A few months back, I wrote about the Star Realms deck-building game from White Wizard Games. I’d gotten to play it at Gen Con 2016, and I felt it was something my oldest son (age 9) would enjoy. The game mechanics were fairly straightforward and easy to pick up, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at its replayability with the various expansion packs and rule variants. Also at Gen Con, White Wizard was sharing details about a fantasy card game that shared almost the same rules as Star Realms, but this game would also have an RPG element using class packs. I backed Hero Realms on Kickstarter at the level that would include the base game but also five class packs, two boss packs, and a campaign deck.
The boss packs and campaign deck are scheduled to be released next year, but the base game and the five class packs recently arrived in my mailbox along with the Hero Realms Promo Pack that I’ll explain shortly. My two boys (ages 9 and 6) and I have been enjoying playing the base game, and I thought I’d share with you some details about the game and our experiences with it so far.
The Hero Realms base game comes with enough cards for up to four players to play. (The Star Realms base game only supports a two player game, but the Colony Wars expansion adds enough cards for two more players.) Normally the game would not be played solo, but tucked in the package was the Hero Realms promo pack, which came with a special solo-play card that I’ll cover later in this review. Each player begins the game with 10 cards in his deck, but additional cards can be purchased as the game progresses.
Note: Unlike games like Magic: The Gathering, Star Realms and Hero Realms do not rely on rare/exotic cards that can unbalance a game when a single player comes to the table with an overpowered deck. The two Realms games make all cards available to players through themed/named expansion packs–each pack has identical cards inside.
Here are the basic rules of Hero Realms:
1. Each player begins with 50 Health; this is the basic life/health of the player. When it reaches 0, that player is out of the game.
2. Cards are purchased with Gold that is represented on the cards as a gold coin icon with a numeral. Damage is dealt to the opposite player’s Health with the Combat icon (red target symbol with numeral).
3. There are four factions (red, green, blue, yellow) that represent different guilds and factions, and their champions that can be purchased and added to a player’s deck.
4. Players start with seven Gold cards (worth 1 Gold each), a Ruby card (value of 2 Gold), a Shortsword (2 Combat), and a Dagger (1 Combat). The first player draws three cards to start (four cards for the 2nd player in a 3-player game), and then players take turns drawing five cards from that point forward. Five cards are dealt face up in the Market for players to buy with Gold, as well as a common pile of Fire Gem cards that cost 2 Gold but offer 2 Gold when played. (This may seem odd, but later in the game you can obtain cards that, when played, let you intentionally sacrifice a card from your deck… losing a single Gold card or even two or three means they are less likely to show up after a shuffle, increasing the odds of dealing more powerful or valuable cards.)
5. A purchased card from the Market goes directly into the player’s Discard pile that is shuffled when all of that player’s cards are used up or when a player cannot draw a full five cards from his/her deck. Some cards called Champions go into the discard pile when purchased, but when eventually dealt into your hand will stay in play until stunned; once stunned (not Sacrificed which removes a card permanently from the current game) it goes into the player’s Discard pile.
6. Champions come in two flavors–Guard and non-Guard. Guard Champions have a black shield and value which will indicate how much damage the Champion will take for you. When that value is exceeded, the Champion is stunned (goes to your Discard pile) and any leftover damage is applied to another Guard Champion, a non-Guard Champion or to your Health. Non-Guard Champions have a silver shield and value and do not step in to take damage directed at you. Your opponent is not required to distribute Combat damage to non-Guard Champions (but can choose to do so), but the non-Guard Champions frequently provide Gold or Combat PLUS a special ability that makes them difficult to ignore.
As far as gameplay, there are different strategies you can take. You can try to obtain high Combat value cards early on, hoping to stack them and take out your opponent early… or you can try to obtain high defense Champions who will take damage for you and protect your Health. Other strategies include grabbing cards that can heal Health (and you can go above 50 Health) or cards with identical factions–because many special abilities double damage or provide other benefits when two or more cards of the same faction are in play.
By itself, the base game is very fun to play. I’ve had fun playing both 2 and 3 player games with my boys, and in both cases, I needed different strategies to stay alive in the free-for-all. There is a variant that only lets you attack the player to your left as well as a game of 2v2. With at least two character packs and the base game, there is also a 3v3 variant called Emperor. But now let me share with you details about the class packs which bring a bit of roleplaying to the card game.
There are five class packs, each sold separately–Cleric, Fighter, Wizard, Thief, and Ranger. I have a hard time imagining these will be the only class packs released, but right now they provide an amazing amount of variability to the standard game. In lieu of the base 10 cards you receive for the standard game, each class pack comes with 10 replacement cards that contain a few Gold cards but mostly new class-specific abilities.
What’s interesting about the class packs is not only how well they mix into the basic game, but also how balanced they are when going toe-to-toe with against another class pack. But to me, the real fun with the class packs is when you are playing cooperatively with other players. I mentioned that White Wizard is creating a Campaign Deck that will release early next year. This Campaign comes complete with XP and loot and character skill and equipment upgrades. The Campaign Deck is supposed to provide both solo and cooperative play across three different missions with Treasure, Skill, and Gear cards.
