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Subject: Wizards of the Wild - A Detailed Review rss

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Image Courtesy of W Eric Martin

This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.

If you liked the review please thumb the top of the article so others have a better chance of seeing it and I know you stopped by. Thanks for reading.

Summary

Game Type - Card/Dice Game
Play Time: 30-60 minutes
Number of Players: 1-4
Mechanics - Dice Rolling, Push Your Luck, Set Collection, Variable Player Powers
Difficulty - Pick-up & Play (Can be learned in 10 minutes)
Components - Excellent ++
Release - 2015

Designers - Adam West (Galactic Emperor, Ninjato)

+

Dan Schnake (Ninjato)

Overview and Theme

Something has happened! People have disappeared from the face of the earth and in their place animals have gained magical powers. The greatest of these mages now take part in the ultimate magical battle at the hallowed turf of Stonehenge! Challenges have been set and many spells will be cast as they battle it out to be crowned the new King of the Forest.

Ok it's a light theme at best but Wizards of the Wild is not pretending to be anything else. It's targeting families, I feel, given the gorgeous artwork, which is rather reminiscent of modern day animations with a touch of Disney-esque style.

Each player assumes the role of one of these animal wizards and they have to collect a variety of resources in order to collect and cast spells and meet challenges that are put before them.

The game comes to us from an Indie publisher called CrossCut Games. This may not mean a lot to you at first but if I were to mention that this design team also released Ninjato, then you might just go ahhh!

Grab that coat would you...we are off to see the Wizard(s)...the wonderful wizards of the wild!

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The Components

The game looks pretty fantastic, which is mostly due to the full-colour artwork that really brings the characters and setting to life. This is maintained all the way through the production, from the player boards to the card art. It reminds me very much of how I once imagined the Wind in the Willows within my mind’s eye and there is something very appealing about that.

Hats off to the artist Shawna J.C. Tenney who has worked on children's books. This appears to be her first board game credit and I'm sure it will not be her last.

d10-1 Player Mats - Each of these mid-sized mats represent one of the animal wizard's that can be played. The artwork of the character takes center stage and this panel is surrounded by 5 tracks that are used to record how many resources of various types are held by a player at any one time.

Each wizard also has a unique power that is listed as well as their name. These mats are double-sided with each side offering a unique power. These really are lovely to look at and the starting resource positions are also marked with a small cube to help get the set-up completed quickly.


Image Courtesy of adamw


d10-2 Scoring Track - The Scoring Track is well done and of the same size as the player boards. Each value of '5' is highlighted to make it easy to track the numbers and somewhat unusually (as it seems to be against the current trend for such things) the numbers are not presented on a continuous track...instead they are presented in individual rows going left to right. This seems to catch me out every time (when I go to add to my score) but really...first world problems.


Image Courtesy of EndersGame


d10-3 Spell and Challenge Cards - These two card types form the central aspect of the play. They are differentiated by different borders and they both share the same layout to make it easy to assess each card quickly.

The top left and right corners feature the cost of a card and the resource type that must be paid (arcane for Challenge Cards and Tomes for Spell Cards).

The lovely artwork sits central, below the card's title and at the bottom is listed the cards ability. The final feature is a number in a red seal adorned by a golden crown, which signifies how many VPs the card is worth).

Impressive for a smaller publisher is the fact that the cards are made with a matte/linen finish. Very nice indeed.


Image Courtesy of adamw


d10-4 Acolyte Cards - Acolytes are the adjudicators for the contest if you like and they are always dogs. Acolyte cards outline how many Gems it will cost to bribe them and the benefit for paying the bribe. To the left and right of the card are two very important features. On the left is a cost that must be paid by all wizards. I consider this the cost of entering the tournament or the fee for the Acolyte's services. Above this icon is a smaller set of symbols that relate to the solo-game format. I'll cover that towards the end of the review.

On the right-bottom side of the card is a value in negative VPs. This is the penalty that any wizards will pay if they have accumulated the most skulls for the round.


Image Courtesy of Mad Scientist


d10-5 Dice - A big tick must go to Crosscut Games for the inclusion of these gorgeous dice. They feature engraved images and a lovely pearl/purple colouring. These are up there with the custom dice for Summoner Wars and for these to be included by an Indie Publisher is just fantastic.


Image Courtesy of EndersGame


d10-6 Tokens - To allow resource totals to be tracked and scores to be recorded the game comes with a set of small wooden cubes and discs in various colours.


Image Courtesy of Alice87


d10-7 Rules - The rules are very nicely presented and offer colourful images to help break up the text. I found there were one or two elements that were not as clear as they could have been, but they certainly didn't make the game hard to learn in any way.

