Full disclosure: A review copy of Fantastiqa Rival Realms was provided by Eagle-Gryphon Games.
I’ve been reviewing a lot of two-player games, recently. Prowler’s Passage, The Neverland Rescue, Tokyo Highway, the entire The Lady and the Tiger collection, Seals of Cthulhu, Assembly, Wonderland. Like I said, a lot. To be fair, that’s because I usually have a coworker / close friend I can play them with, helping me get them reviewed more quickly, but also they’re a nice niche. Anyways, Fantastiqa Rival Realms is another such two-player game.
In Rival Realms, you are competing magicians who have accidentally entered the world of Fantastiqa through a trick gone wrong (or right, I don’t know how good of a magician your character is). By exploring two halves of a mirrored world and completing quests, you can summon animals, make friends, and learn something about yourself along the way. I’m not … really a lore expert. Er, that said, will you be able to triumph over your rival in this contest? Or is your victory not in the cards?
Setup is … kind of complicated. Choose a player to go first, and give each player one of these adventurer tokens (give the second player the Raven, as well):
If this isn’t your first game, shuffle up (or choose) an Enchantment from the Enchantment Cards:
Again, if this isn’t your first game, shuffle and take 5 Events and set them aside, for now:
Now, you’ll want to give each player 12 of the Mountain / Valley cards (they’re double-sided; Mountain on one, Valley on the other):
Have one player place them about a card’s height apart (in both directions) to form two rows of six. Then, choose three in each row and flip them to the other side. Have the other player mirror this placement / orientation. Now, take the tokens:
There are several of each type:
- 6 Animals (The ones with colorful outlines)
- 3 Artifacts (The ones with dark outlines)
- 3 Gems
Shuffle them and make three random piles of four, each containing 2 animals, an artifact, and a gem. Put each token of each pile of four face-up in a row above or below the 4 middle Mountain / Valley Cards. Your opponent, again, should mirror this. Now, have each player place their Adventurer on one “space” (either above or below a Mountain / Valley card). If there is a token on that space, it’s claimed immediately by that player. Have the player with
Once you’ve done that, shuffle up the cards:
And deal each player 5. Now, if you’re playing with Events, shuffle the Events into the remaining cards in the deck.
Last, but not least, lay out the Quest cards:
You should be all ready to start!
The gameplay is surprisingly straightforward, given the complexities of setting up the game. In Fantastiqa Rival Realms, you’ll take turns doing one of these two actions: Add a Card or Explore the Realm. I’ll cover each in turn. If, for some reason, you cannot do either of these actions, you must Pass. If you Pass, you’re out of the game, and your opponent gets to take turns until the game ends (either by them passing or normally). Don’t Pass. Anyways.
Add a Card
For this action, all you need to do is add one of the cards from your hand to one of the 18 available spots on your board. That said, you must follow two rules:
- Only one card may be played in a space. Once it’s there, it’s there. With some exceptions.
- All cards played in a row must be increasing, from left to right. Sort of like Qwinto, if you’ve played that.
You’ll notice that cards have one of several colors — generally speaking, you’ll get extra points at the end of the game if cards are horizontally adjacent to cards of the same color (or vertically adjacent with a Valley between them).
When you place a card, place it vertically. If there are any tokens on the space you’re placing the card into, place the tokens on top of the card. If you place a card on the space occupied by your player, rotate it clockwise by 90 degrees to indicate that it’s been explored.
If you are the first to completely fill the upper, middle, or lower row of your side with cards, take the Upper, Middle, or Lower Quest card. That’s worth some handy end-game points.
Explore the Realm
This one is fun. You may discard cards from your hand to your opponent’s Raven’s Nest (a pile of cards on your opponent’s side of the draw deck), one at a time, to move your token into horizontally adjacent (or vertically adjacent, if there’s a Valley / Raven between them) cards. As you do, you Explore them, rotating them clockwise by 90 degrees. There are some rules around this, as well:
- If you move into a space with a token, collect that token. Tokens have various abilities:
- Gems: You may spend gems to move the Raven. You may move the Raven to one of two places, each with a different effect:
- Move the Raven to the Deck: You may steal a card from the deck, from your Raven’s Nest, or from your opponent’s Raven’s Nest. Handy!
- Move the Raven to another Mountain: The Raven stays on that Mountain card until it is moved again.
- Do nothing. Hey, gems are worth points at the end of the game.
- Animal Tokens: These can be used in lieu of cards. See below for more information.
- Espresso: You may flip this token over to take another turn immediately after this one, even if your previous turn resulted in the game ending. Caffeine, friends.
