Dangerous cutthroats stalk the alleys, seeking out their target for assassination. Powerful warriors lift up shield and sword to clash against villainous foes. Dark sorcerers brew deadly concoctions. Overhead, the sound of wings flapping announce the arrival of terrible and glorious dragons. We're talking classic, grade-A fantasy stuff here, folks, and it's the straight-forward and timeless theme of Hero Realms, a deck-building card game by Wise Wizard Games.
What Is Hero Realms?
Released in 2016, Hero Realms is a deck-building card game for two to four players, designed by Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle. The game is a fantasy-themed spinoff of the popular Star Realms, which initially released in 2014. In Hero Realms, players face off against one another in a battle to be the last person standing, using everything from gold coins to hired Champions to pursue their goals.
How Do You Play Hero Realms?
In Hero Realms, each player starts with 50 health (unless using a themed deck, more on that later), and the goal of the game is simple: reduce your opponents' health to zero and be the last person standing. This is a deck-building game, meaning that each player starts the game with the same ten card deck, and each turn players draw cards from their deck and use those cards to either attack their opponents, or buy additional cards from a marketplace set up in the center of the table. Those cards bought (and the cards played to pay for them) go into your discard pile, and are eventually shuffled back into your deck once your deck runs out of cards. In this way, cards you purchase will slowly make their way into your deck.
That's how just about all deck-building games work, but the real thrill and variety in this game comes from special abilities that are unlocked on cards when you've played other cards that share a matching set symbol. By trying to suss out synergies among the cards available to you, and playing a long game focusing on specific tactics, you could find yourself in a very powerful position.
Whenever a card is purchased from the marketplace, it is immediately replaced with a fresh card. This constant refilling of the marketplace does wonders to keep the game moving, keep players on their toes, and ensure that you'll have to stay nimble and dextrous with your plans with the flip of each new card.
What Are Hero Realms Character Packs?
Adding to the flavor (only slightly) ramping up the complexity of Hero Realms are a series of Hero Realms Character Packs released by Wise Wizard Games. These packs represent five different classic fantasy archetypes -- the fighter, the cleric, the wizard, the thief, and the ranger. Each character deck replaces the traditional ten card deck as depicted above, and changes the game in a few other fundamental ways. Players using a character deck have a different starting health than the traditional 50 health, and each character also has a few special abilities that thematically give them an edge on the competition.
Hero Realms Fighter Character Deck
The Fighter Character Deck is focused, as you can imagine, on dealing damage. The Fighter's two special abilities help drive this theme home. One ability can be removed from the game to deal a whopping eight damage, while the other can be exhausted (essentially tapped for the turn) while paying two coin to deal two damage. Having a never-ending source of damage like that is essential to the Fighter's character deck, and it fits the theme perfectly.
Hero Realms Wizard Character Deck
The Wizard Character Deck balances firepower with card efficiency, with some cards blasting out damage while others allow the Wizard to draw additional cards, or purchase cards for less. Though the Wizard doesn't start with many coins, their ability to manipulate the battlefield and marketplace in small ways suits their theming well.
Hero Realms Thief Character Deck
The Thief is a very fun and very tricky character to master in Hero Realms. While they start with little in the way of damage (having only three "Throwing Knife" cards with stacking power), they have the ability to force their opponents to discard a card and, once per game, they can purchase a card from an opponents' discard pile, stealing it like the Thief they are! They also start the game with a lot of coinage, and can quickly ramp up with purchases in the marketplace.
Hero Realms Ranger Character Deck
Tying in perfectly to the thematics of a classic Ranger, the Ranger Character Deck starts players off with piercing damage, decent coinage, and the ability to lower the cost of purchasing other Champions to join their cause. The Ranger's two special abilities allow them to stun an opponent's Champion with a precise strike and look at the top three cards of their deck to "track down" what they'll need.
Hero Realms Cleric Character Deck
Finally, let's take a look at the Cleric Character Deck. The Cleric does what you'd expect a Cleric to do: they gain followers on their righteous quest, smash things with their mace, and have prayer beads that can heal them or give them two gold. Another interesting point about the Cleric's character deck is that the rules for their "Bless" special ability state "Target player gains three life," and their champions gain +1 shield, meaning that this character can not only do this ability to themselves, but also to teammates in the subsequently released cooperative game modes of Hero Realms.
What Are Our Final Thoughts On Hero Realms?
Hero Realms takes the classic deck-building genre and gives it a breath of magical life with its strong theme, carefully considered and balanced gameplay, and wealth of options for players to explore. There are synergies that are obvious, and synergies that are more deeply submerged in the gameplay, and all in all this is a truly incredible deck-building experience. When the five Character Decks (sold separately) are added to the mix, the levels of customization on display are broadened even more, and to thrilling effect.
Should I Buy Hero Realms?
If you're looking for an accessible and affordable card game you can play in about 45 minutes with your friends, Hero Realms is absolutely the way to go. If you're looking for a game that runs a bit longer and includes more structure or storytelling in it, this may not completely hit the mark (though, in that case, you should check out the additional Hero Realms products Wise Wizard Games produces, like Campaign Decks, Boss Decks, and Journeys Decks).
The copy of Hero Realms and the Character Decks used to produce this review were provided by Wise Wizard Games.