Diving Into HEXplore It: The Valley of the Dead King

June 30, 2021 | Sessions | 8 comments

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 Overview

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!

Looking Out Across an Interesting Area in HEXplore It
R

First Play

March 10, 2018

Complexity

3

Latest Play

June 25, 2021

Expansions

2

Setup Time

10 Minutes

Lifetime Plays

9

Play Time

3 Hours

:

High Score

N/A

1

Game Area

48" x 34"

;

Low Score

N/A

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…

Looking Out from the Safety of a Starting Town in HEXplore It

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.

Choosing the First Character as an Angelborn Summoner in HEXplore It

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?

Restless Spirits and Dragons in HEXplore It

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…

Using the Official App to Track the Start of Telantes in HEXplore It

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!

Taking a Look at the App with Ririkith in HEXplore It

Designating Portraits

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!

Choosing Other Character Portraits to Use in HEXplore It

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.

Moving Out Into the Wilds and Encountering Storm Wolves in HEXplore It

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.

A Most Unpleasant Entrance in the Valley of HEXplore It

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!

Taking Out the Fallen Townsfolk with Summoned Creatures in HEXplore It

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!

A Terrible Time Out in the Caves of HEXplore It

Encountering Comedy

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.

The Intersection of Annoying and Distracted in HEXplore It

Tenacious Rewards

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.

Taking Advantage of Completed Quests in HEXplore It

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!

Uncovering the First Boss Lair in HEXplore It

Making Haste

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.

Making Haste with More Movement in HEXplore It

Food Tampering

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?

First Mold and Then Spoilage for More Food Woes in HEXplore It

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.

A Special Treasure Hidden in the Chill of HEXplore It

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!

Stumbling Across the Slimy Lair of Slime in HEXplore It

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.

Encountering and Surviving a Mythic Event Deep in the Ruins of HEXplore It

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 Source of the Myths in HEXplore It

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!

Getting Ready for the Dead King in HEXplore It

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!

Surviving the Final Battle with Telantes in HEXplore It

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!

Just Barely Holding Onto Enough Energy with Ririkith in HEXplore It

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!

Session Overview

Play Number: 8 and 9
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game (Cooperative)
Play Details: Starter Difficulty Level
Outcome: Win

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!

The Fallen Allies from the Final Showdown in HEXplore It

%

1 Play

Affordability

Price & Value

6

Functionality

Challenges & Mechanics

8

Originality

Design & Theme

10

Quality

Components & Rules

8

Reusability

Achievement & Enjoyment

8

Variability

Distinctness & Randomness

10

+ 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.

More HEXplore It

Explore related posts about HEXplore It: The Valley of the Dead King!

Victory Conditions

Defeat the Dead King

  • Overall Goal Progress 75% 75%

Goals and Milestones

R

Defeat boss 1.

R

Defeat boss 2.

R

Win at least 1 game at the starter difficulty level.

Q

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!

8 Comments

  1. Very nice blog and very thorough “review”
    I am on the fence with this one and like the idea that it has a lot of TTRPG aspects in it, but I am not always as creative as these games require one to be. Therefore I would have loved to see more thematic context so that I could enjoy the creativity of the experts instead of being let down by my own… xD
    I wonder if the “Klik’s Madness Campaign Book” is my saving grace in this regard…
    I’m also a solo gamer, so the “group” is not a factor here. It’s just a question of spending the money will be rewarded with a fun, engaging experience.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comments! My creativity is sometimes a little relaxed when playing this… I count the spaces, figure out the consequence or event for that turn, and keep on moving. For me, it’s less a case of continuously having every scene acted out and more like having specific moments. That annoying commoner arrived at the perfect time, which led to plenty of fun!

      I’m also looking forward to the campaign book. The storybook included with this volume actually offers a lot of tidbits about many encounters. I forgot all about it, which is my own fault! Next time I play, which I hope will be soon, I’ll try to highlight some of those entries to provide an idea of some of those thematic elements.

      Illustrated circumstances for the encounters are also in the works! Ordered those up, which should arrive next year with the next volume. Sometimes artwork is enough to bring a game to life, although I still prefer having some text and guidance. Seems like there are a lot of neat things on the way! Happy to go into any more details about the existing content if it will help you out. I may be called the Breaker of Wallets, yet I’m also known for saving a few by calling out some specific negatives. Ha ha!

      Reply
      • I’m just going to pull the trigger on this one and get the complete Volume 1. Including “Klik’s Madness Campaign Book”
        I’m not very fussy when it comes to gameplay styles and rules, as I easily home-rule the rules to my liking since I play solo. The story and the experience is really what I’m after. I love reading fantasy novels and often imagine the worlds and what it must have been like to actually be the characters. These style of games gives me that opportunity and that’s what’s most important to me.
        Heck, worst case, I hate it and sell it and move on to something new!

        You should consider starting a Youtube channel. I really enjoy your style of review as it brings a fresh touch to the scene. We need more gamers with a passion for the experience, rather than money hungry content creators that sing the praises of any and all games, leaving us uninformed on what we are getting ourselves into.

        Stay safe and happy gaming!

        Reply
        • Apologies for the very delayed reply here. Thank you so much for the kind words! I’ve slowly been improving my equipment and while I never considered videos before, that might be a possibility at some point. I appreciate the suggestion!

          I hope this turns out nicely for you! Like you said, though, even if it doesn’t work, it’s a game that holds its value and could be sold. Really hoping that you’ll enjoy this when it arrives. I’m very excited about the campaign book, too. Should add a whole new layer to the experience!

          Reply
  2. I like those terrain hexes: they show clearly what sort of land you’re dealing with, but at the same time they’re not all identical.

    I do take your point on apps – I think I tend to feel the same way, I don’t really like computers on the table, but sometimes they’re just really useful. (And I’m more willing to have app-assisted setup than app-assisted play, though presumably that’s not relevant here.)

    From a thematic point of view, does it make sense to have the struggle against the Dead King taking over the world and random mould on the food in the same story? I don’t know. Maybe so.

    Reply
    • So sorry for taking so long to reply, Roger! There are some special terrain hexes that blend in but aren’t too hard to find. Like you said, there’s a nice bit of variety, yet the overall appearance isn’t all uniform and bland.

      I’m becoming more open to apps, though that’s basically going from, “No, never!” to “OK, I might consider 1-2 maximum.” This one can stay open to make tracking things easy at a glance, yet if I want to pause and play without electronics to immerse myself in the story for a bit, it’s fine to ignore it when not needed.

      Mold and evil taking over the world go hand in hand, right? Ha ha! I thought this tied together in the narrative by thinking that the moldy food came from a city the Dead King took over, thereby having far-reaching effects. Makes sense to me!

      Reply
  3. Hey Jessica, I finally came over and read a blog entry! I had to for this game.

    I totally agree, there are certain games (Secrets of the Lost Tomb is another example) where you can’t be worried about getting every single rule detail covered. Just do your best and have a blast! Just the same way I play this.

    Great writeup! I may have to come back for some more. 🙂
    Dave

    Reply
    • Hi, Dave! Great to have you over here, and my apologies for taking so long to answer. Some games are definitely more enjoyable when you play everything to the letter, yet those are typically smaller rulesets with a focus on mechanics over the storyline.

      Even if I end up accidentally cheating my way to victory at some point, it will still be worth it! If anything, I often put my characters at a disadvantage because I forget about a special bonus or something. It all evens out and in the end, we’re all here to have some fun!

      Hope to have you back soon! I’ll be diving into more of these volumes soon enough!

      Reply

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