Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday, 7 June 2018

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Hero Realms

Game: Hero Realms

Publisher: White Wizard Games

Designer: Robert Dougherty, Darwin Kastle

Year: 2016

Hero Realms is a fantasy themes adaptation of the hit deck-building game Star Realms. Star Realms was one of the very early games we added to our collection and we still really enjoy it, however it's been almost entirely replaced by a fantastic app. Hero Realms was a great opportunity to get something similar back to the table. For this review of Hero Realms, we're looking at the base game as well as some of the Character Packs that expand the game and allow for each player to have unique starting decks and character abilities.



Gameplay

Hero Realms is a 2-player deckbuilding game. At the start of the game you will have a deck of generic, not very impressive cards such as rubies and gold which earn you money or Dagger and Swords which provide you with attacks. Your objective is to reduce your opponent to zero health before they can do the same to you. If you have already played Star Realms then you already know mostly how to play.

Each turn you will draw 5 cards from your deck and then play as many as you'd like.There are 3 main abilities cards grant you: attack, healing and money. these are fairly self explanatory, attack reduces your opponent's health, while healing increases your own. You can use the sum of the money you earn to buy cards from the central market, these cards, along with all cards use this turn, will be placed into your discard. On your next turn you will repeat this process, but at the end of your second turn you will find your deck is empty, at this point you will shuffle your discard (which should include any of the new cards you have bought) and make a new deck to draw from.

Where a lot of the strategies lie are in Champions and in the 4 factions. Champions are cards that do not get discarded after play, instead they stay in your play area providing bonuses every turn. In order to remove them your opponent must choose to use enough attack equal to their health, this gives you the hard choose between dealing direct damage or taking down champions. Some champions have Guard which forces you to attack them before you can attack the player or their other champions.

There are four factions in the game: red, blue, yellow and green. Each faction has their own specialty, green likes to hit you very hard in the face, while yellow enjoys making you draw extra cards while your opponent discards. Beyond this common theme factions cards are often more powerful when played together. If a faction card features a copy of it's symbol at the bottom of the card it means that this ability is only available if you play a second card of that colour this turn. This can make champions especially valuable.

As you play you will build up your deck of cards and maybe even trim out the cards that you no-longer need. Along the way you will customise your strategy until either you or your opponent stands victorious.
Hero Realms set up ready to be played, the health of each player is tracked via 2 cards, one horizontal for units and a second which is rotated for the tens

Amy’s Final Thoughts

It is absolutely impossible to look at Hero Realms without thinking about Star Realms, and it's fair to say that the biggest difference between the two games is theme. However I'd argue that the second biggest difference is game balance, Hero Realms seems to have invested into the idea that bigger is better, as such many of the cards appear to do disproportional amounts of damage compared to their gold cost. In most cases this causes the game to be unnecessarily short, ending before it feels you have really got your deck going.

Where Hero Realms shines is in it's re-theming, where the space lanes have been left behind for high fantasy, room was left for the classic classes of the fantasy genre to arise. There are several small expansions that add warriors, mages, rogues and their ilk to the game. When you play with these you get a vastly different starting deck with abilities, appropriate to your new class. In addition you get some permanent cards that you can trigger every turn (should you be able to afford them) and powerful one shot abilities that you can trigger when you really need them. These class decks add to the strategy and replayability and really help differentiate Hero Realms from its roots. They also tend to make the game a little longer which I felt was a great improvement.

When comparing Hero Realms with Star Realms I do think that I will stick to the original. Star Realms feels more fine-tuned and balanced, far more likely to produce a tight game. However, if you are interested more in the fantasy theme then Hero Realms is the obvious choice. While I do think that Star Realms is the better game it is important to note that this doesn't mean that Hero Realms is a bad game, it still has many of the advantages of it's lineage. There are even a few enhancements, the art and symbology have both been improved upon, making the game a little more visually appealing.

Playing multiple green cards in one turn allowed the yellow player to activated more powerful effects from all of their green cards.
Fi’s Final Thoughts

The main thing I love about Hero Realms is the quick play. Since the main way to play the game is with two players, turns pass super quickly and there are no agonising decisions. In addition, a positive for a two-player game for us is that although it's head-to-head, it doesn't feel agressive - I'm never angry that my opponent took the face up card I wanted or got a good shuffle that gave them good combos and obliterated my health. It's always fun to make combos and in Hero Realms it's easy so long as you stick to certain colours and get some champions in those colours to try and maintain them as ongoing features to trigger with.

The unique items in the starting deck of the Cleric character.
I am typically a fan of deck-building games that are bigger and better, where the cards are more powerful and exciting, however with Hero Realms it seems like this is taken a step too far and upsets the rhythm of the game. Things just escalate too quickly when it's so easy to buy a heavy hitting card. You lose the satisfaction of crafting your deck and the way it changes throughout the game. A game of Hero Realms just suddenly ends, like having the rug pulled from under you. I found the pacing in the original Star Realms game much more satisfying and games had more tension as a result.

We never played everything that was available for Star Realms, but I believe Hero Realms is unique in the way that it has introduced Character packs to give players an option of a unique starting deck and some bonus abilities. These definitely refresh the game, giving it some new life, but I found the games could become too drawn out when characters had opposing attacking and healing abilities, for example.

Ultimately I found that Hero Realms was too short without the character packs and too long with them. It may have just been luck over the course of the four or five games we played, but I just didn't find the game satisfying in the way I expect from deck-building. Star Realms is definitely superior in my opinion and if nothing else, Hero Realms has made me want to bring that classic back to the table.

The Good
  • Hero Realms is a fast, accessible deck building game that makes a great introduction to the genre.
  • The different hero packs add some variety to the game and each player's special abilities can be a powerful and unique bonus.
The Bad
  • The cards are very powerful for low cost and as a result we felt like the base game accelerated too quickly and was over within two turns once you have created an adequate deck.
  • With the hero abilities, the game often dragged too long as one player would be very good at healing whilst the other attacks.
The Verdict
5.5/10 Hero Realms is not a bad small-box deck-building game, but we still prefer the original Star Realms to fill that space in our collection. 

Hero Realms was a review copy provided to the Board Game Exposure reviewer collective.

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