take place on separate tactical maps called "Battlelands", one map for each terrain type. The battlelands contain "hazard" tiles, which obstructs unit movement or confer other effects.

Tactical battle

King of the Tabletop (1983)
Published in Issue 77 of the Dragon magazine, King of the Tabletop is a game where players take on the roles of lords vying for a kingdom. Each player has one game board, and the land tiles they own are put in a row on the board. They can develop the lands by building military fortifications and economical villages, cities, or mines. One key mechanic inspired by Titan is that all military units in KotT are associated with one of five terrain types: Desert, Plains, Mountain, Forest and Swamp. Players can only field units that are supported by the terrain types they have. They can also try to recruit powerful "special characters". Random events are rolled each turn, bringing fortune or natural disasters. Some land tiles are special, requiring players to perform an action, such as defeating its NPC owners before claiming them.

A familiar-looking unit roster

Kings & Things (1986)
Kings & Things is the official redesign of KotT. The greatest change is replacing the more abstract land control of KotT with a hex map randomly assembled for each game - an idea originated from another board game, Magic Realm (1979). It also adopts an even sillier tone, with units like Killer Penguins hailing from Frozen Wastes.

It also happens to be the only game of the three to call units "creatures" (the other two call them "characters"). Some versions of K&T also refer to the special characters as "heroes".

As you can probably see below, the game is an important influence on Settlers of Catan.

Obviously, these three connected games are far from the only fantasy strategy board games from their period; what they share is they were seminal games that left an impression on game designers. Their influence has been extensively discussed on these BGG pages, and countless games can trace their lineage to the three.

For our purpose, let's return to King's Bounty / Heroes. Jon Van Caneghem has already addressed the influence of Titan. The similarity between KotT and Heroes should be self-evident; the first time I heard about the former was actually someone calling Heroes "an adaptation of the board game King of the Tabletop". The KotT conceit of connection between land types and creatures is clearest in the earliest games: creatures in KB are hired from Wagons on Plains, Hill Forts on Hills, Treehouses in Forests, and Dungeons; the first Heroes' four castle types are Farm, Plains, Forest and Mountain. (Of course in Heroes III we have units moving faster on their native terrain.)

Another game owing its existence to these games is Magic: The Gathering. Richard Garfield said Titan was one of his favorite games, and cited KotT as another inspiration for MtG. When I read the KotT rules, I was immediately struck by how similar the basic setup is to MtG. Interestingly, despite the BGG posts noticing some similarity between MtG and Magic Realm, Garfield seemed to know of it without having actually played it.

In conclusion, I think we can argue that both MtG and KB / Heroes can be seen as syntheses/adaptations of Titan and King of the Tabletop. Heroes is Titan + KotT as an easy-to-pick-up computer strategy game. MtG is the two games, plus Cosmic Encounter's "exception-based" game design, Larry Niven's mana as a natural resource (the inspiration for mana pools in all fantasy games), the notion of games as wizard duels (from the 1980 board game Warlock), and Magic Realm's idea of five colors of magic, drawn from different terrain types, plus the collection & trading of baseball cards, and how all kids bring their own marbles to a marbles game.

That's pretty amazing.
Last edited by cuc on May 28 2016, 15:56, edited 10 times in total.

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Re: From Titans to Penguins: Forefathers of Heroes & Fantasy Strategy

Postby Baronus » Feb 25 2016, 11:42

And of course Dungeons & Dragons is the biggest model for M&M.
Very very interesting. Board games similiar to Might and Magic are very needed. If you know tell us.

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