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Subject: Sorcerer Review rss

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Adam Daily

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I've played Sorcerer 3 times, and feel like I have a good enough sense to settle on my impression of the game and its systems. There's a lot more to explore and I suspect my feeling of it is going to shift based on the different decks and how they work with my play style, as well as how the game works with different group sizes, but I don't think my opinion is going to fundamentally change much.

Things I think are outright great

The production quality is outstanding. There are so many great little touches that make it shine. Things like the insert being made to house all the components and future expansions, laminated edges to battlefields, nice weighty dice, and even cool artwork for the inside of the box lid make it feel like there was a lot of care for the user experience. There are even smaller details that make me smile. They've cut out little half circles on the lid of the box to make it easier to remove from the box. I walked by the box in my kitchen while the overhead lamp was on, and the light passing over the lid highlighted parts of the box where the characters were casting magic. The physical design of the game is just so lively.

While the actual content of the artwork isn't something everyone's going to like, it's objectively impressive. The quality of the card design immerses the player into the flavor and makes you feel like you're commanding a gang of trolls, or zombies, or whatever the hell the knights with no mouths are. The very small criticism I have is that the artists who do the card illustrations have slightly different styles from each other so some cards are playful while others are horrifying. I'd prefer that all the card art leaned hard into the bizarre/realistic/horrific art style, but even the cards that aren't my favorite style are still very well done.

The deckbuilding in this game strikes such a good balance between customization and approachability. For example, I love that in Mage Wars (a game that clearly inspired Sorcerer) you can build your own spellbook, but it's just so onerous to do so. In this game, you make three choices, and then just mash some cards together and you have a deck you probably haven't played before.

For all the depth in the game itself, it's pretty easy to learn. I might be biased because I've played lots of thematic card games like this, but I found learning and teaching to be pretty low-impact.

I love how the action phase works and makes people manage resources. It's not a given that you just want to draw more and more and more cards. You have several systems that you need to consider. It's not like games where you just get free money that goes away if you don't use it. This also means you can almost always do something useful. There are no turns where you just say "I can't do anything" and pass.

Things that are more controversial

Let's talk about the dice. Aside from the theme itself, this seems to be the most controversial design choice among people who have played it. Based on the games I played, I didn't find the dice influenced the overall outcome much. Through the omen counters, the fate token, and the ability for the defender to (usually) choose where damage goes, randomness is pretty well mitigated. I'll even go so far to say I actually like that there are dice. It allows for some mind games with the omen tokens that isn't possible with straight out math combat like in Hearthstone, Keyforge, MtG, etc. I find it to be a more compelling strategic choice to be playing against probability rather than my own ability to do arithmetic or to successfully guess whether my opponent has a combat trick. The other thing that's nice is it helps new players feel like they have a chance to stay in the game. In Magic, if you're a new player playing against a seasoned player, you're going to lose no matter what.

There's a lot of talk around balance in Sorcerer. I'm not going to go much into that because I don't think the game has been out long enough for anyone to make determinations. I'll say that I've used combos where it's much more obvious how to accommodate the themes than others, but I'd need to spend a lot more time with these decks before saying what I think that means in terms of "balance". I suspect it's just that I haven't taken the time to figure out how to use some of the decks well.

Things I wish were different

There are small ways I feel Sorcerer wears its influences on its sleeve in a way that I don't think always helps it. Little things like "casting spells" or putting minions in a "graveyard" automatically makes me draw comparisons between this game and games like Magic the Gathering or Mage Wars. I think this one is closer to Mage Wars than Magic, but it's its own thing and I worry that players will play this and think "ugh, Magic with dice". But it's not that. If you play this game the same exact way you play Magic, you're going to be sad and probably lose. There are subtle elements that are important that don't exist in games like that. Positioning your avatar and minions, playing against strictly defined deck themes, player interaction around omen token management, energy management, etc. aren't things that are direct factors in other card games in the same way they are here, so if people play this game like one of the games that influenced it, they're missing the crucial systems that make you successful in Sorcerer. Games often aren't afraid to show their influences, but little things like choosing other terms to refer to game concepts might have discouraged players from drawing direct comparisons.

I found it to be strange that some of the expansion packs include a lore card that explains the theme of the deck, but some decks don't. It's not a really big deal, but it's a strange inconsistency for a game that is just hemorrhaging theme.

