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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Wednesday 3 February 2021

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Heart of Crown: Fairy Garden

Game: Heart of Crown: Fairy Garden

Publisher: Japanime Games

Designer:  ginkgo

Year: 2013

Japanime Games certainly have a niche - deck-building card games with an art style that is certainly not to everyone's taste. While there are a couple of games that fall outside of this mould, there aren't many and Heart of Crown certainly fits it perfectly. Fairy Garden is a standalone expansion and a lot of the art is rather cute, fitting nicely into the fairy theme with some anime charm. In other areas, especially the princesses and maids, you will certainly recognise the over emphasis of certain features, that was common in Japanime Games' other titles like Tanto Cuore.

Heart of Crown: Fairy Garden is a standalone expansion to Heart of Crown. In terms of gameplay, we were pleased to find that this isn't just a Dominion or Tanto Cuore clone and it actually has quite a few new and fresh ideas that really change up the formula.


Heart of Crown
starts much like many other deck-builders. You begin with a deck of 7 farming villages (the 'one money' cards) and three apprentice maids (useless trash that clogs your deck). From this deck you draw five cards. During your turn you can play any one card from your hand. If that card has an arrow coming off of it then you can place a second card beside it and so on until either you play a card without an arrow, or you run out of cards. You then use any money earned from played cards to buy cards from the market. There is a market of 8 cards available at any one time and no limit on the number of cards that you buy on one turn. The market is formed at the start of each game with you choosing ten different card types to play with. In addition you can buy basic cards in the forms of cities (bigger money cards), succession cards (end game points) and princesses, more on those later. These new cards are typically better than your starting cards, having more powerful abilities, more money or more arrows. As you'd expect they get added to your discard, and then once you run out of cards they will be shuffled into your new deck.

The objective of Heart of Crowns is to get a princess to become queen. In order to do that you'll first need to become wealthy enough to back a princess. By spending six money you can choose any of the remaining princesses to claim. Each princess has a special power, so claiming early gives you more choice. However every village and city card used to buy the princess will be taken out of your deck to form her lands. While this might seem useful to remove those pesky villages from your deck, each village in the princess' lands is worth minus two points. Once a princess has been recruited the race for 20 points begins. With you have a princess on your side you have a few new options, most notably you may now play succession cards. Once played these cards are removed from your deck and added to your princess' domain. Succession cards are the main way to get points so you'll be wanting to do this as much as possible. Secondly you can now store action cards from round to round. Each land your princess has in her domain can hold 1 card from your hand between turns, letting your set up huge combos.

The game will continue this way until one player has reached 20 points in their domain. At this point every other player has one more turn to try and reach 20 points. If they do then the goalpost moves to thirty points. However once a player reaches thirty points they win instantly, the other players don't get a chance to catch up!

Amy’s Final Thoughts
Heart of Crown certainly manages to fulfill most of the typical deckbuilding tropes, the influence of Dominion can be clearly seen from the moment your set up the game. But that's not to say that Heart of Crown is nothing more than Dominion rethemed to... have a theme. The game leans into i's unique aspects in order to make itself stand out. The arrow mechanic on cards is a fantastically simple and intuitive way to get bonus card plays, with cards featuring two arrows being an obvious boon and cards with no arrows becoming 'combo finishers' of sorts. The cards themselves are a little text heavy, which can bog you down at the start of a game, but in turn this allows for some rather unique interactions, such as attack cards that put curses *face up* in an opponent's deck. Any opponents with a face up curse card is immune to this attack, meaning you can only curse someone (with that attack card) once per shuffle.

Then comes the second half of the game, and this is where things become extremely different. In essence the game changes course once you have a princess. Firstly how many lands do you want to sacrifice to get a princess, if you get 6 money on a turn you played 4 villages is it worth waiting to prevent those minus eight points going in your domain? Or perhaps removing those 4 basic cards, and indeed your three apprentice maids, is worth the point loss in order to trim your deck making it hyper efficient at hiring the chancellors and royal maids you'll need to hire to win? Then there's the question of which princess you support, do you try top rush the end game by going for the one worth 6 points? Or perhaps you play the long game and the the one that lets you pull actions from your discard, letting you use that one powerful card time and time again?

