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Subject: You're not rational (Summoner Wars Review after 30 Plays) rss

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mrkurtb
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...actually we're all irrational, which is why I delayed posting this review (I'll explain later). (NOTE: lengthy review ahead, feel free to skip to the summary)

BACKGROUND:
I learned about SW through Heroscapers.com. My prepurchase impressions which ultimately led me to get it:
1)Summoner Wars ≈ Up Front? I'm a long-time fan of Up Front. When my son first started getting into gaming I began rough drafting a game that borrowed from Up Front's design which took place on maps based on the land immediately around our neighborhood. Research led me to Heroscape and shortly thereafter I happily abandoned my project. This relates to SW because the game mat looked like it might be the improved design I was contemplating for Up Front's somewhat confusing (to new players) relative range design; very intriguing.
2)SW looked similar to Heroscape but with only one special ability per unit. I figured that this must be very basic but if nothing else this would be better to play with my (at the time) 5 year old than Chutes and Ladders.
3) Colby Dauch, the designer, had been successfully designing and playtesting Heroscape. I considered the most recent Heroscape releases to be "home runs" so I figured at a modest $35 investment per starter set, I wouldn't really be risking that much.
4)I kept seeing prerelease comments stating how awesome Summoner Wars was (Infinity Max's comments from GenCon08, others' from GenCon09, etc). Being a bit contrary (stubborn, irrational, whatever) this actually turned me off a bit. I don't personally know Infinity Max or any of the early sources of SW info but in my mind I wrote a lot of the seemingly overly positive comments off as coming from friends who were being polite to a good guy (Colby) who happened to be indulging in his passion/hobby.

All that being said, I would describe my expectations for SW as modest. The fact that I'm reviewing it after 30+ plays gives a pretty good hint that I really like Summoner Wars.

Irony (most of the above impressions were wrong):
1)Hand management is nothing like Up Front, where often aggressive discarding is rewarded. Also, the SW's mat only very loosely matches with Up Front's relative range concept.
2)The depth of SW is not in the number of special abilities, but rather the interplay between units. (Ex. A typical Heroscape battle has 3 different unit types per side with an average of 2 special abilities per card [3 x 2 =6]. Compare this with SW and you see 6 different unit types per side with 1 special ability each [6 x 1 = 6]. Very similar depth to Heroscape, which for me is good.)
3)This was where I was pretty close but Colby exceeded my expectations.
4)After I got my own plays in I realize the comments and reviews were actually genuine. Sorry for doubting.

The first 9 plays
So what's all this earlier talk of irrationality and how does it relate to Summoner Wars? Well, you see I just about posted my review after my 9th play. It was one of those games that you maybe get to play once a blue moon, one of those games that goes back and forth, domination is followed by an epic comeback culminating in a cliff-hanger, edge-of-the-seat single die roll for victory! (see Jexik's session report: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/469108/thorkur-and-the-m...) It was a type of game that plays out like a movie, it goes, through your mind the following couple of days, where months later your buddy laughingly says to you, "Remember when we played that game...". The end had an excitement, not unlike watching a favorite trying to win a gold in the Olympics. (As I proofread this I'm about ready to puke on all the hyperbole, but that's really how I felt.) The thing that was scary was that I thought back for a moment and realized that eight out of my first nine games were like that! That's all it took, I had to write this up on the Geek. (NOTE: Even at the time I realized that 8/9 plays qualifying for "epic" status was an outlier and couldn't reasonably expect to be duplicated.) However, being a rational (relatively) person, I realized that whether I like to admit it or not, I'm quite capable of being irrational. So instead of geeking off some wildly gushing, fan-boy review I decided to put down a preliminary rating and then after @ 30 plays I'd adjust it accordingly and only then when I'd calmed down, would I review it.

First, the matter of the initial rating was easy, I'd give it a 10. Wait(!), I can't give new game a 10, only games that withstand the test of time deserve 10s. So instead, I thought I'll just give it a 9. But as previously mentioned, since 8 of the first 9 games qualified as "epic" I really felt it would be somehow dishonest to rate it anything less than a 10. So I compromised, giving it a 10 for now and vowing to reevaluate later.