I also thought it would have been nice to have suggested starter decks. I imagine a new player might be overwhelmed trying to manage some of the more fiddly Lineage systems while trying to learn the core fundamentals of the game.

This isn't a big detractor for me, but the game does have a pretty big footprint for a card game. In terms of mental overhead and time spent, it's about where a small-form battle card game should be so I'm just slightly sad that there isn't a travel sized way to play. This isn't a knock on the game. Rather I like the game so much that I'd love to throw it in my backpack and play it at a brewery, so it would be great to have battlefields and player boards that are card sized so I could throw the cards in a box and the tokens in a little bag and take it with me.

---

Overall, I'm really impressed with this game. I think it's probably my favorite Kickstarter I've backed and my current favorite casting-and-killing-stuff card game.

I'd give it a 9.25/10.
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Tiago Soares
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Great review. Thanks for sharing.

I haven't opened my copy yet, cause I wasn't sure I'd like the game, but your review gave me a very positive impression of the game!
 
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Richard H
United Kingdom
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Thanks for the review, you covered lots of interesting points about how the game feels rather than the specific mechanics, which is something I've been keeping an eye out for.
 
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Robert Dougherty
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Thanks for the review and I’m glad you are enjoying it!
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Adam Daily

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Rob_of_YMG wrote:
Thanks for the review and I’m glad you are enjoying it!


You bet, thanks for the great game! Really looking forward to seeing whatever comes next for this game.
 
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Miika Oksanen
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Chud_Munson wrote:
In Magic, if you're a new player playing against a seasoned player, you're going to lose no matter what.

If both players make their own decks themselves, then yes. Otherwise, I would say it's mostly not true. A lot of MTG decks pretty much play themselves. This seems to usually be the case with prebuilt decks in my experience at least.

There are trickier decks of course that require more skill to utilize well, but with simpler decks like most prebuilt ones there really aren't that many non-trivial decisions to make. That applies even to combat phase: even an inexperienced player can quickly figure out whether attacking/blocking with given creatures is just useless suicide or a good move, because the calculations are mostly trivial. So in the end, the power level of the decks and how they match up against each other, and the luck of the draw tend to be so huge factors that they can easily make a new player win against a seasoned player in MTG.

I may be biased as I've played MTG a lot and Sorcerer only a few times, but to me Sorcerer seems to be much more difficult to play optimally than MTG. On the other hand, you don't get screwed as easily & badly in Sorcerer as in MTG by drawing cards in the wrong order (too many/few lands, wrong lands for your spells, too expensive cards too early or too cheap ones later) or by opponent happening to have in hand some card that is very powerful in the current situation. For these reasons I think new players are more likely to get lucky wins against experienced ones in MTG than in Sorcerer, assuming no difference in deck power level.

One nice thing about the dice is that they keep some excitement in the game until the end, as some extreme streak of good/bad luck is always possible even if very unlikely and rare.
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Adam Daily

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Lofski wrote:
Chud_Munson wrote:
In Magic, if you're a new player playing against a seasoned player, you're going to lose no matter what.

If both players make their own decks themselves, then yes. Otherwise, I would say it's mostly not true. A lot of MTG decks pretty much play themselves. This seems to usually be the case with prebuilt decks in my experience at least.

There are trickier decks of course that require more skill to utilize well, but with simpler decks like most prebuilt ones there really aren't that many non-trivial decisions to make. That applies even to combat phase: even an inexperienced player can quickly figure out whether attacking/blocking with given creatures is just useless suicide or a good move, because the calculations are mostly trivial. So in the end, the power level of the decks and how they match up against each other, and the luck of the draw tend to be so huge factors that they can easily make a new player win against a seasoned player in MTG.

I may be biased as I've played MTG a lot and Sorcerer only a few times, but to me Sorcerer seems to be much more difficult to play optimally than MTG. On the other hand, you don't get screwed as easily & badly in Sorcerer as in MTG by drawing cards in the wrong order (too many/few lands, wrong lands for your spells, too expensive cards too early or too cheap ones later) or by opponent happening to have in hand some card that is very powerful in the current situation. For these reasons I think new players are more likely to get lucky wins against experienced ones in MTG than in Sorcerer, assuming no difference in deck power level.

