Mark van der Upwich
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The 5th Episode of my new Game Review project called: The Final Judgement.
Episode 5 features District 31's 'Ember: the Magical Card Game'

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Game: Ember - The Magical Card Game.
Year: 2016
Genre: Card Games - Fantasy
Players: 2 - 5 (Best with 4+)
Playtime: 20 minutes +/-
Weight: Light

Publisher: District 31
Game Design: Stuart Garside
Rules Design: Natalie Schwendener
Graphic Artists: Little Robot Design, Donovan Foo & William Liu

Flavour Summary:
Alright, so you and a few fellow apprentice wizards are sitting around a campfire in the woods nearby Alastor’s Arcane Academy (how’s that for alliteration) and you’re playing a little game. A game of summoning. The campfire gets enchanted and everyone takes turns trying to transform the flames of the fire into the most majestic creatures they can. Show off your magical powers to impress your classmates… This is Ember - The game of magical creature conjuring.

(All Images are property of District 31)

Presentation - First Impressions:
When you first open the box (of which a corner tore quite quickly, no idea how that happened or if it was a shipping thing that I overlooked when it arrived) one thing is immediately clear. Ember is gorgeous! Every single card in the box, whether a wizard- or a creature-card, looks absolutely stunning and the style is consistent throughout all of the cards (except for the two pet cards called Foster & Ein, but I have an inkling that those are sort of an easter egg kind of thing). All the creatures really look like they were summoned out of flames (and they are, as you could hear in the intro) and the wizard cards have a nice ‘dark’ theme over them, we ARE talking witchcraft here.

Gameplay Overview:

So I was talking about these two kinds of cards: Wizard cards and Creature cards. These are the only two types of cards you will use to play Ember (except for the Archmages, we’ll get to that). First, the Wizard cards. The wizard deck is basically a deck of face cards: four suits (colours) and each suit goes from 1 to 13. The creature cards however are quite different (also from each other): They have a Monster on it, a point value (which we’ll get to in a minute), an ability and a conjuring (casting) cost.

To prepare for a game of Ember you sort the Monster cards by Victory Point value and make thirteen separate piles of it, one for each VP value and place them on the table. Each player is then dealt a hand of 5 Wizard cards and you’re ready to play!

The goal of the game is quite simple, get to a certain number of VP before anyone else! To gather VP you must summon (or ‘conjure’ as it’s called in the game) creatures. Each pile of creatures (with matching VP values) has a different conjuring cost, ranging from Wizards of the same element (suit), to matching Wizards (the same numbers), runs (for instance 2, 3 and 4) and a combination of the above. See where this is going? Players take turns in drawing cards (if they have fewer cards in hand than their permitted hand size, see if they can conjure a creature and if so (and choose to do so) take the Creature from the pile and putting it in front of them. If you don’t like your hand you can always discard your entire hand to ‘Refresh’ it, but you’re not allowed to conjure a creature that turn.

When you have a creature in front of you, things get really interesting, because now you can use the creature’s ability. There’s two sorts of abilities: A flip ability, which will only be activated when you turn the card face-down, and ongoing attacks, which are at work all the time until the creature card is flipped somehow. Flip abilities range from stealing cards from the top X cards of the discard pile (where all the ‘used’ wizard cards are) to taking control of a lesser creature (ie. lower VP value) for the remainder of the turn, and so on. When talking Ongoing abilities, think drawing extra cards, increasing hand size or making players discard cards at random each of your turns.

At the end of your turn, bring your hand size down to the allowed amount of Wizard cards and the next player is up and it’s his or her turn to conjure a creature of their liking.

So Yeah, there’s magical things happening all the time!

If you have enough VP to win the game, you can (as they call it) ‘Make the Call’. Flipped creatures are turned over and Victory Points are totalled and the player with the most VP wins the game. Due to the fact that there’s probably creatures of your opponents flipped over, you might end up making the wrong call and still not win, because you forgot about that one creature your opponent had and he ends with more VP than you… Tough Luck!

Final Judgement:
Ember is a great little, light game with the right combination of strategy and luck. While the game can be played with 2 players (and even solo, there’s separate rules for that) the game really shines when it’s played with 4+ people and the people of District 31 don’t argue that point. I was told that the expansion ‘From the Ashes’ will address this issue and add a lot of extra layers of strategy to the game (since some of the 2 player games I played turned into a straightforward race to the finish if someone had a particularly Good or Bad opening hand).

It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, the mechanics used are simple and straightforward but the manner in which they are combined is really good! Add the simply gorgeous way the game looks and the ease of play (while not getting dull) it’s a great Game to warm up for the heavier portion of the game-night. I enjoy playing Ember a lot and can’t wait to see what the ‘From the Ashes’ expansion will bring to the table. And that’s my Final Judgement!
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