What makes a game great for me:
1)FUN! excitement
2)Tactical play (think Heroscape, tactics in ASL, Up Front)
3)Since I play for fun, don't tax my brain too much. (Ex. Chess, Husker Du, and The Wheel of Fortune [I know I just lost some people with Husker Du and The Wheel of Fortune, but even though you can't get much simpler than either of them, when you're competitive they can really stress your brain.])
4)Variety

What isn't as important to me (all this is important, it just generally doesn't make or break a game for me):
1)Shiny bits & pieces (those who point to my affinity for Heroscape note that it is the tactics and strategy that I appreciate)
2)setting/theme/backstory
3)pure skill always winning

Borrowed from Lebigot http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/498284/one-should-not-re....
The evolution of my Summoner Wars experience:
Games 1-2: Learn gameplay and how units work and interact. Get a different "feel" for each faction. Don't leave your summoner exposed. I didn't really know much at this point.
Games 3-10: Develop basic tactics. Combinations come out (the Dwarven Gauntlet). You get to see all the cards in action. Favorites emerge. I thought the Dwarves were probably the strongest. It seemed like blind aggression was obviously the best choice. After all, if you continually minimize your opponents' attacks and continually maximize your own attacks, your efficiency will be rewarded and you will win. I didn't know as much as I thought I knew.
Games 11-20: Subtle tactics emerge: overwhelm Archers with Smashers, counter Guardians with Shaman. Tundra Orcs now seemed strongest, Elves and Goblins the weakest.
Games 21-30: Sound strategies emerge. Even more than optimal tactics, hand management becomes the key to victory. Holding back key combinations: saving magic like gold until you get the right opening, even more difficult, flushing your hand to change up a bad situation. I'm somewhat amazed to say I don't know which faction is strongest or weakest at this point.
Games 31+: ???
We've only scratched the surface of Summoner Wars gaming goodness. This became clear after my son and I began coming up with ideas for an upcoming design-a-unit contest. We've been playtesting some of our own units during the last couple of games. The fact that we were able to drop his very first design and my second (I'm sorry to say my first one didn't pan out) seamlessly and very enjoyably into the Summoner Wars system made me realize that the core Summoner Wars system is incredibly expandable. Translation: SW shouldn't get stale for many, many years. We haven't even tried the open builds or any of the variants yet.

Who Summoner Wars probably isn't the right fit for:
Around the previously mentioned play # 9, I was (irrationally) thinking that absolutely everyone would surely rate Summoner Wars as a 10, maybe an 8 or 9; 7 if they weren't this type of gamer, but surely no one would ever rate it a 6 or lower unless they had some sort of unreasonable (or irrational) expectation. So I started to formulate a post that would give everyone reasonable expectations so everyone would be happy. Luckily, just about that time, Jexik posted this http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/471708/10-kinds-of-peopl... most excellent post. I'll try to repeat as little as possible but I would like to comment a bit on a couple of emotional reasons why someone should stay away from Summoner Wars.
1)MTG and Warhammer Invasion fans: Being irrational as we all are we have the tendency to judge things to reinforce beliefs that we already hold dear. Fanboys (including SWs fanboys) of similarly competing games will want to reinforce that their game is best (irrational but it's our nature) and really won't be able to enjoy a game objectively.
2)ASLers, heavy gamers; those who demand realism: ASL is an investment in time, money, and life. ASL is a great game system but its almost insulting that a $25 fantasy game that can be learned in 10 minutes can be compared to it (NOTE: I love the tactical aspects of both). However, most ASLers will want more moving parts and will demand more realism.
3)If you don't like Ameritrash, stay away from SW.
4)If you are luck-averse, SW is not for you. After 30+ plays I can now appreciate that an expert will beat a novice @70-90% of the time. (Does this sound right to others who've played this many times?) However, I'd never have gotten past my 10th play if I only like games based largely on skill. After my 10th play I would have probably said the expert wins @55-60%; after my 20th play, expert wins 60-70%, but I can now see many aspects of the game that I was blind to originally.
5)People who put a premium on the gameboard. I almost didn't mention the mat because it doesn't affect my enjoyment of the game but I see from others' replies it does theirs. The mat is made from relatively thick paper. With a little back-folding it will lay relatively, but not perfectly, flat. The only thing I'd suggest to Plaid Hat Games is that for future paper mat runs, replace the white background of each space with cracks/marbling as seen in Grungeebob's custom boards.
6)Game tourists: I think there is a pretty decent chance to misjudge any game after only one or two plays. The few negative comments tend to have a similar theme, "We've played 2 games and faction X is obviously broken. Yuck." The ironic thing is that the broken faction always seems to change between each such reviewer. The other thing in common is that such comments are associated with fundamental strategic mistakes, like focusing on attacking walls when the cards don't warrant it. As a result, I suggest a person reserved judgment, good or bad on any game until after at least 4 games.