- Magic Carpet: You may flip this token over to move to any location on your board. You can continue moving before or after using this token, so it’s good for when you’re stuck.
- Magic Mirror: You may swap any two tokens, any two Realm cards (provided they do not violate the rules before or after you swap them), or any two Mountain and Valley cards. If you attempt to be clever and swap an explored Realm into an unexplored corner (to try and get Far Frontiers), the explored Realm immediately becomes unexplored. Harsh, but, unsurprisingly, kind of fair?
- Gems: You may spend gems to move the Raven. You may move the Raven to one of two places, each with a different effect:
- You cannot double back. You can move in a loop, sure, but you can’t immediately move back to the space you just left. Why? Well, it’s not particularly exciting, and this is a game of exploration! And that’s just how the rules work, which is the more important reason.
- You only need to spend a card to move into an Unexplored space. Explored spaces are free!
- Again, you may spend certain tokens as though they were cards. The Dragon (and the other animal tokens) have outlines whose color matches a card color. You may spend a token by turning it face-down in order to move into a space of that color.
- You cannot cross over a Mountain, unless the Raven is there. You uh, don’t have climbing shoes. It’s a real problem, but your bird friend is there to help you out. That’s extremely raven.
As you explore, you may end up completing any number of Quests:
- Wanderer: Explore at least one of each type (color) of Realm.
- Tea Time: Collect all 6 Animal Tokens.
- Far Frontiers: Explore all four corners of your board.
Again, cards you play are discarded into your opponent’s Raven’s nest, or a small discard pile on their side of the deck.
End of Turn
At the end of your turn, you may draw back up to 5 cards from one of two locations:
- Deck: Draw cards from the top of the deck. It’s not that exciting. If you draw an Event, however, resolve it. If you draw more Events on your turn after drawing an Event, set them aside and shuffle them into the deck after you’ve drawn back up to 5 cards. You can only resolve one Event per turn.
- Raven’s Nest: You may look through your Raven’s Nest and take any cards you’d like from there.
End of Game
If, at the end of a player’s turn, one of these conditions are true:
- They have played all 18 cards into their Realms;
- The deck has zero cards remaining (not counting Raven’s Nests);
- Both players have passed.
The game will end after the second player’s turn. If this condition triggers after the second player’s turn, well, the game ends immediately.
Now for scoring!
- -1 point for every empty space in your Realms.
- 1 point for every Explored Region Card.
- 1 point for every Gem.
- 2 points for every pair of horizontally adjacent Regions of the same color.
- 3 points for every pair of vertically adjacent Regions of the same color with a Valley between them.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
It’s two player only.
- Get cards played. You don’t want to take negative points, if you can avoid it, and you want to make sure you have paths set up for large Explore turns. The only way to do that is to get cards onto the board. Plus, you really want the points on the Realm Quests.
- You’ll almost certainly get at least one Realm Quest. Don’t try to race the First Player for them; they’re essentially guaranteed to beat you to one of them, if they want. Instead, try to take whichever row they’re neglecting, if you can. Then you two can fight for the middle.
- Go for either the four corners or the Tea Time Quests, but don’t try for both. I’ve never seen someone get both, and splitting your focus may lead to dire outcomes, especially if you’re playing with any Enchantment that obfuscates the tokens. You’ll have to be very lucky to get Tea Time quickly, whereas the corners are far away but straightforward.
- Plan ahead (or behind, I guess). Don’t play 50 all the way on the left; don’t place numbers such that you are depending on a number you can clearly see on your opponent’s board. You need to try to focus on a couple Region types, but not so few that you can’t explore them (since the same cards are used for both adding and exploring). Plus, exploring all five Region types makes you eligible for a Quest card, which is even better.
- The tokens are nice for getting you into certain realms, but don’t always use them. You’ll want to be getting cards out of your hand so that you can cycle in new ones. If you rely just on the tokens, you run the risk of getting stuck with unplayable cards (either their numbers aren’t useful or the Regions of that type in your Realms have already been explored). Be careful! That’s how players end up being forced to pass.
- Keep an eye on how many cards are left in the deck. You do not want to get surprised. We’ve started playing by splaying the cards in a line between both players. Gives you a nice sense of progress and how quickly the game is winding down.
- Magic Mirror tends to be best for swapping Adventure Tokens or Mountain / Valley Cards. I haven’t used it with much luck for swapping Region cards; that would be highly situational. Plus, swapping Mountains and Valleys is usually an easy way to get 3 points, so, why not just do that? Swapping tokens happens occasionally, but usually only in service of getting a Realm Quest before their opponent.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Very portable. Nice, tiny box. Should be easy to put in a bag or a backpack and take it with you. It’s about twice the size of one of the Oinks?
