Social Space: Hero Academy, a mobile hero of hardcore-meets-social

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Hero AcademyEvery week in this column, I discuss the many, seemingly endless ways in which the worlds of social games and traditional games merge. So far, we've looked at major companies slapping social play into their wheelhouse, but these worlds collide in more interesting ways already. LIke when a new IP game aimed at the core audience takes features that put social gaming on the map, and creates a semi-casual experience with them that even the most "hardcore" gamer can appreciate.

I'm talking about Hero Academy, a turn-based strategy game for iOS and PC (through Steam) released earlier this year that takes what made Words With Friends so immensely popular and applies it to a chess-like strategy experience. Well, only with more dwarves, spells, explosions and fun. Developed by Robot Entertainment, the game recently received a brand new team of heroes, the Shaolin, so it's about time we took another good look at the game. (Or simply recognize that it's an amazing time--call me selfish all you like.)

Hero Academy simply pits players against their friends or random strangers in a board game much like a cross between chess, Warcraft and Words With Friends. Given just five actions per turn, you play out your turn and "send" that turn to your friend much like you would in Zynga's word game. Of course, a major difference being that your goal isn't to create a word, but to wipe your friend's crystals off the map.
Hero Academy ShaolinCleverly supplemented by an in-game chat system, Hero Academy quickly becomes a way to keep up with fellow core game fans in a setting that's plenty more entertaining (for that crowd) then looking at motionless words on a board. Of course, there are plenty of other aspects of Robot Entertainment's strategy game that make it more appealing to a wide swath of gamers, namely it's focus on easy-to-learn, tough-to-master mechanics and balance.

You could say that all the developer did was slap the Words With Friends framework (in terms of turn-based play and in-game chat) on to a strategy game. But did anyone do it before in such a way? Not that this editor can think of. Sometimes, the worlds of social and traditional games collide so beautifully, thanks to such a seemingly simple approach. Not only is Hero Academy a blast to play; it's a fine example of the right way to merge core game mechanics and tropes with those of Facebook games. Are you taking notes?

What do you think of Hero Academy? Are there any other shining examples of merging social and core game mechanics that come to mind? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
Joe Osborne is associate editor at Games.com News. Weekly in Social Space, Joe shares opinions and observations on the intersection of social gaming and traditional games. Follow him on Twitter here.
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