Aug 5, 2015

[Games] Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre

So another episode of Tabletop ultimately influenced us into getting a copy of Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at My. Skullzfyre. On the surface it's probably not the sort of game that either Tobie or myself would normally pick up.But after getting a better appreciation for the game mechanic and of course the game's signature art style, it was hard to resist eventually getting it.

The game is an odd celebration of the sort of crazy gory art that defined a lot of heavy metal album covers in the past. We have some pretty over the top characters and spells that we probably only see in tattoo books these days or something like that.

But more than the art, we also have a fairly brilliant game mechanic driving the whole experience that is easy to learn and versatile enough for some crazy play scenarios. Sure, some card combinations feel particularly powerful and thus one might question game balance. But in the end, the sheer diversity of combinations and the option to play more rounds is what makes things even more fun.

Synopsis: Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards at Mt. Skullzfyre is a card game created by Rob Heinsoo and Cory Jones. The game is published by Cryptozoic Entertainment and supports 2-6 players.

The game allows you too choose any of 8 wizard cards to represent who you are in the game, although there's no system differences between the various Battle Wizards. Players are asked to figure out their wizard voice and will agree on how many rounds they'll play whether a set number of rounds or a number of victories. And in this case, true victory is defeating all other wizards, thus earning a Last Wizard Standing token. You could play this as a single round, sudden death sort of deal, but that's not all that fun.

Players then assemble their spells by playing 1-3 cards face down in front of them. There are four types of cards - Source, Quality, Delivery and Wild Magic. You can have any combination of cards as long as you only have one Source, Quality or Delivery card in your spell. Wild Magic is a placeholder that will allow you to deal cards from the deck once the spell is revealed - you'll do this until you reveal a card that replaces the part of the spell that the Wild Magic card had been played in.

There's actually player initiative that determines the order of the game. You start with those that played with one card spells and then work up to three card spells. Spells with a Delivery section have their own initiative values that determine who go first based on the highest value. All other cards play at the same speed (mostly) and players roll off to determine order in such cases. And play order can matter since it's all about getting the jump on your rivals before they kill you. The added incentive of playing full three card spells apart from their potential damage is obviously tied to the resulting patchwork art piece created since all card images generally line up with one another.

Players start with 20 life and can possibly heal over that for a maximum of 25 life points.But since it's a free-for-all melee, players can lose a lot of life pretty quickly if they're not careful. There area few healing spells in the mix, but such may be insufficient to keep pace with the damage. And spells can target any combination of enemies with phrases like "all foes" or "your strongest foe" or even as simple as "the two foes to your left". How you manage these spells and manage to stay alive is all part of the fun.

This is not meant to be an overly "serious" game at all. Just look at the card art and the often juvenile humor that is evident in the card design. But the game actually plays pretty well and the random nature of what cards you'll end up drawing will keep every game different. In addition, players who die first start eating Dead Wizard cards, which act as modest bonuses at the start of the next round. You think this may be unfair, but even the most tricked out wizards can still fall during the first round of combat.

Game can run a little long depending on how many rounds you decide to play out. Even just a race to get two wizard tokens each can last a few hours as you increase the number of players. But I don't think this is too much of an issue given the general fun to be bad with the game and the insistence of some players to use some pretty crazy wizard voices.

I also want to give credit to the game designers for making everything about the game fit the theme. Reading the rules isn't necessarily easy given the inherent narrative of the text, but it does feel genre appropriate. And that goes for all the cards and the tokens and even the description of the game on the back of the box.

Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at My. Skullzfyre is a crazy, crazy game that is simple and yet also a lot of fun with the right play group. Some may argue that the play style is limited and combat can get repetitive, but I think this is why you need to really embrace and celebrate the tone of the game.

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