Diving Into HEXplore It: The Valley of the Dead King
Set out on a sweeping adventure of exploration, battle, and character growth in HEXplore It: The Valley of the Dead King.
Looking back, I last played HEXplore It: The Valley of the Dead King ages ago in 2019. Goodness! Since then, I’ve picked up the rest of the content and never touched any of it. Appalling! I decided to start at the beginning, though, leaving the new expansions and volumes for the not-too-distant future. My goal was to reacquaint myself with this masterpiece.
Game Name: HEXplore It: The Valley of the Dead King
Publication Year: 2017
Designers: K. Kimoundri, N. Loos, and J. Mariucci
Artist: Yanis Cardin
Publisher: Mariucci J. Designs
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game (Cooperative)
Just a quick note that this can be enjoyed with a single character, yet a duo often opens up more. They travel across a random map, exploring and battling while leveling up in various areas. All the while, a major foe lurks and grows in power before seeking out the heroes!
March 10, 2018
June 25, 2021
48" x 34"
In the Beginning
I chose to set up the starting map tiles very randomly, for better or worse. The main point was to have some fun!
This was my first time seeing the new artwork… I had an original version I passed along a little while back. No sense hanging onto an extra game for a tiny bit of nostalgia!
Quests looked rather promising, as did my starting city on the map. Never mind that quest token: It only triggered upon entering the city, so it was just sitting there. Lurking.
I also made a ruling that I had to move in order to explore new tiles. Sounded right to me! Onto the characters…
Summon the Character
There are a ton of different ancestries and roles that can be mixed and matched quite effectively. Some like to choose the perfect options, and others go for random.
I drew 4 of each to make a total of 2 characters. That gave me some choices without absolutely overwhelming me!
After much deliberation, my first character was to be an angelborn summoner. Angelborn is one of my favorites because the special ability involves resurrection.
Low health must be managed and death is common, so having a way to bring back a fallen character is important.
Even More Summoning
Choosing a shaman meant a whole lot of summoning creatures, which could be risky. These are found in the circumstances deck and they’re not guaranteed to appear.
The ancestry was quite tricky! I ultimately decided on the dragonkin but what was my second choice? Demonborn. Purely for the extremely ironic party combination!
So what’s the big deal? I didn’t frame these photos well, yet it should be clear how different the roles are.
Each is fun to explore in its own way and I was on my way. But… What about all of those erasable spaces for markers?
Official App-Assisted Tracking
Now, normally I’m someone who absolutely avoids anything digital when I play my board games. Only in rare exceptions do I use them. It’s a personal preference because I like to disconnect from technology and simply play.
This isn’t always possible, though, and there are some excellent ways to add to the analog experience rather than impede it. Case in point right here!
An official HEXplore It Companion App removes the need for constantly writing and erasing on the reusable role boards. Nice! My initial impressions were rather negative, though. Thank you for blasting the music right away.
However, if you get through the party creation process, a menu appears where all sounds may be muted. Immediate improvement, at least for me. So I used the app to input my starting characters and test out the functionality.
Meet Telantes! Note the nice way that the app tracks equipment upgrades. It’s all very clear and relatively simple to use. I wanted her to have an advantage with her summoning circle, which explains why that was so high.
Most of her starting gold went to additional upgrades. I mentioned low health before, and with just 7 to begin with, Telantes was a slightly fragile character.
But I wasn’t ready to start yet! There was someone else to introduce first…
Crafting a Powerful Shaman
My shaman was Ririkith, a dragonkin. They had statistics similar to those of Telantes, although there were some subtle differences. I chose to go a little higher in explore, the center bottom value, for a better chance at finding gold.
Not only are the standard base statistics like health, energy, strength, and defense important, but the trio of map-based skills plays a major role.
Navigation helps avoid wandering off and getting lost. At just the wrong moment, a stray move might actually trigger a battle prematurely! Explore is all about gold and potential healing, while survival involves food management.
The significance of these special abilities comes down to rolling a d10. Roll at or below the level for a success. Ririkith would have a successful explore roll at 4 or lower, but navigation was difficult at just 2 or lower. Not so easy out there!
In many instances, it makes sense to have a more balanced party with its own strengths. However, many boss battles involve rolls for navigation, explore, or survival. It’s nice to be powerful, yet each character needs to be balanced.
