Gen Con 2023 – Wise Wizard Games

Wise Wizard Games keeps the ball rolling with more Star Realms (Star Realms: Rise of Empire) and Hero Realms (Hero Realms Dungeons), but isn’t afraid to bring out completely new games. The superhero dice-building Kapow! smashes a quick comic-book fight into just a few minutes, while the deckbuilder Robot Quest Arena has players driving (and fighting) in fast playing robot-head to robot-head action.

Robot Quest Arena

You have puttered around with your pet robot long enough that you now consider it your friend. What better way to show off your friend than to take it to the Robot Quest Arena and show off what it can do. If there’s a paint scratch or two, it’s nothing that a little time in the shop won’t fix. Robot Quest Arena is an arena-based robot combat driven by a deckbuilding mechanism. Players choose a robot, each with a unique power, place them into the arena, and then take turns playing cards to control their robot and purchase upgrades, in the form of new cards to add to one’s deck.

The most common resource provided by cards is energy. This can be used to buy new cards, but also fuels the movement of robots on the playing field. Other cards provide fancier actions like pushing, pulling, or attacking other robots. Doing damage to another robot grants points (the lost health is collected by the attacker as points) but if a robot “dies” it respawns again with little penalty and gets right back into the fight (with full health.) In this way, not only is player elimination avoided, it also helps sidestep any issues that might arise in a pick-on-the-leader format. Yes, there are other ways to score points (on cards, etc…) but the meat and potatoes of one’s victory points are going to come from damage. This damage is also the game timer. The game ends when the victory point cubes run out. Spend too much time upgrading your deck, and you’ll find the game over before you’ve started earning points in earnest.

Of course, the arena is not just a big sandy wasteland. There are plenty of walls, objects, “prizes”, and other robots to run into or push others into. Players can pay extra energy to push other robots around and if they manage to smack them into something they do damage. Push one enemy into another and you might manage to damage both!

The little robot figurines are cute, practical, and serve as a great table-draw for the game. While not always necessary, since the game is targeted on the lighter side of things it’s great to have the graphics and the “bits” support it that way.

All the robots, weapons, and other cards are designed to give the game memorable “fun moments.” There is a certain satisfaction in repeatedly smacking robots with your boomerang while you push them into each other with silly weapons. So, “overclock” your robot, slap some “rev motors” on it and start smashing into things with your “electrified plating.” Your robot will thank you for it.

Kapow! Volume 1 & Kapow! Volume 2

Kapow! is a dice-pool building game of superhero combat. Players simultaneously roll their dice and secretly assign them to actions. Actions are then revealed and opponents will try to apply enough damage to overcome the enemy defenses. Players then add to their dice pool and the next combat round begins. Each player takes on the role of a specific hero (or villain, there are six total in each volume) and battles it out complete with their own special powers to give the game a unique feel. I received a review copy of the game earlier this summer and have been very impressed with it.

To start, each player is given a basic action board and then they pick a unique hero board and its accompanying starting dice. These dice come in two styles, solid color dice and black faceless dice. Over the course of the game, players can customize the black dice by adding faces. The fixed, solid color dice come in five colors – each associated with the five main action icons. Red and yellow for attack, green and purple on defense, and blue for special abilities including gaining more dice or dice faces. All solid dice have a “wild” side (usable for any symbol) and most of them also have a “blank” face. Blank faces aren’t completely useless as there are still some weaker options that are available for any die. The black dice, of course, come completely blank and thus, at the start, will mostly count as a blank face.

Once set, players roll their dice and place them on their player board or hero side-board. Note, there are no automatic rerolls although a player can spend one die to reroll a second one, a rather expensive choice for the desperate. Most actions require placement of multiple dice to trigger. Requirements might be specific symbols, matching symbols on two dice, even requirements of whether it is a colored or black die. There are three primary non-heroic options on the board. Both attack and defense work in a similar way. There are options to set up a “base” value for attack or defense. Then there is the option to add in kickers which increase the base value, but only if there is already a base value to build upon. Beyond kickers, if a player manages to place enough of the correct dice they can trigger an attack or defense multiplier, which does exactly what you think. Multipliers get figured in last so a good multiplied attack is pretty impressive, exactly what you’d expect from a superhero game.