Of course being a Japanime title you can expect a lot of anime style art on these cards. Fortunately Heart of Crown: Fairy Garden tends to be relatively tame, There are a couple of slightly more risqué card arts, but for the most part the characters are drawn respectfully and with a great art style. I greatly enjoyed the feel of a race during the game, while other deck-builders can provide this, in Heart of Crown once every player has a princess you know it's a race. any turn not buying succession cards must help your either buy succession cards later, or cycle your deck faster in order to get to the cards you have bought. If multiple players manage to reach 20 within a turn of each other the race changes to high gear for the 30 point secondary target.
Overall I greatly enjoyed my time with Heart of Crown: Fairy Garden. While it was a little hard to get into due to the walls of text on cards, once you understood what they could do they strategies became varied and interesting. This could be hampered somewhat by the limited card selection preventing you from having a laser focus on one strategy. This can work to the games advantage as certain strategies can't be repeated every game, either due to different card combinations, or simply a bad draw for the market deck. If you are looking for a deckbuilding game that plays well and plays into its theme then Heart of Crown does that magnificently.

Fi’s Final Thoughts
We play a lot of deck-building games, and I think the one that Heart of Crown most reminds me of is Valley of the Kings. It's a game of two halves, where money is important in the first phase to save up enough for a princess and some reasonable territory cards. In the second phase you'll want Succession cards, but how early should you start investing to make sure you can play them fast enough after you have your princess?

One of my favourite parts of deck-building games is the combos and in Heart of Crown, they're a little more subtle than I am used to. First of all, every card has a bucket load of text to explain what it does, which immediately makes it a little bit harder to design a strategy. A lot of cards allow manipulation of the mix of cards in your hand, but it's definitely a little tricky for a new player to grasp how they are going to become useful. The other tricky aspect of combos in this game is the way the market works. Some cards combo well when you have lots of the same card and others seem to work quite well as a pair or encourage you to collect cards of a certain type. However, the market is made up of a completely shuffled deck, with only 8 face-up cards available at any time, so you might never see the cards you're hoping to combo with, especially given that you might only use a quarter of the deck in a two-player game.

Heart of Crown is ultimately a race and it's one you have to be quite skilled at to avoid being left in the dust. If you're more than a turn or two behind when you are able to buy your princess card, then you might as well kiss your chances goodbye. Amy and I are quite evenly matched and have enjoyed a number of close games, even when trying out a few of the more subtle strategies available from deck-building and gaining tokens rather than succession cards. There's a lot of different things to explore and by using a new set of ten cards each game, I'm sure there's more for us to discover.

If you're looking for a deck-building game that feels fresh, in spite of being an older game, then Heart of Crown definitely has something new to offer.

You Might Like...
  • With certain setups there can be multiple paths to victory that feel well balanced.
  • There is huge variety in the game, meaning there's always a new strategy to try.
  • Even seasoned deck-building finds will find something new here that forces you to think up whole new strategies.
You Might Not Like...
  • There's certainly some artwork that will be off-putting to some players.
  • While innovative, the way that the market is ever changing can really hose your strategy if the right cards don't come up to combo well.

The Verdict
6/10 Heart of Crown: Fairy Garden is a surprisingly unique deck-building game. It's enjoyable to navigate this game of two phases and try to build a deck than can accommodate both the early and late phase of the game. There are lots of strategies to explore, although some strategies are hindered by the randomness of the market, meaning that there often feels like a missed opportunity when your plan doesn't come together. When it does and you find a new game-winning opportunity, there's a lot of satisfaction in this deck-builder.

Heart of Crown: Fairy Garden was a review copy kindly provided to us by Japanime Games.

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