The booklet also includes several pages dedicated to a sample of the play and then a question and answer section to support families or those new to designer games.


Image Courtesy of EndersGame


For a small box game, Wizards of the Wild punches above its weight in regards to quality components and it looks great on the table.


Image Courtesy of EndersGame


Set-Up

In keeping with the simplicity of the game as a whole, the set-up is not too taxing. Each player takes a Wizard Mat and can chose which side they wish to use based on the associated power. The players take a matching set of tokens and place their cubes on the marked locations on their Wizard Board. A disc is placed at 10 on the Scoring Track (this is because VPs can be lost in some situations) and a spare disc is kept in reserve to help mark the 50 or 100 box on the Scoring Track, should they reach these milestones.

From the Acolyte supply a total of 7 cards are selected at random and shuffled to make a deck. One card is flipped over for the first round of the game.

The Spell and Challenge Cards must then be created. Both sets of cards feature two types...those that feature one icon or two. These should be separated from one another (best to do this when packing the game up). All of the cards are used of the level two variety. But only some of the level one cards are used, depending on the number of players. Both types of cards are shuffled separately and the level one cards are then placed on top of the level two cards. In doing so both decks are created.

Two cards are drawn from each deck and placed face-up to form the available cards to start play.

A start player is selected and the game is ready to begin.

The Play

The play of the game is quite straight forward. Players take turns individually but due to the abilities on many of the cards, they need to keep tuned into the play in case someone triggers an effect that they have.

A player's turn and the options they have look something like this :-

d10-1 Check the Available Cards – A player should always have 4 cards turned face up that they can go after. At the very start of the game this will consist of 2 Spell Cards and 2 Challenge Cards.

Should a player start their turn with less than 4 cards, they can chose to draw the replacements from either deck (based on what they feel they need), one at a time.

If a player starts their turn with 4 cards already in play, they can choose to discard one card and draw another.

d10-2 Roll the Dice –

Image Courtesy of adamw
The active player must then roll all 6 dice. All dice are made equal, each showing one of 6 faces. Most of these allow for the acquisition of resources such as Arcane, Tomes, Gems and Mana...but one features a skull.

Skulls - After each roll a player must move their token up the Skull Track for each skull that they roll on the dice. Not surprisingly, skulls are generally bad (more on that in a moment).

Multiple Rolls - A player can choose to stop after one roll or they may choose to roll again, setting any dice aside that they wish to keep. A player can never have more than 3 rolls in a single turn though unless a Wizard power or card effect states otherwise.

If a player does choose to roll again, they can re-roll any skull results as well. The danger of course is that additional rolls may result in more skulls being rolled!

Once a player stops rolling they can then assess the symbols they have at their disposal.

d10-3 Buying Cards – The main aim of the game is to acquire cards as these represent power. All cards come at a cost. Spell Cards cost Arcane, whilst Challenge Cards cost Tomes. The cost of all cards will range between 2 and 6.

The challenge in some of those higher cost cards is that a player board can only store a maximum of 3 Arcane or Tomes. Thus a player will need to (and is allowed) to combine any combination of stored resources and symbols rolled on dice in that turn to pay the asking price of a card.

For this reason it is very important that a player does not automatically add all rolled values to their storage tracks straight away.

A player can buy as many cards as they can afford, but 2 is the usual maximum in a single turn.

Spell Cards - These cards offer a benefit that stays in play and a player can use that benefit once per turn unless it stats otherwise. Quite often they allow a player to convert one resource type into another or circumvent the standard rules in some way to give a player an edge.

These cards are also worth a number of victory points, which are added to a player's total at the end of the game. This is important as cards can be discarded or exchanged during play via some Spells or powers.

Each spell is also of a certain type (Sorcery, Shadow etc). This allows the game to implement a set collection aspect.

Challenge Cards - These cards offer either an immediate once-off benefit or an end of game bonus scoring goal. These are usually worth more victory points than Spell Cards. Once the one-off benefit is taken it is turned face-down, waiting to be scored at the end of the game.

Any Challenge Cards that offer a goal or variable amount of VPs are left face-up to remind the player and others of what they are trying to achieve.

d10-4 Storing Resources – A player can always store any Gems and Mana rolled on their dice at the end of their turn (provided they were not spent). Arcane and Tomes however are items of great power and they can only be stored if a player does not buy any cards for the turn.

For this reason it is always advantageous to use symbols on the dice before using stored resources.

d10-5 Bribe the Acolyte - At the start of each round an Acolyte will be overseeing the competition (for some reason they are all dogs in this world).

Each Acolyte will list its Bribe Cost (in Gems) and a VP total that can be gained if the price is paid.

