I have heard many people say that when writing a review, you should "hide your opinion in the opening". Basically, a lot of people think you should not give away your thoughts on the game to hook the reader. In general, we do follow this advice, but this time I say screw it. I, RYAN LOVE SUMMONER WARS! Of the many, many, many board games I have played, it is definitely my favorite! Before I tell you why (and before Amanda gives her thoughts) let me give a brief explanation of the rules for those who have never played Summoner Wars before.
An odd but IMO apt way to describe Summoner Wars is "Chess with Magic cards". Each player starts with a set of units on a chess-like board (though it is larger to fit the cards on them)and these units will be used to take out the other persons king...errrrmm I mean Summoner. Each unit on their card will have its own attack value, hit points and special abilities. Each player will also have a deck of cards that they can draw from each turn to bring new units on to the field of battle, or to play spell cards to help change the tide of war. Each minion has a cost to be played though! This cost is paid with your "magic" pile which is made up of a mix of cards you discard from your hand as well as any units you defeat in battle. So again, think Chess but you can constantly bring new cards in to the battle using your opponents units or cards discarded from your hand. Ok, so now that I've explained how to play Summoner Wars and I've already spoiled my (Ryan)love from the game, what does Amanda think and what are our pros and cons?
The expansion model - I love the LCG model that Plaid Hat Games went with. Every few months there is a new deck or two added to the game and are sold individually. It makes it very cheap to both get in to this game and to continually expand your decks.
Pre-built Decks - Unlike a lot of card games, you do not HAVE to do any deck building. You can choose to, but the decks come pre-constructed and are fairly well balanced.
There are soooo many races to play - As I mentioned above, Summoner Wars receives new mini-expansions every few months. At this point, the game has received enough of them that there are over a dozen decks to play with.
Many strategies at hand - A lot of people feel simple abstract games like Chess or Go can have such incredible layers of strategy. They present you with a thousand different paths to victory on any given turn. I have always felt like this is somewhat true, but I feel Summoner Wars tops them at being simple yet offering the player tons of strategic options. On any given turn I not only must choose what units I want to attempt to advance or retreat, but also consider how the many characters abilities work together and what I have in my hand/whats coming up in the deck.
The dice rolls are not 50/50 - In Summoner Wars when you attack another unit, you must roll a die to see if your attacks miss or hit. For most units (there are a few with better or worse hit odds), a 3 or higher is a hit. That means you have a better then 50% chance to actually be successful. As I mentioned in last weeks Farmageddon review, I HATE luck in games. So to me, it's a big deal that while Summoner Wars does rely on card drawing and that when you attack an opponents troops you have to roll dice, I feel like the skill to luck ratio is around 80/20 which is a pretty darn sweet ratio.
Very little shuffling - As I have documented many times before, I loathe shuffling! Summoner Wars makes you give your deck one quick shuffle before playing and then you do not have to shuffle until the next game.
The mini-expansion model - Ok, I love the fact that new decks come out every few months. However, what I really hate is that they are not complete. Instead, they sell a deck then a few months later they sell an expansion that adds more cards to that specific deck. I really wish that the decks came with all the cards from the start!
The rare bad luck - Above I said 80/20 is a good skill to luck ratio and I still agree with that. But since this is not a game of 100% (or close to 100% skill), you can still get the rare bad luck game. I think maybe there are only one or two games out of 250 or so that I have lost and would blame it solely on luck. But I still feel like there were another 20-30 games where I had to struggle far more than I should have had to to win because the rolls were coming up cold and my draws even colder.
Metrosexual Dwarfs rock - Has anyone ever looked at the Dwarf Champion Tordok? I mean SERIOUSLY looked at him? Dwarfs should not be this well groomed nor handsome. I mean really look at this guy below!
The funny thing is that Ryan actually kind of looks like him and I tease him about it all the time. Though his beard is nowhere near that well groomed!
The cards are generally easy to understand - Everything, including special abilities, is pretty straight forward. I think there are only one or two cards that we ever had to look up how to use and there are only one or two we ever found out later we were using wrong.
I feel I can compete with Ryan - Ok, I will get it out of the way--Ryan beats me almost every time we play Summoner Wars. In around 200 games I have beat him maybe twenty times. Even if he beats me though, I never feel like it is a complete blow out. In almost every game I feel I keep him on his toes; many of those end with his Summoner badly wounded! So yes, he beats me but I make him work his butt off for it!
No variants needed - Ryan and I tend to want to make a lot of variants/house rules for quite a few of the games we play. Summoner Wars is one of the rare games that this is truly not needed.
Master set = Easy transportation - The Master Set expansion not only added a half dozen new decks or so, it also provided room for all of the old decks as well as for quite a few future decks. It is nice being able to have one box that we can just take from place to place with all these decks.
Playing a "war game" without hours and hours of commitment - Yes, yes, I know some may not consider this a war game and even those that do would consider it a very light one. Ryan really enjoys these types of games though and in general I loathe playing games that last much more then 60-90 minutes. Summoner Wars lasts the perfect amount of time where he can get his fill of this type of strategical game play and I still enjoy it!
Can we pitch all these expansion boxes yet??!?! - Ryan loves the expansion model PHG uses and I do enjoy having a new deck or two every few months! The problem is that it means a new box to store every few months. And despite the fact that everything fits in to the Master Set box now, Ryan is too much of a collector to let me pitch all these useless empty boxes laying around.
A few of the races take a lot of skill to play - This is mainly true of the Master Set expansions. While I would say that most of the decks are well balanced, some are far more difficult to play then others. It is much easier to play a deck of big guys that can pound on people or Goblins that are cheap and swarm the battle field then it is to play something such as the Deep Dwarves or the Benders that require you to make your cards work together to be at all useful. I am not that good at thinking quite a few turns ahead, so I almost always lose when playing with these races.
Do I even need to say anything? I think I should just do the "I Love Summoner Wars Dance". It really is a good dance! Would you like to see it? Seriously though, Summoner Wars is my favorite game and I imagine it will be for some time. I love that I have a game that offers me such a variety of well balanced decks that play so differently, and I love being able to actually play a game that has real strategical decisions to make in such a short period of time. And best of all, my wife enjoys it too! *does the I Love Summon Wars Dance*
Sad thing is, Ryan really does have an "I Love Summoner Wars" Dance. I just wish he did not do it in his underwear as often as he does! It is nice though to have a game that I feel he gets so excited to put on the table and I still enjoy playing tremendously. I would go so far as to even put Summer Wars on my top 10 list. As I stated before, I am not very good at planning many turns ahead--therefore, I am not good at games that require strategy and can become very frustrated when playing them. However, Summoner Wars is light enough/easy enough to understand that I feel as though I CAN formulate a strategy (and possibly even win!). With so many races to choose from, I feel empowered when I choose my deck and can almost beat Ryan with it--who knew that you could take the stealthy, weak Goblins and just completely ravage the super powerfull Orcs! I thoroughly enjoy making moves with my cards that Ryan did not know was coming. Everything about this game is great--the art, the balance and the play time. I recommend this game to anyone who wants to start playing war-like games but does not want to jump in to the deep end of the pool. I would also just in general recommend it to anyone that wants to enjoy a GREAT two player game!