The Complete Hero Realms Buyer’s Guide

You may have heard that I like Star Realms. Like, a lot. I even wrote a buyer’s guide. But! Some people don’t like spaceships. Some people like dragons and wizards! And for those people, White Wizard Games created Hero Realms. Hero Realms shares ninety percent of its DNA with Star Realms, but includes some significant changes, including a lot more opportunities for cooperative play. Whether you’re a fan of Star Realms, deckbuilding in general, or medieval fantasy, here’s the proper order for slowly submerging yourself in a sea of Hero Realms! 

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The Core Set ($19.99 MSRP)

As of right now (summer 2020), there is only one Hero Realms core set. So… you kind of have to buy this to play. The real question, then, is whether you should consider buying this over a Star Realms product. Here’s the main differences: 

  • The theme (duh). Sidenote: Hero Realms has far more depiction of actual people and monsters (rather than planets and spaceships), and more mature content (suggestive outfits, occult imagery, explicit violence)It doesn’t bother me, but it may bother some readers.
  • Hero Realms is generally a faster game with bigger and more powerful cards, but it’s missing one key strategic angle from Star Realms (scrapping away cards in the market row).
  • The Character packs are thoroughly integrated into the other products and are generally considered a “main part” of Hero Realms; while the Commander decks for Star Realms are more of a novelty.
  • Hero Realms has two campaign products for cooperative play, with more to come. Star Realms has some challenge cards for cooperative play, but nothing anywhere near the level of co-op support that Hero Realms has.

The truth is that I like both games, but I like Star Realms more. The reason is simple: I don’t like cooperative games all that much. I’m ambivalent about the theme or the power and strategy discrepancies; I do like the character packs, but mostly I just want to bash face all day, and that’s the only real focus of Star Realms. But I know a lot of gamers that I like to play board and card games cooperatively, and Hero Realms is the way to go in that case.  

Bottom Line: Necessary to get into Hero Realms, which has a lot more cooperative play support than Star Realms. 

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5 Character Packs ($4.99 each), Ancestry ($9.99)

 

Much like the core set, the character packs come next out of necessity. The campaign decks require a character pack for each player to play, because a key component of the campaign is upgrading your character skills. Each player gets two starting abilities (Star Realms players would call these “Gambits”) unique to their character, and a unique starting deck as well. 

Fortunately, the character decks are quite fun, and were one of the early distinguishing features of Hero Realms — so much so that Star Realms players clamored for their own version! I actually prefer the concept of the Hero Realms character packs, because they are not tied to particular colors coming out of the market deck, unlike the Star Realms commanders. My personal favorite is the Ranger, but you if you’re playing with a big group for your campaign, you need to get pretty much all of them anyway.

Ancestry is a brand new (summer 2020) product that takes this idea another step. Characters now have both a race and a class; picking an Ancestry race adjusts your starting life total and gives you abilities as well as some new cards for your starting deck. It seems to me that overall these decks ramp up the power level despite having drawbacks as well. They can be used in the campaigns, but I suspect they make them easier. 

I love starting with my own set of toys that my opponent doesn’t have, so I like these a lot. However, I could see this together with the Character Packs being too much to keep track up for new players, so it’s okay to take your time. One big advantage over the Character Packs, however, is that you only need to buy the one Ancestry pack and then distribute the races among the players. 

Bottom Line: Character packs are pretty much necessary, but they’re fun, so that’s okay. Ancestry is a great addition for when you’re ready.

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The Ruin of Thandar, The Lost Village ($19.99 Each)

These two expansions are the main reason why players would want to deviate from Star Realms and invest in Hero Realms. Each contains a multi-episode arc of an overall campaign, and according to the campaign book for The Lost Village, more is on the way. I’ve only dabbled in cooperative deckbuilding games, so I can’t make too much of a comparison here, but I’ll do what I can.

I think there are two main advantages here over other games. The first is that you might just really enjoy the Realms system of deckbuilding, and you want to play that cooperatively, more than you want to play something like Legendary. The second is that this is a clear commitment to a full-on campaign rather than one-shot, but in manageable pieces, which is a happy medium for a lot of players. 

Overall, I think these campaigns are a success. The story didn’t feel distinctive but it was a good enough backdrop for Hero Realms’ strong gameplay (which is really the focus), and games often came down to the wire (I played on “standard” difficulty using both Character and Ancestry packs). These also offer a lot of value at $19.99 each; there’s a ton of stuff in these little boxes. The base set, two character packs, and The Ruin of Thandar is still about the same price of Aeon’s End or a Legendary core set, and you’ve got a cooperative game and a competitive game both. It’s not at the level of something like Pandemic Legacy, but it’s also not $80 per part of the campaign. 

I also think these are getting better as they go. The Ruin of Thandar had some vagueness in the rulebook; setup was a real bear; it wasn’t optimized for solo play (e.g. Ranger’s second ability was completely useless). However, The Lost Village added some cool twists and I was pretty comfortable with the system by then. For the sake of story, though, you should still play them in order.

If you’re getting these to play with friends, I would encourage you to just do maybe the very first chapter of Thandar solo, so that you learn how everything works. It’s actually not that complicated, but it can feel intimidating going through the rules at first. You don’t want to be there sweating, desperately scanning the rules of your cool new game, while your friends quietly get out their phones (we’ve all been there). 

