Realm of Wonder is a new, upcoming title from Mindwarrior Games (and Tactic). They asked me if I could write a review of the game in exchange for pre-production copy of the game now and couple of copies of the game once it’s done. Since I’m always interested in new Finnish titles, I agreed. That means I’m kind of getting paid to write this review, but my opinions are not that cheap – all they get is the fact that I’m writing this review now, I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the pre-production copy.
Elevator pitch: A modern-day Talisman: a fantasy adventure with a revolving board that plays in just 60 minutes.
What’s in the box? The artwork is great, the game looks gorgeous. The board indeed revolves: it has two inner circular areas that can be rotated indepently of each other. That’s neat. Players have nice plastic figurines. Otherwise the components are fairly typical: cards, wooden disks, cardboard chits, dice.
The art is nice, but there are usability issues, mostly lack of information. For example monsters have power values, but the monster tiles don’t mention them. Magic cards have only art and you have to remember what the cards do, exactly. I understand the aim for language indepence (the game will have rules in nine languages), but I’m sure some helpful symbolism would’ve been possible. There are also no player aids, which the game would sorely need.
What do you do in the game? The goal of the game is to reach the king’s castle in the center of the board. To enter the castle, you need to fulfill one of three conditions: either collect three magic orbs (there are five in total), beat three monsters or get a victory disc. There are five different missions and one is randomly chosen in each game. For example, you may have to collect lots of magic points, build stuff or visit many towers on the board in order to gain the victory disc.
Movement is, fortunately, not roll and move. Players have a hand of movement cards, with numbers and movement values 4–6. The movement value tells how many steps you can take (one point for normal move, two points for difficult terrain). The number dictates the turn order. Players choose and reveal movement cards simultaneously.
Then comes the magic phase: everybody gets to play as many magic cards as they wish, in reverse turn order. After that, everybody moves, in actual turn order. While moving, players can interact with the board. On magic pools, you can place discs to fortify them: this gains you magic point income. You can also buy magic cards. Towers are face-down tiles you can open, in order to find magic orbs, monsters, magic cards and whatnot – hope you’re lucky! Runestones let you rotate the inner circles, but since the rotation is random, that is not particularly useful.
Fighting monsters is done with a die with values 1–4. Monsters get +1, +2 or +3 to their roll, depending on the monster, and players can boost their attack power by discarding magic cards with attack symbols. Higher roll wins. Losing against monster means you lose the rest of your turn and must return home. If you win, you get a reward and the monster tile – collect three, and you’re able to win.
Player vs player combat is also possible. Both players can play cards to boost their power, and the winner gets to take one tower tile (monster or magic orb, usually) from the loser.
Lucky or skillful? Both. There’s plenty of luck: what you find in the towers, what magic cards you get (some of them are nearly useless or very situationally useful, some are almost always very good), how you roll in combat. There are however ways to mitigate the luck, and you must keep the winning conditions in mind: it’s possible to wander around without getting closer to actually winning the game. It’s also possible to reduce the amount of luck a lot by turning the tower tiles face-up. That makes the game a lot less lucky, but also makes the game a bit boring, I think.
Abstract or thematic? Thematic, but it’s a bit bland, really. The back story could be anything, and while the art is really nice, it’s also somewhat cliche’d and bland. There are six different characters and the art and the figures are quite nice, but the characters are almost identical. Everyone has a special power, but it’s one-shot (unless you happen to get the one movement card in the deck of 50 cards that lets you re-use your power) and quite weak, so in practise the chacters are identical.
Solitaire or interactive? The board is wide, so it’s possible to play this as a race, with little interaction. With more players, there’s less room, and player vs player combat is more likely. You can also play in a more aggressive way. There are some magic cards that are direct attacks against other players. Some of them are quite nasty (stealing tower tiles), some less so.
Players: 2–6. I’ve tried with two, three and four. More was merrier, the two-player game in particular suffers from the overly large board. Six-player games should be interesting…
Who can play? Official age recommendation is 10+, which is fairly accurate. My son is eight, and could play the game with some help. With adults, no problems. Older children can play this without adults. (I probably would’ve loved this when I was 10 years old, by the way.)
Length: The box doesn’t say, but the game is designed so that it can be played in an hour. With six players, that seems unlikely, but our first four-player game, with all newbies and lots of rulebook consultation still took just an hour, so that sounds like a reasonable time-frame. The game has a chance to lag thanks to the attack cards and player vs player combat, but those do not set the game state back a lot, which is good. Also, once you reach the victory condition and get the victory disc, you can never lose that, so then it’s just a question of reaching the center space.
What’s to like: Cool artwork, neat revolving board; A curious world to explore; Relatively short playing time.
What’s not to like: Usability issues in components; The game mechanics have rough edges, and the game feels underdeveloped; Bland and identical characters.
My verdict: Realm of Wonder certainly looks good. I wasn’t, however, completely satisfied with it. The revolving board seems to be one of the key elements in the marketing, but it felt quite pointless when actually playing the game. I know the game has been under development for several years, and frankly, I find that hard to believe – there seem to be so many rough edges in it, and parts that feel underdeveloped. For example the graphic design lacks helpful symbols – easy enough to miss, if you test the game with the same people for years, but something that a pair of fresh eyes should’ve spotted immediately.
Another example: the magic cards are either really good, or mostly pointless, and in the end you do seem to end up with a bunch of them, without much idea what to do with them. Unless you’re lucky and draw cards with combat boosts, as those are always necessary, almost mandatory to beat the monsters. If you’re not lucky enough to draw them, beating the monsters is going to require luck.
So – almost there, and I’m sure many people will find Realm of Wonder interesting enough. It certainly has positive sides, as well: it’s kind of like old-fashioned adventure in the vein of Talisman, but with modern elements, like much shorter playing time and streamlined game mechanisms. I would’ve just preferred even more streamlining. Another round of development, preferably by someone not deeply involved in the game design, could’ve improved the game a lot.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Realm of Wonder gets Indifferent.