Full disclosure: A review copy of Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar was provided by White Wizard Games.
Alright, time for the last (for now) of the Realms coverage. This week we’re covering the first expansion for Hero Realms, the Ruin of Thandar campaign upgrade! This adds a cooperative campaign element to Hero Realms for fans of the series to try and take on increasingly big encounters with evil forces. But how does it play? Only one way to find out.
In Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar, players will take on the roles of various fantasy characters as they get caught up in a sweeping adventure. Deckbuild to try and overcome the Master each game before your team gets wiped out, but don’t forget to pick up cards to make yourself better, as well. Will you be able to hold the forces of evil at bay?
Setup is a bit intense, but that’s not the worst thing. Generally speaking, you’ll want to first grab your characters (they come in the various Character Packs, which you do need for this game, unfortunately). Once you’ve done that, give them their Level 3 Ability:
Also give them their Level 1 Skill:
You can set aside the Elixirs for now:
Also the Treasures:
And the Relics. You won’t need those for a while:
Get out the Master cards. You’ll be playing with Enthralled Regulars, first:
Put the other ones away. Also take out the various villain cards:
Some of those are Setting Cards, noted by the S in the bottom-left corner. You’ll want to shuffle and randomly remove X, based on your player count:
- 1 player: Remove 12 Setting Cards
- 2 players: Remove 9 Setting Cards
- 3 players: Remove 6 Setting Cards
- 4 players: Remove 3 Setting Cards
- 5 players: Remove 0 Setting Cards
Shuffle those all in with the Encounter Cards, either Encounter 1, 2, or 3. Check the bottom-left corner; you’ll start with Encounter 1.
Now, take the Mastery cards:
Shuffle them in Pandemic-style: break the deck into 5 approximately-equal stacks, shuffle a random Mastery Card into each stack, and then stack them back up without shuffling.
Beyond that, set up for Hero Realms as usual! Your seating order should just have the Master “between” two players, with some room around them for Minions and the like. Keep their deck separate from the main deck, also.
You should be good to go!
So, weirdly, this actually plays pretty similarly to Hero Realms vanilla. The major thing is that instead of fighting each other, you’re going to be fighting the Master. The Master typically takes a turn between every player’s turn, and you can change the difficulty levels to compensate:
- Beginner: Only shuffle the Mastery Cards into the Master’s deck on the first reshuffle.
- Intermediate: All players take a turn, and then the Master starts taking turns before every player.
- Veteran: Play normally.
- Expert: The Master takes one turn for each player, then the Master starts taking turns before every player takes a turn. Yikes.
Your turns remain unchanged, generally, but the Master takes turns, too. On the Master’s turn, you’ll reveal cards from the top of the deck equal to the number in the top-right of the Master’s card. If it’s an effect, it affects the current player (the player going after the Master). First, the card’s color give the Master a bonus ability. Resolve that. Then resolve the card; if it’s a minion, it goes in front of the current player. If it’s a Mastery, add it to the Master (and flip the Master card if the number of Masteries exceeds the Master’s Limit). If it’s an Elite Minion, it goes in front of the Master and activates every turn.
Regardless, after all the Master’s cards have resolved, it uses its Combat Pool in this order:
- Attack your guards.
- Kill you, if possible.
- Attack your champions.
- Attack you.
So that’s fun. Then you take a turn. On your turn, you play normally, but you can attack Minions or the Master. The Master is “nearby” all players, but you’re only nearby the players to your left and right. If there are minions in front of you, you can only deal with that. If there aren’t, you can attack other nearby minions, minions in front of the Master, or the Master, now. Some other changes:
- When healing, you may heal other players or yourself, but you must expend the full amount on one player. If a player is specifically named by a card, you may only heal that player.
- Cards that refer to Champions (say, “stun a Champion”) can affect Minions as well, provided you can reach that Minion.
- Cards that force your opponent to discard instead let you look at the top card of the Master’s deck and then decide if you want to discard or not. A great way to help Mastery Cards skip being played.
If the Master defeats you, you’re out; the other player(s) may still continue. If the Master defeats all players, you lose! You can try again, though. Once the Master is defeated, you win! Follow up in the Adventure Book.
Player Count Differences
I’ve only played it at two and that worked great, for us. You get extra Setting Cards, but I think that the Master taking a turn between every player’s turn is going to get aggressive, quickly. My major gripe against higher player-count games is that you need a distinct Character Pack for every player, so that’s going to add to the cost of your game if you’re playing it with four friends (but let’s be honest; who even has four friends???).
Beyond that, mechanically, it seems like it would be fun at most player counts; I’d probably personally stick to the 2-3 range to lessen the amount of downtime that comes with higher player counts.
- Someone needs to go Red. This is just generally true, but, additionally, there are certain card effects that can be ignored by playing a Red card, so, there’s a benefit, there. Generally speaking, Red is the most offense-heavy build in Hero Realms, so there’s also the legitimate fact that you need offense in order to take out the Master. I’d actually recommend that every player takes at least one Red card so that they can potentially cancel those effects, should they arise.
