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Customs Creation - January 2019

Posted January 24th, 2019 at 02:09 AM by HS Codex

Customs Creation
Design Fundamentals
Author: Scytale

Articles on creating customs provide insight into many of the finer aspects of creating custom Heroscape units, a hobby that is far more intricate and challenging than it first appears. While these resources can be invaluable, their wisdom will likely fail you if you are not starting with a base of strong fundamentals. Iím talking about knowledge not only of the game and of the existing units, but of broad design patterns that emerge from looking at the official units as well as an understanding of the metagame. While this article is targeted at those new to custom creation, all of us can benefit from reviewing the fundamentals of custom design, including myself.

Different Heroscape units have different purposes. In my articles, I have repeatedly stressed the importance of understanding your customís role on the battlefield, and this is all the more true when considering design patterns. A cheerleader will have different stats than a front-line brawler. Start with an understanding of a unitís purpose. This is related to Jexikís invaluable unit classifications in Whatís in an Order Marker?, but not entirely the same. The combination of role and classification will tell you a great deal about a unit. With that knowledge, find official units with a similar profile and look for similarities between them.

Letís look in detail at some of the more common types of units.

Core Squads

Core squads are those common squads that tend to take up a large part of the armies they are in. The list of such units is rather long and can fit in a number of classifications, from ďbread and butterĒ units like the Knights of Weston to ďsharksĒ like the Venoc Vipers to ďdefendersĒ like the Sentinels of Jandar. While their playstyles vary greatly, the important aspect of core squads is that they will take up the bulk of your order markers in the midgame and likely early and late as well.

The important thing to consider with core squads is expected offensive output. As they will take up the bulk of a playerís order markers, these turns need to be valuable but not overwhelming. As a good rule of thumb, a fairly consisent set of three attacks of three dice per order marker is the minimum amount (alternatively, two attacks of four or four attacks of two). Ranged units can achieve this fairly easily; with even average range, they can usually get a full volley of attacks with height advantage.

Melee units struggle quite a bit more to achieve this because the front line is usually multiple turns of movement away from the starting zone. Losses on the front line often reduce the number of attacks, as it takes time to move more combatants into position. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to address this. The ever-popular use of bonding adds a heroís attack into the mix, on a figure that will remain on the front lines longer and divert attacks from the squad members. Sentinels of Jandar and Warriors of Ashra rely on strong defenses to keep them on the front lines, where they can continue to attack. Venoc Vipers use their great speed and the occasional Frenzy to keep up the number of attacks, while Zombies of Morindan continually move units to the front. Other units use a combination of speed, defense, and bonding to maintain attack levels.

While too few maintainable attacks will make a core squad impotent, too many will make it dominant. The 4th Massachusetts Line demonstrates this clearly. With their solid range and mobility, it is fairly easy for them to maintain four attacks per turn, and with Wait Then Fire they keep themselves well above the minimum two dice much of the time. Simply put, they can consistently throw a lot of dice at their opponent and spread it out very well. The Greenscale Warriors demonstrate this as well: while by themselves (including a nearby Lizard King), they just reach the minimum with three attacks of three, bonding with Nilfheim more than doubles their offensive output. Anything more than a consistent six attacks of three per turn is dangerous territory.

Elite Squads

Elite squads are those you normally take in small numbers. Unique squads naturally fall in this category, as well as some high-priced common squads. These too can fill a variety of classifications and even roles, though most commonly they are designed and drafted for raw combat power. This discussion will focus on that purpose; other uses will have different requirements.

When drafting a unit for its fighting prowess, of course, offensive output is important. If a unitís job is to kill things, it needs to have the power to do so. Ironically, though, that is not the most important feature of good elite squads. The part that is most important is defense. This fact is simply a feature of the Heroscape system. Squad figures only have a single life, and losing a figure in a lone squad means all future turns with that squad will be less efficient, often downright bad. Often times a single loss will all but cripple an elite squad, a loss inflicted by a single hit. (While glass cannons with high offense and low defense can work, they tend to focus more on an assassin role than pure combatant.)

So itís best to give the squad some solid defensive strength. The problem with doing that is that Raelin exists. Any strong defense only gets stronger with Raelin around. This is especially bad for ranged units that donít need to move around to attack. The Krav Maga Agents, for example, become incredibly hard to take down from range with Raelin backing them up. Defensive powers must be handled with great care.

Combat Heroes

Heroes fill all sorts of roles, but some are drafted simply to fight on the front lines. These heroes are functionally similar to elite squads, but their strengths and weaknesses are very different. Heroes donít have the same problem of becoming weaker with each wound taken, but they also donít have the advantage of being in multiple places at once and attacking multiple times (without a special attack or special power).

Because of this, the most important aspect of a non-synergistic combat hero isnít its defense but rather its offense. Yes, a hero with little survivability can be worthless, but they usually have at least some staying power, and, most importantly, can bring their full offense to bear every turn once theyíre in position. To be valuable, they need one of two things: either a powerful single attack, or multi-target or multi-attack ability.

