Expansion Review

Expansion Review – Shadowrift: Boomtown

**Note: The publisher provided a copy of the expansion in exchange for an honest review.

The latest expansion in the Shadowrift series has everything you would expect: more market cards and more enemy factions to face off against. In fact, some would argue that the best expansions to games don’t try and change what made the game great in the first place, instead adding variety of options – something that is always welcome in the deckbuilding genre of games. And here, Shadowrift: Boomtown certainly succeeds. Let’s just touch briefly upon what does come in the box and my thoughts on each of those groups.

The Enemy Factions

Boomtown adds two new enemy factions: Colossus and Goblins. Of those you might suspect that the Goblins would be the easy, generic choice but you would be wrong. They add a new mechanic with a trap deck, which can bring in face-down traps onto spaces along the Monster Area. When you engage with a monster in an area with at least one trap, all traps in that space go off. And boy, can they really pack a punch. This faction provides a fresh, interesting challenge that I found to be difficult as they loaded Wounds into my deck faster than I could deal with them. The Colossus, on the other hand, have high health and a really nasty Affliction in Shock, which costs 3 to remove from your deck. The bad thing? When you draw a Shock, you draw another card and then must discard an Action or Attack card. You want to know how many times I had just one of those, and it was a good card? The high health means you either need to really stack some damage into your deck or else ways (like Seal) to remove cards from the Monster Power Area because there aren’t really any weak or easy targets in here, but their Power card to make your first Wound each turn a Shock instead is particularly nasty. Bring lots and lots of Ranged… Oh, and they have one more unpleasant surprise in the Defense Node, which has to have 3 damage on it that you can remove in order to close a Shadowrift. Yeah, it can really ruin your plans.

New Town Cards

There are a handful of new Town cards, which are welcome inclusions. None of them stand out, but they are fun such as the Gambler, who might let you draw more cards for a price. The Tinker might be my favorite from the batch, as he lets you play an Action or Attack card from your discard pile – helping to overcome that nasty Shock. Yet I personally find that I rarely have the funds to spare early toward the Town, meaning when I get them it is usually later to where they don’t come out often enough. Regardless, these are a nice addition although most of the time they will have varying impact on your gameplay.

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Replacement Cards

This box came with replacement cards for various previous expansions, so that is nice. There are a handful of them, across multiple expansions, and the rulebook (small as it is) does tell you which expansions they come from as a helpful aid.

Market Cards

The game claims these are new heroes (Chronomancer and Fencer) but let’s be honest, the game doesn’t give new characters just abilities that could be used by someone with the specialization. As such, you are going to have most games where you “multi-class” across the cards in the market, although you could easily focus specifically on making up a market with all 4 cards of each “hero” to specialize. That being said, there are a few standouts in here. The first thing to note is there is a new mechanic called Stance, which appears on some of the cards. These cards have a when played effect, such as doing 1 Melee Damage, and then can remain in play until either the Trigger effect goes off, or the player puts them into their discard. What sort of Triggers, you ask? Well, let’s look at the Deadly Riposte as an example: “Trigger: If a monster would kill a villager, it takes 2 damage. if the monster dies, the villager does not.” How fantastic is that card ability? Now you don’t need to fully kill an enemy, if you can see it has a Kill effect coming up! Stop damaging it 2 from its max and let it finish itself off while you focus on stopping something else. The hitch? Only one copy of each Stance can be “in play” waiting for the Trigger to go off, meaning you don’t necessarily want to load up on them unless for its basic effect. This new mechanic is a welcome addition, and opens up some interesting space for the game, especially as it is a card that can thin itself out of the deck at times, letting you draw into other cards that you might be seeking more often.

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The other all-star here is probably the Iron Hourglass, which lets you keep any number of cards in your hand during Clean-up, drawing that many fewer. It also lets you discard a non-affliction card in order to draw a card during your turn. The latter is great, helping you to cycle faster for the cards you need, while the former is great when it works but can lead to really bad play trying to pull off a specific combo. Since the deck doesn’t really thin much during the game, as you get later in the game it might be far less likely to draw what you need. It also means that cards, like Shock, might get drawn and really ruin your attempts at setting up a good combo in your hand.

The rest of the cards are good at times: swapping cards in the Town with the one at the bottom of the Traveler deck, discarding Wounds to draw cards, playing extra special attack cards, drawing cards, duplicating Action or Attack cards, boosting damage and avoiding Wounds, Ranged Damage…all of those are among the Market cards added to the pool. Few of them are outstanding, but none of them are bad. All in all, an enjoyable batch of cards to mix into the fray.

