02 October 2018
Card tricks to leave you spellbound
Rival Realms is a lot of magic in a very little box.
A pocket-sized reimagining of Alf Seegert’s deckbuilder Fantastiqa, Rival Realms puts the discovery of the designer’s whimsical fantasy world at its heart. Players’ misplaced magicians begin with matching realms into which they must summon landscape cards, before setting off on journeys across the landscape, using their cards and collected artefacts to explore each new region.
Like any good magic trick, what appears simple on the surface is far from being so underneath. Key to racking up victory points and completing quests is the ability to pull off masterful combos during exploration actions, laying down series of cards and tokens to travel your adventurer through multiple connecting valleys and around mountains, sometimes employing the more magical items you collect to pull off even more impressive feats. Any cards you spend are offered up to your opponent to obtain on their turn and quests can only be achieved once, leading to a pacey and taut battle across the table.
There’s a good deal of brain-burning decision-making to be had, with the need to play landscape cards in ascending numerical order, bonus points awarded for certain layouts of cards and a number of objectives to race for from the off.
The standard mode can be livened up further by optional events and setup variants, though even without the trimmings the tight cardplay and spatial control aspects make for an enchanting mixture. Pulling off a successful sweep of exploration across your tableau is enormously rewarding and can potentially swing a match, encouraging highly strategic play and careful thought about the opportunities you hand your opponent – sometimes deliberately.
Lavishly illustrated with paintings by Monet and van Gogh, among others, Rival Realms fully looks the part: this is a highly elegant creation, carefully refined and endlessly fascinating to watch play out, with its secrets never fully revealed. That’s a spell most magicians can only wish to cast.
Designer: Alf Seegert
Artist: Caspar David Friedrich, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, John William Waterhouse
Time: 20-30 minutes
This review originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.