Wandering Monster Table: Summoning up a damn fine game

April 22nd, 2011

If you’re a film critic you need to watch a lot of movies.  Therefore it stands to reason that to be an aspiring game designer; you need to play a lot of different games.

One of my new favorite games is a card game called Summoner Wars.  If you’ve not had the pleasure of playing this, you really should.

What makes SW’s work? Simple, yet careful, game design. When I teach it to people I explain “it’s like Magic the Gathering, only your wizard is on the board”.

The idea behind the game is to use a modest deck of cards, the majority of which represent a soldier of some type. You summon your soldiers next to one of your few walls. From there you move and attack, much like a miniatures game. There are dice rolled to see if an attack hits. Units have an attack value, health and a single special ability. The restriction here is that no matter how many units you have, only 3 can move and you can only make 3 attacks per turn. Now this is faulty from a miniatures game point of view as there is simply no logical reason why only a handful of units could move/attack but from a game balance point of view, it serves to keep the game fast paced and to prevent one side from gaining too much board control.

It seems simple but it plays out exceptionally well. One important thing that the game does away with is ‘summoning sickness’. A unit that is summoned can be immediately moved and make an attack.

Between the limited move/attacks and the lack of summoning sickness you end up with a game that plays out like a pendulum. Opponent attacks and wipes out many of your troops. Provided you hand of cards doesn’t suck, you summon up some troops and wipe out your opponent’s units.

One of the best parts of the game that I’ve not mentioned is how you summon. To do so, you need magic points. You get magic points in one of two ways: Discard one of your own cards into the magic pile or destroy an enemy unit. This is a wonderful risk vs. reward mechanic. How many cards, from your precious and limited deck, do you ditch in order to summon a champion (who cost more) or a bunch of common units?

The game is designed for 2 players but you can play 4 players as teams. It feels slightly different with allies but it still plays extremely well.

The designer is committed to adding more and more decks. Options are always great. I’ve played probably 20 games with the original 4 decks and just recently acquired 2 new decks and have been introducing people to it. And there are 2 more decks available and 6 more on the horizon. I am incredibly impressed that the designer has enough time to manage the artwork and create decks that are (hopefully) balanced.

Do yourself a favor and check them out.


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