Final Thoughts

All in all, if you like Shadowrift there is no reason to skip on this expansion. It is a small-box expansion and the Stance cards alone make this a worthwhile addition. Everything else is fine, especially if you try and construct a market with optimization in mind. However, there is also little in here to set the expansion apart, nor does it elevate the game. If you didn’t like Shadowrift before, this won’t change your mind. But fans of the game will definitely be interested in picking this one up.

Expansion Review · Sorcerers & Starships

Sorcerers & Starships #1: Hero Realms Character Packs

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many focuses on games by White Wizard Games. My introduction to the company, like many, was through Star Realms which remains a fast and fun deckbuilder at an excellent pricepoint (until you want more…) and its sequel game, Hero Realms, was one I honestly avoided for a long time. I had Star Realms, after all, so why did I need the same exact game?

Well, because it isn’t the exact same. Similar? Yes, absolutely. But also very, very different. And one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with Hero Realms was the introduction of the character packs and so I felt it was fitting to give the five of them a sort of mini-review/overview to kick off my White Wizard focus.

My Thoughts on Character Packs in General

The best thing about the character packs for Hero Realms is that they introduce asymmetric starting decks. Yes, most of them are still similar enough to each other that they are capable of playing out the same. But they have just enough uniqueness to give some flavor to each player’s approach toward the game. By not only adding a few unique cards to each deck, but also providing two abilities for each class, they opened things up for variability and customization. It also creates a stronger draw for a new player, allowing you to ask them what sort of character they would prefer to play, and it provides some level of impact on the overall gameplay experience.

And if White Wizard had left it at just that, it would have been enough to make the character packs a worthwhile addition to any Hero Realms collection. But they have taken it all a step further, providing a campaign experience that begins with the Ruin of Thandar box and will continue in future adventures. And while we haven’t seen the full results of where those campaigns will take us, Thandar was enough to provide a taste of things to come and I love it. Each class has a Skill Tree and an Ability Tree they can upgrade along as they move through the campaigns. These allow you to further upgrade your characters by replacing some of their weaker cards with stronger variations that enhance the flavor and provide decisions to make for the characters. With branching decisions on both trees, at some point you’ll need to decide where your focus of that particular area of the character will go, something that cannot be undone moving forward. And oh how I love that.

By providing every one of those upgrade cards in the Thandar box, it allows you to choose wisely from the start where you want to branch, giving control to the players up front rather than trying to spread them out across multiple boxes in order to get a little more story into the first campaign box. This is why I have to declare the Hero Realms Character Packs as not just great expansions to an excellent game, but I have to call them essential – even if you have no intention of playing the campaign, they are absolutely worth the purchase.

The Cleric

Three of the unique cards in the Cleric deck involve adding some damage production. Two different Followers are here, each adding one Combat if you Expend them. With a meager 1 Defense, they are easily defeated but their Guard ability can make them an extreme annoyance to your opponent. The Spiked Mace is a nice item in the deck, adding 2 Combat every time you play it from your hand. The Prayer Beads are incredibly appropriate for the Cleric, offering you either 2 Gold or 5 Health – they are either getting alms or healing themselves. However, if you have two or more Champions in play you get both, which is something you will always want to strive toward. Go figure that those two Followers are in the starting deck, making it a possibility to get that boost from Turn 1 if everything goes right. The Expend ability for the Cleric is a Bless, which lets you choose a player to gain 3 Health. Yes, most of the time it will be yourself as the target but keeping it open is a nice touch, either against the boss decks, in a team format, or when simply trying to delay an opponent’s victory so you can steal it for yourself. It also boosts all of that player’s champions by 1 Defense until the end of their next turn, providing an excellent benefit at a cost of 2 Gold. It isn’t an ability you will use every turn, but it is an ability worth using any turn where you have that Gold not being spent elsewhere. Finally there is the Resurrect, which can be Sacrificed to bring a champion from your Discard Pile into play – but only one that has been Stunned since your last turn. After all, you are bringing them back to life and not playing the part of a Necromancer, right? If they’ve been dead too long, you’re animating the dead… a really nice touch with that condition on the power that you’ll find frustrating rather than useful because there will always be that Champion you want that didn’t just get Stunned.