- Super neat concept. It’s very similar to a roll-and-write like Qwinto in style, but more card / exploration based. That’s a lot of fun, and it’s kind of novel to see it here, like this. I like that players are essentially competing for a dwindling shared resource (cards of certain colors) and the more you add (and the more you score), the more you give to your opponent and the fewer you have easy access to (as it becomes harder for your opponent to spend those cards, too). I do want to particularly call out the discarding to your opponent’s private draw pile as a particularly interesting mechanic. I would love to see it in future games, as well. It adds a nice layer of complexity to the decisions you make about which cards to use and when.
- The game has a nice, tense feeling to it. You’re generally worried that your opponent is going to grab a valuable achievement (or, if you’re paying attention, worried they might end the game) before you can, so it forces you to try and plan your turns as efficiently as possible. The exploration mechanic helps with this, especially since it’s countered by the fact that placing a card in a realm takes an entire turn.
- None of the tokens seem particularly underpowered. Their utility depends a fair bit on your personal strategy, but they all feel pretty useful in different ways. They’re a lot of fun to use, as well.
- The bright colors are very nice. The art in general is kind of neat — I will say that it grew on me, but I’ve come to like it. It’s got a very dated feel that makes it feel pretty unique, and I think that’s kind of awesome.
- Once you know how to play, it plays pretty quickly. Knowing how to play, though, can take some time (see below).
- The variants (Enchantments) are a lot of fun. I particularly like the one where all the tokens are shuffled and placed face-down (as well as Alf Seegert’s preferred variant, where you can only see them if you’re adjacent to them). I think that turns the kind-of-racing / kind-of-exploring game into a more interesting exploration experience. Those will probably be the two ways that I play this game in the future. That said, you should experiment with all of them and find what works best for you. If you have any that you like, let me know in the comments! Would love to hear about it.
- Given the size of the game / footprint of the game, it’s fairly complex in general. That might be a pro for other people, and thankfully it’s not as complex as, say, Mottainai, but it can be a bit deceptively complex just from looking at it. Worth knowing, in case you’re planning on getting it as a gift. It’s definitely toward the heavier end of games that take about 30m, even if it hasn’t fully immersed itself in that weight category. One of the Enchantments can decrease complexity significantly by just making it about lining up similar card colors, if you want to turn it into a super-quick game. It might be worth doing that to teach the basics, and then introducing exploring in a later game to break up the complexity a bit between games.
- Setup (and all of its mirroring) is a huge pain. It makes the game fairly complex, especially when you’re first getting started, since you have to separate the tokens, place the cards, flip the cards, place the tokens, mirror the tokens, and then you’re still playing a slightly reversed game compared to your opponent. It stays a smidge frustrating, and I wish there were an easier way to quickly set the game up. If you have one, let me know in the comments! Again, I do find this is mitigated somewhat with the various Enchantments, but your first game’s setup is going to take a while. Be prepared.
- The ability for second player to just … end the game can be frustrating, so first player should pay attention. There are plenty of games that end immediately, so it’s not the biggest deal in the world, but it can be frustrating when the second player is presented with the option to run out the deck and end the game. In many circles, this can lead to an awkward wait while second player tries to count and see if they have enough points to win (which is … in my opinion questionable etiquette, but you live your truth). Sol: Last Days of a Star has this, as well, though it’s not as easily guaranteed as it is in Fantastiqa Rival Realms. Your mileage may vary on how much of a con you think this is, but I think it’s worth knowing that the ending can be kind of … abrupt. Generally speaking, planning ahead and keeping track of the number of cards left can help alleviate this, significantly.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, Fantastiqa Rival Realms is a solid game! I think it’s kind of weird that you need to push through the initial game to start using the Enchantments and Events, which I think add a lot to the game (and make setup a bit less frustrating). That can be kind of an issue, as some players won’t necessarily give you the second chance if they found the first game to be mediocre, but thankfully we liked our first play and liked it progressively more as we played it. There’s an artfulness to trying to balance when, how, and where to place cards, and which cards to keep versus which cards to place so you don’t get stuck with a useless hand, and it gets even more complex once you start trying to account for the tokens (or, worse yet, you can’t see the tokens, so you’re not sure which course is the right one to accomplish your goals). The art for the game grew on me, as well, and it’s interesting in a fun way. I’d say this game is worth the wait while it grows on you (or maybe you’ll love it on your first play, who knows), and if you’re looking for a fun game of exploration, planning, and careful balancing, Fantastiqa Rival Realms is a solid two-player entry in that space!