The first player uses their attack against the opponent’s defense. Unblocked damage reduces an opponent’s health. Combat is not simultaneous so if a defender hits zero health the game ends right away. If still alive, the defender attacks back. Whoever had the highest defense immediately becomes the first player until after the next combat. Next, players use “Power Up” powers which typically grant new dice and/or new dice faces to be added to one’s already acquired black dice. There are several abilities that interfere and hamper the power-up phase. However, defensive abilities will almost always grant a player more die faces and usually do not trigger any of the “mess with powerup phase” abilities.

A 2v2 game or 2p vs AI game sets two players on the same side of the table, so they can look at each others’ layout and plan strategies. A player cannot place their die on their partner’s play area, but at the start of the game each team gets a set of 5 different colored cards placed between them. They are set up so that each player can commit a die to trigger an action on their side of the card. They aren’t particularly powerful but can come in handy for a player with “leftover” dice to contribute somewhat to their partner.

It is possible to play the game with just the basic board, without a hero, but I do not recommend it even for a learning game. Each of the 12 heroes/villains (6 in each box) plays quite differently and really adds to the game flavor. Some might be “easier” to figure out than others and if needed I’d steer new players towards the less complex ones. While one box (volume 1 or 2) contains enough for two players (or solo vs an AI), combining both boxes will allow for a 2v2 team game or even a co-op 2 player game against 2 AIs.

Speaking of solo/co-op the AI for the game is printed on the back of each hero card. That means there are also 12 different AI opponents, each granting a bit of the “feel” of a standard game played against that hero.

My 2-second review of Kapow! is that the game is quite fun and the variety of heroes change up the game to make each run a bit different. I don’t think all the heroes are quite balanced in the 2v2 game but it is not game-breaking since all the core abilities remain the same. The game was in heavy rotation when we took it on our vacation.

Star Realms Rise of Empire

Star Realms lives on and has joined the world of legacy-style games. Star Realms: Rise of Empire is a two player legacy campaign that should be arriving on store shelves in early 2024. It’s the Star Realms everyone knows (and possibly loves? – my son does) – a two player combat deck builder where cards are bought from a central tableau. The backstory of Rise of Empire is a prequel of the current Star Realm universe where two factions (new to the game) fight it out for control of the universe. Why haven’t they been seen before? They were both wiped out by the blob armies before the “regular” Star Realms setting. A third “faction” serves as a sort of mercenary role and often grants players the opportunity to scrap cards during the game.

The legacy part of the game comes out through twelve story-backed scenarios. At the end of each scenario, the winner of the game gets to make a long-lasting decision that will change the arc of the game. However, if one player seems to be getting ahead there are some catch-up mechanisms that can come into play if needed.

There are the expected envelopes and stickers. The stickers stand out, of course, because it’s a card game and the cards can get modified. Note, modifying a card isn’t guaranteeing it in later games, as your opponent can still purchase it out from underneath you. Players usually apply stickers mid-game as they purchase a card. They simply pay a bit extra and the card is upgraded. One of the win conditions in a game is being able to use up all of the stickers on one’s sticker sheet. Players really worried about stickers can purchase a special set of cards that contain every possible sticker addition so they can just be swapped in during the campaign but then replaced again if you want to keep the set “pristine.” Regardless, pristine or not, the final deck can be used to create a 6 player Star Realms set when mixed with other Star Realms sets.

As for the new factions, since “allies” (playing more than one card of a color) are such a big deal in Star Realms, the ally abilities have been toned down a bit. Instead, the new factions have a lot of “when purchased” abilities that trigger (obviously) when they are first purchased from the tableau. The big example was already mentioned, it is typically how one gets the chance to upgrade the purchased card (and use up those stickers!)

One final cherry on top is the game’s cooperative mode. There have been a few expansions in the past that provide an extra-tough boss opponent suitable for solo or co-op play and the new Rise of Empire game has a few more co-op options available.

Hero Realms Dungeons

Hero Realms Dungeons won’t arrive until late 2024, but is already tantalizing players with two new characters (a barbarian and an alchemist – along with all their leveling cards) and a full dungeon adventure, similar to Ruin of Thandar. Alongside the release will be additional cards for the bard, monk, and druid. Character packs for pvp play and an adventure deck for gaining levels.

About Matt J Carlson

Dad, Gamer, Science Teacher, Youth Pastor... oh and I have green hair. To see me "in action" check out Dr. Carlson's Science Theater up on Youtube...
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