REALM of HEROES is a challenging combat game for 2-4 players. It is also the type of game that we do not play too often as players can be eliminated from the game, and we generally prefer games where the count up (or scoring) completes the end passage of play and a winner is thus determined. There is nothing wrong with games of elimination except that it means one then two players are left watching the others play rather than being in the competition until the end. Anyway that's just us. Many players like and enjoy elimination games and so it is towards them that this review is aimed. Basically, if you don't like games of elimination then read no further as the following volume of text isn't going to change your way of thinking.
So we have three shapes of component, all made of solid card able to withstand regular use. The main board is made up of a randomly built play area - a grid 6 x 6 made randomly from the Field Tiles (of which there are 30), Mountain Tiles (5) and Forest Tiles (5). each of these tile types has a specific purpose. Fields provide sustenance and support. Only Rangers can pass through Forests, all other characters have to end their turn when they enter one. Only Rangers can enter Mountains and they may never end their movement in a Mountain tile. All remaining tiles (4) are removed from play once the grid has been completed.
Each player has a set of round counters (token) in their ID colour - all of these counters show a shield on the front (player's colour) and a greyscale shield on the reverse. Other similarly shaped and sized counters are the Monuments (4) and Special Tokens (2), the latter only being used if there are less than 4 players. The four monuments and 9 of each of the player counters (tokens) are mixed face down on the table and randomly placed onto the terrain tiles. If a Special token is selected it is replaced with a Plague tile (the reverse of most square tiles show a skull) and then another token is taken for the terrain tile and placed face up so that all terrain tiles show a player ID counter - all terrain tiles except Mountains. When a Monument is the randomly selected token it is placed on the next terrain tile and an ID token drawn to accompany it. ID tokens picked up are placed in the shaded circle on the terrain tile. Thus when completed, the board setup should show a randomly determined land mass of field, mountain and forest with each of the Fields and Forests containing at least a face up Player ID token. No markers of any kind are placed in the Mountain terrain tiles.
The above describes a random setup as detailed in the opening pages of the rules booklet. At the back of the rules book are a number of scenarios (9) which show you how to set out the 6x6 grid and the character's pieces for different challenges. It is our opinion that you defer the random setup and only play the scenarios. This is because it is highly possible that anomalies may occur during the random tile and counter drawing which completely throw the game off kilter - the FAQ even hints at this by saying Mountain tiles should be replaced if they encompass another terrain tile and prevent access to it. Please note that this is only remarked upon in the FAQs and not in the rules per se. So we have 40 terrain tiles, 36 of which are used to form the grid, and 40-42 tokens (36 of which are player pieces and either 4 or 6 are Monuments and Specials).
By setting up randomly, as we did on our very first four player game, we came up with an almost unplayable situation. To begin with all 5 of the Mountains and all 5 of the Forests were amongst the 36 randomly selected for the grid. This meant that the balance and thus placing of the player tokens and monuments was already likely to be out as there were 5 Mountains into which no tokens are placed - meaning only a possible 35 tokens could be placed. (36-5=31+4 monuments = 35 tokens on the board). The tokens were then randomly drawn and placed and 2 of the monuments were amongst those placed, thus there were 31 player tokens and 2 monuments now on the board. It was entirely possible that one player might have only four tokens in play and that none of the monument tokens were chosen. As it turned out our lowest number was Red who actually had FIVE tokens on the board, all surrounded by either Mountains or opposition pieces and 3 of which were in Forests, so none of the Red tokens were next to another Red token and the chances of building and supply were just about impossible. The Yellow player had tokens on both monuments and 7 other tokens in play. Purple also had a full complement of 9 tokens and Pink was one behind with just 8 tokens in play; Red had been very unlucky, we agree. But it happened to us on our very first game and meant the Red player was out of the game before it had started. To make it even more of an awkward first setup, the Yellow player was going first (random draw) and as one of the ways to win the game is to have Ownership markers on all the Monuments at the end of your turn it not only meant Red was out it also meant that Yellow had won; no one else had a turn. At least it meant that when we set up for the second time we started on the scenarios. Now that we have established it is possible to break the game we also now know that we can work around that by not playing with a random setup.
Once the board is set the players get to put out their Leader counter (str 1) and a Tower (str 2), putting them onto two separate terrain tiles where their control markers are. You need to remember that Towers can be upgraded during play to either Castles (str 6) or Wizard's Keeps (str 4) neither of these can be further upgraded. As well as buildings and Leaders there are Characters; Peasants (2), Warriors (4), Rangers (6), Knights (8), Apprentices (3), Sorcerers (3) and Wizards (5). All of these, except the buildings and the Leaders require Upkeep each turn. Upkeep, or Support, is provided by the Field terrain tiles, one unit of support per field. The amount of support required is the total value of the units in the area - an area being groups of orthogonal adjacent terrain tiles owned by each player. If not enough support is provided per area (units in an area can only be supplied by tiles of that area) then all non-leader tiles are flipped over to reveal their Plague side. You do not decide to supply some of the units and kill the others, they all survive or they all die.
Players take turns and complete this order of four actions each:
Plague: - Plague tokens spread, not diagonally, to adjacent terrain tiles.
Support: - As described previously
Reinforcement: - Players may only have two buildings on the board. One of the following actions may be taken. a)If they aren't at their limit they may place a Tower in an empty terrain tile they control. b) Upgrade a building. c) Place a Peasant. or d) Upgrade a hero. Peasant to either an Apprentice or a Warrior, Warriors to Rangers or Knights, Knights cannot be upgraded etc.
Movement: Move some, none or all heroes (units). They move any distance in a straight line, adjacent tile to adjacent tile. There are restrictions (Mountains, opposition controlled by an equal or greater force etc). If a hero moves into a tile that is defended by a lower value force that tile is conquered and all opposing pieces removed. The number or total value of the heroes in a battle have no effect, only the single highest value unit on each side are compared and the fight won or lost on that.
With no dice to roll and no cards or hazards to interfere and no special weapons or spells to customise the heroes, REALM of HEROES is a pure strategy game and thus depends almost entirely on the player decisions. If you set up randomly then you introduce a huge LUCK element into the game otherwise it is all decision making. If you play scenario 1, for example, and find you lose easily then try playing it again, with the same force, but make different moves and take different actions. In this way it is like Chess. There are only so many pieces and squares and so many possible moves, it's just the timing of those moves which make Chess, and now Realm of Heroes, different every time you play it.