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Subject: Can Hero Realms be played PvP competitively? Can it succeed Star Realms? rss

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Chad Edmunds
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Can Hero Realms succeed Star Realms

Can Hero Realms, like its predecessor, become a darling of the competitive PvP card game arena?

The short answer is, no, I do not believe it can. This opinion based solely on the very limited play I have in with my son. So take it for what that's worth.

But why do I think Hero Realms may not be a good game for competitive PvP play? Let's see.

I love Star Realms. And I absolutely love playing it competitively, particularly on the app. CrankDay and Aweberman (the latter being now retired from Star Realms organisation, but not before building something truly sensational) - and all the many people who help out - have created an incredible community here on BGG for competitive Star Realms play. It is currently my favourite way to get my gaming in.

I was really hoping Hero Realms was going to be, in some ways, an evolution of Star Realms; one that was set in a cool fantasy theme and that added some fun and interesting Character powers, but at the same time maintained Star Realms' purity and competitiveness. So, I started playing many games with my son - he and I are currently playing through a second tournament with all the Characters - primarily for funzies, but also, to determine if Hero Realms builds on the superb foundation set down by Star Realms. Does it? Well, yes. And no. And it kinda doesn’t matter.

The Star Realms base game is so very pure, and competitive ready. There isn't a start player advantage. Or, if there is one, it is insignificant enough that it does not preclude fair play. Which is extremely tough to pull off in a turn based 2 player game. Another thing that makes the game so pure and competitive ready is it is very balanced.

Hero Realms is, well, less so. On both of those fronts. But I don’t feel that that is a bad thing. Hero Realms does not need to be played competitively PvP. I doubt it was even the designers hopes that it would be. But what Hero Realms happens to be is, in my opinion, absolutely fantastic.

As a casual 2 player game it is a ton of fun. The Characters add a lot of spice, if slightly imbalanced, and the game plays quick and fun. You can apply some skill and tactics to gain an advantage, but there is also enough luck to make the game accessible to everyone, and fun for everyone.

Once the Boss decks show up, I have no doubt playing 3 and 4 player games with teams taking on the Boss is going to be a ton of fun. And I expect to thoroughly enjoy the campaign once my family and I get into that.

Then what makes it not such a good fit for competitive PvP play?

The start player advantage. Star Realms addressed the possible start player advantage by only giving the start player a 3 card hand. In my opinion, it has worked in Star Realms. In Hero Realms, because of the added draw in many Character starter decks,



the added econ in all the starter decks,



and the power creep in the market deck cards,




the start player can now gain a significant advantage and head start in a game that is essentially a race. The 3 card starting hand is no longer enough of a disadvantage to counter that start advantage.

The Character imbalance. Without the Characters, Hero Realms is not significantly different than Star Realms. However, I would still argue Star Realms base game is more pure than Hero Realms base game, but I feel this would be an argument few would care about. If you are going to just play the base game, play Star Realms. But if you want all the many, many more things offered by Hero Realms, then prepare to play a lot more than just the base game. That starts with the Characters. In head to head battle, the Characters are not balanced.

I AM STRONG



Please don't hurt me!



I can’t imagine the Characters ever could be balanced enough to provide for a competitive community PvP. But, again, for what they are likely intended (teammates in a cooperative challenge or campaign) I suspect they will rock.

Ultimately, from my limited play PvP with my son using the Character packs, I have been able to think about the question, "Can Hero Realms be played PvP competitively?", and conclude, for myself, no it cannot. Further, in my opinion, Hero Realms will not ever be a successor to Star Realms in the PvP competitive arena. If you are looking for that competitive arena, look to Star Realms. And fill your boots with the wonderful community going strong here on BGG.

Yet, at the same time, although I discovered that Hero Realms is not a game ideal for competitive PvP play, there is absolutely no disappointment in that for me! So I didn't discover a successor to Star Realms...so what. Star Realms doesn't need a successor. Star Realms is a near perfect PvP competitive deckbuilding card game that has not waned in satisfying my itch for such.

For me, Hero Realms stands apart from Star Realms, because it does a lot of different things, despite being built on the same engine. Make no mistake about it...Hero Realms is a crap ton of fun!! And there is a ton....A TON...of enjoyable and interesting game play in there. I will get all the game I am looking for from it, I have no doubt. Likely much more.

