From White Wizard games, Hero Realms is a 2-4 player deck builder game. Using similar play mechanisms in its sci-fi predecessor, Star Realms, players each start out with similar base decks and slowly accrue more cards, trying to eliminate other players. There are a variety suggested game variants such as players forming teams or everyone can just jump into a free for all, where the last player standing wins.
The game is played by taking turns, with each player being able to take a series of actions in any order (and as many times as they wish). From a hand of 5 cards, a card can be played, abilities on current cards in their play area can be used, cards can be purchased from a common pool, and finally, a player can attack another player.
Purchased cards are placed directly in the player’s discard pile. However cards that are played can be used for various actions. Some will add gold to a player’s resources which can be used to purchase more cards, while others are used for attacking players. At the end of their turn, except for played champions, used cards or ones still in the player’s hand are put in the discard pile, and a new hand of 5 cards is drawn.
Attacks commonly use a pool, or total, of an attack value that will damage an opponent’s health. When their health reaches zero they are eliminated. Some cards can heal damage, and other cards have a defensive value that can reduce the attack pool number. As an additional tweak to combat, players can directly attack champions (cards with special abilities) in their opponent’s play area.
To bolster the defense of those champions or a player, some special champions are guardians. These guardian champions must be eliminated before other champions or a player can be attacked. To eliminate a champion or guardian, the attack pool must equal or exceed the defense value of the card. Once a card is eliminated it goes to the owner’s discard pile (allowing it to be drawn and played again on future turns). Alternately some card abilities can ‘expend’ itself, tapping it and changing its orientation. The card is in play but can’t be used for its abilities or provide defense.
That is the heart of the game. A rather simple numbers game where players try to beat the defensive cards of their opponent, while being able to maintain enough defensive abilities to bolster their health total. The wrinkle of course is the four faction types and interactions with various cards of the different factions leaning towards particular action types (attack, defense, purchasing cards, etc.).
As mentioned the game out of the box can handle 2-4 players. An interesting move regarding expansions are various starter decks which allow for more players. Unlike the starter decks in the base game, these have a few unique cards. This offers some light replay value by dabbling into different expansion packs as you can have some variation with starting hands (provided you buy enough expansion packs).
The Good – Out of the box you can have a fun deck builder that can handle 4 players. The card faction options and abilities or actions that allow for expending/stunning other cards open up for some different strategies. The set includes some clever cards to track health/score of the players, and the art for the cards is well done with bright, lovely colors, and layouts.
The Bad – Purchasing cards can lead to buyer’s remorse, where a better option becomes available replenishing the card pool after a purchase. The abilities are interesting but at times healing can get out of hand, almost outpacing damage. Adding to your deck can very much become a race, where the player that manages to scoop up cards to make a working combo first can really shift the balance in their favor.
The Verdict – Hero Realms is an enjoyable game. Being able to play 4 people out of the box is great. However the 4 card factions and limits on purchasing cards hampers strategies that players can explore. I also felt some games could just be a slog, with opponents countering damage easily through healing or being able to reliably get out champion cards.
I don’t know how the character expansions will work with the game. I do wonder if they will have balanced starting hands. Also as each expansion deck adds a unique starter deck, a person almost has to go all in buying at least four to offer parity. You don’t have to do this, but I could see some players grumbling they are stuck with the ‘regular’ cards while someone else gets new cool toys to start out with.
Nonetheless, it’s a reasonable product with room enough to discover fun combos, and there are expansions out there to diversify your card pool if wanting more. It’s a light deck builder that is enjoyable. I am somewhat not too keen to gush over it though. I feel Cthulhu Realms seems to capture a more fun experience out of the box with tighter game play. However if looking for a fantasy themed game akin to Star Realms that provides a 4 player deck builder with a single purchase, Hero Realms isn’t a bad buy.