This was a free prototype sent to us for our unbiased opinions. The game is coming to Kickstarter soon. You can find out more about that, here.
I love card games. I love the simplicity of just choosing a card from my hand and building something from there. The art and theme of Altar is very interesting to me, so I was excited to try this game. The rules are pretty simple, this is all about clever card play. Let's get it to the table and see how it plays.
In Altar, you play as a God, trying to control humanity. You will do this by building Shrines and discovering Altars in your Realm. I presume, to create a nice comfy place for your followers to bow down in obedience to you?
In turns, players will choose a God board, placing it in front of them, adding one inactive Altar (face down) in one of the Altar spaces. In a two-player game each player will chose two boards. Then shuffle the follower cards and deal one to each player equal to the amount of players, plus one. So, four each on a three player game. In a two-player game, each player has two God boards and therefore gets dealt five cards as you treat this like a four-player game.
Next place follower cards face up in the middle of the table, again equal to the number of players plus one and five for a two player game. Finally, place all the Shrine and Altar tokens on the table. The number of Shrine tokens varies based on player count. Six for a three player game. Nine for a two or four players. And 12 for a four player game. These are a limited resource as they are very important in the game. You are now ready to begin.
How To Play
Players will now take it in turns, starting with either the oldest player, or the player using the Ancient God character. On your turn, you will draw a card, either face up from the available cards, or face down from the deck. You will then perform one action. In a two player game, as you control two God boards, you will draw two cards and perform two actions. The three actions available to you are as follows.
1. Play a Follower card. Perform the actions on a card from your hand. Discarding the card and following the text on the card. Some cards let you place Altars, this is how you add them to your Realm (board).
2. Perform a Ritual. Discard three cards from your hand with a star symbol on to build a shrine on one of your God boards.
3. Worship a God. Play a worshiper card from your hand. Any card in your hand with the below worship symbol on can be placed face up next to one of your boards to offer your chosen God protection against certain attacks. (All cards shown have the star symbol on as well that can be used for performing a ritual).
Some cards have a free action symbol on, as shown below. These can be played, discarded, and performed as much as you like each turn.
If the draw deck runs out, or the final Shrine is used the game will immediately end. But what players are aiming for is to build the required number of Altars and Shrines. You need at least one Shrine to win the game, but you can build more if you wish. If you build one Shrine you will need to have four Altars to win the game. If you managed to build two Shrines, you now only need three Altars. Three built Shrines means only two required Altars. You just need to fill up the spaces on your board. Both boards need to be completed in a two-player game. The first to do this wins. If either of the other two end game conditions ends the game the person with the most Shrines wins. If there is a tie, refer to the God abilities to determine the winner. The Ancient God for example wins draws. The Goddess of Love loses draws.
Is It Fun?
Altar: Realms of the Gods is all about clever card play. And I love clever card play. The rules and end game conditions are all pretty simple. This is about using the cards is strategic ways to build your Altars and Shrines as best you can. You need to find a balance between defence and attack, whilst not forgetting to make actual progress with your own development. The game ends if the deck runs out remember, so you cannot spend to much time just messing with the other players.
There are some very clever options available to you from the cards. I particularly like the Wizard that lets you destroy an opposing players Active Altar whilst adding an inactive Altar to your own Realm. I also find the Seer very interesting in the way that you can force an opponent to discard a card of your choosing, but you can also see their entire hand, thus getting an idea as to their current strategy.
Each God has its own unique power too, which brings some interesting asymmetry to the game. It is fun to try each one and see how they interact with the other cards and players in the game. I particular like the Goddess of Death power which allows you to perform rituals with only two cards needed instead of the usual three. She cannot use Clerics to do this, but I found I was able to race along with the power.
I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys games that use cards in a clever way. Fantasy Realms comes to mind when playing this game. Not from the scoring or structure. But in the way the cards offer quite interesting and clever options if they can be played in the right combinations and order. Altar: Realms of the Gods looks great too. The art on the cards is stunning and the synergy between the followers and their powers in quite interesting. I will be interested to see how this game develops during its crowd funding stage and look forward to many more games in the future.