Fantasy Realms: The Cursed Hoard Expansion
- Designer: Bruce Glassco
- Publisher: WizKids
- Players: 3-6
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 20-30 minutes
- Times played: 4, with review copy provided by WizKids (maybe 30+ plays of the base game over the past 4 years)
The base game, Fantasy Realms, came out in 2017, and became a constant filler that summer. You may have heard of it this week as the base game was just named a finalist for the 2021 Kennerspiel des Jahres award. It is a quick game but yet one that offers players a surprisingly deep amount of strategy. In Fantasy Realms, each player is the ruler of a far-away kingdom, trying to make the best and strongest kingdom possible – being represented by a hand of seven cards. Each of these cards has a base strength, a suit and some form of bonus and/or penalty value. In the game, you will draft from a very small deck. The Cursed Hoard expansion gives players two different modular expansions that they can add separately or together to enhance the base game. Before I get to the expansion though, let me recap some of the base game (in case you missed our original review!)
As crazy as it sounds – I have copied over the text of the game play in the rules VERBATIM…
Setup: Deal every player seven cards. Choose a starting player randomly and play goes clockwise.
Turns: During each player’s turn, he or she has a choice of drawing the top card from the deck or taking any one face-up card from the discard area. The player who goes first must draw a card from the deck. At the end of each turn, a player must discard a card to the discard area. All cards in the discard area should be spread out so that they are visible to all.
End of Game: The game ends when there are ten cards in the discard area. The player holding the highest scoring hand wins. In case of a tie, the hand with the lowest total base strength wins.
That’s it. Seriously. 128 words total, and you’re ready to go. Well, maybe I can help explain a little bit more. A lot of the rules are on the cards. As I mentioned earlier, each card has a bonus and/or penalty clause on it which can affect the scoring of itself or other cards in your kingdom…
Some cards give bonuses/penalties for each other card in your hand of a particular type or suit – or sometimes even a specifically named card. Some penalties can BLANK other cards; a blanked card has no suit, value, bonuses or penalties – essentially it becomes a card sized piece of cardboard that you happen to be holding in your hand. Other cards will CLEAR penalties. Clearing takes place before penalties are applied if you have both in your hand at the same time.
When it’s time to score, the game includes a hefty scoring pad where each player can tally their scores. It’s recommended that you score each of your cards individually. You start with the base value and then figure out if there are any bonuses or penalties scored by that particular card. You will likely have to cross reference the rest of your hand with the scoring of each card. Do this for all 7 cards to get you total. (Well, sometimes you have 8 cards are there are a couple of cards that allow you to get an extra card!)
That’s pretty much how the base game works… so what about the expansion modules?
Cursed Items Module: In this module, there are 24 black backed cards (different back than the normal cards) – each showing a Cursed item on the back. Cursed Items each have a unique special effect associated with them, most of them are positive effects, but they come with a VP penalty. There are a few negative effects that instead give a VP bonus! Each item tells you when it can be used during the game. The deck is shuffled and each player is dealt one from the deck, to be placed face up on the table in front of them so that all players can see it. All the rules from regular game play apply, and each turn, the player can decide what to do with their Cursed Item.
You can choose to use the item (at the time designated on the card) – apply the effect of the item, and then flip the Cursed Item over. You will now get the VP penalty/bonus at the end of the game for this card. At the end of the turn, draw a new Cursed Item to replace it.
You can choose to discard the Cursed Item. Put it into the Cursed Item discard pile (Separate from the regular discard pile in the middle of the table). Draw a new Cursed Item at the end of the turn.
You can choose to do nothing this turn. Keep the current Cursed Item and think about doing something with it on your next turn.
Regardless of what you choose to do, you will always have on face up Cursed Item in front of you at the end of your turn. At the end of the game, you simply sum up the points/penalties on the used flipped over cards and fix your score total.
New Cards Module: The other 23 cards in the expansion introduce new “Regular” cards into your Fantasy Realms deck. There are 3 new suits that are added. The Buildings are cards which give bonuses, mostly for the new suits. The Undead cards allow you to access the Discard area. The Outsiders affect the cards in your hand and your hand size. If you choose to play with this expansion, you have to add in all three suits together. Additionally, there are 8 cards which replace their original versions (as the new cards have references to the new suits). There are a few changes to the rules with this expansion module – in order to account for the mild dilution coming from the three added suits, each player draws 8 cards at the start of the game and maintains an eight card hand all game. Additionally, the game continues until there are 12 cards in the discard area, not 10.
My thoughts on the game
So far, the Cursed Hoard expansions has brought a new freshness to the game. It had admittedly been awhile since we had pulled this one off the shelf, and now it’s made it to the table for a few weeks in a row now. Though the expansions can be used separately, we have chosen to use both modules together in all of our plays so far. I would say that the addition adds maybe 5 more minutes to the overall game length, which really isn’t much in the grand scheme of things.