I even thought up a few scenarios of why this pair might have met up. I’m quite convinced Telantes summoned Ririkith at some point! Bonded for life.
The app saved me a lot of time during setup. I was already very happy with it!
Why stop at numbers, though? I went through the unused roles to see if I might find some appropriate artwork to represent Telantes and Ririkith on their journey.
Well, the dragonkin was pretty obvious and very awesome! I veered away from the obvious angelborn portrait to go for someone a little more reminiscent of a summoner.
That’s how you utilize as many components as possible! I was almost sad to finish up with character creation.
A lengthy examination of the rules, and I felt ready to begin this journey across the valley. Stay away, Dead King!
The Storm Wolves
It seemed fitting to head off to try to complete some of the nearby quests Telantes and Ririkith heard about. I chose to move very cautiously at first… Just a single hex to start.
Then, they picked up the track of a river and headed south along its shores. As evening fell, a pack of ferocious storm wolves was spotted in the nearby trees. Disaster?
Ah, not quite! Moving cautiously also involves moving on rivers and roads. I had the option to simply discard it.
But there was a very quick battle that resulted in some delicious food. Wolf meat? Not so good, but necessary.
Too Soon, Dead King
Without fail, the Dead King always appears in my game on the first or second turn. Bad luck, or dice tampering? You tell me just by looking at that face. He is just bad news!
Fortunately, he appeared in a city about as far away as possible. He could only move 1 hex at a time, yet that speed would pick up as he took more and more cities.
By the end, the Dead King can reach speeds of 7 hexes per turn. Quite dangerous and troublesome, indeed!
I wasn’t thrilled about this early arrival, yet Telantes and Ririkith were off to a decent start. Right? … Oh, no.
Felling the Fallen
Even with the Dead King so far away, some of his fallen townsfolk appeared out in the wild. No one was impressed.
However, they were a relatively easy group. This was my chance to test out those summoning abilities!
Telantes brought a ghoul into the fray who did a fair amount of damage very quickly. I just needed to figure out how to synergize with her second mastery for damage!
Ririkith summoned a grizzly, which would return to the circumstances area after battle. If all went well, she might actually stick around a long time. The battle was won!
Wandering with Mold
So much for cautious movement! Telantes and Ririkith went exploring all over the place. Some circumstances are labeled unavoidable, so there’s no way to sidestep them.
What do you know?! I had fantastic luck with the dice and picked up a terrible case of mold that affected the food.
Maybe food seems like a minor part of gameplay, yet a character can begin to starve or even die of hunger if many survival rolls are failed. Everyone needed to eat!
Telantes was relatively OK because she only ate 1 food. I was a little more concerned about Ririkith’s appetite!
This is an interesting game where imagination truly brings the story to life. I actually forgot all about the included storybook with flavor text… Just my own stories!
A lot of the game is rather serious, as it should be. Yet there are golden moments of comedy to be found.
First, a distracted condition struck as they meandered in the wilderness. What distracted them? I found out the next turn… An annoying commoner. Of course! Ha ha!
As funny as this was, the combined penalties were harsh. All skill rolls were almost guaranteed to be failures.
It was a particularly tough time before Telantes and Ririkith could return to a town. The latter was actually starving and in rough shape. Blame the commoner!
Yet a completed quest gave each a power-up card. This deck is large and always has some type of positive, although some are more useful than others.
I was happy with this combination. Telantes was on her way to improving her first mastery very quickly.
Health and energy were rather basic for Ririkith, yet they were clearly hardier from all the trials and tribulations.
Stumbling Into a Lair
There are many places to explore on the map, ranging from cities and shrines to quest locations and bosses. The latter consists of 10 numbered spaces across the valley.
Telantes and Ririkith weren’t in the best position to battle, so I decided to guide them into some nearby ruins. This couldn’t possibly go wrong, right? A d10 said otherwise.
Fortunately, with no bosses defeated yet, the lair was that of the Bandit Prince. To arms for the very first big battle!
At a dangerous level, 25 health turned into 35 health and made him a little trickier to defeat. Those moves, too!
Ririkith’s spirit totems provided ample healing, although it wasn’t a particularly easy battle. The doubled rewards helped immensely, though! Thank you, ruins.
Rather than keep the momentum going, I headed off to a nearby shrine to heal up and camp out for a blessing.
Each shrine has its own unique blessing, but only a single one may be active at once. It was haste I was after!
