Game at a Glance
Note: The publisher gifted me a review copy of this game; however, I always strive to provide fair, honest opinions.
This fantasy-themed game is set in the world of Arcadia, the home of four unique realms with four hero guilds in charge of four elemental stones. The Demon King has stolen the elemental stones from the guild leaders and is looking to destroy the kingdom and rule over the ashes. The King of Arcadia is searching far and wide for brave adventurers to gather enough strength to defeat the Demon King and save the realms. Will you be able to recruit the right team of heroes to delve in the dungeons, gain power with the guilds, and level up in time to save the kingdom?
Adventure Realms is a worker placement, deck building game with a little bit of take that. Two to four adventurers will take turns playing their cards, placing workers, recruiting additional heroes, and exploring the dungeon in an effort to achieve 10 VPs.
Players each have the same starting deck of 10 dual-action hero cards. During the Agent Phase players may use their cards to place workers onto the board spaces with matching symbols. This often affords resources, movement in the dungeon, or increasing power within one of the four guilds. Players then reveal the cards remaining in their hands and take optional actions listed on the bottom of the cards, usually to recruit new heroes to their deck or to move up higher on the dungeon track. After all players have revealed their cards, the Dungeon Phase begins. In this phase players may reveal Magic Cards to grant them additional Dungeon movement, then the spoils from the monster battle are divvied out accordingly. The game ends when one player has achieved at least 10 VPs or the monster deck runs out, and Arcadia is saved from the Demon King!
In 2020 the fusion of deck building and worker placement seemed to take the board game community by storm with the releases of Lost Ruins of Arnak and Dune: Imperium practically back-to-back. When I heard there was a new worker placement / deck building mashup released in 2021 I was immediately intrigued. Especially after I saw the bright, colorful, 16-bit style artwork and fantasy theme. The first question that came to mind was “Is this more Dune or Arnak?” I was not-so-secretely hoping the mechanics would be implemented more in the Dune: Imperium fashion – with a stronger focus on player interaction and conflict than is provided in Lost Ruins of Arnak. Adventure Realms ended up delivering the experience I was hoping for in spades.
So let’s just get right to the elephant in the room: Adventure Realms bears more than just a slight resemblance to Dune: Imperium. Direct comparisons can be made in the turn phases, the dual-action card worker placement functionality, the race to 10 VPs, the conflict, the Intrigue / Adventure cards… We played Adventure Realms with friends and during the teach I remember watching their eyebrows raise higher and higher as the the game rules were revealed to them. One person remarked that it sounded like “literally the same game.” I could tell that they felt a little unsure about this game that sounded an awful like one they know and love quite well. Did it win them over? I will circle back to that specific game later…
I mention this resemblance not necessarily as criticism, but because it is not something I can simply overlook. Dune: Imperium has a fantastic design that facilitates exciting table moments and tense decisions. It’s hard to complain about a game that essentially provides a very similar experience; however, at times the comparisons are so strong it leaves me feeling a bit conflicted. I feel that is important to mention. I do not claim to have any insider knowledge about how much of this game was developed before or after the release of Dune: Imperium. It is possible that some of the similarities could be due to coincidence. The designer has credited Dune: Imperium as an inspiration in the rulebook (and credits other game muses as well). And to be fair, it’s very rare that a game is so innovative that it takes no design inspiration from others.
Other than this issue, my only other complaint with the game design is that it does not scale down to two players well. In my experience there is not enough competition for worker placement spots at that count. There is no automa or adjustments to the game board to tighten things up in Adventure Realms. Some conflict-averse players may actually prefer this game with less tension, but for me it is much more exciting with three or four players.
With enough players this is a very interactive game. There is the Dungeon Phase in which people are competing to win resources, VPs, or Elemental Stones by fighting their way to the highest levels. In addition, competition for useful worker placement spots gets very tense, especially when the player count is maxed at four. Finally, a bit of take-that is thrown in via one of the worker placement spots and some of the cards. I have been enjoying highly interactive games lately and Adventure Realms does a good job of facilitating that.
