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Subject: One should not review a game after a single play rss

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Eric O. LEBIGOT
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With an average rating of 8 (at the time of this writing), Summoner Wars is certainly a game that deserves investigating. It thus stayed on my radar for a few months. Many people are very enthusiastic about it, with remarkably few exceptions (including that of 2D6.org). So, I decided, why not buy it? The reasonable price tag helped, and I did get it from my favorite local game store on the week it came out in France.

My son wanted so much to play Summoner Wars the night we bought it that he started opening the box as soon as we reached home, and started setting the game up. Here is what we discovered…

** The components **

I am always for encouraging young people in their enthusiasm for gaming. So, I started reading the rulebook as fast as possible while my son was discovering the components. I was impressed. The rulebook is extremely clear. It is also an easy read, as the rules are very streamlined. For instance, it is easy to remember that you move a maximum of three units, and then attack with a maximum of three units too. The turn summary card was also very useful. Compared with other games in a similar price range and with a similar duration, Summoner Wars' rules are very simple (but not simplistic) and well explained (compared to those of Micro Mutants: Evolution, Hellas, Hero: Immortal King, Iliad,…).

The cards immediately felt relatively thin (compared to those of Dominion or Magic: The Gathering). They also slightly stuck together, just after unwrapping the decks; little spots of ink got rubbed off when I split them apart, leaving tiny white dots on some card backs. Even though you can in principle tell some of the cards your opponent has, this is not a practical problem, as the white spots are very small.

An ubiquitous complaint about Summoner Wars is the paper board, which does not lay flat by itself. Nonetheless, I found the board to be perfectly serviceable. Yes, it does look somewhat like a mountain range and the unit cards placed on it seem to be climbing slopes; but never was the game play impeded by the lack of flatness of the board.

All in all, the quality of the components reminds me of that of Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization (2007 printing). While I appreciate slightly better quality components (like, I would argue, in Jambo or Ubik's version of Scarab Lords), I also applaud a small company for bringing to the public a quality game at an affordable price. So, no real complaint from me, here!

I must also say that the (downloadable) rulebook looks really nice, with a very clear and efficient layout, and nice drawings. The card art is, in my opinion, quite nice (faces sometimes look a little stiff, but this is a minor, and quite personal gripe). It would be nice if the Event cards had individual art, though; but this does not have much practical impact. And the cardboard counters are world-class quality, in terms of thickness and printing quality.

** How does it feel? **

My son was exploring the card special powers while all these thoughts were flowing in my mind; he was soon done, though, and we had to start playing.

After reading the great reviews posted here on the Geek, I was expecting a kind of miniature skirmish game with cards, with some hand management, and some Magic: the Gathering like elements (units have special abilities). Well… sometimes I feel that not having expectations is best ("Zen mind, beginner's mind", as they say).

In fact, we ended our first game by me being disappointed with the miniature skirmish aspect of Summoner Wars. In fact, some rule points make it quite unrealistic, as a combat simulation: arrows only fly vertically or horizontally in a way reminiscent of video games from the early eighties, units only move orthogonally, and combats are not simultaneous. This is in contrast with games such as Commands & Colors: Ancients or Lord of the Rings: Combat Hex, where arrows fly in any direction, where movements benefit from the versatility of hexes, and where adversaries fight simultaneously (or almost). However, I came to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with the lack of realism of Summoner Wars. In fact, I embraced the idea that it is not a full miniature skirmish game and, after a few more games, it started growing on me as a game of its own.

Another important departure from miniature skirmish games is that Summoner Wars does not begin with two big armies lined up for a big fight. Instead, units are summoned along the way. This makes a good part of each game feel like you are launching missiles to each other from your Walls: you summon creatures beside your Walls, and then send them to fight. I do not get much of the "you are the general in command of an army" feel, with Summoner Wars (as opposed to Commands & Colors: Ancients or Lord of the Rings: Combat Hex). Units also die very quickly. Both these points limit, in turn, the "story" aspect of Summoner Wars, as it is harder to picture a game as the gradual slimming down of large armies. Summoner Wars plays more like a movie with many secondary characters that you follow for quite some time only to see them die early. The upside is that you do not have to play for an hour simply to understand that the grand strategic plan that you had for your army had a crucial flaw, as can happen in Lord of the Rings: Combat Hex. That said, towards the end of the game, more units are on the board, and the game feels more like a regular army-vs-army battle, which adds to the different game situations that one experiences within a single game of Summoner Wars, and this is enjoyable.