I am already immensely enjoying playing it with my son nearly every day.
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Rick Teverbaugh
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Based on my somewhat "limited" play, it is just as good a competitive vehicle as Star Realms. The characters are well balanced but can be better or worse in some games depending on which cards come out since often a small percentage of the deck is used in a game.
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Blade Watcher
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It always depends on the tournament rules. Yes, characters are "async", so they never will be perfrectly balanced. But look around in competitive computer games eg: counter strike. The versus teams async too, the maps are unbalanced. So they play BO3. And if the disadvantaged player/team still win -> standing ovation! Starcraft has 3 race (but maps balanced.) etc, etc.

Eg: imagine a HR tournament, where the players must pick a character from a randomly choosen pool of only 3 character cards. Who choses first can be random too.

However what problem I saw in your character tournament, is the thief, who seems ridiculously weak (I can't believe he could't win a single match of 10 by luck), and the starting advantage, you mentioned. I agree these should be addressed somehow.
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Scott Heise
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I agree with Blade. Individual games may never be balanced, but it is entirely possible to construct league or tournament formats that even out the unbalances to create a balanced event.

Another example is in the world of competitive Bridge, where how strong your partnership's hands are is directly related to the the luck of the deal. To remove this luck, they play what is called "duplicate" Bridge, where the exact same deals are played by everyone, and then the partnerships and deals rotate such that every partnership plays each opposing partnership and each deal exactly once. Then, your score is determined not by raw points, but by how many points you scored compared to the other partnerships when they played the same deal. Thus, if your partnership is dealt a bad hand, you can still do well because your score for that deal will only be compared against the other partnerships when they played that exact same deal.

In Hero Realms, it would be impractical to have the entire game setup mirrored for different opponents, but one could change the tournament scoring such that the scores of those who play as Thieves are only compared to other Thieves, and then the top Thief advances to the next round. Characters could be randomized each round. Just an example.
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Dániel Lányi
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AJEddy wrote:

the added econ in all the starter decks


Yes exactly, Star Realms had a very well defined resource curve, and I hated the lack of that in cthulhu realms, and was said to see that BS here.

AJEddy wrote:

for what they are likely intended (teammates in a cooperative challenge or campaign) I suspect they will rock.


At this point i hope the game will be great as a co-op game, if not, I'm selling it. Star Realms is so great I don't have the time and/or the money to have just a lesser version of it. I need a very different version. We'll see with the campaign.
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Chad Edmunds
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I agree with Blade as well...being asynchronous does not mean it cannot be balanced "enough" to provide a fair competition. I just do not think there is enough balance in the 5 Characters we have in this game to provide for such a fair competition.

For arguments sake, let's say the Fighter is a favourite in 50% of all the possible situations, and the Cleric, Wizard and Ranger are all favourites in 19% of the situations, and because of luck the Thief would be a favourite in 3%. Because even a blind squirrel can find nuts.

That is no where near enough balance to have a fair competition. As an aside, I have done a lot of analysis of the decks recently and I think 50% for the Fighter might be low. The Fighter is, in my opinion, OP. The Thief will always suffer from having no draw and 3 cards tied up in the Throwing Knives; the Thief's starting deck is awful.

So, right off the bat, both of those characters have to come out to convince the masses to play in the event.

Then, for argument's sake, let's say that once you do that, the Wizard now rises to OP status in relation to the other 2 Characters. And becomes the powerhouse at 50%, with the Ranger grabbing 30% and the Cleric 20%. Again, based on my experience and thoughts on this game (and I am admittedly no expert, so this is by no means authority on the subject) I would say that it is not unreasonable to think the Wizard rises like this without the Fighter around. The Wizard has a ton of easy to-get-to draw, and the best major ability in the game.

So, without the OP Character, and the very bad Character, there still exists a situation where, if someone wants to win consistently, there is only 1 character that they must take.

I could - and quite likely will - be wrong about the Characters. However, even if the Characters are perfectly balanced, such cannot be shown without data from 10,000's of recorded plays. Play just 1000 games between perfectly equally skilled opponents and the results are very likely to still show some character strong and some character weak, even in a world of absolute perfect balance. 1000 is simply not enough games to have every situation play out, not even to have "enough" situations play out to draw a reliable conclusion.

This leads to Homerjr's great point...

There are all kinds of ways to structure the event to present fair competition. I totally agree with that. And for my part, I can think of many formats in which I would be comfortable playing this game. But without concrete proof that the format in play provides enough balance to be fair, organising the event would likely be a nightmare. There will always be many dissidents, opposing views, etc. that will make it very difficult, and will challenge fairness. Getting concrete proof to address those challenges - which are sure to come - would be very difficult...without computing machines, I submit impossible. With such machines/applications, very difficult.

