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Summoner Wars And My History With Tactical Miniature Games

Jesse Dean
United States
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
Microbadge: I have more previously owned games than owned gamesMicrobadge: Out for blood - I play without mercyMicrobadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGG
Personal Background
Back in my pre-BGG days, when the only board game I played regularly was Settlers of Catan, I had another primary hobby: Collectible Miniatures Games. The first one I got into, back in 2003, was Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures, through role-playing games, and after a few years I also started playing Dreamblade. I was fairly successful in both, doing well enough at regional tournaments to attend the championship every year, and doing well at the bigger tournaments around the championship, but I never did particularly great at the championships, with a single Top 8 being my only real note of success. In late 2007 I decided that I wanted to get more into board games, bought a bunch of bad ones at Gen Con. By early 2008 I was more firmly enmeshed into the board gaming hobby, and the my tastes (and collection) rapidly developed after that.

At first I was suffering from a bit of fatigue from the whole concept of tactical battle games and largely ignored that particular segment of the hobby, but eventually, for reasons I do not remember, I started checking out the Command & Colors series. I did a bit of research on each game in the series, and even here my preferences for deeper games started to show through, because I ultimately settled on Command & Colors: Ancients, as it was generally agreed to be the one with the most depth (and complexity). The rules for the game looked promising and I ended up ordering both the game and the first expansion at the same time to make sure I had a mounted board, so that it would get the best possible first impression from my girlfriend, Minerva.

It went over well and ended up being a favorite of both my Minerva and I. I appreciated the depth of decision making involved in the game, and how effectively dramatic and interesting situations arose during the course of play. I also noted some pretty strong parallels with the CMGs I played, which is something I both appreciated and found fascinating on an intellectual level. We ended up playing through whole campaigns on opposite sides of the war, and kept track of the total number of flags gained to determine the overall winner. She ended up doing very well, and the fact that she was able to effectively compete with me added to her enjoyment of the game. It ended up being one of the most played games for my girlfriend and I, right behind Race For the Galaxy, up until she decided she was spending too much time playing board games and wanted to spend her time on other interests. I know, I know it seems kind of crazy to think you are spending too much time playing board games, but I guess she hit a period of burn-out and wanted to take a break. Apparently the number of times that I introduced a game, she learned the rules, and I decided it was not good or not interesting enough and then sold it also scarred her a bit. Her break from gaming caused a big decline in the overall amount of 2-player gaming I participated in, as most of my other gaming partners were more interested in multi-player gaming. Unfortunately this effected Command & Colors: Ancients too and my number of plays of it (and plays in general) declined over the last year and a half.

Recently this shifted a bit. While Minerva is still not interested in longer games, as she does still does not want to spend that much times on board games, and is not that interested in learning new games. We’ve actually discussed playing some Command & Colors: Ancients or Race For the Galaxy a few times over the last few weeks, but the annoyance of set-up is always an issue. While I would most likely perform said set-up, she dislikes it on a philosophical level. She similarly isn’t interested in the new Race For the Galaxy expansion, considering it “too much,” and I am generally not interested in removing all of the Brink of War cards from the deck when I play with her. So this has resulted in very little gaming with her. So earlier this week the fact that Summoner Wars, with its short set-up time and tactical miniature game-style play, might be an option bubbled into my consciousness. I performed a bit of research and identified that the Master Set was being released on Wednesday (board game night at Coolstuff Games!) I ran the idea by Minerva and she instructed me to play it a bit first before introducing it to her as she did not want to learn another set of rules for a game I would get rid of.

Summoner Wars
I ended up playing a total of five games of Summoner Wars last night, with each of the factions available in the Master Set being in play at least once. I liked what I saw. For those who are unfamiliar, the game is centered around factions each of which comes with its own pre-built deck filled with commons (the bulk of the faction’s units), champions (three per deck, with better stats and abilities), events (temporary bonuses), and the summoner (a powerful unit in its own right, whose destruction is the game’s only victory condition). A player draws to five cards every turn, and can use those cards in two ways. The first is to play them, in order to implement the event effects or to get another unit on the board. The second option is to “build magic” with them, building up the pool of resources that is used to actually pay for new units. The individual units are pretty straightforward, with the cards providing pretty much everything you need to know about a unit with minimal iconography. Abilities are generally easy to understand and the there were few instances were rulebook consultation was required.

The decks themselves had very different play styles even with non-expert players, and while the decision space is similar to that you would find in most other tactical battle games, the fact that you are managing not only the units you have on the table but also have to make tough decisions about what you will use your cards for only adds to the depth of the game. The variable order of the units coming out also allows for a bit of interplay variety, adding entirely new tactical challenges for players to deal with. I also liked the fact that you hit on a 3-6, rather than a 5-6 as is typical of games of this type, as it adds a delightful bloodiness to the game and opens the game up for some interesting special abilities.

In case you haven’t been able to tell by my praise, I came away impressed with Summoner War’s game play. Even with the simple rule set, it looks like there is a lot of game here, and I am looking forward to introducing it to Minerva sometime over the next few days. Hopefully she likes it enough that I will be able to get as many (or more!) plays out of it then I got out of C&C: Ancients. If not, it should be a fun two-player game for those moments that periodically emerge in gaming sessions were a short game is useful and we don’t want to spend time setting up C&C: Ancients. Either way at $32 it was a good buy, and I expect I will get quite a bit of plays out of it in the near future. I might also have to recommend it to my old CMG buddies.
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