As for the hand management aspect, the limited number of different cards made it feel quite easy to handle, during our first game. When drawing a more powerful unit (a Champion), keeping it and building enough magic to summon it seemed to be a no-brainer. Now, after more plays, I got to know the decks and the game tempo better, and started being more imaginative and careful with my plans. Again, a few more plays made me enjoy Summoner Wars better, as the hand management aspect becomes more refined and enjoyable as you learn the game. That said, I find Summoner Wars to be much lighter in this department than a game such as Battle Line, where choosing what card to play is very often excruciating because there are usually many ways a single card can be used.

The Magic: the Gathering aspect of the game that I had come to expect turned out to be absent. In fact, there are not so many different special abilities in the game, compared to a typical deck of The Gathering. I must say that I immensely enjoy the variety of cards in a game of Magic: the Gathering, and that it would be hard to find it in Summoner Wars. However, the (relatively) limited number of special abilities has the advantage of offering players more control over their whole playing experience, as they can know the contents of the deck after only a few plays. This makes the game more and more enjoyable, as the decisions one makes become more meaningful.

The limited deck size in Summoner Wars allows the players to mostly draw all their cards, in a typical game. This is great, as this helps plan strategically. Of course, the order in which the cards are drawn nicely constrains your ability to plan (playing would be too easy, otherwise, wouldn't it?), and also brings a welcome variety, as in many other card games.

I found Summoner Wars to be quite light, in terms of the time you spend thinking (this is no Reef Encounter or Race for the Galaxy). Since I am a sucker for meatier games, I was, at first, bored and disappointed (my wife was too, during her first game). However, after playing more games, I got a feeling of affection for Summoner Wars. After our first game, I was not so happy with my purchase, and I asked my son whether he wanted to play Magic: The Gathering, as I was craving for some more colorful action and more consequential choices. He insisted he instead preferred trying Summoner Wars again. I am glad he did: we played a couple of additional games, and each one of them was better than the previous one; in particular, getting beaten by him each time helped, as I could feel that there was some strategic points I should discover. I was progressively starting to understand the importance of a good positioning of your walls, of fleeing, of correctly timing the summoning of creatures, etc. Trying to keep turns short also adds to the challenge by making the game a bit harder to play well; this can also give more of a "movie" feeling, thanks to the faster action.

** Conclusion**

Looking back at our games, I think that Summoner Wars can provide players with a friendly way to bring quick, relatively challenging fights to the table. The quick setup time helps, as does the sense of control that you quickly get after playing a few games. The variety of board situations from game to game is also a definitive plus.

I would not tell anyone that Summoner Wars can give them the gaming experience of a miniature skirmish game. I would not tell anyone that they would get anything like the feel of a Magic: The Gathering game. Instead, I would say that Summoner Wars is a modest but very solid game that provide a unique blend of experiences encompassing some abstracted aspects of miniature skirmish games, some limited use of special powers, and relatively light hand management decisions, all packed in a very accessible package (in terms of price, setup time, rule difficulty, deck knowledge, etc.).

The current consensus about Summoner Wars is that the four decks of the core set (Elves, Orcs, Dwarves, Goblins) are balanced, which speaks volumes about how well this game is play-tested. The 4-player game (with 4 different faction decks) is also reputedly better than the 2-player version, as players team up and must coordinate their actions, which adds a layer of strategy and tactics; this is a real plus.

I am glad that my son insisted on keeping playing Summoner Wars; I now look forward to enjoying this solid and unique creation again. Thank you for reading this review!
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Chris Schenck
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This is one of the most honest reviews I've read for any game. I really like how you explain the evolution of your experiences and expectations, and how you detail the reasons behind your opinions.

I agree that Summoner Wars grows with experience, and really does have its own unique feel. What seems totally random and chaotic to new players becomes a controlled flow of risk management between two experienced players -- an elegant dance of thrust and counter-thrust while jockeying for position and probing for weakness, with just the right amount chance thrown in to keep both players on their toes and in the running.

Damn ... I want to go play now.
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Eric O. LEBIGOT
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cbs42 wrote:
This is one of the most honest reviews I've read for any game. I really like how you explain the evolution of your experiences and expectations, and how you detail the reasons behind your opinions.
Thank you, Chris! I liked your own review. I have the impression that there are more and more of these "this is not a rulebook review", and "here is how the game feels" reviews, which is great.
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Jason Quintal
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Definitely helps to get a couple games in with each faction to truly appreciate the subtleties in this game. Plus, the four player game is an experience in and of itself.

For the price of this game, you definitely get your money's worth. Each play through brings new decisions and tactics to the table. Each opening draw brings different strategies to mind. It's not a terribly *heavy* game per se, but you still need to make difficult decisions throughout the game depending on your positioning on the board. Summoner Wars has enough meat without the brain burn.

Very well written review, Eric! Objective and logical.





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Count Ringworm
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Also agree, a very good, refreshing review.