Originally the Campaign Deck was supposed to come with 55 cards, but there has been a delay in finishing the deck and getting it out to backers; to make it up to backers, White Wizard has increased the deck to 144 cards! I don’t know if this means more missions or just longer play time for the original three missions, but I’m certain whatever the new cards bring, that my boys and I will enjoy them. At the time I write this, the Campaign Deck has a title, The Ruin of Thandar.
In addition to the Campaign Deck shipping next year, there will also be two Boss packs–The Dragon and The Lich. A Boss deck will allow a player to play a more powerful adversary against one or more other players OR the two bosses can be played against each other. Each Boss pack comes with 30 cards that include new abilities and new card types.
Finally, I mentioned earlier the Hero Realms Kickstarter promo pack. The promo pack ships to all Kickstarter backers with 35 bonus cards, but don’t despair if you missed out on the Kickstarter–White Wizard states that these cards will continue to be distributed at conventions and with special promotions as long as supplies last. You may have to hunt down White Wizard Games’ convention schedule, but these cards are well worth collecting and using with Hero Realms.
The promo pack has provided some absolutely amazing gameplay with a few surprise cards tucked inside:
- Tibus, Guild Lord (Solo) Challenge Card — You can play against Tibus with the basic game or the class packs, and there are special rules on the back of the card that control how Tibus attacks, his special abilities, and more. I’m very impressed with how simple it is to play against this Challenge Card; it uses the faction colors of revealed cards to determine Tibus’ action and costs of cards to determine Combat value. I’ve played the Solo version only… Won one, lost two. It’s VERY challenging with the basic game, but not as difficult with a class pack.
- Tibus, Guild Lord (Co-Op) Challenge Card — Same card and almost identical rules but this one is for 2 or more players to take on Tibus. My boys and I are tackling Tibus this weekend… it’s going to be fun.
- 5x Magic Item cards — Five unique items that can be shuffled and randomly distributed to each player OR mix them into the Market deck and the player who flips it over keeps it.
- 8x Zombie/Legionnaire cards — These double-sided cards provide special Champion cards (called Tokens) that can be called into play by other cards. These don’t mix into the Market deck.
- 9x (New) Champion cards, Guard and non-Guard mix — Bjorn can call Legionnaires into play, Kasha can call Zombies, and then there are Gorg (Orc Shaman), Mobia (Elf Lord), Ren (Bounty Hunter), Valius (Fire Dragon), Bloodfang (Werewolf), Droga (Guild Enforcer), and Galok the Vile (Vampire) who all have their own special abilities and powers… some purely beneficial while others might have a drawback depending on how you play…
- 11x (New) Action cards — These go into the Market deck and include special abilities such as Afterlife (allows you to pull a stunned Champion from your Discard pile and place it on top of your draw deck) and Dragon Fire (deals 7 Combat but if you Sacrifice the card, you deal an additional four Combat to target player plus all other players).
I should also mention two things about Hero Realms and Facebook:
- There’s an official Hero Realms Facebook page — They post videos and interesting news about the game, but more importantly they respond to player questions. I’ve submitted a few and rarely had to wait a full day for a response.
- There’s a great unofficial Hero Realms Fan page — This is a great place to visit if you grab the game and enjoy it. The folks here provide answers to questions but also share their mods to the game. For example, the Tibus Challenge Cards are really popular with the players on this page, but it hasn’t stopped us from offering up variations to the rules to give the card a bit more power when it starts to get boring or too easy.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this game develops over time. Between the boss packs, the class packs, and the Campaign Deck, the game has so many directions to grow. Fans are talking about creating their own Challenge Cards for solo and co-op play (I asked about new Challenge Cards and White Wizard responded that there were no plans right now for new Challenge Cards because work on the Campaign Deck was the priority… and I agree) and I imagine there will be new announcements once the Campaign Deck and boss packs are released. White Wizard also has sponsored organized play/competitions for Hero Realms planned with prizes!
Note: I should add that the base game and the class packs come with two special cards for tracking Health. With the basic game, there are blue, red, green, and yellow Health cards. With the Class packs, each class comes with its own eye-catching artwork card (one side a male version, the flip side the female version) for the class as well as the two Health cards. For non-class pack players, starting Health is 50, but with the class packs, Health varies depending on class (Cleric 55, Wizard 50, Thief 52, Fighter 60, and Ranger 58).
My boys and I are just having a blast playing Hero Realms. Both of them have their favored strategy, but I’m finding that the randomness of the Market means you really have to be willing to change your tactics fast. Make too many changes to how you want to structure your deck and you may find yourself taken out just when your deck is starting to show promise. My 6-year-old is all about high-value Combat cards. The 9-year-old goes for smaller damages but grabs healing cards whenever he can. I’m always keeping an eye on the faction colors and ally special abilities and extra damage, and I’ll dump those 1 Gold cards as fast as I can by buying up Fire Gems when I don’t see something in the Market that really helps my plan. And when it comes to the class packs, my oldest wants the Thief, my youngest favors the Ranger or Fighter, and while I prefer wizards in other games, the Cleric deck has some real benefits that my boys have so far ignored.
The Hero Realms base game is releasing on December 20, but I haven’t yet heard when the class packs will be selling to the general public. No word yet on a digital app version of the game either (although there is one for Star Realms).