Look, when it comes to the words “filler card games,” I’m like Pavlov’s Dog here. As soon as I hear those words, I’m conditioned to want it. When WizKids sent a review request to MeepleMountain with the new Cursed Hoard expansion, I said “yes” without hesitation or ending it with a period.
I have heard so many good things about this one. Every card, in all eleven suits, is unique. These cards are generic fantasy tropes such as kings, queens, ancient weapons, and dragons. It’s like seeing a kaleidoscope of different genre stereotypes all at once.
One Paragraph Flow
Going through the game is simple. You start with seven cards in your hand, there is a deck, and you draw a card from that deck or from the discard pile. After drawing a card, you must choose one card in your hand and place it face up in the discard pile. Once the discard pile has ten cards, the game ends, and everyone calculates their score.
I thought AEG’s Point Salad lightweight design was unbeatable, but that took me two paragraphs to explain. Here? Four sentences. It’s a simple game to review because it’s a simple game to play.
Of course, there is a bit more to it. Every card has a base point value at the top left corner, and it will either have Bonuses or Penalties. The Bonuses tell you what other types of cards it wants in your hand, either particular suits or specific cards (you get additional points if you follow the instructions). Similarly, penalties make the card lose points or become a Blanked card if you fail to comply with the set of restrictions. Blanked is a fancy way of saying dead card, which is very important in a game where you start with seven cards and end with seven.
A Familiar Friend
Having played this quite a few times, I can see why it is compared endlessly to classic card games like Rummy. As you comb through the discard pile, your goal is to hit the right combinations in your hand to score points. Young or old, it’s a concept anyone can grasp with ease.
What makes all of this work is that the designers scrutinized each card with a scalpel. All Bonuses and Penalties make sense, and nothing feels out of place. Aesthetically speaking, the narrative is consistent with the tropes. The Princess in your hand wants a Unicorn, and that King? He likes Armies, and those Armies are worth more points if he has a Queen. Certain Armies, however, are not fond of each other, or of other suits.
That’s just one out of many scenarios that can sprout from this deck. It’s challenging to come up with the best hand when there are so many variables that can’t be controlled. Your opponents’ hands won’t be known until the end of the game, alongside a deck that is barely touched. Decisions are made in the dark, pieces are put back together, and you hope for the best. Many call this “pushing your luck” or “gambling,” which are understandable terms, albeit beaten to death at this point.
A Buffet Of Options
The biggest attraction for me is the difficulty. By difficulty, I don’t mean the game is hard. It just means you can choose how tough you want your game to be. Some cards are easier to combo, while others might require several blessings from God to pull through. I like this because it means players of all skill levels can take part and still get a similar experience, even if the higher skilled players will probably win. After all, they know how to capitalize on the risks.
There are a few concerns I have, but they are minor. It is easy to explain the game’s flow, but for the first couple of plays, understanding what to do can be frustrating. Cards arm themselves with an arsenal of colored words that can make you feel like you time-traveled to your kindergarten days. I have seen player’s eyes widen in confusion as they examine every card in their hand like it’s an archaeology project. Fortunately, this wears out as you play the game more and associate the artwork with the Bonuses and Penalties.
However, I can’t ignore the scoring. As some cards are so absurd to calculate, scoring is almost its own game. I still remember discarding a few cards in my earlier games because I didn’t want to deal with the math. The good news is there is a companion WizKids app that can do the scoring for you, so this is more of a first-world problem for me than anything else.
Without question, this is one of my favorite filler card games, and it dropkicked Point Salad out of my collection. It is an experience that is so tight that I don’t have any complaints regarding the rules themselves.
Hence why I am surprised that they announced an expansion.
Resisting The Call
There are almost fifty cards in the tiny Cursed Hoard box. These cards includes two new suits to throw in the game deck, some replacement cards, and the new Cursed Item cards.
There are also some changes to the core rules. You have eight cards instead of seven, and the game ends with twelve cards in the discard pile instead of ten to accommodate the new suits.
The Undead suit could probably throw itself into the main deck with no one noticing. Unlike the base game, the new Undead suit scores using the discard pile instead of the cards in your hand. A very clever idea that makes people consider the type of card they discard before tossing it away. Yes, calculations will take longer, but it is a nice touch.
I can’t say the same about the Outsiders suit. Every Outsider card scores differently, and explaining how they work is a confusion that requires reading a short story. It bothers me because Fantasy Realms’ core strength is simplicity, and the Outsider suit chokeholds it.
The new Cursed Item cards are a completely separate deck on their own. You always have one Cursed Item in front of you, and during your turn, you may activate it. The “Cursed” part is a dead giveaway that using these items aren’t ideal for scoring. Most Cursed Item cards give negative points for a power that can manipulate drawing cards from the deck or discarding cards. Honestly, I didn’t use these often, although they were some interesting ones. My favorite is the Book of Prophecy, which allowed me to look at the bottom seven cards of the deck, giving me information to work with.
Too Much For Me
This raises an important question: Does the expansion make sense?
Truthfully, I don’t think so. One of the major attractions I have for Fantasy Realms is the pacing of the game. It is slim and quick. An expansion slowing down the speed would detract from my enjoyment.
It was already pushing it by having the eighth card, meaning more calculations, and having a suit that now forces me to pay attention to the discard pile. Throw in the Outsiders with their own quirky rules and the Cursed Items that clog up the flow, and I am fleeing to the base game. It’s like telling Usain Bolt to quit sprinting and start cross-country skiing. The man wants to run, just like Fantasy Realms wants to be snappy.
My dislike of the expansion does not suggest that it is worthless. I can see this one worthy in someone’s library if they’ve played Fantasy Realms religiously and want something fresh. They know every quirk like they had a 30-year marriage with the game and how to avoid sleeping on the couch. Adding more to Fantasy Realms would be like adding ice cream to an already high-calorie meal. Some people don’t mind that, but I’m not one of them.
For the base game, it definitely surprised me. It’s quick, easy, and to the point. I’ve read complaints suggesting this game is too “luck-based”, and I somewhat agree with that statement, but this is a fifteen-minute game. It’s not worth burning my brain for something as short as this. Fantasy Realms is a perfect fit for my desire to make interesting decisions, even when the outcome is not completely under my control.