Updated: Sep 19, 2019
In the following review I will be talking about the Summoner Wars system rather than any specific decks.
A while back Plaid Hat games had a sale on the original base sets for Summoner Wars, $10 a pop, plus another $10 postage. This worked as about half of the UK retail price and this included shipping from the US to my front door. So, like an idiot, I only bought the one set!
I had prejudged Summoner Wars because of the production value (which I’ll talk about lower down), but because of the high praise it had received on Board Game Geek and from several reviewers and the low price point I decided to give it a go.
With so many other games demanding my attention and my lack of two-player opportunities of late, it took me a long time to get this to the table, but now I have and I’m going to tell you what I think of it, but first…
Good and Evil thrives in an ancient land, rivalry exists between all factions and allies are hard to come by. This is not made any easier by the appearance of the Summoning Stones, their power is absolute and we all know what absolute power does. Quickly the land falls into total warfare as each faction vies to control all the summoning stones and thus begins the Summoner Wars
In the starter sets for Summoner Wars you get:
2 x 35 card Starter Decks
1 Sheet of Wound Tokens
5 Six Sided Dice
1 Paper Map
Overall the production value is okay considering this was an independent production from Plaid Hat games, but the UK price point of £20 is a little hard to justify. Firstly the game is played on a (reasonably thick) paper map. The map lacks any kind of artwork and is a pretty boring grey colour. In addition to that it is impossible to make it lay flat. While this doesn’t ruin the game in anyway, it doesn’t make it pop either.
The tokens and dice are serviceable but they are not anything to write home about. The card quality is pretty standard and comparable to most other CCGs. However, the artwork, while not bad for a independent company is pretty poor when compared to the plethora of fantasy games out there.
I should mention the rulebook, which does a pretty good job of explaining the game, but also offers some options and variants including the ability to play the game 3 or 4 player.
I think the Summoner Wars should have been priced around the same price as a CCG starter deck, £10 or so. However £20 puts it dangerously close to an LCG baseset price and 70 cards for £20 or 200+ for £25 seems like a no brainer to me.
Playing the Game
Putting aside the price, lets look at the game itself. To set up each player chooses one of the two factions in the set and sets up his force according to his starting setup card.
This setup will always include at least 1 wall and your Summoner. The only way to win the game is kill your opponent’s Summoner.
The game begins. The turn has six steps.
Play Event Cards
The first player will skip steps 1 through 3 and in step 4 he will only be able to move 2 units. This is a way of balancing the game so that the first player does not have an advantage. It is worth noting that neither side begins the game with a hand of cards and that should your deck ever run out of cards you continue to play with no cards.
Step 1 – Draw Cards On your turn you draw until you have a hand of 5 cards.
Step 2 – Summon Units Units are summoned using Magic Points. These are collected in your Magic Zone on the playsheet. Magic Points are cards you kill during your turn or your own discarded cards. (see build magic below) Each unit in the game has a Summoning Cost, shown below the Attack value on the left of the card. To summon that unit you must place a number of magic points into your discard pile, you may then place the unit into play adjacent to a wall you own. It is worth noting here that adjacent refers to the non-diagonal spaces next to a card.
Step 3 – Play Event Cards Event cards vary from one faction to another. They are free to play and generally have a big enough effect on the game to make them worth playing. They are a finite resource though, but the number of each card is listed on the quick reference so players know how often they can rely on the their events. Wall cards are also considered events, although they have hit points like units. A wall card can be played on any empty space on your side of the battlefield and can be used for summoning units.
Step 4 – Movement You may now move upto 3 units upto 2 spaces each. Again, no diagonals unless allowed by a special ability. You cannot move through occupied spaces.
Step 5 – Combat You may now attack with 3 units. Melee Units can only attack adjacent units or walls. Missile Units can attack units or walls upto 3 spaces away in a direct line, no diagonals. Attacks may not pass through occupied spaces.
To attack you roll a number of dice equal to the large number in the upper left corner of the card. Hits are scored on a 3+. If a unit takes more hits than it has wounds (small circles in the centre of the card) it is removed from play and added to your magic pile. Thus, killing enemy units builds your magic pile. It is also worth noting you can attack your own units and walls.
Step 6 – Build Magic You may discard any number of cards from your hand into your magic pile. And that’s it, wash rinse and repeat until one summoner has been slain.
Not long ago I reviewed Descent and I slagged off Heroquest, bemoaning the no diagonals rule that so many tactical miniatures games seem to be bound to. And if Summoner Wars was a tactical miniatures game I think I’d have hated it. However, to me, the game feels more like chess.
The fact that units cannot move or attack through one another adds a lot of strategy to the game, the no diagonals rule makes the correct placement and movement of units crucial to winning. The fact that you can only move 3 units and each one can only move two spaces emphasises the tactics and even strategies involved. Getting around a wall card requires you to move twice, of course, your opponent will act before you get that second move, so do you move or not, will it place you in danger?
Because your opponent can’t move through his own units or walls, you may choose not to attack that weaker unit because it is actually stopping the bigger unit coming through to hit you.
The fact that each unit has a special rule and that those special rules are identical across the factions (i.e. they act like keywords in a CCG) makes learning the game fast with next to zero time looking at a rulebook, but it also makes each unit act differently.
All this and more makes me like Summoner Wars, despite the production value and the high price point. However I still have some issues.
Firstly the game is not that replayable. 2 factions is simply not enough, especially when those factions are limited to 35 cards (one of which is a set up card). Even worse is the stipulation that the set up must always be the same. This simply leads to players deciding the best opening move and just going through the motions for the first turn of the game.
Of course, the game is expandable, but £10 per faction is still a little steep. That said, each faction you add exponentially increases the replayability by increasing the factions you can play against and with.
Plaid Hat Games has also released reinforcement decks for these base factions which include new units, new heroes and some new neutral cards which again increase replayability as neutral cards can be added to any of the faction decks.They have also released a new board which is a properly mounted board with better artwork and later this summer they will be releasing a master set with 6 factions and the board included, hopefully at a better price point.
I like it. I like the tactical choices and the resource management with the magic points. I like the way each unit is different and how you can take chances. I like the movement and specifically how the movement can be blocked.
I also like the short play time and that the game can be played 3 or 4 player too.
What I would like to see in the future for the game would be a terrain pack, something that added a bit more to the table than just blockages. I’d also like to see new summoners for existing factions. Summoner Wars is not a game where players always play a particular faction and without additional Summoners, set ups and real, customisable deck building options it never will be.
I think it could also be fun if the game could be mission driven. Perhaps combining with the aforementioned terrain pack, to add some more interesting playstyles than simply always killing the opponent’s summoner.
Regardless, however, I’m looking forward to the release of the Master Set as it seems to fix all the problems I had with the original base sets. And that of course is because Plaid Hat Games listened to their fans and made changes to the way they worked to make the fans happy, which makes Plaid Hat a rarity that should be supported!