The Fighter

No surprises here, the Fighter is all about more Combat all the time. Well, almost. Their trusty Longsword adds 3 Combat, while the handy Throwing Axe will toss in 2 when used. What good is a Fighter without their loyal Shield Bearer? This Champion is really nice as a starting card, providing a solid 3 Defense with Guard to annoy and frustrate your foes. Any well-equipped Fighter knows they need some form of funding to get stronger, and so there is a nice little Ruby worth 2 Gold in the deck to speed up your purchasing power. For the abilities, the Shoulder Bash deals 2 Combat at the cost of 2 Gold, while the Crushing Blow can be Sacrificed for a well-timed 8 Combat to finish the opponent off or break through a strong defense – or land a hard blow after breaking those defenses. As a straight-forward class to play, this one is perfect for – but not limited to – newer players because it is all about more damage done faster.

The Ranger

The Ranger is one of my favorite characters to play as, but also arguably the weakest of them all. The Ruby in his deck does provide some extra economy, as does the Horn of Calling which adds 1 Gold plus reduces the cost of your next Champion this turn by 1. The Hunting Bow provides the Ranger with a consistent 2 Combat when it comes up, and a pair of Black Arrows are far better when a Bow is in play – they give 1 Combat no matter what, but also allow you to draw a card if a Bow is in play. Track can be a helpful ability in the game, allowing you to spend 2 Gold to look at the top 3 cards of your deck and discard up to two of them, and then put the rest back on top of the deck in any order. Yes, it can help set up the Bow + Arrows combo a little more consistently but as the game winds on, that one will come up less often. However, the Ranger is still one who will be able to pull off Faction pairings more often when using this ability and can cycle cards out of the deck when they aren’t needed. The Headshot ability is useful, allowing the Ranger to draw a card and Stun a target Champion – making this ability more potent as the most powerful cards begin to appear on the table.

The Thief

Another extremely straight-forward class to play, the Thief has ways of getting more cards faster, doing small damage that can increase with combos, making opponents discard cards, and even a way of stealing a card from an opponent. The two Ruby cards are the easiest in the deck, adding 2 Gold when played for increased economy. Three Throwing Knives round out the deck, each adding 1 Combat plus an additional 2 Combat for each knife already played that round – making it cap at 9 Combat boost if you play all three in a turn. The Pick Pocket ability is extremely useful, and would be even if it just gave you 3 Health for 2 Gold – something the Thief usually has little trouble having available. However it also makes a target opponent discard a card, helping to hinder your opponents turn after turn after turn with great efficiency. Finally comes the Heist, which is able to be Sacrificed to purchase a card from an opponent’s discard at its printed cost. It has limitations, being unable to gain a card without a cost or a card in the first two turns of the game, but this is one that will always keep your opponents guessing as they play a strong card – hoping you aren’t going to take it away and start using it on them.

The Wizard

This is one of the more interesting classes to play as, especially since it starts with the lowest life total at 50. However, it has strong flexibility and power capability in its arsenal! Two Ignite spells deal 2 Combat each, and a Fire Staff is good for 1 Combat plus allowing you to draw a card if you have two or more Actions in play. The Cat Familiar is a utilitarian Champion, allowing it to be Expended for 1 Combat, 1 Gold, or 1 Health and its 2 Defense isn’t great, but its lack of the Guard keyword means it might just stay in play for a while. Spell Components is almost like having a Ruby in the deck, providing 1 Gold and making the next Action acquired this turn cost 1 less – making it so you are incentivized to collect cards that will synergize with your Fire Staff for more future card draws. Channel gives you the ability to draw an extra card each turn at the cost of 2 Gold, but you also lose 1 Health in the process – knowledge is power, but it comes at a steep cost. The Fireball is arguably the coolest Sacrifice ability for the Character Packs, allowing you to deal 4 Damage to a target player and each of their Champions – and this even bypasses those annoying Guard abilities so you can be guaranteed a hit.

Expansion Review · Two-Player Only

Expansion Review – Bushido: Rising Rage

What it Adds

The Rising Rage expansion for Bushido adds three things: more weapon cards, more technique cards, and some green Rage dice. Having more weapons adds interesting variety to the game, taking you from 6 to 10 weapons. In addition, it alters the weapon selection method for the game – instead of choosing from any of the 6 weapons, you shuffle the 10 weapons and draw three, picking one of those to be your weapon for the game. More technique cards is absolutely wonderful, enhancing the variety that can appear and adding in more ways to gain those nice green dice. And those 5 green dice are really cool, because they have a new side that earns you a Rage token. Not only that, these dice have every symbol except the Torii on them, making it so you can potentially do anything with that die. Beyond the change to weapon selection in the Arm phase, this expansion only adds content into an already solid game.