My copy should be sitting on my doorstep as I type this, can't wait to go home and give it a run-through.
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Chris Schenck
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Devonelle wrote:
Plus, the four player game is an experience in and of itself.

Quoted For Truth.

You have to find a way to play the 4-player game soon. The presence of a teammate creates a fun dynamic of coordinating attacks and defenses that truly introduces longer term strategy (rather than just tactics) to the game.

Be warned though: After playing the 4-player game, all future 2-player game will feel like a solitaire practice round.
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Jeremy Carlson
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Wow...GREAT review sir!

I watched the video review that Tom V. did on this game, and because of it, I am looking forward to purchasing it.

I believe that watching that video has given me quite different expectations than the ones you had, and I think this quote shows that:

Quote:
In fact, some rule points make it quite unrealistic, as a combat simulation: arrows only fly vertically or horizontally in a way reminiscent of video games from the early eighties, units only move orthogonally, and combats are not simultaneous.


I take this game to be a dumbed down version of Navia Dratp, than two armies going head to head in a miniatures type game. More of what to summon and when to do it, and then moving those pieces to capture or block paths off. You move, possibly capture, then I move and possibly capture. None of the pieces are actually duking it out.

I can't recall from what I have read/seen, but I believe if you block off or destroy your opponent's wall, he cannot summon anything? Kind of the same thing in Navia Dratp. Block off the summoning squares and they can't summon, or at the very least, a very bad idea.

Finally, a question for you, or anyone really...are there multiple ways to win this game? Besides what I would guess to be taking out all enemy units.

*If you don't know what Navia Dratp is, its loosely based on Shogi. If you are unfamiliar with that, then VERY loosely based on Chess.
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Eric O. LEBIGOT
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Thank you for the kind words!
hughthehand wrote:
are there multiple ways to win this game? Besides what I would guess to be taking out all enemy units.
The (unique) winning condition is actually similar to that of Chess: you kill your opponent's (unique) Summoner.
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fightcitymayor
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"This is a really weird game, and you’ll find that most people will not want to play this."
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lebigot wrote:
Again, a few more plays made me enjoy Summoner Wars better, as the hand management aspect becomes more refined and enjoyable as you learn the game. That said, Summoner Wars is much lighter in this department than a game such as Battle Line.


Now i loves me some Battle Line, but there are only 10 tactics cards in the entire game, so I'm going to have to award the hand-management crown to Summoner Wars.

But I agree that Captain EO here took the time to do what few do: outline and include background expectations in the review. Honestly, "reviews" here at BGG are mostly terrible because people are so transparent in their A) slavish devotion or B) unreasonable hatred of a game that the review is almost a secondary afterthought. An informed review that explains the user's expectations coming in is indeed a rare and useful thing, because then you can gauge your own expectations by comparing them to someone else's. Maybe i care about card thickness, maybe you don't, but at least if i call it out going in, then we don't have to resort to silly hyperbole in an attempt to put forth opinion as fact.




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Eric O. LEBIGOT
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fightcitymayor wrote:
Now i loves me some Battle Line, but there are only 10 tactics cards in the entire game, so I'm going to have to award the hand-management crown to Summoner Wars.
You had me think about this one. What I meant here is that choosing which card to play, in Battle Line, feels more excruciating to me than deciding what cards to play in Summoner Wars (and I even play without the tactics cards!). I made this clearer in the review. Thanks!
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Jess Newman
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This is the best review I have seen in a while. I appreciate the effort you took to accurately portray the game. I was becoming very disillusioned at the immense praise that Summoner Wars has been receiving, and I don't think anyone so far has really thought about the lasting appeal of this game. It seems blown way out of proportion, but your review gives me a good feel of it. Thanks for keeping it real. cool
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Fede Miguez
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Re
I do say that the game is a mix of Magic and miniatures to the people that don´t play either
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James Sitz
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Very nice review. It's good that you gave it a second shot.

Sounds like you and your son will have some fun with this one for awhile.
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Matthew Vanek
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hughthehand wrote:


I take this game to be a dumbed down version of Navia Dratp, than two armies going head to head in a miniatures type game.


Summoner Wars is not really similar to ND in the feel. Odd anime girls aside, Navia is a much more heavy abstract. With three win conditions and more pieces interacting at once (not to mention zero randomness), navia is a pretty intense gaming experience. Not to downplay SW, because I think it's a very solid game, but the swings of luck and more special power interaction really give it much more of a miniatures skirmish game feel than an abstract, even with the gridded board.

Z
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Eric O. LEBIGOT
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PePe QuiCoSE wrote:
I do say that the game is a mix of Magic and miniatures to the people that don´t play either
This certainly sounds cool!!
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