In my Journey of Lockdown Gaming articles, we've taken the first steps with Tokaido and Takenoko. As I found myself getting into games a bit more, I then introduced my family to some of the new games, Azul Summer Pavilion being the runaway winner there for mum. Recently, Sagrada has sneaked in as my sister's favourite, much to mum's annoyance. All fab gateway games, and so pretty.
Moving on from these gateway games was hard. Which way is best to go? Different themes? Harder games but similar to those we know and like? Different mechanics? Go for longer games? More small games? A tricky decision. I browsed through Zatu looking at all the deals, still no closer to deciding the avenue. I watched lots of top 10 lists, videos on 'essential games for your collection', lots of 'Like this? Then try this' links. I came up with a list of fifty games. Even at Zatu prices, that was madness.
Where to Start with Expanding our Collection?
By this point, luckily for us, lockdown was now easing! We were able to see the other couple from what I'd now call a gaming group, but then they were our pals who also love Mexican food and cycling with coffee and cake stops! During lockdown (and before, actually) they had been playing A LOT of Hogwarts Battle - the deck builder game. They were always raving about it. So, on one of our first garden barbecue meet-ups (oh, remember sunshine?) they taught us how to play.
Having played a few gateway games, Hogwarts Battle is quite easy to start. It teaches you the deck builder mechanics as you progress through. It's also co-op, which is really the best way to learn mechanics, in my honest opinion. This means no one can run away with the victory and you can help each other. Whilst I don't care for ol' Harry P much, I really enjoyed the game and the deck building in particular.
Choosing a New Deck Builder
Now that I had a mechanic that was new to me, the research could begin! I'm a research scientist by trade, and love a good deep dive down a Google rabbit hole. With so little open at the time, I found myself with a lot of time to research deck builders and choose the best one for us. Eventually, I settled on Hero Realms. It is not a sparkly theme, but supports 2-4 players and scales well at all player counts. Especially during pandemic times, we mostly play at two. I do like the idea of sharing newfound games with friends too, so this option clinched it for me over the 2-player only sister game, Star Realms. It's also a pretty cheap game, but with the option to add more spice via expansions and a co-op campaign mode using the Ruins of Thandar (or Lost Village) expansion.
You start off with all the same basic starter deck (in the base game, at least) of swords and gold. Swords let you attack your opponent and gold allows you to buy new cards. For the first three or so turns, it's initially pretty generic. Make one or two attacks, buy a card and put it into your discard pile for later.
There are two types of cards available in the market: an action card or a champion. You use an action during your turn then place the card into your discard pile. Generally, these hit hard, but only once. A champion card stays in front of you and reactivates on each turn until your opponent stuns it and sends it to your discard pile. Whilst in play, some champions can also protect you from attacks; this is why I like them.
Building Your Deck
As you build your deck, you can start to get great combos. Each card belongs to a faction, represented by a coloured symbol in the top left of the card. If you get more than one card of the same faction, then the cards can activate more powerful abilities. And that's when it can become great!
To begin with, we were playing what I would describe as 'vanilla' Hero Realms. There was quite a lot of luck and not much strategy really. Now, after at least 30 plays, we are both starting to get our own little strategy going. Personally, I like to pick a faction or two and go hard at that, ignoring the other ones to try and get the combos. My partner goes for all out ruthless cards and hits hard with them. It's usually pretty evenly matched, and I think that is helped by us having learnt the game together.
What's Next After Gateway Games?
We loved it so much we bought a load of expansions: character packs which add differing starting decks, and the Ruin of Thandar campaign co-op cards too. There are some more things coming, including a big Adventure Storage box to keep it all tidy and organised as I evolve from my gateway game beginnings!