Extra movement might seem less desirable, yet when the Dead King can start flying around the map, it’s nice to be able to delay that final battle by a couple of turns.
First, it was mold early on. Then there was that business with the annoying commoner creating a horrid distraction. Next? The food had gone off yet again!
I mentioned before how Ririkith was starving, but with some successful battles and survival rolls, they had a fair amount of food still left. Still, not the spoilage!
A rare power-up card also showed up that reduced Ririkith’s food rating. Only 2 food to eat now. Wonderful!
The dampness certainly wasn’t helping anyone, yet the duo was in good shape as they kept exploring. Hexploring?
Discoveries in Frost
Far to the south was a frozen portal that led to an incredibly powerful boss. 1 was hard enough… Telantes and Ririkith really didn’t look up to taking on the 8th boss!
The game involves a lot of wandering, especially since it’s not realistic to think of the characters as battling every turn. That could get deadly and exhausting quickly.
Instead, I planned my moves carefully and watched as the pair discovered treasure out in the freezing cold.
A one-time ability to be resurrected from death? Yes! This was a monumental discovery to be carefully guarded.
Roaming Into Lairs
Either my luck with the ruins was unusually good, or Telantes and Ririkith were just drawn to finding lairs.
Yet again, on a ruins roll, the next boss’s lair was discovered! It was the Gray Slime, and I think I found the cause of all the food issues. Slimy residue everywhere.
Yuck! At a dangerous level again, this raised its health up to 46. Ririkith had to be resurrected by Telantes, and they had a rather challenging time of things. Triumph at last!
I failed to take a proper photo, but do you know who allied with them every time? That same grizzly from before!
Surviving the Myth
With double the rewards coming from the first pair of boss battles, I decided that more ruins were in store! Each space can only be explored once, yet there are many.
I ended up building out the map to have an area populated with a cluster of them. Just ripe for the taking!
My expectation was another boss battle, yet the die showed the special hex result… A mythic event?
Oh, my! Telantes and Ririkith suffered some damage, yet the rewards were well worth it. Their first masteries were their most important, and getting lost would now be rare.
We are the Myth!
The very next turn, with the increased movement speed, the party was within range of another new set of ruins.
They carefully peered inside and immediately fell into another mythic event! Although they were on the verge of death, the damage was nonlethal. More power-up cards!
This draw was amazing. Doubled, this gave +2 to all of their abilities and I had +4 to split up however I wanted to. For each of them. I think I found the source of the myth!
It’s interesting to consider how quickly the game can progress towards the end with some bonuses like these.
The Inevitable Finale
To document every turn would have required hours to talk about everything! Suffice to say that Telantes and Ririkith managed to open the black market and make a fine deal.
Within range were quests, bosses, and even more ruins! Yet with all the cities fallen, the Dead King would be racing after the pair far too quickly. There was nothing to do…
Except await the final battle! It was incredibly difficult. Allies fell. Ririkith fell. Energy was drained in an instant.
The Dead King looked like he was going to end the myth, yet I wasn’t done yet. With an exciting flourish, victory!
Making the Most Sense of a 60-Page Rulebook
Although there are dozens of pages in this rulebook, it’s a smaller size so it isn’t as enormous as it may sound! Artwork and examples are included, too. I needed some time to digest it all, but it was an adventure to get through it. The more important aspect was figuring out how to apply edge case rules, outliers, and special interactions.
There are games that should be played exactly to the letter with not even a hint of house rules. Think about small rule sets and constrained gameplay. Changing even a little bit can break the game and lead to subpar gameplay.
This is a different case, at least as far as I can tell. With so many unique options and interactions, the rulebook simply can’t cover every possible scenario. What to do? I did the best I could, interpreting what I had in front of me and choosing the less desirable option if there were multiple options. Did I play exactly correctly? I doubt it. Ha ha!
Yet look at the length of play: This took me over 3 hours to play. Had I needed to look up FAQs and forum posts for every question, it would have felt like a slog. I had many exciting turns and watched my characters overcome obstacles. They nearly died a few times. Well, permanently, I should say! I still felt like I had a good basis for playing with the rulebook.