Summary:
I wanted to be sure my rating and review of Summoner Wars was based on a rational evaluation of the game. So rather than posting after an incredible opening run of exciting games I waited to post this until I had 30 plays under my belt. Overly positive and gushing reviews can to lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment. However, I can easily say that Summoner Wars is still extremely exciting and my enjoyment hasn't waned a bit. Is Summoner Wars for everyone? No game is, but I think it will be very fun for those who savor fast-paced tactical challenges, who don't mind luck, and who don't mind a fantasy setting. It is very accessible to most gamers and many non-gamers. Oh yeah, if you hadn't already guessed, even after reevaluating it after 30 games it still hits my gaming sweet spot and therefore Summoner Wars earns a 10.

Happy summoning.
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Chris Smith
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I agree with your review! I'm not a fun of uncontrolled luck. But I feel that the game has just enough luck control and tactics to override the roll of the dice. Play thinking your going to miss when you take a roll and you'll start playing better. Especially if you're playing Orcs. Oh the Orcs. What good meatshields they make for themselves. I love em. Actually, I love all the factions. I can see where some people would cry OP on the Elves, but really if you look at their health and their other stats, especially the summoner strength, you'll see you just need to get up close and give em some love. cool

Great review!
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Eric O. LEBIGOT
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mrkurtb wrote:
Borrowed from Liebgot here.
If you were quoting my surname, here, I'd like to thank you and point out that the correct version is "Lebigot" (whose original meaning was probably from people often swearing "by god"). I like "Liebgot", though: it makes my last name sound German.
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Neil
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Thanks for the review, and especially for using the apt label "Game Tourist" (good one!)

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James Sitz
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Well, considering that you quoted me twice, I agree with you, and still feel the same way.

I've continued to play it a lot too. Played at least 15 games last weekend, and I play at least once a day most weekdays. It's usually pretty fun and exciting to the finish, and often lends itself to "just one more game." I enjoy games like that.

But as you and Eric Lebigot have stated, it's not for everyone. Some people here on the geek seem acutely allergic to dice. The mere hint of variance causes them to have a seizure, or at the very least turn up their nose and look like they're going to sneeze.

And as much as people say it feels like other games... it really doesn't. It's not M:TG lite or Heroscape lite. It's Summoner Wars. I've come to believe that it's just a common review technique to describe a game in terms of other games. Heck, you did it in your review too, but I've never played ASL or Up Front.
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♫ Eric Herman ♫
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CrusaderX wrote:
I agree with your review! I'm not a fun of uncontrolled luck.


"Uncontrolled luck"?? laugh

Sorry, I know what you mean... where you can mitigate the luck to some extent... but I can't imagine there being such a thing as "controlled luck", so that seems like an oxymoron.

Good review, btw. I'm definitely planning to pick this game up sometime.
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Chris Smith
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Haha, I know. *paper and pen*

Adds "Controlled Luck" To the best oxymoron list.

lol. I would surely advise on picking it up... it truly is it's own game. And don't get me wrong... I've been known to roll a mean pair of dice. . (Anything past a pair and I've got terrible "controlled luck" lol.)
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mrkurtb
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Thanks everyone for the kind comments.

One thing I should have added was that Summoner Wars is excellent for playing with kids. My favorite opponent is my 9 year old son.

However, I'm trying to figure out how to slightly handicap the game whenever I happen to get on a winning streak of 2 or more games. Up to now I've been letting him have Khan Queso in addition to the regular faction champions but I'd like to be able to tweak it a bit more. I'm thinking of the following:
- having me start with one less of each common (The more I think about it the less I like this idea, the hand management aspect would get fouled. Games usually come down to the wire now and this option seems like it could potentially make for a much less strategic game).
- letting him funnel his first two discards back to his magic pile
- giving him magic dice, which would allow him say 1 or 2 rerolls per game

Has anyone done this yet? Any thoughts or suggestions?
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Randall Shaw
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"The mere hint of variance causes them to have a seizure, or at the very least turn up their nose and look like they're going to sneeze."

Would that be a 'sneizure'?



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Jason Cookingham
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I would hesitate to change the rules dramatically to handicap the game. It does him a disservice in the long run-- especially when this game is an international hit with television, movies, and Broadway plays. He will be seen as a social pariah and unable to hold public office.

Ok, seriously...

You may want to try something simple-- lower your hand size to four cards. It will limit your options and makes the hand management all the more important.

When handicapping myself (in this or other games), I will often pick a private goal for that game. For example-- In this game, I will summon nothing but champions. Or, in this game, I will land the final death blow with my summoner. I keep this goal to myself, but it adds another dimension to my games and it often levels the playing field a bit.
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mrkurtb
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The 4 card hand looks to be the simple solution I was looking for. I'm going to try that out. Thanks cookinjr.
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Jorge Arroyo
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"Game Tourist"

I love that term! I think I may really like this game, if only because most of my favorite games are games "game tourists" seem to hate devil

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Talorien
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Damn you I now have to think about getting this game
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