For proof, check out this thread when the Legend series was announced for Star Realms and the start player advantage raised. The Star Realms community is awesome, and there was enough trust in Remy and Adam that getting this event off the ground was never really in question. But there was considerable discussion and debate when the issue of start player advantage was raised, which I submit is a much easier subject to address with format structure than would be the Character imbalance.

I guess my point is that playing any PvP game competitively is a very delicate thing. Presenting indisputable fairness is near impossible (the start player advantage in chess is still in dispute). In a game like this with different starting decks, I feel there is no way it can get off the ground for competitive play, because either 1) the imbalance is obvious and the gap too significant, or 2) the imbalance is only supposed to exist, carried by the fact balance cannot be proven, and, in turn, presents a huge challenge to structuring an event with a format that will be agreed upon as fair by everyone.

I really, really hope I am way off here, and that I will be playing in a Hero Realms league - and in Hero Realms tournaments - on an app with 1000's of people from all over the world in the near future. I just do not see that happening.


 
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Chad Edmunds
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I thought of a great format for competitive play with Hero Realms. Instead of individual PvP, play a team event with 3,4,5,or 6 player teams.

Each team will be made up of the Boss player, and the Hero players. The teams would then play in swiss rounds, or pools with a round robin, with the Boss player playing against other team's group of Heroes. Could have a rotating Boss player (each team member must play the Boss in at least one match) or a static Boss.

From this, each team will combine their Hero and Boss wins, then do a top cut where teams face off in an elimination round. Again, Bosses playing against Hero groups.

In a 3 player format, could even find a way to throw in some Boss vs. Boss action, and 2v2 Hero action.

THAT is something I would play competitively in a heartbeat!!
 
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Gary Bradley
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Someone who can enjoy Star Realms competitively will be able to enjoy Hero Realms competitively. Let's check the key similarities between the games....

1) 90% of games are decided by opening hand and trade row luck more than skill.

2) Several cards are not properly costed for what they do, and getting these early will usually mean victory.

The above 2 points are 100% true for both games, so, sure you can play both competitively if that floats your boat. I personally would not play either competitively, precisely because luck is the deciding factor the vast majority of the time (Although I have played many hundreds of games on the SR app and have a decent win rate. I do not count that as competitive).
 
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Chad Edmunds
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GaryB wrote:
Someone who can enjoy Star Realms competitively will be able to enjoy Hero Realms competitively. Let's check the key similarities between the games....

1) 90% of games are decided by opening hand and trade row luck more than skill.

2) Several cards are not properly costed for what they do, and getting these early will usually mean victory.

The above 2 points are 100% true for both games, so, sure you can play both competitively if that floats your boat. I personally would not play either competitively, precisely because luck is the deciding factor the vast majority of the time (Although I have played many hundreds of games on the SR app and have a decent win rate. I do not count that as competitive).


There are few games played more competitively than backgammon. Fewer still played more competitively than poker. Both games have an incredible amount of luck in their game play. But both games require an incredible amount of skill to consistently win. And while luck will be the deciding factor in many games, players consistently relying on luck to win will lose in the long haul and be trounced many times over by the skilled player.

It can be argued Star Realms has less luck than either of those games. I am not making that argument. I am saying, however, that there is a skill involved in Star Realms. And that the luck in Star Realms can be mitigated enough so that the skilled player will win more often over many games played. As with backgammon and poker.

Hero Realms suffers 2 problems Star Realms does not:

1. The Characters are unbalanced, through no fault of the game nor the designers. Getting these characters balanced would be nearly impossible, not to mention not important to the primarily game system that they are balanced. But for PvP, it means both players are not playing a 50-50 game from the start.

2. The start player advantage - and the overall luck factor - is increased because of the power creep in the lower cost cards, including the Ruby in the starting deck.

With more luck - arguably more than can be mitigated enough by skilled play - and with unbalanced sides when using the character packs, Hero Realms crosses the threshold into what could/would/should be considered not suitable for competitive play. In my opinion.

Whereas Star Realms could possibly join backgammon as a classic, competitively played 2 player game that has been enjoyed for 1000's of years. Well, maybe not the last part.

All that said, since my original post, and after several dozens of PvP plays of Hero Realms, I am sufficiently convinced the game was never intended to be a PvP game primarily, ie. not a successor to Star Realms. And it was only given to us initially, as a PvP game, to get it to market, and because of the simple fact it can be easily played PvP. Further, I would submit Hero Realms is meant to be a campaign driven, multiplayer, many vs one style game using the Star Realms engine. Primarily.


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