Examining Telantes at the End
Comparing Telantes from start to end, her statistics looked like this:
- Health: 7 to 14 (+7)
- Energy: 10 to 11 (+1)
- Attack: 2 to 6 (+4)
- Defense: 2 to 7 (+5)
- First Mastery: 6 to 14 (+8)
- Second Mastery: 3 to 8 (+5)
- Navigate: 2 to 12 (+10)
- Explore: 2 to 7 (+5)
- Survival: 4 to 10 (+6)
Lots and lots of character growth! The standard skills helped a lot in the end, particularly with the Dead King requiring a few rolls. Lots of easy successes!
Another helpful factor involved the favored opponents. She began with spirit, meaning she could roll a d6 for guaranteed damage against this opponent type.
She also picked up a power-up to add the undead as another favored type!
The black market items are exceptional, and I like to leave those as a bit of a surprise. Suffice to say that something was earned that changed the d6 to a d10, lending another hand to the final battle. Take that, Dead King!
A Retrospective on Ririkith
Ririkith experienced plenty of growth, too, with their statistics as follows:
- Health: 8 to 12 (+4)
- Energy: 10 to 13 (+3)
- Attack: 2 to 8 (+6)
- Defense: 2 to 6 (+4)
- First Mastery: 6 to 14 (+8)
- Second Mastery: 2 to 7 (+5)
- Navigate: 2 to 8 (+6)
- Explore: 4 to 8 (+4)
- Survival: 4 to 8 (+4)
Not as many large increases, but Ririkith always was pretty balanced for a dragonkin! Their spirit totems made all the difference at times. Go healing!
Defense was even more powerful than I thought, especially for this pair that did all the summoning. Those creatures did most of the fighting, while it was up to Telantes and Ririkith to stay alive and offer support to all allies.
Was this an overpowered combination? Honestly, I don’t think so. They each needed massive healing or even resurrection during almost every battle.
I got lucky in many respects, yet the Dead King battle was no walk in the park!
Where to Next?
My collection encompasses absolutely everything currently available within this series. And yes, that includes the HEXplore It: Hero Chest! With so many choices… Where do I go from here? Continue with the base game and simply increase the difficulty level, or start to introduce more content? Or might I dive into a whole new volume?
I’m sure I’ll decide on my own, yet having some feedback and recommendations is always helpful. Sometimes I end up going against the flow so we all can laugh at me. Ha! I’m looking forward to digging into the elements I haven’t tried yet, which is a massive amount of content. Even just mixing up the base game decks with new cards could be enough!
Play Number: 8 and 9
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game (Cooperative)
Play Details: Starter Difficulty Level
Take a moment to honor everyone who fell to the Dead King. Indeed, that loyal grizzly lasted the entire game from the very start! Her death was a little extra sad. When the plague beast died, that opened up the way for a young dragon to be summoned by Telantes. I still believe Ririkith is upset about losing a fellow dragon. This was a fantastic experience and I look forward to diving into the series!
Price & Value
Challenges & Mechanics
Design & Theme
Components & Rules
Achievement & Enjoyment
Distinctness & Randomness
+ Pros (Positives)
- There is a great sense of adventure and discovery, but there aren’t a large number of components beyond cards.
- Each role plays differently and introduces fun ways to play while also working in interesting ways with others.
- Although it’s tempting to play all at once, it’s easy to take a break and split up a lengthy session with little effort.
- A minimal amount of artwork allows the general story to develop naturally, but there are ways to spice this up.
- Even with the same initial setup, randomness and variety create very different experiences and challenges.
- Dice may seem very random, yet there are a lot of ways to mitigate most bad rolls or even make the most of them.
– Cons (Negatives)
- It can be difficult to know when characters are ready to face the Dead King, making the ending a little uncertain.
- Wading through the rules is possible and house rules abound, yet some situations can feel questionable.
- Although the app tracker helps drastically, it isn’t perfect for purchasing items and requires some thought.
- The race against the Dead King has its perks, yet it ultimately feels a bit frantic and discourages exploration.
Defeat the Dead King
- Overall Goal Progress 75% 75%
Goals and Milestones
Defeat boss 1.
Defeat boss 2.
Win at least 1 game at the starter difficulty level.
Win at least 1 game at the easy difficulty level.
Continue the Conversation
What are some of your favorite moments from HEXplore It: The Valley of the Dead King? Do you have a preferred role or combination of roles? This certainly isn’t a game to race through in an hour, yet I forgot how much I enjoyed it! There are stories to be told and interesting choices to make as the characters advance. Definitely coming back for more soon!