My Thoughts

Bushido’s first expansion, Rising Rage, provides the exact content I want to see in an initial expansion: more of what makes the base game great without altering things in a radical way. Yes, it adds in a new type of dice to roll, but those have only one new side and it is a very intuitive addition for that new side. And sure, it changes up the Arm phase of the game by letting you choose from 3 random weapons, but I like that limitation. It means you’ll want to Train (draft) with those weapon choices in mind and see what you can effectively build around with those 5 cards. And the most important thing was adding even more variety into that Technique deck.

There are few expansions that I would claim are must-have, but this is right up with the first Mystic Vale expansion as being a great add-on purchase that you could use from the very first game. I’ll never play a game of Bushido without the expansion, because it only enhances the experience instead of altering things completely (like some expansions are wont to do). Some may bemoan the diluting of the Technique deck, but it makes the gameplay better because you cannot bank on drafting the same cards every single game when you discover a working strategy.

So I’ll end it with this: if you are considering picking up Bushido, I would recommend getting this at the same time. Even if you don’t integrate the cards from the first play, you will find that the contents in this box are easy to incorporate into the game. And everything in here, except the weapon cards, are marked to make it easy to separate them back out if you want to keep the items separate. All in all, I am excited to see what the second expansion for Bushido, if one gets produced, will have in store for this excellent game.

Expansion Review · Review for One

Short Reviews for Sensor Ghosts, Assembly: Re-Sequence, and OverRide by Wren Games

Life is busy, and I knew that it would be even before I agreed to look at these three things for Janice and Stu over at Wren Games. They provided prototypes of all three, and I’ve slowly gotten them to the table a few times. Partially because I was in the midst of a horde of review copies. Partially because I was fighting burnout and needing to balance in some time to play the games I wanted to try playing. But since they are entering their final week over on Kickstarter, I wanted to finally share my thoughts on these three items so those on the fence for backing can make a better decision:

Thoughts on ReSequence

I hate this expansion with a passion. Let me clarify: I hate trying to win with this expansion, but the expansion itself is stunningly simple. The inclusion of a new card type is nice, and I like being able to see the upcoming rooms and having two stacks to pull from, but the real stumper here comes from what happens after you lock your first room. See, the one really minor tweak this expansion makes is that once you close a room you must proceed clockwise from there, closing them in order. If that isn’t a recipe for a delightful brain burn of a puzzle I don’t know what is. Let’s just say I don’t even come close to winning on this one yet, but not for a lack of trying so far. This may be my favorite way to play Assembly, something I didn’t expect from the rules.

Thoughts on Override

Okay, the robot meeples are a really neat addition to the game and it adds an extra layer – you need to get all four of them locked in order to win the game in addition to the twelve rooms. A lucky start can work wonders toward getting these guys where they need to go, but the more interesting puzzle is when none of them are even close. The ability to either move the robot, the room disc, or both is a great thing. How the robots affect movement can be a little confusing at first, but there is a pretty nice set of examples in the rulebook to help clarify things. I started the game with two robots, by luck, being placed on the two room tiles that came out and both were the exact room required to lock that card. Even with that bit of luck, it still came down to my final card to close the last room and win the game. Other plays since then have not been quite so lucky, making this an expansion that kicks the game to eleven. For a game that is already a nice replayable puzzle, this adds exactly what I would like to the game – maintaining much of the core framework and just splashing in an extra something to make it more interesting and challenging.

Thoughts on Sensor Ghosts

This is the brand new game, set after the events of Assembly. One thing I loved about Assembly was the backstory it had and the thematic touches they delicately insert into the game. That same care is present here, with a nice little narrative as to how it fits into the Assemblyverse of things from Wren Games. The components look nice and it has a sprawling table presence – something I felt was a little off for such a quick game. It isn’t an issue on my large table, but it could be on yours. Maybe I’ve just had bad luck with the game, but it seems like every time I play this I end up scanning a card that ends up being just right for movement – except now I need to wait for it to cycle back in range to move onto the space. Inevitably, all the other cards need full shields in that situation, leaving me idling for a few turns. The rules as a whole could use a few more examples, maybe walking through a full 2-3 turns (since they are quick) to make sure players don’t misinterpret the rules. I am pretty sure I played correctly myself, but there is enough room to read things incorrectly. The thing I like most about this game, just like Assembly, is that it is a quick-playing game that exercises my brain in challenging ways while providing a clear win/loss condition to meet. I think my personal taste is going to be for Assembly over Sensor Ghosts, but I can see reason why others might break the other way. They are both solid games in small boxes, making them portable (although this less so because of the required table space).

