WARNING: In this review I will spoil some of the surprises in the Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle game and in the series of books on which the game is based. Deal with it.
What Kind of Game is it?
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (ok this is exhausting, let's go with HP:HB) is a cooperative deck-building game. This means that the players take small decks of lame cards and transform them into slightly bigger decks of mediocre, cool, and awesome cards. It also means that the players are working together toward a common goal, namely, to defeat Lord Voldemort and restore peace and justice to the
galaxy wizarding world.
If the players defeat all the Villains, they win. If the Villains gain control over all the locations, the players lose.
A turn in HP:HB goes like this: First, the active hero reveals and resolves a number of Dark Arts cards. These cards do bad things, like hurt the heroes or add to the villain's control over the active location.
Next, the hero applies any effects from the current villain(s). Some villain effects happen every turn, while others must be triggered by specific events.
After all that unpleasantness, the active hero can take her turn, playing any or all of her five cards. These cards can heal heroes, attack villains, weaken the villain's grip on locations, and allow the active hero to purchase cards from the display.
Finally, the active hero ends her turn, discarding all played cards and tokens. She also checks to see if the villains have gained total control over the active location.
What's in the Box?
WARNING: This is the part that has all those spoilers I was talking about. Proceed with caution.
The designers of HP:HB cleverly broke things up into seven "games", rather than throw players into the full game all at once. Players start by using only cards from Game 1, and once they have beaten it, they can add cards from Game 2, etc. I'm going to list (some of) the contents of each box, but without a detailed explanation. You should only know so much going in!
Locations: Diagon Alley and The Mirror of Erised
Dark Arts: He Who Must Not Be Named, Expulso!, Petrification, Flipendo!
Villains: Crabbe & Goyle, Draco Malfoy, Quirinus Quirrel
Allies: Albus Dumbledore, Rubeus Hagrid, Oliver Wood
Items: Quidditch Gear, Essence of Dittany, Sorting Hat, Golden Snitch
Spells: Wingardium Leviosa!, Reparo!, Incendio!, Lumos!, Descendo!
Starting decks for Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville
Locations: Forbidden Forest, Quidditch Pitch, Chamber of Secrets
Dark Arts: Hand of Glory, Poison, Obliviate!, Relashio!
Villains: Lucius Malfoy, Tom Riddle, Basilisk
Allies: Fawkes the Phoenix, Molly Weasley, Ginny Weasley, Dobby the House-Elf, Gilderoy Lockhart, Arthur Weasley
Items: Polyjuice Potion, Nimbus 2001
Spells: Finite!, Expelliarmus!
Locations: Hogwarts Express, Hogsmeade Village, Shrieking Shack
Dark Arts: Dementor's Kiss, Oppugno!, Tarantellegra!,
Villains: Dementor, Peter Pettigrew
Allies: Sirius Black, Sybill Trelawney, Remus Lupin
Items: Butterbeer, Crystal Ball, Chocolate Frog, Marauder's Map
Spells: Petrificus Totalus!, Expecto Patronum!
Locations: Quidditch World Cup, Triwizard Tournament, Graveyard
Dark Arts: Heir of Slytherin, Avada Kedavra!, Morsmordre!, Crucio!, Imperio!, Regeneration
Villains: Death Eater, Barty Crouch Jr.
Allies: Severus Snape, Filius Flitwick, Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, Fleur Delacour, Viktor Krum, Cedric Diggory, Minerva McGonagall, Pomona Sprout
Items: Pensieve, Hogwarts: A History, Triwizard Cup
Spells: Accio!, Protego!
Locations: Azkaban, Hall of Prophecy, Ministry of Magic
Dark Arts: Educational Decree, Legilimancy
Villains: Dolores Umbridge, Lord Voldemort
Allies: Nymphadora Tonks, Cho Chang, Luna Lovegood, Fred Weasley, George Weasley, Kingsley Shacklebolt
Locations: Knockturn Alley, The Burrow, Astronomy Tower
Dark Arts: Sectumsempra!
Villains: Fenrir Greyback, Bellatrix Lestrange
Allies: Horace Slughorn
Items: Bezoar, Felix Felicis, Advanced Potion-Making, Deluminator, Elder Wand
Locations: Godric's Hollow, Gringotts, Room of Requirement, Hogwarts Castle
Dark Arts: Fiendfyre
Items: Sword of Gryffindor
What's the Verdict?
HP:HB has been a big hit at our house. When we first got it, we played it almost non-stop until we beat Game 7. Here's some of the things we like most:
It's a cooperative co-op. Even though each player has her own deck of cards to work with, she can still give other players cards, attack, influence, or health. This leads to a nice sense of cooperation as players assess each other's needs. It also fits in nicely to the theme of young wizards working together to save the world.
Speaking of theme, the game does a great job of transporting players to the Harry Potter universe. From the abilities of the heroes, to the way that the villains grow bolder as they control more locations, it all just makes sense.
There is also a great deal of replayability, especially in games 6 and 7. Games can feel very different depending on when certain villains appear, what Hogwarts cards are available, and which heroes are playing.
I really appreciate the "learn as you go" approach to the game. Games 1 and 2 have very simple, easy-to-understand rules. Each subsequent game adds a little piece to the game, until you arrive at Game 7 with quite a bit going on.
The production quality is excellent, from the box that appears to be Harry's trunk, to the metal villain control tokens. Engraved dice would have been a nice touch, but everything else is top-notch.
Some of what we don't like as much:
For most of our plays, the outcome has been decided pretty early. At a certain point, we can usually tell that we are going to win and the rest of the game is a clean-up operation. This impression might prove incorrect, as we've only played Game 7 one time.
The available Hogwarts cards can become clogged with higher-cost cards, leading to wasted influence. This hasn't been a big factor in our games, but it can happen.
And that's it! Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a fun, accessible game that captures the feeling of the Wizarding World. It would make a great gift for any Harry Potter fans on your list this holiday season!
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