A long time ago, way back in the mists of time on episode two of the Little Metal Dog Show, I had the pleasure of speaking with designer Colby Dauch. If you’ve not listened to the interview yet, I heartily recommend giving it a go – he’s an interesting guy who had such a belief in his idea that he went and set up his own company in order to publish his first game. While this is a risky thing to do, Colby had something very useful in his back pocket – the game he had developed was actually bloody good. The industry picked up on it, hype grew and grew, and his company – Plaid Hat Games – had an actual hit on it’s hands. That game is Summoner Wars.
As with many games that I really enjoy, it has a basic premise that is easily understandable. Just because it’s simple to pick up doesn’t mean that it’s easy to win though – Summoner Wars actually requires a fair bit of strategy in order for you to beat your opponent. Ostensibly a two-player game (though you can expand it to three and four players with extra decks), you play a Summoner (half magician, half warrior) with one mission – be the last one standing.
There are two starter sets available at the moment, but both come with the same set-up. Two decks of cards (one for each player), a bunch of dice, a playmat, wound tokens and the rather concise rules. Playing is easy – after your initial set up of some units, you draw a hand of cards (up to your limit of five) and see what you have. Move around a bit, perform some attacks – ranged or hand to hand, checking attack values and rolling a few dice – discard any cards you think you can get rid of and… well, that’s it really. Discards actually are useful in this game though – they help form your magic pile (as does killing an enemy unit, so be aggressive!), which you’ll need on your next turn in order to summon new units, so the question is this: do you sacrifice some cards that could prove useful later on in the game in order to bring on less powerful attackers, or hold on to them hoping your current forces can hold out? Striking the balance between what you’ve got and what you could have is the key to victory in Summoner Wars, and will have you constantly wondering if you’ve made the right decision…
There’s also something else to consider – walls. These are cards with, curiously enough, walls on them. They’re IMPORTANT. If you don’t have a wall on your board, you can’t summon anything to fight on your behalf and will lose the game in a spectacularly quick fashion. As with everything in Summoner Wars, they are vulnerable to attack, and even though taking one down is hard there’s an immense satisfaction when you manage to destroy one – victory for your forces will surely be at hand! There’s also event cards to consider which you can play for free that will help you even more – stealing magic from your opponent’s pile, for example.
Each faction has different abilities, strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll invariably find a side that fits your playing style. As I mentioned, there are two starter sets available at the moment – Guild Dwarves vs Cave Goblins and Phoenix Elves vs Tundra Orcs. Some factions are your smashy smashy powerhouses, leaving trails of destruction in their wake, while others rely more on tactics and ranged combat, trying to stay out of trouble while picking off enemies from afar. I must admit that my favourite set to play with is the Vanguards deck, one of the two recently released expansions (along with the undead style Fallen Kingdom) – they have healing abilities alongside their abilities to dish out a fair amount of pain.
There’s only one gripe I have with Summoner Wars, and it’s very petty – the board itself is a bit meh. It doesn’t detract from the game, and I understand why Colby went for a printed paper affair – it keeps costs down and means the game is nice and portable. Cards can sometimes slide around a bit, but after a few plays you’ll get used to it. Plaid Hat announced a while back that they’re making a ‘premium board’ available, and it looks utterly lovely – sure, you’ll have to pack the thing separately, but it’ll solve the (admittedly very minor) issue.
All in all, I’d deem Summoner Wars an essential purchase. I’m normally happy to play pretty much anything, but if someone suggests getting a game of SW going, I’m there. You’ll learn how to play it in next to no time, develop your own strategies within a few plays and find yourself wanting to experiment with the expansions as soon as you can find them. Even better, it’s a truly independent release, and Colby should be applauded for believing in his ideas. I look forward to whatever he and Plaid Hat Games have coming up next!
Summoner Wars is published by Plaid Hat Games and was designed by Colby Dauch. It’s primarily for two-players, but can be expanded to three or four with the addition of a second starter set. Games take about 20-30 minutes, and you should be able to find it in all good gaming stores for around £15-20.