Hero Realms is a fantasy themed deck building game from the folks over at White Wizard Games. You start with a deck of 10 cards that resembles the inventory of a level 1 Dungeons & Dragons character. It is made up of 7 gold, a ruby (worth 2 gold), a short sword, and a dagger. Armed with such humble equipment your goal is to spend your gold buying cards from the 80 card marketplace deck which represent items, characters, spells, and actions in order to build up your forces and crush your opponents. Like Magic the Gathering, each player has a life point total and when it drops to 0 you’re out. Except in this game you start with 50 life instead of 20. It can go REAL fast once you get the ball rolling however.
If you’ve played Dominion you are familiar with the basic loop of the game. You have a 5 card hand and play those cards to get better and more efficient cards which are added to your discard pile. Once you run out of cards to draw you reshuffle your deck with all the new additions and repeat the process, hopefully ending up with a better deck each time.
Five cards are flipped up from the aforementioned marketplace deck which the players can purchase from. When a card is bought it is immediately replaced with another, sometimes giving you a surprise card better for you than any already on the table. In addition to being split up as characters, spells, etc. each card also belongs to one of four factions. There is the white, green, blue, and red. Each has their own mechanical specialty. For instance, blue cards tend to focus on economy. Red cards have a focus on damage. Green has an emphasis on card draw and making your opponent discard while white has the most life gain.
Your deck will inevitably be made up of at least 2 but probably 3 or even all 4 of the factions. On any given turn since your purchases are constrained to the five flipped cards in the marketplace, sometimes you will be forced to purchase off color. Sometimes a card off color from your currently assembled deck is just good enough to make you want to snag it. Why would you want to stick to certain colors in the first place though?
This is where ally abilities come in. Perhaps the most unique mechanic in the game is the secondary ally abilities which many cards have. An ally ability can only be triggered if you have another card of the same color in play. This is made doubly interesting by the fact that the only cards which remain in play from turn to turn are character cards. Actions, items, and spells are all discarded at the end of your turn (although they stay in play until then, and so non-character cards can trigger each others ally abilities) which makes characters particularly useful in ensuring you are getting the most bang out of your cards.
This tension between wanting good cards in general, having to pull from what is available in the marketplace, and wanting to build a deck with enough of the same color cards to consistently trigger ally abilities is a lot of the magic that makes the deck building strategically interesting and different every game. The second bit that makes the game tactically compelling turn to turn is how to distribute the damage you build up as you play cards and activate characters.
All damage generated by the cards you play as added to a “combat pool” which can be doled out at will. This is a big departure from most card games with this style where if damage is resolved as a whole from whatever effect triggered it. For instance, in Magic the Gathering if you play a shock card for 2 damage, it has to target a players creature or their life points. If you use it on a creature with 1 health, the excess 1 damage is wasted. In Hero Realms that extra damage could be passed on to the players life total. You will want to deal damage to a players characters to make it more difficult for them to trigger ally abilities but at the same time you want to keep chipping away at their life total to actually win the game.
All this comes together in a game that is quick to learn and can be played in 20 to 40 minutes. Oh and it also costs only 20 bucks for the box set with everything you need for up to 4 players. This game gets a hearty two thumbs up from me. If you like Magic the Gathering, or Dominion, or any flavor of strategic card game there is a good chance you will have a great time with Hero Realms.