Again this cost can be paid in any combination of rolled symbols and stored Gem resources.

An Acolyte can only be bribed once per turn unless a player has a power that breaks this rule.

d10-6 The End of a Round – Each player takes their turn in the above fashion. At the end of the round the players all check to see who has earned the highest number of Skulls. This player is punished (I assume Skulls relate to the use of dark magic) by the Acolyte. On their card is listed the VP penalty for being in this position.

Multiple players will incur the penalty if they are tied with the most Skulls, but if all players are tied then no penalty is required.

d10-7 Starting a New Round - The new start player is the next player in clockwise order from the last start player.

All players reset their Skull Tally to 0 and a new Acolyte Card is drawn. This new card will feature a Mana cost that all players must pay from their stored resources (this of course also happens at the start of the game). For each Mana resource that they cannot pay, they will incur a Skull!

With 7 Acolyte Cards being used in each game, the game lasts for exactly 7 rounds.

d10-8 Winning the Game - At the end of the 7th round the players must assess their final scores. Bribes allow the players to add to their starting score during play and smaller gains and losses may be incurred due to card effects of paying the Skull penalty.

But the greatest scoring will come at the end of the game as the players add up all of their VPs gained from acquired cards and calculating the gains from any of those Challenge Cards that have goals to be met.

The winner is the player with the highest total. Ties are broken by having the most Challenge Cards and then the most Spell Cards.

What Does all of that Mean for Gameplay?

There is no doubt that the game is on the lighter side of the spectrum but there are still several considerations that the players must weigh up to make the best decisions possible.

d10-1 Resource Collection/Spend - The players really need to consider their balance of resources carefully so they can respond quickly to a new card that becomes available or to ensure that they can power their Wizard power or one of their Spell Cards. Indeed the interest within the game is in finding synergies between the cards that are acquired and your own Wizard Ability.

Every Resource has its place and purpose with Arcane and Tomes needed to acquire cards, Gems needed to bribe Acolytes and Mana is the most common resource that is use to trade for one of the other types. A player also has to be quite careful about spending all of their stored Mana because this is the resource that Acolytes will demand at the start of a round. Players need to consider what can be gained if they exhaust all of their Mana in a turn versus what the penalty might be if they can't pay the Acolyte's demand.

d10-2 Pushing One's Luck -

Image Courtesy of adamw
At the center of the play is how often a player should re-roll their dice and if they include any of their rolled Skull results. Again, Skulls are not desirable in the game so additional rolls means additional risk.

d10-3 Skull-Balling - Whilst skulls are not desirable, only the worst result will be punished. For this reason the players should take careful note as to the position of the competition. If someone has been careless (or very unlucky) then a player may well have no qualms in acquiring 4-5 Skulls, provided someone else is on a higher total. Indeed some Spell powers require skulls to be taken in exchange for some other resource or effect. This is fine if you can stay below the highest total.

This element also adds some importance to seat position. A player that is going first for the round really doesn't want to be careless and acquire a large number of skulls, not just because they are bad in general but because it affords the players that follow more freedom to push their luck and possibly get a great result. Conversely going last in a round allows a player to know the exact state of affairs (in relation to Skull counts) and play their turn as required.

d10-4 Know Thyself - One thing I really do like about the game is that each Wizard has a unique power. As a player it is important to know how best to make the most of that ability and then try to acquire cards that can either enhance it or help to cover up the cracks for the areas you are not great at. The player who can find card synergies and develop a varied set of options will do very well.

d10-5 Tick-Tock - A constant feature of the game is that the clock is always ticking. There are only 7 rounds in which to score as many points as possible and this is crucial as it will drive players to take greater risks in the hope of eeking out an advantage on the scoreboard.

d10-6 Gaining VPs vs Gaining Abilities - Each card in the game comes with both a power and a VP total and that means the players will sometimes have to weigh up the strength of a power versus the VP gain of other cards also on offer.

This is then amplified by the fact that some Challenge Cards offer the potential for larger VP scores but only if a certain goal is achieved or certain cards collected. If the goal is not completed or few cards of the required type are acquired then the card could be worth little or nothing at all. At certain points of the game the players will have to decide if taking a card worth guaranteed VPs, but relatively few, is a better decision than going for the harder play.

d10-7 The Element of Surprise - One aspect of the game I really enjoy is the fact that only the Acolyte Bribe VPs and some powers can add VPs to the score track during play. The points from Spell Cards are not added until the end of the game and points from Challenge Cards are hidden from view until the end of the game. This means that the players are guessing somewhat as to who is sitting where in the pecking order and that allows all players to feel they have a shot at the win, right up to the final whistle. This also makes the game perfect for the family market as younger gamers will not get demoralised by a one-sided score track. meeple

d10-8 The Obvious Goals - The game also has some elements that to me are something of a no-brainer. Given the finite time frame I can't see much logic in not trying to bribe the Acolytes every round. To not do so is simply allowing the competition to get ahead. Of course this requires Gems and they may not be rolled by a given player in time.

