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Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A No-Frills Review rss

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Steve Crow
United States
Iowa City
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I recently had the chance to obtain the Harry Potter game and play a few game.

First a look at the packaging. And it's very nice packaging. It comes in a sturdy box with a tight lid. Inside are a board, a rule book, and a plastic inset to hold all cards and pieces. The board is pretty uniform and a bit bland. The rules are for the first game only out of seven, but are the basics you'll need for every game.

Inside the inset is a Ziploc bag for the main pieces that you need: heart, money, and combat markets. Another smaller bag holding the House dice for game 4. And a small bag of metal location control markers.

There are also six plain brown boxes labeled Game 1 through Game 7. Harry Potter lets you work your way up in experience, through the seven games, which basically correspond to the seven books of the series. So characters like Hagrid and Dumbledore appear in Game 1, the teachers of each house in Game 4, and so on.

There are four boards that let Heroes track their hit points, 10-0. Finally, there are several other packs of cards. There are four main Heroes: Harry, Ron, Hermoine, and Neville. They get two larger heavier cards: one of the character, and one basic game-play card. And there is a 10-card starter deck for each Hero. There are divider cards for the various cards that will be introduced throughout the game.

So open the Game 1 box, and you'll find Villain cards, Location cards, Dark Arts cards, and some more basic cards to buy: "Hogwarts Cards." Basic game play is:

Play out 1 Villain at start of game, the two Locations for Game 1, and six Hogwarts cards face up. Each Hero starts with 10 Health and draws five cards from their starter deck for their hand. Each player turn, play a Dark Art card which will do something bad to you and maybe the other players. Resolve any cards printed on villain cards. Then the hero plays their cards and gain money, combat, and healing. Money is used to buy Hogwarts cards from the six on the board. Combat is played on the Villain, who has a printed HP number. If you defeat the villain, a new one will be played out at the end of the turn.

Some Dark Art cards will put control markers on the location. When a certain number is reached, the villains take over the location. It is discarded and the next location is drawn. If all locations are controlled, the players lose. Each Location says how any Dark Arts cards are played each turn, and the later in the stack, the more cards are played.

If the players defeat all villains, they win. Each villain has a reward for defeating it, printed on the card.

Standard deck-building rules apply: if you need to draw a card and can't, shuffle your discard pile and keep drawing. If you are educed to 0 health, discard half your hand of cards (round down), lose any tokens you have, and continue play. You can't be damaged again for the rest of the turn, and you go back to 10 health at the end of the turn.

Once you've played and resolved all of your cards, draw a new Villain and/or Location if the existing one was removed. Draw cards from the Hogwarts deck so that there are six face-up. Play goes to the next player: rinse and repeat.

Each subsequent game adds more effects and cards, and a small sheet of the rules for same. Game 2 adds more cards. Game 3 adds special abilities for each Hero. Game 4 adds House die: certain cards let you roll a six-sided dice. Each House has a specialty: Hearts, Coins, Combat, or Card Drawing. A specialty means that three of the faces have that specialty. The other three sides are the other three types.

Game 5 introduces Voldemort, who is face up and is always the last card of the Villain deck. Game 6 adds Proficiencies, which each player can choose one to help them. And a more powerful Voldemort. Game 7 adds more powerful Hero abilities, and Horcruxes, and an even more powerful Voldemort. There are six Horcruxes, in ascending order, and each has an ongoing penalty. You can take the Horcrux by getting a dice roll and rolling a particular type. The later Horcruxes require multiple successful rolls.

Each game also adds more Hogwarts, Villain, Dark Art, and Location cards. The first three are all shuffled together with the existing ones of that type. Each Game's Location set is separate. The higher the Game # and the more difficult the game, the more Locations there are and the more Location marks it takes to control them. Some games also up the ante as to how many Villains are played at a time. Game 7, for instance, has three Villains in play at a time.

The Game # is a decent measure of difficulty as well as complexity. The most difficult, complex game is Game 7.

A disclaimer: I have only played Games 4 and 7. The rulebook suggests that people with experience in deck builder games start at Game 3. However, Game 4 adds dice (and some more Villains, Dark Arts, and Hogwarts cards), so adding it doesn't make the game much harder to understand.

Game 7 is tough. At that point you are facing three Villains at a time, and one Dark Arts a turn. Since Voldemort is always placed face up on the bottom of the deck, when he is revealed it means you are facing 4 Villains a turn. Even the less "powerful" Villains are dangerous to have in play for any period of time. You can split up your combat between Villains or concentrate at one at a time.

Your starter deck consists of seven 1-coin cards, and three other cards that vary by Hero. Harry has the Invisibility Cloak, while Hermoine has the Time Turner.

Good things about the game are the progression if you want to "break people in" to deck-builders in general, or Harry Potter in particular. The components are all solid, and the game follows the seven books through the seven games so it's highly thematic. Book fans might quibble about certain choices (didn't Voldemort appear at the end of the fourth book?), but overall the choices seem solid.

Cards feature photos of the characters from the movie when appropriate. Or the items. Spell cards have a symbol for the spell. The cards are a varied lot, but they're all fairly useful to play. The interaction of Proficiencies and Hero abilities is pretty strong.

There are two downsides. One is common to a lot of deck-builders: you start out relatively weak. Since the Villains are drawn randomly, you can end up with a couple of tough Game 6 Villain on your first turn. This means you typically get pounded quite heavily on the first few turns. One Villain stops you from drawing cards, one stops you from healing, and so on. The Horcruxes if you're using them also inflict a penalty.

The second downside is that there is no "generic" card that you can buy. No Copper, no Kick, no SHIELD Officer, no Sergeant. This can result in bottlenecks early on when the six buyable Hogwarts cards are in the 4-7 cost range. You have turns where you can buy nothing, do very little combat, and all you do is play hearts to regain health so you can stay alive until the next turn.

In our game, things looked hopeless for the first 18 turns (6 per player). After that we managed to turn things around, but it was a pretty depressing slog up to that point. After that, we started to enjoy the game a lot more. By the time we got near the end, we were pretty casually knocking off the Villains, removing control markers from the Location (some cards and Horcruxes do that), and healing enough to avoid Stunning.

Also, it would be nice if the board was a little more... colorful? It's a pretty uniform beige, and the cards don't stand out a great deal. And the inset could stand to be a little tighter, or have slots for the divider cards so they don't move. If you don't leave a few boxes in behind the cards, they tend to slip and slide all over the place. There's also, oddly, no divider card for Horcruxes.

Overall, Harry Potter is a solid deck-builder game. Once you've played through all seven games, there's not a huge amount of variety on the replay. But it'll take a while to exhaust the combinations available even at the highest play level. One also wonders if they plan to expand it. Maybe a Fantastic Beasts expansion? Otherwise they'd have to add new starter decks and Hero cards for characters that are already in the game as Hogwarts cards (Hagrid? Luna? Severus?) and instruct the players to remove those Hogwarts cards. But at that point it's hard to imagining them making the game more complex.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
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Some of this probably should have been in spoilers because you jumped straight to year 4 and then to 7.

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