One nice thing about the dice is that they keep some excitement in the game until the end, as some extreme streak of good/bad luck is always possible even if very unlikely and rare.


I think for very straightforward situations, that's true of MtG only because the battle resolutions are easy to calculate. It's much more difficult to understand when you should play a combat trick, what creatures you should block with, when you should just take damage rather than blocking with a creature at all, etc.

These skill discrepancies come out even in pretty trivial cases. New MtG players I find tend to use combat tricks right away (it feels cool to use them, and they don't have the foresight to know in which situations it's going to be most effective) and they don't really understand the value of having creatures on the board as compared to just taking damage. Even from the initial draw, new players don't tend to understand how valuable it is to play a creature turn 1, so they see a hand full of badass creatures and enough land to pay for them on turn 3 or 4 and think "sweet, I'm gonna kick ass".

What I find with MtG is there are a lot of small subtleties built into the economies of the game that are impossible for a brand new player to appreciate and it often results in their loss.
 
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Miika Oksanen
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Chud_Munson wrote:


I think for very straightforward situations, that's true of MtG only because the battle resolutions are easy to calculate. It's much more difficult to understand when you should play a combat trick, what creatures you should block with, when you should just take damage rather than blocking with a creature at all, etc.

These skill discrepancies come out even in pretty trivial cases. New MtG players I find tend to use combat tricks right away (it feels cool to use them, and they don't have the foresight to know in which situations it's going to be most effective) and they don't really understand the value of having creatures on the board as compared to just taking damage. Even from the initial draw, new players don't tend to understand how valuable it is to play a creature turn 1, so they see a hand full of badass creatures and enough land to pay for them on turn 3 or 4 and think "sweet, I'm gonna kick ass".

What I find with MtG is there are a lot of small subtleties built into the economies of the game that are impossible for a brand new player to appreciate and it often results in their loss.


Well if we are talking about completely new players who don't know what they are doing, then yeah. Then again the amount of subtle mistakes that can be made in a game of Sorcerer is even much higher. This might be harder to spot in Sorcerer than in MTG since it's still mostly played by relatively new players, and there is no one apart from maybe the game developers and testers who can be called "seasoned" players yet. In MTG that would mean at least hundreds or thousands of games played.

Seems to me that people greatly overestimate the effect of dice luck in this game and underestimate the impact of choices you make. You need something like 35-50 hits to win the game, and even unlikely sequences like getting 20 hits with 15 of your first dice is not something the opponent can't very well come back from, since they can distribute almost all of them any way they want after seeing where the crit goes. The more dice you roll in total, the closer you statistically get to the average of 5/6 hits per die (or 1 if unopposed). With roughly at least 70 total dice being rolled in a game, it's pretty rare for there to be significant differences in the number of hits per dice for each player. And in this game it's mostly the accumulated hits that count, not where and when they happen. The dice manipulation mechanics even out the extreme statistical outliers to a large extent, because rolls of stupidly many or few hits are likely to get completely rerolled or rerolled individually with omens.

In the 6 games I've played so far, the game state before the battle phases has been more of a determining factor than the dice rolls during them. But if neither player in an 1v1 game takes advantage of their strength and opponent's weaknesses and just relies on lucky rolls, then obviously the result of the game is going to be decided by luck of the dice. You could say that any game, even Chess or Go is decided by pure luck if both players essentially play randomly. (Of course when each game is played by people who have at least a rough idea what they are doing, there is a world of difference between Sorcerer and those two.)

If we wanted to assess the ratio of luck VS skill or the chance for a first time player beating the best player out there, we would first have to find the best player out there, or see how many different players we could find so that every one of them wins or loses to all the others with at least 80% certainty. This number of players could be one definition for the number of skill levels a game has. When using the skill level approach I can't see MTG (actual playing) having more than 2 skill levels when the decks aren't relatively tricky, have been built by someone else, and are a good match-up. I'm speculating Sorcerer might have 3. As a side note it's funny that the rating page for Sorcerer is filled with people who thought they were playing essentially optimally in their first freaking game and then blame the rolls for being the only thing that matters.

By the way I actually liked the review but there was just that one small thing I wanted to comment on.
 
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