The other aspect is that the Spell Cards are something of a simple economic engine. They give a player more options within future turns and allow for combos to be formed with the right rolls and stored resources. For me it is rather obvious that Spell Cards are very handy to pick up early but as the game unfolds they are less desirable as there is less time to take advantage of their ability and they generally offer less VPs than the Challenge Cards.

For me these aspects are something of a small negative but then I am probably not the target audience.

d10-9 The Luck Factor - The other small detractor for mine is that luck will play a pretty substantial roll in the game via the rolling of dice. Anyone who knows me will find this comment a little odd as I usually embrace a bit of chaos in my gaming.

The difference here is that the 6-sided dice all feature the same 6 symbols, so the chances of rolling a certain result are equal. There is little scope for modifying dice in the game and that means that an unlucky person can roll 4 Skulls out of 6 dice and have to cop the result.

More rolling mitigation would have been nice I think, but there you have it.

The Solo Experience

As is becoming the vogue at present (for Kickstarted titles especially), Wizards of the Wild offers a dedicated solo mode as well.

This mode pits us against another Wizard picked at random. They can start on 70, 80 or 90 VPs based on the level of challenge you are after.

They start with the standard resources as does the player and the game still takes 7 rounds to complete.

The first key difference is that the Bot Wizard does not benefit from a power and they do not lose Mana to the Acolyte (the player still does). However their Skull level for the round is set by the small icons just above the Mana lose stat. Naturally the player needs to try to stay below this total if at all possible.

The game is then driven by the player's turn only and it is much the same. Cards must be acquired and bribing the Acolyte is still important (the bot cannot do this).

At the end of each round the highest Skull total will suffer a penalty, based on the roll of a dice. The icon rolled will result in the loss of said icon but a skull will cost 3 VPs.

The game unfolds in this way until the final curtain. The player then gains their usual VPs based on the cards they have collected and Challenge Card Bonuses.

The Bot Wizard will then lose points based on how many of their resource tracks were reduced (via card powers or by the Skull Roll) and a further penalty will hit the Bot should any of their tracks be reduced to zero.

Thus the aim for us, the player, is revealed.

I quite liked the Solo experience and think it would be a good diversion for 10-15 plays before it gets a little weary. It is difficult as staying under that Skull total of the Bot can be very tricky and largely outside one's control. The cards that pop up are also critical as the ones that can affect the Bot are very important, and sometimes they just won't appear. Thankfully in Solo Mode though, all cards not bought after each round are scrapped, so you will see quite a few cards (well 28 to be precise) with each play.

I give the Solo Mode the thumbs up but naturally it doesn't live up to deeper experiences such as Space Hulk: Death Angel, The Hunters: German U-Boats or Dawn of the Zeds for depth.

The Final Word

I think Wizards of the Wild is a cute little game. It flows really well and it looks great on the table. It is best suited to the family market I think on account that the decision making is quite straight-forward and there simply isn't enough here to engage fans of mid-weight Euros/Conflict games and up. It could also be really good for gateway-level gamers too (some members of my family spring to mind) as the game is rule-light and follows a familiar pattern. From that perspective I think the game is great to help expose newer gamers to mechanisms present in meatier titles.

The art direction is also firmly aimed at the family market to engage children and it will appeal to adult lovers of animation or Disney-fied content. Whilst I may not be the target market per se, I enjoyed the artwork as it brings the game to life.

I certainly enjoyed playing it with my boys aged 13-16 but the older one did cite the length of play as a concern for him. We took about 1 hr 20 minutes for 4-players and I must admit that at that time frame the game doesn't quite have enough meat to justify the journey. I allow some time off for a few rule clarifications here and there but even at 50 minutes I think it is pushing it a bit.

For that reason I wouldn't play with any more than 3 players at a time. The Solo and 2-player experience takes roughly 30-45 minutes.

It is worth noting that I had a copy of the Deluxe Edition for this review and this format does include 4 additional Wizards and many additional Spell and Challenge Cards, which certainly helped with variety. I'm not sure if this edition is available any longer or if it was a Kickstarter level. Whilst the standard edition will work quite well too, I'd seek out the Deluxe Edition if you are interested in the game.

Well that's about it from me. Till next we meet, keep those wands at the ready...


Image Courtesy of EndersGame


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