Game Review: Summoner Wars

Summoner Wars by Plaid Hat GamesBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

So far I’ve reviewed Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (a semi-cooperative game where someone ends up a traitor cylon) and Lost Cities (a quick two-player card game).

This month’s game is you against me until one of our armies is destroyed.

I’m not normally a fan of games where you directly attack the other person. Most of my game play is with my husband, who I love. Neither of us like working hard to build something only to have another player destroy it. We especially hate doing that to the person we love the most. But in Summoner Wars, you go in knowing that your units won’t last long.

Enter into the story…

You’re the leader of a race of peoples in the kingdom of Itharia. For years, the Fallen Kingdom has reigned over Itharia because they were the only ones who possessed a summoning stone—a magical object that gave them the ability to teleport troops onto a battlefield rather than having to move them normally.

Now more summoning stones have been found and the world has fallen into chaos as every race tries to win their freedom from all the others and rule their own portion of Itharia.

How well does the theme work? You feel like you’re there.

If you enjoy World of Warcraft or Guild Wars, there’s a good chance you’ll also like Summoner Wars.

In Summoner Wars, you’re playing one of 16 fantasy race armies (e.g. Tundra Orcs, Benders, Mountain Vargath, Phoenix Elves) against the army of a single opponent. Each race has its own unique special abilities. The Tundra Orcs can freeze their opponents in place. The Shadow Elves can bring darkness over the battlefield so they can’t be attacked with ranged attacks like arrows.

Summoner Wars Phoenix ElvesType of Game: Tactical war game using cards instead of miniatures.

The object of the game is simple. Kill your opponent’s summoner (leader) before they kill yours.

You’ll set up your chosen race into the starting configuration specified on your faction’s set-up card, and then if you want to bring more troops onto the battlefield, you’ll need to “summon” them by discarding magic points. (You earn magic points by either killing your opponent’s forces or discarding cards from your own hand.)

Length of Play Rating: For a Sunday afternoon.

I can’t call this game “after dinner fun” because I save that for games that always run an hour or less. While Summoner Wars can take less than an hour, it can also take up to 90 minutes. The better you know the army you’re playing and the one your opponent is playing, the quicker the game will go. However, if you’re equally matched in skill with the person you’re playing against, games can take the full 90 minutes as you fight to the bitter end.

Number of Players: 2 people

There is a way you can combine two boards so that four people can play (two against two), but I haven’t played that way and have no desire to. What I love about this game is that while there’s a little luck in which cards you draw into your hand at any time and in the dice rolls, what this really comes down to is my brain against yours, my strategic abilities against yours, my tactical moves against yours. Imagine chess but with magical creatures and abilities. It’s a little like that.

The Most Important Question: Would I Buy It Again?

For this game, the answer is definitely. My husband and I originally got the Master Set, which came with six armies. We’ve since bought more of the faction packs. It won’t be leaving my collection.

If you’re in the United States and want to check out Summoner Wars, I recommend CoolStuffInc. If you’re in Canada, a good site to buy games from is Cult of the New.

On this blog, I like to occasionally feature fun ways to introduce “fantasy” to your everyday life. Make sure to tell me what you’d like to see more of. More game reviews? More recipes from movies or books? More unbelievable real life features (where I highlight a place or creature from our world that’s real but looks like it should belong in a story)?

I hope you’ll check out my book of suspense short stories, Frozen: Two Suspense Short Stories.

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Game Review: Lost Cities

Lost Cities 2-Player GameBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last time I introduced you to a long, complex game in Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game. This month I want to go the opposite direction to a quick, easy-to-understand, two-player card game.

Enter into the story…

You’re an archeologist setting out on expeditions to find lost cities in the Himalayas, the Brazilian rain forest, the shifting sands of the desert, within volcanos, or at the bottom of the sea.

But you have limited resources. You need to invest into each expedition you begin, and if you don’t at least make back that investment, you might never recover.

This is a game of no risk, no reward, but another archeologist might be setting out on an expedition to the same location, and it’ll be a fight to the end for the limited resources…

How Well Does the Theme Work? The game would be fine without it.

Normally I’m someone who wants a strong theme in a game, but in this case, I loved the way this game played so much that I didn’t care that the theme didn’t add much to the game. It’s just a structurally sound, fun game.

The game board is basically a spot to lay the discard piles and line up your expeditions. I wish the artwork had been prettier, but it’s not a big deal.

Lost Cities Game

To score points, you lay down cards (organized according to color) in stacks from lowest to highest. There’s only one card of each number for each of the colors—for example, there’s only a single red three. If the other player plays the card you needed, you’re out of luck.

You can skip numbers (so your stack could go 2, 3, 5, 9), but that makes it harder to earn back the 20 points you need just to make your investment on the expedition. If you don’t earn back your investment, you lose points at the end of the round. If you do make the 20 points, everything above that earns positive points at the end of the round.  

Lost Cities Cards

Type of Game: Card game

This is a super simple game to understand because you’re basically just drawing, playing, or discarding cards to try to make stacks of cards in ascending order, organized by color.

That’s not to say there’s no strategy involved. There is. You have to either play or discard a card before you draw another card (you can only play one card per turn). On their turn, your opponent can take the top card from any of the color-coordinated discard piles. So do you play your blue 5 even though you don’t yet have the 4 or do you discard the yellow 9 you know your opponent needs (thereby giving them those points)? How long do you wait for a card to come up (because the game immediately ends when the draw pile is gone)? Which expeditions should you try for and how many?