A single powerful attack usually isnít good enough in regular Heroscape, due to the dominance of squads. Even very powerful heroes will have a hard time keeping up if they can only kill one thing per turn. It can work in some situations, though. The most important is as a hero-killing weapon, but I tend to put that more in the assassin category. It can also work decently against some high-defense squads, where a single big attack is more likely to net results than a bunch of small ones. Overall, I recommend avoiding the single attack direction for a hero intended to be a solo frontline combatant.

Thatís where multi-target or multi-attack abilities are very important. If you look at official íScape, multi-attacks such as Double Attack or multi-target special attacks are very common with combat-type heroes (and even for other types). That allows them to be competitive, or at least somewhat valuable, in this squad-heavy game. When designing a hero that you intend to be a mid-game fighter, first consider how to give it multiple attacks or the ability to hit multiple targets.


Assassin units are ones designed to hunt down and kill key figures. There are numerous ways to go about this, and they can take the form of heroes such as Sgt. Drake and the Master of the Hunt, or as squads such as the Elite Onyx Vipers or the Ninjas of the Northern Wind. I will focus mainly on heroes, but the same goals will apply to squads.

The important thing to consider with an assassin isnít defense or even offense per se, as killing their point value worth of units isnít the goal. Their purpose is to cripple key points of an enemy army, likely dying in the process, or simply pose the threat that the opponent has to work around. Thus the most important aspect of this type of unit is its ability to threaten important targets. This is almost trivial for a ranged assassin; the difficulty with a unit like that is to actually make it interesting and challenging for both the player and the opponent. Melee units, however, need something else. They need to be able to get to their target at a momentís notice, or at least threaten that they can. Disengage, Flying, and other movement abilities are key for this.

Of course, good mobility by itself isnít everything; the unit needs to have the offensive bite to make a difference, or at least the defenses to last long enough for its offense to matter. While it is okay to simply have a high attack value or multiple attacks, that can make the unit work possibly too well outside of its intended function. Bonus damage abilities, like the Master of the Huntís Mortal Strike, are an example of a way to keep the design focused.


Cheerleader units, usually heroes, are ones whose purpose is primarily to boost other units. Cheerleader heroes can generally be placed on a spectrum to help identity what type of cheerleader it is. That spectrum is the range at which the unitís ability functions. On one end of the spectrum are the heroes that are range-independent with no other requirements. Scout Leadership is an example of such an ability. At the other end of the spectrum are units that require adjacency, with powers such as Soldier Attack Enhancement. Where a single unit ends up on the spectrum depends on the range of their powers and the value those powers bring.

When designing a unit with minimal requirements for usefulness, such as no range requirement, be extremely careful. Even if the effect can be balanced, it can often lead to a boring unit. A unit that sits in the back of the starting zone and never gets order markers is not a fun unit, not for the player or the opponent. (Cleanup figures provide an exception, but thatís because they do expect to get order markers and provide value with them.) You need to fully understand the implications of creating such a unit.

On the other hand, you also have to careful when designing a unit with heavy requirements for its cheerleading uses, particularly adjacency. An adjacency requirement demands that the unit be moved up alongside the unit it is boosting. That takes some level of effort. If it requires order markers to be placed on that hero, those order markers need to provide enough value overall to be worthwhile, either with a powerful effect, or perhaps by making the cheerleader a decent combat hero. Otherwise, some form of bonding is needed to be able to get the unit in position without costing order markers.

Thus, determining where on the spectrum your custom cheerleader belongs is key. The requirements for its use must be high enough to require decision-making. That is, it needs to cost the player something to get the benefit from the unit, even if that cost is taking up a bonding activation. But if the cost is too high, it will be too costly for the benefit and will not see use. Thus, the requirements for its use must be low enough for the unit to provide value. The range of its auras, bonus movements from bonding or otherwise, and its survivability are all factors to consider. And, remember: its value is based on the units it is best paired with, not on the average unit it can be paired with.

Closing Thoughts

Heroscape units usually fall into broad categories based on roles and classifications, including the ones I went into detail about above, and more. Within each of these are many existing units, including official units, Valhalla Customs, and lots of creatorsí personal customs. When making your own custom, understand what category your design fits into and look at other units in that category, especially official ones. Look for similarities between those units. Doing so will give you insight into the most important, fundamental aspects of that type of unit. Use that as a starting point, or at least a guidepost to give you insight into the viability of your design.
Total Comments 3


superfrog's Avatar
Great article, Scy!
Posted January 25th, 2019 at 01:55 PM by superfrog superfrog is offline
Tornado's Avatar
Posted January 26th, 2019 at 12:51 PM by Tornado Tornado is offline
flameslayer93's Avatar
The *Fun*dementals are certainly key in all things.
Posted January 28th, 2019 at 11:43 PM by flameslayer93 flameslayer93 is offline
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