Updated: Dec 26, 2019
Designed by Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle, and published by White Wizard, Hero Realms is a fantasy-themed competitive deck building card game.
In the basic game as played out of the box, players start off with identical starting decks of 10 cards, 7 of which are '1 gold' cards. Players each start off with health of 50 points, and the game is played with the aim of being the last player standing as successive 'attacks' erode players' health.
On a player's turn, they draw five cards from their deck and they play all of them to take the indicated actions. Gold will be used to buy the much better cards that will be set out in the 'market'; there are always five cards available in the market, so any bought are immediately replaced with the next card in the draw pile. As has become traditional in a deck builder, cards that are bought in the market go into the discard pile of the player that buys them. That means that they only become available to be drawn when the discard pile is shuffled and recycled.
When they eventually get into the player's hand, the cards bought in the market either give the owner a specified action or they will be 'champions'. When champions are deployed, they are played in front of the player and can be used for their ability. Champions remain in place and can be used each turn unless they are defeated, usually by being attacked by an opponent. When they are defeated, they go into the discard pile of the player that owns them.
If much of this sounds very familiar, it's because it is. If you've previously played the popular space battle themed card game Star Realms by the same designers and publisher then you might be forgiven for seeing Hero Realms as just a reskin of that game. Play definitely has a similar feel, and that's no bad thing. The cards and their various effects don't merely replicate those in Star Realms, however. In that sense, Hero Realms is a game that takes the experience of its predecessor and builds on it. It helps too that the fantasy theme of Hero Realms comes through very strongly in both the card text and the excellent artwork (by Randy Delven, Vito Gesualdi and Antonis Papantoniou). That said, if you like Star Realms then you'll almost certainly enjoy Hero Realms. As compared with Star Realms, you'll find different subtleties and strategies in this game, particularly in the various ways in which cards with matching icons can be used in unison to boost their powers and effects.
Hero Realms works best with two players, not least because it is game predicated on player elimination. Nevertheless, everything is included to make it playable out of the box with up to four players. Rules are included for several variants, including team play. White Wizard have also come up with imaginative expansions for the game. Individual packs are available with tailored asymmetric starting hands (and adjusted starting health) enabling players to play as a specific character class (Wizard, Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Ranger). There's also a campaign deck (Ruins of Thundar) that enables Hero Realms to be played as a solitaire or co-operative game.