Good news, everyone! I’ve found another card-wielding dueler that absolutely hits it out of the park. I’m talking about one that sets it up, smashes that ace, boom-shakalaka swish to the finish-line – gooooaaaaal! It’s Hero Realms. Not to be confused with Star Realms, which was also an amazingly good time.
Designed once again by Rob Dougherty and Darwin Kastle, Hero Realms takes you away from the spaceships and aliens found in Star Realms and replaces them with classic fantasy characters. Elves, knights, orcs, and many other fantasy classics grace the faces of your deck. Once again the designers found a way to take a deckbuilder that I was already praising as perfection and improve upon it. So let’s get out of generalities and let me talk about why I’m so caught up in Hero Realms and what makes it different from other deckbuilders I’ve played recently.
Hero Realms slightly modifies the gameplay loop of its predecessors
Hero Realms is a deckbuilder revolves around dueling, one player vs. another. You’ll start every game in almost the same way with a deck of 10 cards containing some gold for buying more cards, some attack power, and possibly some other effects. The goal is to reduce your opponent’s health to zero while keeping yours… above that. As you play through the game, you’ll buy cards from the market to improve your deck while hoping your opponent doesn’t build a better deck as quickly.
The bones of Hero Realms are similar to Ascension, and the gameplay at first glance is nearly identical to Star Realms. To understand the gameplay, check out my previous write-up for a brief description. Just replace “Constructs/Bases” with “Heroes.” In fact, originally I was not planning on writing about Hero Realms at all. I figured it was a basic sprite swap with warriors and mages instead of starships.
However, it turns out that is not the case at all. In fact, there is a small but huge gameplay difference between the games: Character Decks. Now, we’re still playing a deckbuilder here and not a CCG, so we aren’t going out and earning or purchasing new cards to have the best deck going into a match. Here, we have a specific set of cards that belong to each Character.
In the simplest terms, you get to play with a class deck. So rather than being completely generic and and starting with exactly the same starting cards as your opponent, you actually have some class cards that other classes won’t have. The Wizard, for instance, begins with a Cat Familiar along with some fireball cards, but the Fighter has a Shield Bearer and a couple of weapons available. The abilities of the cards are completely different too, so it isn’t just flavor. The Wizard’s cat gives you the ability to tap it for either one gold, one attack, or one HP, whereas the Shield Bearer simply acts as a guard (a type of card that remains in play and forces the opponent to attack it before they can deal damage to you directly).
The difference for me is gigantic between these games. I’ve talked on and on about how important some sort of character customization is for me as a player, and this gives me a taste of that in a deckbuilder format. The point of the game still centers on using your deck as effectively as possible, buying the right cards, and building a good engine. However, these class decks offer you more opportunities to make some additional decisions so you don’t feel like you are completely at the mercy of the market row.
The last thing I want to say about the class decks is that while your starting deck contains some unique cards, you also have two class abilities. One is available to tap and use each round; the other is a once-per-game effect. On top of that, as you play, you also gain experience points and level up. Apparently, there are up to 12 levels in the base game (14 if you pick up the expansion). As you level up, maybe every two levels or so, you can upgrade these abilities as well by selecting from a skill tree.
Of course, this is a card game first and foremost, so you won’t get the an incredible number of ways to load out your hero. There’s likely only a handful of differences in the end; we are only talking about two skills here, after all. Still, though, I’m really digging the concept and the way I feel more in charge of each round than in some other deckbuilders.
Co-op mode is an interesting addition to an otherwise dueling-focused game
There are a few game modes included in Hero Realms, but it is currently a bit more limited than what I found in Star Realms. Of course, one vs. one PvP is the main crux of the game, but there’s still plenty to do to keep you entertained outside of that.
For PvP modes, we have two flavors. You’ll queue either for a match where each turn can take up to two days or for a real-time match. Having two days between turns is decent in that you can take your time playing a turn when available but without too much pressure to get it done right away. Real-time is meant to simulate playing in person, where you’ve got a matter of minutes to play your turn. It’s good when you’ve got 10 or 20 minutes to really sit down and play a full match.
Pass and play – a key mode that I love – is present here. Once again, it’s great for offline play. Next, you can play in three different PvE modes. First is a simple match against the AI. This is all standard gameplay where you can choose the difficulty of the computer and play a match. There is also a sort of pseudo campaign with a handful of fights, but it’s too early to compare it with Star Realms or a true story mode.
Better than that mode is the Pit Fight. This falls in line with the Gauntlet style mode I saw in both Star Realms and even Eternal. The main difference here is you aren’t given any chances to continue if you fail even once. Lose, and you’ll have to start over. However, if you can win all four in a row, you’ll get to save that character deck and take it to the AI modes. It’s not a huge reward, but I had fun.
The most interesting part though is the co-op mode. It basically pits you and an ally against a single boss deck. The boss takes a turn between you and your ally, and during those turns, the player who played last is the target for any boss damage. You can’t directly interact with your ally from what I could see, although there may have been some abilities that crossed that barrier. Instead, it’s more like you and your ally are working together to defeat the boss. So it’s sort of like you’re individually playing against the boss in your own match, but the boss has a single health pool that you are whittling down together.
Now, there are only a couple expansions for the game currently, and I believe one of them has a 12-scenario campaign, but I haven’t had the chance to dig into that, so unfortunately I can’t expand on exactly how that works. I know it’s co-op, so it likely plays similar to the co-op boss battles. Perhaps it just lets you level your character deck between missions while each one also has a unique boss to fight.
Free-to-play with restrictions
We have only very few ways to pay-to-play here. The game itself is free-to-play on mobile and Steam, but you can buy it to increase your max hero level from four to 12 – which of course increases the cards you’ll be able to level up. There’s also the expansion I mentioned above, which adds the campaign mode. Other than that, there isn’t a lot to buy into. You can purchase gems to respec your hero deck or add more character slots. That’s about it.
Now, the base game is a full $10 on Android, which isn’t nothing. It’s actually a bit beyond my $5 impulse buy on mobile. However, the base game plus expansion go for $15, so you could skip out on a few avocado toasts and have everything Hero Realms currently offers.
Regardless, I think this has already supplanted Star Realms for me, which is sad because I only discovered Star Realms a month ago! However, it’s got a lot of fun even at the free level, and it’s the latest deckbuilder from these developers. Give it a download and enjoy!