Expansion Review · Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One – Raiders of the North Sea: Solo Variant

Thank you for checking review #100 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A review copy of the solo variant expansion was sent in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Raiders of the North Sea: Solo Variant

Raiders of the North Sea: Solo Variant is an expansion for Raiders of the North Sea, designed by Shem Phillips that is published by Garphill Games. The rules state it plays 1 player.

This is a solo variant for Raiders of the North Sea. It is also compatible with Hall of Heroes, Fields of Fame and all promo materials. This variant includes 23 scheme cards which drive the decision making process of the AI opponent.

You will always take your turn first, followed by your opponent. Your turns function just as they would in the standard game (with the exception of 1 Village location being blocked each turn). Your opponent’s turns operate differently. On their turn, reveal the top Scheme Card from the Schemes Draw Pile and follow its instructions. Your opponent will always attempt to Raid if they can. Otherwise, they will Work.

My Thoughts

 Raiders of the North Sea has been one of my favorite games since it entered my collection. It is relatively thematic, has great art, and I love the Viking theme of the game. I enjoy the innovative worker placement mechanic. Yet like any game, it is restricted on how many times it hits the table based upon the number of players required. That is why, when I heard a solo expansion was coming, I got excited. Very, very excited. A new player count to play with means this game is going to hit the table more often, which is definitely a positive in this solo gamer’s books.

 The solo AI is relatively easy to pilot, as it involves flipping a card and either having it raid the space shown if it has the resources, or have it gain the resources shown instead. Like a player, it spends resources every time it raids which, unfortunately, means you need to track some of what it gains. But ultimately it is a simple process, most of which is done on the three tracks marked on the board and the other being via provisions. If you know how to play the base game, you can learn to use the solo variant in under five minutes.

 The solo AI is not a “beat your own high score” sort of solo variant for the game! It pushes me to play better and plan better, churning out parties as quickly as I can to raid the spaces I need before they are gone. It takes a strong enough balance of all things that it scores pretty well and, so far, I’ve been lucky in some late game situations where it would miss opportunities to raid by a single resource and then spend the next few drawing Harbor spaces that were long empty. But other times it swoops in and takes spaces that I can’t touch yet, raking in points at a good clip. All in all, it forces me to play better, which is what you want from a solo system.

 Not only does this deck give the solo AI some actions to execute, it also blocks a space for the player turn. Sometimes that blocked space is perfectly acceptable, something that leaves you to your plans. Other times it’ll take the exact space you need, preventing you from getting provisions or crew members when you need them for that next raid. The best (and worst) is when it delays you that one turn and the next card has it scoop up the space you were hoping to raid yourself. That perfection doesn’t happen often against you, but it certainly makes it feel like that deck is totally playing against you.

 Okay, I understand the “optimal” idea of putting the rules on the actual tuckbox that the variant comes in. I’m all for being creative and saving on costs and whatnot. But what happens when that tuckbox rips? As a gamer who doesn’t usually hang onto boxes for expansions unless they are needed for storage (which is rare), this makes the solo variant an anomaly in my collection. It isn’t a bad thing, but at the same time a small rulebook to flip through rather than box folds to move around would have been nice.

 This game is only available through Garphill Games’ website that I am aware of. And while this is 110% worth it, I’m not so blind as to believe it won’t deter some from picking it up. For what its worth, if you already enjoy Raiders then I’d just commit to picking up the solo variant, the 5-Year Anniversary Promo Pack, the Jarl Promo Pack, the Mico Promo Pack, and probably even the Raiders Collector’s Box and just go all-in. At the very least, snagging the promos (especially the 5-year promo pack) to make the shipping costs seem a little more worthwhile.

Final Thoughts

There is not much to say other than this little box of cards took one of my favorite worker placement games and added in a solo mode that is smooth and exciting. That elevates the game higher in my collection, as now it can hit the table even when I do not have someone willing and able to play against. It can be a challenge to get a good solo system integrated into a game after it has already been published, but I found that Shem did an excellent job here of designing a seamless deck of cards.

