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FANTASY REALMS

Reviewed by Herb Levy

FANTASY REALMS (WizKids, 3 to 6 players, ages 14 and up, 20 minutes; $19.99)

 

Lands of magic and monsters, of heroes and armies, of wizards and artifacts, have long populated books, television and films. Games are not immune to this appeal as enchanted domains have served as inspiration for many. The latest to bring such a setting to life comes from designer Bruce Glassco in his game Fantasy Realms

Fantasy Realms is a fantasy-themed card game consisting of a single deck of 53 cards: 5 in each of the 10 suits of the game (Army, Artifact, Beast, Flame, Flood, Land, Leader, Weapon, Weather and Wizard) and 3 wild cards. The deck is shuffled and each player dealt a hand of 7 cards. From this initial hand, a winning fantasy realm must be designed. 

All cards have a base strength ranging from 0 (for those wild cards) up to a high of 40. Cards may also have a Penalty and/or Bonus attribute that may be triggered – and this is where it pays to be crafty in crafting you hand. 

Penalties can deduct points for certain cards held or, worse yet, “blank” certain cards or even entire suits of cards rendering them worthless! Bonuses work in a similar fashion but reward players for other cards of the same suit or for specific cards held in their hands. They can also Clear (that is, “eliminate”) some penalties other cards may impose. 

On a turn, a player must draw a card (from the top of the deck OR from any card in the discard array on the table) and end his turn by discarding one. This goes on until the 10th card hits the table. At that point, the game immediately ends and we score. 

Each of the seven cards in hand scores individually with scores directly impacted by the OTHER cards held. Let’s examine some scoring possibilities.

Let’s suppose Player A has the Cavern (one of the cards in the Land suit). He will score 6 points for that card as that is the Cavern’s base strength. However, the Cavern also grants a bonus of +25 if Player A also holds the Dragon (or Dwarvish Infantry). He holds the Dragon so he scores, for the Cavern a total of 31 points! But that’s not all. The Cavern’s additional bonus is that it will CLEAR the penalties on all Weather cards so that Blizzard card held in hand that would have deducted 5 points for each Army, Leader, Beast and Flame AND have BLANKED all Flood cards will no longer be in effect! All in all, a pretty valuable combination stemming from a card with a basic value of only 6! But what about those wild cards?

All three Wild cards have a base strength of 0 points! But their value lies in the potential for a big score. The Mirage will duplicate the name and suit of any one Army, Land, Weather, Flood or Flame but not its strength, bonus or penalty. The Shapeshifter works in the same way, duplicating any Artifact, Leader, Wizard, Weapon or Beast.  (Very useful cards if a bonus is available for each card held of a certain suit.)  The Doppelganger may duplicate the name, base strength, suit and penalty – but NOT bonus – of any other card in the deck! (This could have been used by Player A, for example, as the Dragon if he didn’t already have that card, adding 25 points to his score.) 

The player with the highest combined final score wins!

Card quality is fine as is the artwork. Not only is each card’s name in bold letters (and its suit printed on the side in smaller letters) but colored stripes on each card’s left border make suits easily identifiable. Also impressive is the decision to use READABLE type so that discerning what the cards are and their Bonus and Penalty powers is not a celebration of eyestrain. (This just proves that good artwork and readable type are not mutually exclusive.)  

The game offers rules for 2 players as well as rules for up to 7. (With 7, there is no drawing and discarding. Instead, players have to “trade” with each other against a timer. The addition of a “trade” game mechanism to the game is not something we’d recommend. Stick to a maximum of 6 players.)

While it is tempting to glibly describe Fantasy Realms as “fantasy rummy”, such a description does not do the game justice. There is more going on here. Will you be able to draw the necessary card/suit to complete or extend a bonus? Do you take a card from the discard array to prevent an opponent from scoring big, even at your own expense? Do you stick with higher base strength value cards or take lower ones and try to work them into a bigger payoff? Adding to the mix is that the value of cards can drastically change depending on what bonuses or penalties they have which forces you to shape your holdings accordingly. All of these decisions are meaningful and interesting. That the entire game can be played in about 20 minutes is an added bonus too. 

What might make people hesitate is the unfamiliarity of the cards. You won’t see spades, hearts, clubs and diamonds here and there are 10 suits rather than the traditional four. As a result, the first exposure to the game might seem a bit chaotic and overwhelming. How can you possibly know which cards interact with which cards? In actuality, however, with a second or third play, things start to make sense and fall into place very nicely. A very small commitment of time on the part of the players turns into a big payoff in gaming pleasure.

Fantasy Realms is an ideal way to start a game session or end one as it handles six seamlessly, offers interesting decisions and does it all in less than 30 minutes. – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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