Length of Play Rating: Anytime

One thing I love about this game is its length. You can easily play a game in 20-40 minutes (a game is three rounds of finishing off all the cards and scoring, so you can see how quickly a single round plays). For my husband and I, when we don’t have time for a long game but we want some time together, this is our go-to game. The brevity also allows us to play multiple times, and we almost always want to keep playing.

Number of Players: 2 people

Lost Cities is part of the Kosmos line of two-player games. This makes it great for couples like my husband and I who don’t yet have kids. There is a four player variant described in the rule book, but you can’t play it unless you buy a second copy of the game.

Family Friendly? It depends.

This game is clear enough for mature children to understand and play. (The box says 13+, but I could have grasped and enjoyed this much younger than that, so judge based on your own kids and not the box’s recommendation.)

However, it’s obviously not a game the whole family is going to be able to sit down with together unless you only have a family of two. It is a game siblings could play together or a parent and one child could play together, so I wouldn’t write it off entirely if you have kids.

Have you tried Lost Cities? Do you prefer a straight-forward game like this or something more complex?

Click here if you’d like to check out Lost Cities.

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Game Review: Battlestar Galactica the Board Game

Battlestar Galactica board gameBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome to a brand new regular feature I’m debuting!

As those of you who’ve been with me a while know, Fridays here on my blog are for fun. It’s the day when we try to bring a little fantasy into our everyday lives through talking with speculative fiction authors, exploring places and creatures from our world that look like they belong in a fantasy, talking food and music that appears in books/movies/video games, and just kicking back as we head into the weekend.

To those recurring features I’m adding reviews of tabletop games, computer games, and maybe I’ll even convince my long-suffering husband to review some of his favorite PlayStation games. Because what better way to bring fun and fantasy into our lives than through games 🙂

These aren’t going to be reviews for hard-core gamers. These are going to be reviews for the everyday person who plays for fun and has a busy life. I’ll try to review a variety of game types, as well as review games with variety in how many players they can play and whether they’re family friendly and 2-player friendly or not. My hope is that if the game one month isn’t for you, you might enjoy the one I feature the next month.

So no more delays. On to Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game…

Enter into the story…

Humans created cylons to make their lives easier, but the cylons rebelled. After a brutal war, the cylons left to find their own planet, but now they’ve returned to slaughter humanity and take their worlds instead. In a surprise attack, they killed all but 50,000 humans. These remaining homeless humans are now part of a small fleet of space ships, with limited resources, running for their lives.

As one of the human survivors, you need to help the fleet reach the planet of Kobol.

Along the way, if the cylons reach the end of the Galactica boarding track, the humans lose. If one of your resources (population, food, fuel, and morale) reaches zero, the humans lose. If the cylons destroy Galactica, the humans lose.

Why does the game seem weighted in favor of the cylons? Well, read on…

How Well Does the Theme Work? You feel like you’re there.

If you’re someone who enjoyed BSG, then you’ll at least enjoy trying this game. Not only are the board and other components beautiful, but the game was clearly designed by someone who understood the show. Your resources are limited and hard to replace. The cylons are stronger than you. You don’t know who you can trust, and you might even end up being a cylon sleeper agent halfway through.

Battkestar Galactica game board

This is only part of the board you’ll be playing on.

Battlestar Galactica ships

Three of the ships that will be on the board either attacking or defending the civilian ships.

Beyond this, when you draw what are called Crisis Cards, they’re events from the first season. As a fan of the show, it’s exciting to recognize them and take part. You’re often facing what seems like a no-win situation where every result is bad (or at least doesn’t help you in any way). Just like the characters in the show needed to decide what to sacrifice just to survive, you’ll need to do the same.  

Crisis Card

Events are based on episodes of the show.

The roles are also unique. If you’re a pilot, your character can leave Galactica and climb into a viper to engage cylon raiders. If you’re the Admiral, you decide what planet the fleet will make a faster-than-light jump to. Each of the game characters has strengths and weaknesses based on their matching character from the show. I refuse to ever play Gaius Baltar. The slimeball.

Kara Starbuck Thrace

My favorite character to play 🙂 I like to fly the vipers.

Type of Game: Cooperative with a traitor element.

At the beginning of the game, you’re dealt a secret loyalty card telling you whether you’re human or cylon. The humans all work together to reach Kobol, and so you win or lose as a team. You won’t always know who is a cylon (or a sympathizer) and who isn’t though, so this is partially a game of betrayal and deciding who you can trust.

In fact, you can’t even trust yourself. Halfway through the game, you deal a new set of loyalty cards. You might find out you’re really a cylon who was programmed to believe themselves a human. Suddenly the people you’ve been working with are your enemies, and the trust you’ve worked so hard to earn will be used to destroy them.

Length of Play Rating: Kill. Me. Now.

The game we won against the cylons took 4 HOURS. It’s shorter if the humans lose, but by the time you hit 2-3 hours of play, it all starts to feel a little repetitive.

Marcy’s Hint for Shorter Game Play: In the future, instead of needing to get 8 planet points + one jump to reach Kobol and win, we’ll be doing 6 planet points = instant win or 4 planet points + one jump.

Number of Players: 3-6 people

This game really plays better with 4 or more because it’s too easy to guess who’s the cylon in a 3-player game, and the cylon in a 3-player game makes it almost impossible for the humans to win.

Family Friendly? A snowflake’s chance in h*ll.

In other words, no way. The box says 10+, but this is really a 14+ game. In my opinion, the themes in BSG were too mature for children, so most kids won’t have watched the show and won’t know the story/characters. It’s a complicated game to learn, and it’s long.  

Would you try this game? What types of games are you most interested in having me review? And, the big question, are you a BSG fan?

Click here if you’d like to check out Battlestar Galactica (affiliate link).

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