The solo system could have been far simpler here, blocking X spaces each turn and generating pure VP regardless. But I really like the system here, even though it requires giving it provisions, moving it along several tracks, and spending provisions as necessary. Some might deem it fiddly to do that bit of bookkeeping, but I never found it to be cumbersome. The AI turns are relatively quick, allowing you to see how it impacts the board, its score, and then get things back to the next player turn.

I like how it blocks a space from being used each turn, although I sometimes forget and have to backtrack my turn when I go to flip the next card. It is a small thing, one I have always caught after the fact, but easy to overlook during the gameplay since it does not have you place a worker out there to block it like you would in a game like Viticulture. I love how it opens up the possibility of a Valkyrie end game trigger, depending on how those get distributed, since the AI is likely to clean up all of the Harbor spaces by the end of the game. It still feels like the AI has to ramp up in order to get their own engine churning, needing enough provisions and Armor in order to raid those more valuable locations. But every time it does manage to break up there sooner than I can, motivating me to stop building an engine and to start raiding more seriously. Which emulates the same pressure I would get from a multiplayer game.

In short, my thoughts on Raiders of the North Sea are still as strong and positive as they were when I reviewed the game. You should definitely check out my review if you want to hear more about the game experience itself. The solo expansion adds nothing to the game outside of the solo AI deck, but it made a great game into a permanent part of my collection because it offers such a fun and challenging solitaire mode into the game. It avoids the “beat your own high score” trap of most worker placement solo modes, and it provides a dynamic opponent whose scoring will fluctuate and who will actively remove resources from the board as the game progresses. That makes this stand out as a very unique solo experience among other games of its type.

Board Gaming · Expansion Review · Review for One · Solo Gaming

Review for One – Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar

Thank you for checking review #76 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

*A review copy of this expansion was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Be sure to check out the Kickstarter for the new campaign and other content: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1172937197/hero-realms-…

An Overview of Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar

Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar is an expansion for Hero Realms and was designed by Robert Dougherty, Ben Chichoski, Daniel Mandel, and Darwin Kastle, and was published by White Wizard Games in 2017. The box states that it can play 1-5 players and has a 90 minute play time.

Choose your character, team up with your friends, and start your adventure! Gain experience points on each mission. Spend your experience points between missions to improve your character with awesome new skill and gear cards.

The 144-card The Ruin of Thandar Campaign Deck contains:

E Rules for solo and cooperative Campaign play
E Three different missions, each designed to be more challenging than the last!
E Skill and gear cards to improve and customize your character

My Thoughts

 There is a well-considered progression you can develop your characters on throughout this, and the sequential, campaigns. This one box has every character path and upgrade you’ll need for the five initial character classes you can use, allowing you to decide early on how you want to proceed and chart out where your character will ultimately end up. While this takes up a lot of the content in the box, this is also a nice benefit because it allows you to plan from the beginning for your progression.

 It is a small detail, but I like the decision to use oversized cards for the villains in the campaign. It helps the players to differentiate at a quick glance between the main target and the ancillary cards interfering with their objectives. Much like the oversized cards I use for Sentinels of the Multiverse, this simply adds a nice element that gives it better table presence and makes the ultimate target feel like a big deal.

 It goes without saying, but I appreciated this opening up solo play in a great way for Hero Realms. While I enjoyed a few matches of Star Realms against those little boss cards, this campaign provides a much meatier and more enjoyable experience for the solo gamer. This feels very much like a dungeon crawl-inspired implementation of a deck builder, coupled with some elements from games like Sentinels of the Multiverse. Does it do each aspect better than game X that specializes in that area? No, but by merging all three of those into one game it delivers a fun, fast package that is unique in itself and can satisfy a lot of what I want out of a gaming session.

 This campaign plays out almost like a choose-your-own-adventure book, which is really fun. What I mean by that is you still need to successfully defeat the first boss battle, but once you do there is a snippet or two to read in the book that lays out what happens next, and at the end of that you are faced with two choices on what to do next. Depending on which you choose you progress down a slightly different story arc and encounter a different boss battle as a result. And the third encounter simply blew my mind with the approach taken here. I now understand how there are 8 different oversized cards for 3 encounters.