The Cursed Items offer a nice risk/reward choice each turn. The rule changes can be minor to huge — Portal gives you an extra card permanently! And the Wishing Ring allows you to move any card to the top of the deck before you draw. Either of these actions can give you a huge advantage… Of course, you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth the 20 or 30 point penalty to use those actions. Most of the other actions have penalties/bonuses in the 1 to 5 point range, and while it doesn’t necessarily take long to figure out what you’re going to do, it does add a little bit to each turn as the player has to plot their course.
Gameplay in Fantasy Realms can be both quick and glacial – depends on the cards you get and the players in the game. Some turns take ten seconds – nothing in the discard pile works, I draw a card, instantly see it doesn’t work with my hand and discard it…. Others can take awhile – I might have to do the math for three or four different discards to see which is the most beneficial; and then consider whether I’d rather take one of those or hope for something better off the top of the deck…Also, with the expansion, I might have to consider whether my current Cursed Item can help me gain an advantage as well, and then whether that advantage is worth the penalty.
I think it is wise for everyone to take a minute or two after the initial deal to get a chance to look at their cards and figure out what each one does. In my experience, you’ll usually find two or three sets of cards that work nicely together from your initial draw, and the game doesn’t last long enough for you to switch out your hand wholesale. So, I try to use these synergistic cards as the base for my end-game hand – trying to add cards that work specifically with either, or hopefully both, subsets of cards. The new suits give you a few more options, but they also make it harder to draw a focused starting hand. We have actually found that our scores tend to be a little lower when adding in the expansion cards so far.
As always, players should remember that the game can end quite rapidly. Each time someone draws a mystery card from the top of the deck, the game is 8% closer to ending – because when the 12th card is placed in the discard area, the game immediately ends. In a four-player game, this could be only 3 rounds! Invariably, many of the first turns in the game are draws off the top of the deck as there isn’t much choice yet in the discard pile. Once there are more cards to be seen, then there is usually a bit more trading with the discard pile as people try to incrementally improve their hands – because it’s often a better play (IMHO) to get a card that you know improves your situation rather than a blind draw which may not help at all. Again, the addition of three new suits in the expansion though makes it more likely that the discards don’t help you either – so the discard area is allowed to have two more cards than normal, but this doesn’t necessarily add to the game length much.
As the game can end fairly quickly, I’ve found that I generally use the opening deal in each game to determine my strategy. I find that I’m usually getting between 4 and 7 turns in most games, and that doesn’t give you a lot of time to change your hand – the key here is figuring out which possible combos you can make from the start. You have a few rounds to determine which one is going to be the key for your hand this game, and then work on incremental additions with the rest of the turns.
Our games tend to take about 12-15 minutes to actually play and then 5 minutes to do all the scoring. The included scoresheet really does seem to help, but it still can be a fairly cumbersome process. With the expansion, you have to write small in the last box because the score sheet is only built for 8 cards, and now you might have up to 9 with the expansions!
It’s hard to do scoring simultaneously UNLESS each player gets their own blank sheet and scores themselves. Otherwise, we have found it entertaining to simply go around the table and have each player recite the base value and then bonus/penalty for each card. This tends to build a little suspense as well as we can all see how the scoring totals grow as we continue around the table.
The artwork on the new cards is matching in style to the original – so if you liked the art already, there’s more of the same to like.. I find the artwork to be clean but less polished than similar formatted cards (Dominion, Magic: The Gathering, etc). But, it’s easy on the eyes, and the text is done at a nice size so that the cards are easy to read in your hand as well as being easy to read when in the discard pile in the center of the table. I like the way that each card type and suit in the text is bolded and color-coded – this also helps identification of important facts at a glance.
As with most games with scoring that is multi-factorial, it’s hard to know what a good score is until you’ve played a few times. Our winning scores are usually in the 180-200 range now, so I’m usually hoping to look for cards that bring in 20+ points at a minimum on average. Of course, there are many cards which score very little (if at all) but are necessary to grant a huge bonus on another card – for instance, there are multiple cards which score a bonus of 100 points for that single card… but many of the cards used in that combo are worth 7 or less themselves – so everything will have to average out in the end.
Overall, the game remains a nice light filler – maybe slightly more complex with the expansions. The game rules can be read out in about 30 seconds. Trust me, you just did it at the start of the review – but then maybe 2-3 minutes more pulling out specific cards to explain the different keywords in the text and to give a few examples on how the cards interact with each other. Then, deal out the cards and play the first game. After gamers have a single game under their belt (15-20 minutes only!), pretty much all of the interactions should be understood. It’ll take a few more games to get familiar with the possible cards that you might find in the deck, but they all tend to be easy to grok. The Cursed Items all bend the rules a bit, and it takes a few plays to see which ones are useful in which situations (and whether or not they are worth the penalty in points).
Fantasy Realms + The Cursed Hoard expansion has become a go-to opener/closer again in our group, and I think that it offers a nice amount of strategy in a small time window. It’s perfect for opening or closing game night around here as we trickle in and out of the gaming basement.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, John P
- Not for me…