Bottom Line: Do you like cooperative games? Then this is probably why you’re here in the first place! Get them both, and play them in order. 

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4 Journeys Packs ($4.99 Each) and 2 Promo Packs

Journeys: Travelers and Journeys: Hunters

Yet another big difference between Star Realms and Hero Realms is the way expansions have rolled out. Star Realms has had many expansions consisting of cards to be added to the main trade (market) deck. Yet it wasn’t until just recently (summer 2020) that Hero Realms has gotten expansions of this type. Two of the Journeys packs, Travelers and Hunters, simply consist of 12 cards each to add to your market deck. This gives the game’s core some much-needed variety. They’re easily added, and you never really have a good reason to remove them from the deck. They work perfectly fine with the campaigns, but for head-to-head players looking for new cards, these are auto-buys. 

Bottom Line: More cards for the market deck. Why not!? 

Journeys: Conquest and Journeys: Discovery

The other two Journeys packs are adaptations of the Missions expansion from Star Realms. Players each secretly dealt 3 “Quests” to complete, and should they do so, they are rewarded with a random Relic card that goes into their deck. If either player finishes all three Quests, they immediately win the game! These can be used in the campaign with major rules tweaks (confusingly listed in The Lost Village manual instead of the Conquest / Discovery manuals), but these are primarily meant for head-to-head games.

Missions was (and still is) a fairly divisive Star Realms expansion, primarily because of the auto-win condition. (Though you could just house-rule it out.) The main change here is that in Star Realms, the reward is tied to the particular Mission, and you know what the effect is ahead of time. Getting a “Relic” after completing a “Quest” is certainly a nice thematic touch, more befitting of Hero Realms. However, if you’re going to get these, you really need to get both packs. Otherwise, you and your opponent will each have three of only six Quests, and you’ll know what the other person has. I’m still torn about playing with these; they don’t ruin either Realms game, but they make it feel extremely different. I’ll play with them (and do often), but they’re low on my list of expansions to get.

Bottom Line: Fun, but a big change. Get the other stuff first.

Year One Promo Cards  and Journeys Kickstarter Promo Pack

The original Hero Realms Kickstarter had a set of promo cards that included a bunch of cards for the market deck: champions, actions, items. Since there have only been 2 “official” 12-card expansions of this type (the two Journeys packs), this is a pretty nice addition. The Journeys Kickstarter had a similar pack, but it also included a Quest and a Relic, in addition to an Ancestry race, the Half-Demon. As far as I can tell, these are still not available in retail, and only through White Wizard Kickstarters. I would advocate for getting them, if only because the market deck could use the boost. (Plus, some of my friends have won Hero Realms Legends tournaments and their likenesses appear in the Journeys promo pack!)

 

Bottom Line: Grab them on a White Wizard Kickstarter when you have the chance. 

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Lich and Dragon Boss Decks ($9.99 Each)

These expansions are low on my list not because they’re bad, but because of their narrower utility. The two boss decks (Lich, Dragon) are designed for 1 vs. X battles, or to be played against each other, but they don’t really integrate well with anything else. Because they’re so powerful, they can’t really be used in the campaigns, and if I have 3-5 friends together just to play Hero Realms, we’re probably doing the campaign, not the Boss decks.

The idea of playing them against each other is cool, but not that different from simply playing with two character packs, particularly if you also add Ancestry races to the Character Packs. These came out early in Hero Realms’ history, and they’ve just been somewhat outclassed by the newer content. (Although, one thing you might try out is playing a Boss deck against a post-campaign, beefed up Character.) 

Bottom Line: Fun, but save ’em for last.

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Adventure Storage Box ($29.99), Playmats ($24.99)

If you’re adding stuff to your cart as you’re reading this, then by now you’ve got a big pile of stuff and nowhere to put it. The Adventure Storage Box fits everything for Hero Realms thus far with room to spare, including space for a playmat. It also comes with promo cards, and dividers for each set. It’s really your only good storage option right now. I’m happy that it exists, but it’s admittedly a bit pricey, and I’m not completely in love with it (mine is hard to open, and the “permanent” cardboard dividers in the middle seem flimsy). 

I personally am someone who is terrible at remembering to bring Playmats out in the first place, but here I can see one being more justifiable. First, since they fit in the Adventure Storage Box, I won’t forget them! But they’re also pretty useful for campaign games, to make sure you keep track of where everything is.

Bottom Line: Adventure Storage Box is eventually necessary; Playmats value is likely a personal decision.

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Conclusion

To summarize:

  • You have to get the core set to play it all, and you have to get the Character Packs to do much else.

  • Do you like cooperative play? Get the first campaign set, The Ruin of Thandar, and then once you’re done, check out The Lost Village.

  • Do you just want to bash medieval face? Then you might be more interested in the Ancestry pack and the four Journeys packs. 

  • Did you just buy a bunch of junk? Better put it all in the Adventure Storage Box, and you can fit a Playmat in there too.

  • By now you’re a completionist, so you might as well hunt down the Boss Decks and the Promo Packs. 

  • Have fun!

 

Derek Thompson

I've been a board game reviewer since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.

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