 The rules of the bosses are relatively simple, using their constructed mini deck and consulting their card based on the colored symbol shown for activation abilities (in addition to whatever the card is). At least with a solo game, this keeps the pace of the game moving forward and makes the focus more on how I act and react to the boss rather than going through a convoluted system to operate them. It takes the bookkeeping and simplifies things in all the right ways.

 To prevent dumping of massive damage while ignoring everything else, the Master’s deck can drop champions into your play area or into its play area (elites go to its area, all others to the player’s area). If it has ANY champion in your play area, Guarded keyword or not, you cannot attack or target the Master or its champions in its area. Which really stinks when it drops a 9 Health enemy there early on in the game, but also makes for great interactions. And the clever ideas only get better as you advance in the campaign.

 While I like the character progression and how scarce the upgrade points are, there is one thing I am disappointed with: you can’t go outside of your class for upgrades. There aren’t generic ones to choose from or anything, they are all specific to that class and essentially replace the starting abilities with stronger versions that become slightly specialized. By choosing Cleric, I’ll never be able to upgrade into dealing damage even if I wanted to for those slots. It makes sense, of course, but I’ve found that some of the choices to upgrade toward are not really as suited for solo play and therefore making the decisions easier on which path to take.

 I’ve said it before about Sentinels and I’ll say it as well on this game: the boss battles feel too easy at times. I went 3/3 on my campaign as a cleric, and while I had fun there was never a point where I was almost dead. The final encounter had about 2 turns where I was getting hit hard but then my deck’s engine finally was set and I took about 5 points of damage for the rest of the fight while dropping it by over 50 in those turns.

 Tied with the above, the flipping mechanic is clever but it only happened on the 3rd encounter. Getting some deck control on the Master via the Discard ability felt overly powerful, allowing me to cycle the Mastery cards to the bottom. In the solo match, the decks never depleted and so I was always able to delay the inevitable. That changed in the 3rd one, but by the time the final battle flipped, I was gearing up to be in control.

Final Thoughts

This version of Hero Realms is exactly what I want out of the game. For a base game with such a small buy-in, this experience takes that initial package and enhances it in clever ways. Sadly, I don’t think my wife will ever want to experience it (she hates co-op games) but the nice thing is that there’s still the regular Hero Realms I can enjoy with her. But this is the essential expansion for anyone who wants solo play, or who enjoys the feeling of character progression and big boss battles.

The story is simply told, and unravels in expected but exciting ways. There aren’t really any curveballs, although the added story when a card flipped out in the 3rd encounter was pretty cool. It came too late to really make an impact on the game, but it was a neat touch. But I still like the linear story with the small branches of possibilities. The boss fights all felt unique, and I have only faced half the cards in that box.

I’m a fan of being able to have the full information of how each class can upgrade in the overall campaign, yet it feels wasteful since the majority of this box is the cards used to upgrade the five decks. The encounter cards are a small fraction of what is in the box, and in a solo game you only use 1 of the 13 “starter” cards when constructing those decks.

In spite of this, I definitely feel like this is a great expansion experience for an already enjoyable game. There is plenty of replay value in here, plus the challenge of completing it with all five different classes in existence. Even if White Wizard Games never released a 2nd Campaign box, there would still be enough in here to make it worth the price to pick up this box unless you hate cooperative games AND never play solo games.

However, this little box helped make Hero Realms one of my Top 10 solo games this year and I look forward to seeing the story continue in the upcoming The Lost Village box (something I still wish had been available at Gen Con, as I purchased a ticket to play it but the event was cancelled prior to Gen Con)

Be sure to check out the campaign running on Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1172937197/hero-realms-…

Board Gaming · Expansion Review

Review – Mystic Vale: Vale of Magic

I’m setting a personal goal to try and get to more expansion reviews, as there are some excellent expansions out there that add some wonderful content to a base game. I’m hoping to hit on a few to close out the month, covering a little bit about what comes in the box, how they impact the game, and my overall thoughts on the expansion and what it provides.

Mystic Vale: Vale of Magic is the 1st expansion for Mystic Vale. The expansion was released in 2016 by AEG, and has a MSRP of around $29.99.

