Pol Michiels
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While browsing around my FLGS, I happened upon a small box game titled Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre, which for the sake of my sanity, we will henceforth abbreviate into ESWotBW:DaMS, which, for the sake of my fingerjoints we will then handily abbreviate into ESW. The game caught my interest because of the box art, which really has its own unique style, as you can see.


Image credit to Castef

While the art looks like something you'd find in the margin of the grade school textbook of that weird kid who used to burn squirrels, it really does provide an excellent illustration for this game. You see, ESW is not a highly strategic contest of magical power, wherein you manipulate the manastreams, probing for a hole in your opponent's defenses, all the while looking to your own shielding, as seen in high level mage duels in D&D. It is not about the contest of wits, about trying to take the other's staff, or about summoning hordes of minions to do your dirty work for you. Oh no, these battle wizards are getting into a raw,, dirty no-holds-barred, bare-whatever-the-magical-equivalent-of-knuckles-is brawl to prove their magical superiority by pounding everyone else into dust, then lighting that dust on fire, and urinating on what is left.

What you get when you open the box is some tokens for tracking health and victories, 6 character cards representing the wizards (used mainly to track health),a giant replica of Mt Skullzfyre for absolutely no purpose, three decks of cards, and a very thin rulebook (but then, you didn't expect these near-immortal and entirely evil sorcerors to have many rules, did you?).

Reading the rules takes nearly no time at all, so minutes after opening the box, you can get right into the most epic struggle of your life: fighting over who gets the coolest character card. After you have sorted this out, and maybe already eliminated some of the weaker elements in your game group, it's time to get to business.

Every round of ESW, players secretly choose up to 3 cards from their hand of spell cards to form their spell. Spells are made from 3 parts: a Source, a Quality, and a Delivery, or in less arcane terms: a first, second and third part. Each part of the spell also has a power type, such as elemental, arcane, peppermint, primal, dark, or illusion (one of these is not actually in the game, but should totally be).

You can make a spell from one, two or three parts, but you can never have two or more of the same part (if you do, you must discard the excess). The main advantage of larger spells is that they are more powerful. Not only do they give more effects (since every card has its own effect), but a lot of cards will make you roll power, and if you have multiple of the same power type in your spell, this gives you extra dice to roll, and thus usually results in more mayhem (unless you are like me and dice hate you). Shorter spells have only one advantage: they are faster. One-card spells go off before 2-card spells, which go off before 3-card spells. After everyone has assembled their spells, you reveal them simultaneously, and let 'em rip. If more than one player is still standing at the end of a round, a new one begins.


Image credit to jaybeethree

Sometimes spells will give you treasures. These range from the "Let's end this" Shit (with very unfortunately but appropriately placed quotation marks) to the entire ladies delicates outfit of Lady Luck. They give you special bonuses and powers, making your spells more powerful, allowing you rerolls, ...


Image credit to Vapor11

It may come as a shock to some (but really, I can't see how) that player elimination happens fast and often is ESW. However, all is not lost if you get blasted into particles so tiny they start making rude gestures at the laws of newtonian physics. ESW is played over multiple games, and you only win if you are the last wizard standing 2 times. Meanwhile, while you're dead, you sit in the void gathering power for your inevitable rebirth. When you die, and for every turn you are dead, you draw a dead wizard card. These give you small bonuses to start you off stronger the next game, giving you a slight edge in your revenge against the bastards who did this to you.


Image credit to Vapor11

So, how does it play?

ESW plays like a ride on a psycho tiger, with 1-5 other madmen all fighting you and each other to sit as far from the teeth & claws as possible. While the tiger is on fire. And that drill sergeant from Full Metal jacket is screaming obscenities in your ear. In short, it is fast, chaotic and brutal. The best comparison I can make in game terms would be Lunch Money, but with all the defense cards removed. There is not much long term strategy beside not letting the guy who already won once win again (which gets harder as more guys win games), or trying hard to win that elusive second game. What there is is a game of enjoyable chaos, where you don't have to think super hard, but get to make some fun and interesting choices about how to blow up as many people as possible.

Each time we play, we chuckle at a new particularly nasty combination. We curse the dice, the cards and each other, but we always end up having a good time. Health really flies out the window in this game, and it's rare to see more than 4-5 rounds before the smoke clears and one slightly less bleeding, broken mess whispers feebly "I win...". Then it's time for vengeance.

For us, ESW is a perfect end-of-the evening game, where we can finally unload all those "you bastard" moments from the more serious games, where we usually bottle them up in favor of trying to win.

ESW might be for you if:

- You are looking for a cheap, fun, fast, chaotic filler
- You enjoy stomping on your friends
- You like making nasty combos

ESW might turn you off with:

- Offensive language, art and theme. There are some pretty strong words in the manual, and there is the aforementioned scatological treasure card. Also many dismemberments, eviscerations, decapitations and otherwise brutal mutilations are depicted on the cards, the box and in the manual. This game does not hide its violence behind cutesy or idealistic card art, but rather revels in it, and makes it its own. Decide for yourself whether this is a bad thing.
- Very light Gameplay: If you are looking for something deep, engaging, strategic, or thought-provoking, look elsewhere. Luck plays a large part in ESW, and the decision making is interesting, but far from rocket science.
- Player count: While ESW could play 2, you will really only see it getting good at the 3-4 player mark, and the chaos really comes out best with 5-6.

Now please excuse me while I go try to hunt down yet another set of elusive promo cards for this game.
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Dan Conley
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Good review, Pol! I picked this up over the weekend and am looking forward to trying it out with my regular game group soon.

Don't think this will see a lot of table time. But your idea of playing as the last game of the day to blow off some steam is certainly a good one!

I found much of the off-color language in the rulebook to be unnecessary, but there's not a ton of it on the cards, so that's a plus for me. The art could definitely turn some folks off, but it's like the violence in the Kill Bill movies. It's SO far over the top that it's simply silly, so relax and just have fun with it!

You mentioned promo cards. ARE there some?!? Must...have...them... whistle

Thanks for the review!

 
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Boscrossos wrote:
You see, ESW is not a highly strategic contest of magical power, wherein you manipulate the manastreams, probing for a hole in your opponent's defenses, all the while looking to your own shielding, as seen in high level mage duels in D&D.


Alas, neither is D&D.
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Pol Michiels
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yosemite wrote:

I found much of the off-color language in the rulebook to be unnecessary, but there's not a ton of it on the cards, so that's a plus for me. The art could definitely turn some folks off, but it's like the violence in the Kill Bill movies. It's SO far over the top that it's simply silly, so relax and just have fun with it!


The off-color language in the rulebook might not have been necessary, but it does sell the game for what it is. I personally approve that the game does not try to pussyfoot around it's theme to avoid being "adult-only". But I also know that a lot of people's M may V, so, I noted it as a possible turnoff.

yosemite wrote:

You mentioned promo cards. ARE there some?!? Must...have...them... :whistle:



Someone mentioned them in another thread. Apparently 6 more spell cards.
 
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Dan Conley
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Oh, I'm not personally offended by the language. Just thought it was a bit of overkill with the f-bomb dropped that many times in a paragraph. I totally GET it and it does INDEED establish the theme!

Thanks for the link re. the promos! Will check that out!
 
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