This week for Tabletop Tuesday, I decided to have a look at two deckbuilding card games: Star Realms, and Hero Realms, published by White Wizard Games. Both were designed by Magic the Gathering players Robert Dougherty and Darwin Castle, and were originally funded through Kickstarter. Unlike many of the other deckbuilders out there (like Marvel Legendary, which we looked at a while back), both of the Realms games pit players against one another.
I’m writing about Star Realms and Hero Realms in one post because the games are similar enough that I don’t know if they warrant their own individual posts. The major difference is the theme, with Star Realms having a sci-fi theme, while Hero Realms is fantasy themed. Both games have numerous expansions that can change things up quite a bit – more on these at the end of this post.
How they work
Both games follow the same basic mechanics. The games work well with just 2 players, but can accommodate 4 or more – depending on which base set and expansions you have. Players start with 50 life, and the goal is to get your opponents to zero life.
Players begin with a 10-card starting deck comprised of basic cards. These cards provide either gold, which is used to purchase new cards from the market, or combat, which is used to attack the other player or their defenses. Players will soon acquire more powerful cards that provide them with more gold or combat, and possibly some special abilities.
Card special abilities are generally pretty straightforward, with the rules written on the cards themselves. This can include things like drawing extra cards, sacrificing/scrapping cards to remove them from your deck, or forcing an opponent to discard cards.
Both games include cards that are played on your turn and then discarded, as well as cards that stay on the board once you play them. Besides any special abilities these cards may offer, they also serve as a bit of protection from your opponents, as some of them must be defeated before the player can be attacked directly.
Both Star Realms and Hero Realms group cards into factions. Star Realms features the Trade Federation, Machine Cult, the Blobs, and the Star Empire, while Hero Realms has the Wild, Necros, Guild, and Imperial factions. Each of these features an obvious, colourful icon, making the faction cards easy to distinguish.
Beyond aesthetic differences, faction cards generally have similar mechanics. Many of them also have synergy abilities, which only activate if you play another card of that faction in the same turn. Once your deck contains a few cards from the same faction, there’s a good chance of having a few in hand at once, which can lead to some powerful combos in the late game.
Hero Realms and Star Realms are both fast-paced deckbuilding games. While games may start out small, with players dealing 1 or 2 damage to their opponents in a turn, a well-built deck can quickly start to pack a punch. It’s often a race to the finish to see who will draw their most powerful cards first.
The competitive nature of these games means that things can get quite heated, but it is a nice change from the cooperative nature of many deckbuilders. As a former Magic the Gathering player, I have found that the Realms games scratch that MtG itch without the pressure of buying and building the perfect deck.
Both games use standard card sizes, so if you want to sleeve your cards (something I always recommend, especially with games like these where the cards are handled a lot) it’s pretty easy to find sleeves. You can also buy larger boxes for both games, which you’ll need if you start buying expansions.
Do you need both?
Given that Star Realms and Hero Realms are so similar that I could talk about their mechanics in the same post, I think it’s fair to say that you probably don’t need both games. Having said that, I really do like both games, as they offer similar but still distinct play experiences, without the need to learn two wildly different sets of rules.
If I was forced to choose, I’d go with the theme that I liked the most – science fiction or fantasy. (I love both themes, so this still doesn’t help me much!)
Expanding the Realms
No deckbuilding game would be complete without expansions, and the Realms games are no different. The sheer number of expansions currently available is quite intimidating, so I’ve grouped them into major categories below.
Star Realms currently has three different starter games available: the core set and Colony Wars support two players, while Frontiers supports four players. All three can be mixed to increase the number of players. Frontiers also contains some co-op challenge cards, and this is the set I’d recommend to players jumping into the game now.
There are a variety of non-random booster pack expansions for Star Realms, which add a variety of cards to the main deck. Most of these are new ships, bases, or add hero cards, though my favourite is one that adds special event cards, which can spice things up during gameplay. There are also several of these mini-expansions that further change the game rules by giving players special goals or scenarios to deal with.
Hero Realms, on the other hand, has one base game set, with expansions related to cooperative play. The Ruin of Thandar is the first of these sets, which allows players to work together and play through a continuing campaign. This is further expanded on by the recently Kickstarted Lost Village set, and it seems more such expansions are planned for the future. Hero Realms also offers Boss Decks, which pit the player(s) against a player-controlled dragon or lich with his own unique cards. The concept is reminiscent of MtG’s Archenemy variant.
Both games offer alternative starter card expansions, which players can use at the start of the game instead of the stock starter cards that come with the games. This gives each player a unique set of starting cards, and some special abilities, which add a bit of flavour to the game and may shape the way they build their deck. In Hero Realms, these are called Character Packs, while they’re called Command Decks in Star Realms.
If you sleeve your cards or buy an expansion or two, you’ll likely end up needing the storage boxes available for both games.