- You can coordinate on specialization. We generally had one player just aggressively go Blue, while the other went Yellow + Red. That seemed to work for us. For the last game, we went Blue + Red / Yellow + Red, which was a lot of fun. We’ve never ended up using Green. It’s not bad, though! You can use Green to control the Master’s deck and avoid those Mastery Cards that allow them to level up, which is really useful, especially if they have high-discard powers, themselves. Nothing more annoying than trying to play a deckbuilder with consistently three cards in hand.
- You need at least one healer. You’ll be taking a lot of damage; unless you’ve got a bunch of expendable players, you need at least one player who can buff you up. Every party needs a white mage.
- Know when to use your Skills and Abilities. Sometimes it’s worth burning your Ability early if it’ll get you set up to a good start. For instance, as a Thief, buying two cards from the same faction in one turn is great, especially if I luck out and get 6 money (and the Market Deck is correctly set up). If you’re holding on to them so that you can wait for the best moment, you might realize that it’s already passed, so, use it or lose it.
- Focus on the upgrades that fit your lifestyle. There are a variety of things you can upgrade as you get upgrade points; you can get new skills, new abilities, or extra health, for starters; it may be worth seeing how your games are going and taking upgrades relative to areas of weakness in previous games. If you’re dying a lot, for instance, get some extra health.
- Don’t let Elite Minions linger for too long. They attack every turn, which is obnoxious. Just try and torch them quickly and move on with your life. Your personal minions are only annoying to you; your coplayer(s) can potentially eliminate them for you, as well, if they happen to be nearby and have sufficient attack.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Still a very quick game. If you mess up, it can be a lot quicker than you’d like, but fundamentally it’s a very fast, simple game, and I appreciate that. Once you get set up it’s as quick as Hero Realms, if not faster.
- I like the upgrade pipelines. It’s interesting, I suppose, because you can play as your characters against each other in Hero Realms afterwards (using the regular Skills and Abilities you got from the campaign instead of the Campaign versions), but I don’t think I’ll be doing a whole lot of that. If you like that sort of thing, though, it’s there! In general, though, I like the idea of characters getting stronger over multiple games.
- It’s nice to have difficulty levels. I wasn’t looking for an intense challenge, so we played on Intermediate, and it was still decently challenging! Definitely a nice way to learn deckbuilding, as well, if you play on Easy. Plus you can raise or lower the difficulty mid-campaign, if you so choose.
- The second encounter is my favorite. It’s a solid challenge! Very interesting to play through.
- Some of the new items / relics / elixirs are a lot of fun. Plus, they’re usually given at random so if you play with a new character and go through the campaign again you’ll find new stuff! That’s always pleasant.
- I was a bit surprised by how short the first campaign is. I mean, part of that is that we busted through three games of it and won all three of them pretty handily, so that’s on us; we could have picked a higher difficulty level, but I’m also not super into the idea that you should just fail lots of encounters and retry them as a way to improve replay value. I’d rather get new content.
- The flow of gameplay isn’t always very intuitive. I’ll admit that I don’t always remember how “Nearby” works or the rules around healing or where Elite Minions versus Regular Minions go or the order in which the Master attacks a player; that’s all fine. It’s a cooperative game, so, honestly, I just play it to have fun with a friend and it works.
- Setup is rather complex. You’re definitely going to spend time shuffling a lot of decks and assembling those. Putting the game away is a bit of a nightmare without some kinds of dividers, since, the whole thing just kinda get stacked up and put back in the box. I’m high-key not looking forward to doing the photography as a result, alas.
- It would have been nice if a Character Pack were included. That way you don’t have an awkward situation where you bought Hero Realms and the campaign to solo, only to find out that you need a Character Pack. Just make it one that isn’t sold elsewhere, like a Druid or something.
- It’s very possible that you’ll just not have much to do in a game. I had a coplayer keep getting targeted by discard effects (all the time). It meant that he couldn’t buy many cards or make many attacks, so I had to. Similarly, in a subsequent game I died (thanks for that, by the way) and so he had to basically cover the back quarter of the game by himself. It can be a bit irritating if you’re having a bummer game, but it also happens.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think The Ruin of Thandar is a fun expansion for Hero Realms! My coplayer and I both enjoyed it and are considering checking out the follow-up. The progression tracks for characters is a nice way to keep building your player up throughout games (even if my deck is always reset). The extra items are a bonus, for sure, and I appreciate that they’re there, also. I wouldn’t say the actual plot of the campaign did much for me; it was fine, but also very Generic D&D First Campaign. That’s fine, but it’s not going to wow me. The one major sticking point for me was setup and teardown; it takes a while, and this is going by a deckbuilding standard. I was a tiny bit overwhelmed when I first opened the box and tried to start integrating things; I think a larger box with dividers (similar to Aeon’s End or Dominion) would help a lot with making it easier to put things together (as opposed to the Realms boxes where you have to stack everything in one stack or the other). That said, as far as the game goes, we had a bunch of fun, so if you’re looking for a neat little deckbuilding campaign that you can bust through in a day, Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar might be worth checking out!