What the expansion adds

9x Level 1 Vale Cards (Aether Tree x 2, Amberwood, Direwolf Burrow, Manadew Meadow x 2, Roost x 2, Shimmercliff Rookery)

9x Level 2 Vale Cards (Fauna Hollow x 2, Earth Cradle, Sunshard Savanna, Sunwell Temple x 2, Vale of Magic, Wood Sprite Hoard x 2)

18x Level 1 Advancement Cards (Arbor Overseer x 3, Canopy Explorer x 3, Giant Toad x 3, Limbthresher x 3, Sentry x 3, Wood Sprite x 3)

21x Level 2 Advancement Cards (Goldenwing Gryphon x 3, Hatchery x 3, Heartwood Healer x 3, Ley Line Overflow x 3, Lifetap Oracle x 3, Sunshard Custodian x 3, Water Weaver x 3)

15x Level 3 Advancement Cards (Chromatic Wyvern x 3, Creeping Mold x 3, Grove Guardian x 3, Overgrowth x 3, Sporeling Reclaimer x 3)

Rule Changes

None to speak of. There are new timing abilities, such as what can be found on the Hatchery advancement, but they add no new complexity to the game. This expansion can integrate easily in with Mystic Vale, and could definitely be used without any issues when teaching new players.

Standout Cards

Amberwood, Shimmercliff Rookery, & Direwolf Burrow (Level 1 Vale Cards) – These three cards all do the same thing upon purchase: they let you flip your mana token to its active side. I like these because they allow you to regain that extra mana without a need to spoil, allowing you to be more efficient and effective with your turns. This is especially impactful early-mid game as you’re getting your engine churning to snag Level 2 & 3 advancements.

Earth Cradle (Level 2 Vale Card) – This one is powerful for those who like comboing the Vale Cards. It is definitely a viable strategy as long as the right Advancement cards show up early. This one scores you 1 VP for each Vale Card you own at the time of purchase. I’ve had games where this could have gained me 8-10 points, and that potential makes this worth mentioning. It reinforces the viability of this strategy.

Canopy Explorer (Level 1 Advancement Card) – I love the Guardian symbol synergy and this might be my new favorite in there. After you set up your field, during harvest you can add more cards from your deck (not the on-deck card) into your field. The special thing here is that those extra cards are added in the Harvest phase, which means they cannot cause you to spoil. Even adding 1 extra card into your field can be really, really strong.

Goldenwing Gryphon (Level 2 Advancement Card) – See above comments on flipping your mana token. This lets you do it every time this card is played, which is awesome. I can’t tell you how many times 1 mana could affect how a turn plays out, and being able to regain that without spoiling is huge.

Hatchery (Level 2 Advancement Card) – This is one that is easy to overlook. By itself, the card is just okay. But the potential it adds is massive. Put this with 2 really strong advancements and suddenly you’ve got a strong card that stays out for two turns. Get two cards with Hatchery out there and suddenly one of those cards will be in play for three turns in a row. Just think on that potential and you’ll see why this can easily be an MVP advancement for your deck.

Overgrowth (Level 3 Advancement Card) – Forget everything else about the card and focus on the stat here that made me do a double-take: the VP. 5 end-game VP. Say, what? For a game where the normal score falls in the 25-35 range and where end-game VP ranges from 0-2…let’s just say this stood out from the crowd when I played last. I picked up two of these cards in my last game, which was just enough to secure a win for me. Without that 10 VP on these cards (as in, if they had been 2 each), I would have lost.

Final Thoughts

This is an expansion that integrates seamlessly with the base game. If you want something that simply adds more of the same that you get in the base game, this is a perfect expansion. It adds variety to a game where, after 5-6 plays, things started to repeat often. The same cards would show up at least once per game and you could gear a strategy around that coming up. Thickening the decks makes for more variance from play to play, something I absolutely applaud.

This is the type of expansion that my wife enjoys, as it changes nothing about how the game is played. Even expansions that are heralded as must-haves (Like the Farmers of the Moor for Agricola) are ones she actively dislikes because they change X about how the game is played. Her seal of approval on this should speak volumes.

I’m also coming to realize that I would rather have 5-10 games with good cycles of expansions that expand the game rather than 100 unique base games without any expansion content. And so this is a great first step on Mystic Vale’s expansion cycle. I know that other expansions add things like Leaders, and I am eager to see what that offers to the game while also expanding the card pool.

For the $30 MSRP, I know people will refuse to get the expansion. I can’t blame you for not wanting to pay that for “more of the same” if you want something that shakes up a game. But really, this is a great expansion that rounds out the core set of cards that comes in the base game. And if you can get 20-25% off that price and pick it up for around $25 instead, you really can’t go wrong with this expansion, because it is one you can easily keep integrated with the game permanently. I’d definitely buy it again, if I had to do it all over again.