The simplicity of Fantasy Realms means that anyone can pick this game up pretty easily. When playing a game for the first time I always consider whether or not my parents or in-laws would understand the rules, and Fantasy Realms is definitely one they would understand. Designed by Bruce Glassco and published by WizKids, this is definitely one of my favourite games.
Playing Fantasy Realms
The rules for Fantasy Realms are simple, in fact the instruction booklet consists of only eight pages, which includes a more in-depth look at terminology, a double spread example of scoring and a full list of card names.
With a starting hand of seven cards you can either pick up a card from the discard area or draw a new card from the deck, then discard a card to the discard area, ensuring you always have a hand of seven cards. As soon as there are 10 cards in the discard area the game ends and the player with the highest scoring cards wins the game.
Sounds simple enough, but factor in to account that every card has either a bonus or penalty which can drastically alter that card's scoring value. Each bonus and penalty is dependent on the other cards in your hands, some penalties even ‘blank’ other cards in your hand so that they score nothing, of course there are ways around penalties and huge bonus points if you can get the right combination of cards in hand.
This makes the game very strategic, however there is still a certain level of luck to this game, if you are holding out for a specific card to complete a combo, it may never appear in the current game. With only one copy of each card, you need luck on your side to complete one of the trickier combos, and hope that none of the other players have the card you need in their hand.
Two and Seven-Player Variants
The box for Fantasy Realms may say this is a 3-6 player game but there are a couple of variations to the way it can be played, allowing for a two-player game or a seven-player game.
The two-player variant begins with neither player starting with a hand of cards. Instead, on your go you take a card from the discard area or draw two from the deck and discard one. Once you have seven cards in hand, gameplay then continues as the original rules. The game ends when both players have seven cards in hand and there are 12 cards in the discard area. I find this variant just as fun, however it seems a lot harder to get your hands on the cards you really want, due to fact that not as many cards are being revealed and the discard area tends to just fill up with the cards neither player wants. Having said this, looking at my scorebook, it certainly doesn’t seem to affect the overall scores.
The chaos realms variant for 3-7 players is done under a time limit and players have the ability to trade cards with one another at a one-for-one rate during this allotted time to make their hands as best they can. I have yet to try this variant, tending to stick to the basic rules when seeing friends, mostly due to the fact that it is their first time playing.
The theme, as the title of the game suggests, is fantasy; with 11 different suits and only one copy of each card every player will end the game with a completely different theme. You will have to choose more than one suit throughout the game as there is a maximum of five cards in each suit, I tend to look at what I have in my starting hand and build on what I already have.
The suits consist of: Army, Artefact, Beast, Flame, Flood, Land, Leader, Weapon, Weather, Wild and Wizard and are clearly named and colour coded down the left hand side of the card. The colour coding makes it easier to see how many of a specific suit you have at a quick glance if your aiming to complete the requirements of a card. Again, the text in the requirement is also colour coded.
There is not a great deal of player interaction within Fantasy Realms, only the cards in your hand affect your final score, it doesn’t matter what other players hold, unless of course they have a card you want. Some players may ultimately take a long time deciding what to do on their turn as they can not make up their minds on what card to discard, slowing the game down a bit as other players wait their turn.
The only real interaction comes with the typical “I wanted that card” when someone picks a card up from the discard area that you were hoping to get yourself. The chaos realms variant does however sound like a lot more interaction with other players will be had due to the nature of having to make trade agreements.
Final Thoughts on Fantasy Realms
Fantasy Realms is quick to learn and play, even for those family members who are not gamers. Packaged in a neat little box, it is perfect for travel and does not need a huge space to set-up, meaning you can play practically anywhere. The score pad has room for seven names along the top and allows you to break down the score on each card, before adding up the final score. I always find it interesting to see what the other players have managed to obtain and what card combos they have used.
The one thing about this game that can be confusing is the wild cards, they have the ability to copy other cards, but as a beginner it is hard to know what the other cards are unless they have already turned up, therefore making it difficult to plan how best to use these cards. I tend to suggest to new players that they ignore these cards in the first few games until they have a better idea of what cards they may like to copy.