Type of game: Card game
Published by: Cryptozoic Entertainment
Played on: a table!
Did you know that magical wizards are battling to the death … and beyond … right now!? “Why battle?” you might ask. “What have I got to prove, magic man?” Only who’s the most awesomely powerful battle wizard in the entire realm, that’s what!
Bursting with crazy flavour, the introduction to this game lets you know immediately that you’re in for a treat, though not a particularly sane one! Let’s take a deep breath and say that distinctly unTwitter-friendly title together shall we: Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mount Skullzfyre (hereafter referred to as Spell Wars). It’s a card game for 2-6 players, it does a brilliant line in bright, cartoonish ultra-violence, and it’s a regular gaming night favourite Chez AddAltMode.
In terms of set up, the game has a few similarities with Magic the Gathering: you play as a powerful magic user, begin with 20 life, and the object is to survive while taking out your enemies using powerful combinations of spells from thematically different colour-coded sources. But this game is much simpler than MtG: even some of my *gasp* non-gamer friends enjoy Spell Wars and have quickly mastered its rules. And – though I haven’t been actively playing or following MtG for a few blocks now – as far as I know they’ve yet to introduce any Planeswalkers quite as silly as the roster in Spell Wars which includes: Fey Ticklebottom, the Enchanter; Lady Lazervere of the Space Kingdom; Krazztar the Blood ‘O’ Mancer, and Pisster the Pissed Wizard!
To prove your Battle Wizard credentials you must craft spells from the randomly-dealt cards in your hand, each of which comprises up three components: a source, quality and delivery. The spells also draw on five different types of magic: dark, illusion, primal, elemental and arcane, each of which has its own distinctive – and rather predictable – flavour: elemental has all the fire spells, dark magic often damages you as well as your opponents etc. Most of the spells require dice rolls to determine the precise extent of the damage they do, and you can usually increase impact by using more of the same type of magic in one spell, or by finding synergies with the effects of any treasure cards you may be holding.
So there’s a good element of strategy involved: should you target the strongest player, pick off the weakest, or just try to heal yourself? But this certainly isn’t the sort of game that proceeds at a glacial pace via lots of chin-stroking. One of the reasons this is such an ideal geek party game is that everyone plays at once. Players all build their spells at the same time then reveal them round the table . The “initiative” statistic of each spell determines the order in which they resolve. A really fun touch is that it’s actually in the rules that you need to read the name of your spell aloud in “dramatic fashion” and in “your best epic wizard voice” – which in our house, seems usually to mean “your best black metal vocalist impression.” Fun times!
The game is suitable for 2- 6 players but in my experience 4 or 5 is optimal. A lot of the spells are directed at “the weakest/strongest player” or “the player on your left” and with the lower player counts this usually just ends up being the same person. It’s still fun but some of the game’s variety and decision making elements are lost. By contrast, with the full 6 players Spell Wars becomes insanely fast and aggressive: play your cards wrong and there’s a high chance you may not even survive the round long enough to see your spell do its thing. But in that case, fear not! A nice mechanic in this game is that of the Dead Wizard cards which keep you involved in the game even after your hit points are gone and can award you extra treasure or stat bonuses to give you the edge in the next round.
All in all, Spell Wars is a great addition to any gaming household’s cupboard of tabletop delights. It’s quick to play, brilliantly – if sometimes disturbingly – illustrated, and requires a pleasing mix of strategy, luck and unadulterated silliness. Unfortunately, here in the UK it isn’t that easy to get hold of. Amazon currently only have it on import from the US but your Friendly Local Gaming Shop may well be able to order it in if they are ordering other stuff from the same supplier. The bottom line is, if you do get the chance to pick it up it’s well worth it.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering about the “Mt. Skullzfyre” part of that almost UnTweetable title? The game actually comes packaged with a cardboard stand-up Mount Skullzfyre that you can put on the table during a match. It doesn’t do anything other than help set the tone but it’s a great touch.
If I can’t be a transforming robot when I grow up then perhaps I could settle for being a Battle Wizard, although the life expectancy doesn’t seem all that promising….