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Christian Killoran
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Harry Potter Hogwarts Dueling Game Review

I bought this at a Toys R Us at the “suggestion” of my 6 year old son who saw it on the shelf. I normally do not buy games without knowing anything about them, but this one turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Mostly of interest to kids and parents, I suspect.

Components

Board: Mounted, glossy, attractive, and small enough so that when the other components are deployed around it fits on a standard coffee table. The circular track is surrounded by spaces that contain either spell cards or magical item cards. Entering such a space allows you to draw a card. These cards are your ammunition for upcoming duels. There is also a space in the middle of the board you can enter to challenge another player to a duel.

Miniatures: Called “movers” in the rules, these are fantastic! They stand about 1-2” tall, are well painted and very detailed. They rest on color-coded bases that correspond with matching spell books and player tokens.

Dice: One standard 6 sided for movement, two custom dice for combat. The custom dice are colored…one blue die that scores “hits” on two of the six sides, and one green die that scores on three of the six sides. The special dice are pre-assembled (you don’t have to glue the stickers on.)

Spell Books: These are sturdy, attractive, and functional. Kids love the decoder things. I admit that I like them as well…they’re cheesy, but they’re cheesy-cool.

Cards: All are attractive, but they are amazingly thin and I suspect will not hold up well over time.

Tokens: Nice plastic disks that serve as memory aids (sort of like Knizia’s Ivanhoe.)

Box: The box is weak (literally.) It is one of those side-flap-opening affairs. There is a very handy plastic insert to keep the components in order, but it made of very flimsy plastic.

Gameplay

The basic idea of the game is pretty simple. You roll a die to move your character around a circular track, trying to collect spells and magical items that you will later use against your opponents in a series of magical duels. Beat each opponent in a duel at least once, then win a final duel against your strongest opponent to finish the game.

The movement part of the game is less annoying than it sounds. The spells and items you want to collect are distributed into eight different decks of cards around the board, and almost any dice result will allow you to get to a useful space on the board. Higher numbers will usually give you more options, but you rarely spend a turn simply rolling a die and pushing your mini.

Spell cards are the heart of the game. Each spell allows a player to roll a certain number of the special dice if the player holding the card finds himself in a duel. Each character in the game has differing abilities…some characters are better at casting certain spells than others. You discover your character’s strength with a particular spell by inserting the spell card into the character’s spell-book-decoder-thingie. For example, when Malfoy casts an Immobilus spell, his decoder shows that he is entitled to throw 3 green dice, and no blue dice when he duels. Ron, on the other hand, casts 4 green dice and 1 blue die for the same spell. The player who rolls the greatest number of “hits” wins that duel and gets to take a random spell card from the losing player, as well as a token to show that the player has won a duel vs. that opponent. A player may only hold up to 3 spell cards at any time.

In addition to spell cards, you can collect magical item cards which can be spent later to modify a combat result, cause another player to lose a turn, etc. Some of the items can have a profound effect on a duel. These cards can be hoarded, but are returned to the deck as soon as they are used.

Finally, if you move next to another player on the board, you may challenge them to a Wizarding game. These are silly little contests that allow the winner to take a random spell card from the loser. There are three possible games, one of which is randomly chosen once the challenge has been made. One of the games is essentially rock-paper-scissors, one requires players to toss cards across the table in an attempt to land closest to the edge, and the last calls for flipping cards from the edge of the table in an effort to get them to land face up. Silly, but they make for a nice break and get you out of your chair for a minute.

When you think your spells and items are powerful enough, move to the dueling club space and challenge your opponents to a final duel. They compare their own spells and items to decide who among them is most likely to defeat you, and that player moves into the ring. If you defeat that player, you win. If your opponent defeats you, he takes one of your spells and the game continues. In my experience, this game lasts for 15-45 minutes.

My Impressions

There is a lot of luck in this game, but it is not simplistic luck. Yes, you roll a die for movement, but you almost always have at least one productive thing to do with your result. Yes, combat is resolved by dice throws, but the item cards allow you manipulate the results to a surprising degree. Yes, you might pull poor spell cards, but you need not be a punching bag to those who pulled better since you can challenge the more fortunate players to a wizarding game and take their cards.

The thing I admire most about this game is that it presents the classic multi-player challenge in a theme-rich, kid-friendly manner. Each turn a player really needs to assess his position in relation to the other players and play accordingly. This is not as easy as you might expect in a kid’s game. Who IS in the lead? The player with the most dueling chips? The player with the strongest spell? The player with the most items? It is a genuine pleasure to watch my young son figure out that he is in the lead and push the pace of the game towards conclusion.

Serious gamers looking for a challenge will probably not enjoy this game. I recommend it strongly for families with Harry Potter crazed kids, and it’s not a bad beer and pretzels type game for Harry Potter liking adults either.

Christian Killoran
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Michael Van Biesbrouck
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Re:User Review
xman@pcisys.net (#47416),

Thanks for sending me the extra details by mail. Here's what you wrote, so that everyone can benefit:

Here's what the item cards do:

Add +1 hit to a duel result
Count 1 "miss" as 2 hits
Take another turn
re-roll duel dice (your or opponent)
instant wizarding game challenge (from any location on the board.)
instant duel (from anywhere on the board.)
avoid a fight when challenged
re-roll an entire duel result (both players)
double move
opponent loses a turn

Some of these items are more powerful than others, but in general the more items you have, the more options you will have for both combat and movement.
 
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Mark Silcox
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Very nice review.

I was very impressed by this game. The mechanic of spell collection and comparing is very close to what goes on in the books, and really makes the player feel like he's simulating the sorts of decisions that a real-life (or whatever) spell caster would have to make. This is actually an awfully tricky feat to pull off in game design, and most computer games and RPGs fail miserably at it.
 
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