The rulebook explains how the game works quite clearly. The font chosen favored theme over legibility which was only a minor problem for me. A much bigger issue in the rulebook had to do with the formatting of the text – there were several instances of “walls of text” that made referencing rules pretty difficult. In future prints I hope the rulebook gets an overhaul. Fortunately, we didn’t have to refer to the rules often once we got them down so this was only a minor issue.
The rules were not difficult for me to learn, but I am not sure if that’s due to the game design or from my previous experience playing Dune: Imperium. I would say between the two games this one is probably a bit more accessible, just based on the theme. Not everybody understands what a Bene Gesserit is and even Dune fans get their tongues twisted up trying to pronounce “Kwisatz Haderach” but most people have an understanding of common fantasy tropes such as Wizards and Clerics.
One of the shining gems of this game is the hero deck with 92 unique cards. Not a single card that shows up in the guild row for purchasing is a duplicate. They all have different artwork, classes, and abilities. They can be used to build a deck with some powerful combination potential. I have a lot of respect for the designer here for spending so much time making these cards unique. These heroes breathe life into the game. Each time a hero card was recruited we were all eager to see what which new card would be revealed and what it could do. Not only because we were hoping for something good for our own decks, but also because it was fun to see the the integration of theme and art. Having such a wide variety of characters to play with really bumps up the replayability. And in my experience, building a deck with useful combinations is easier to achieve in this game than in some of the previously-mentioned games I’ve tried. I much prefer the deck-building aspect of Adventure Realms to both Dune: Imperium and Lost Ruins of Arnak because I find it easier to purchase and purge cards, and to cycle through my deck.
The art in this game is totally charming. The colors are vibrant, the scenes are detailed and full of little surprises for anybody willing to investigate. The board itself is beautiful on the table and the cards provide plenty of eye candy as well. I grew up playing a lot of Final Fantasy on my SNES so the 16-bit style artwork in this game was perfect for me. Younger players may have fun finding references to newer titles such as Stardew Valley which are also present in this game. There is so much to discover on the cards and on the board, and I think that gives the game a lot of heart. I don’t prefer the cover art on the box but it looks like it has been updated since my copy arrived. The other components are fine – the meeples, cubes and gems are pretty generic but functional. Overall this is a nice production.
It is worth noting that this game is printed on demand. This is a nice feature in which the game can be updated in real-time and rules clarifications and other issues can be corrected on the fly before new copies are produced and sent out. I believe there is a lot of potential with this model, but the price is a bit steep compared to games produced en masse overseas.
I already have Dune: Imperium and think it is an amazing game. Adventure Realms ticks off so many of the same boxes I wondered if it was redundant to have in the collection. After my last play (the one with the friends who were a bit skeptical of this apparent knockoff game) I reconsidered. Despite the raised eyebrows and initial disappointment over the similarities, I saw a moment mid-game where my friend’s eyes lit up after having seen enough potential card combinations. At this point I knew Adventure Realms was casting a spell on him. And it did – the group enthusiastically agreed that we should play this one again soon. This is despite the fact that they have their own copy of Dune: Imperium. To me that says there is something here that is not present in the other game and I suspect a lot of that has to do with the unique synergies that arise from the hero deck.
So is Adventure Realms worthy of a place on your shelf? That’s a question only you can answer. This game could be a good option for folks who have not been able to get excited about interstellar politics on a dusty planet. My guess is that the theme here appeals to a wider audience and the visuals have a better chance of drawing people in, generally-speaking. People who enjoy conflict in their games should like the tension provided, and lovers of 16 bit games are in for a treat with the art style on this one. It truly is an enjoyable gem of a game that I have been having a lot of fun with.
This game will not replace Dune: Imperium for me, but I have decided to keep it in the collection. I am not done having adventures in Arcadia.