A few years ago, a group of friends and I embarked on the tabletop RPG game known as HeroQuest, Games Workshop’s and Milton Bradley’s answer to Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a turn-based dungeon romp that pits players against the evil wizard Morcar. Our group had a climactic battle against the wizard that went down to the very last dice roll, and it will be something I remember for the rest of my days. There were tears and tantrums, and the kind of camaraderie that only four blokes in their 20’s and 30’s could have by playing a board game and eating copious amounts of Haribo.
Knights of Pen and Paper attempts to recreate that experience, and that of other tabletop RPGs, in a single player turn-based RPG. And it does a pretty good job of it too.
Knights of Pen and Paper +1 Deluxier Edition – to give its full title – is the Xbox version of the iOS/Android game that came out in 2012, but with additional features such as an extended campaign, a Halloween themed expansion and The Tavern; a place to store heroes you no longer want to use in order to replace them with newer party members.
The game kicks off like any other turn-based RPG as you choose your character to start with. The table you sit at opposite the gamesmaster (GM) has five seats, and as you journey on through you can pay Gold earned throughout your quest to recruit more members to fill up the seats.
As you play through, you realise you are – to an extent – playing both sides of this game. As the group/Knights, you are running through the story moving from location to location and defeating the enemies before you. As the GM, you can decide how many enemies the group will face; before each battle there is a screen with a difficulty slider to decide the number of enemies to spawn. If you want an easy battle, spawn fewer enemies, but at the cost of lower EXP. And vice versa. Deciding how many enemies to fight against at one time also has a detrimental effect to the number of days spent in-game.
For example: a side quest could have you needing to defeat seven bats in a cave. Seven would be too difficult to take on at once, so you decide to split it into two: four bats and then three bats. As one battle takes one day, that is two days altogether. The number of days your quest goes on for is always visible in the top right corner just under where the amount of Gold you have accrued is.
Main quests can be distinguished from side quests by the star that appears next to them. However, whilst I could just be stupid, it took me a while to notice this as it is never communicated.
Battles are the standard turn-based affair, and each starts with a combatant being randomly assigned a number in which they will take their turns. All player-controlled characters have a standard attack, and up to 4 magic based attacks. These can be levelled up with skill points as you level up the character, but it is worth making a note beforehand what these spells actually do; when in the middle of a battle there isn’t any description as to what the attack does. This isn’t so much an issue a few hours into the game but when starting out it is a major oversight.
As much fun as I have had playing Knights of Pen and Paper, there are a few nuances that come across badly. For example, I was happily playing through the main story quests one-by-one until the next one appeared and I noticed a massive level gap between the previous one and this. Grinding is part and parcel of any RPG but this steep increase in recommended level is a step beyond acceptable grinding and almost makes it feel like a chunk of the game is missing.
Another nuance had me start again on the other side of the map to where I needed to be after an attack in the ‘real world’ where my characters were sat round the table as part of the main story. Every time you move from spot to spot a dice roll occurs to make sure you can make the journey without being attacked. On this occasion I didn’t make the dice roll and was plunged into a random battle, vastly under-levelled for this area having previously never explored it. As such, I suffered a complete wipe of my team. I felt aggrieved at this, a cheap death purely at the failings of the mechanics of the game and through no fault of my own.
Deaths though are, thankfully, not permanent. But they do come at a cost; literally needing to spend Gold to revive your team.
Gold can also be spent on upgrades to your gear through the Blacksmith, or spent on goods in the Store. Another neat feature though is that the table the adventurers and GM are sat around can also be adorned with trinkets and consumables to increase and buff their stats. This again requires a fair amount of Gold.
The Achievements for the game are a real mixed bag. Very few are tied to game progression, and most seem to be considered ‘endgame’ material, so it is certainly a real list of Achievements if you will. The main story should not take too long to complete however, at least once you factor in the additional grinding.
Once you do figure out how things work in Knights of Pen and Paper there is fun to be had in small doses. The main quest plods along at a slow pace, but this is mainly down to the amount of necessary grinding required, particularly at a few sharp difficulty spikes. That said, as someone who has played tabletop games before, I can appreciate the humour and nods this game gives, and this is a decent recreation of it in a videogame format.