GAMING POINT OF LOU – SPELLCASTER
So, my life has been pretty crazy lately. Between kids, birthdays (along with the associated parties), back to school preparation, and the daily rigors of owning your own home, I have had precious little time to actually sit down and play much. As luck would have it though, I finally managed to playtest a game I’ve had sitting around the house since this past year’s CT Festival of Independent Games entitled Spellcaster. So read on as yours truly disseminates his thoughts on this little Gem.
Spellcaster by R&R Games is a fast and furious card based combat game for 2 to 4 players with an average playtime of between 20-30 minutes. Multiplayer is either handled asymmetrically (2 v. 1) or in teams of two in the case of a 4 player game. It is an aesthetically pleasing game, the box and card art are both gorgeous. The game comes packed with 60 unique spell cards, 30 sorcery sapphires, 30 energy crystals, 4 spell placards, and the rule book, and by rule book, I mean “rule leaflet”,. It’s that small, and that’s not a bad thing, as everyone at the table was up to speed in about 10 minutes.
Spellcaster sets itself apart from other games in the card combat genre, by offering far greater tactical flexibility. There are three distinct win / loss conditions for the combatants to achieve. They can either A) drain their opponent of all their yellow Energy Crystals, B) accumulate 15 of the blue Sorcery Sapphires, or C) make it so their opponent cannot draw a card at the start of their turn. Yes, you read that right. You only get one run through the draw deck, there is no reshuffling if you run out of cards. This mechanic intelligently limits the playtime to keep the action moving, and it also gives some added weight to the “draw from the deck, and discard cards”.
The order of play is ridiculously simple, and as I mentioned above, takes about 10 minutes to learn. On their turn players will:
1) Account for any active spell cards on the table facing them.
2) Draw a card
3) Take 2 actions, either A) draw a second, or even third card, B) play a card from your hand to the table on the matching colored placard, or C) activate the top card on a pile facing you. The game allows you to take the same action twice, but you can only activate the top card on a placard once per turn.
And that’s it…. when you’ve finished with your turn, your opponent performs his / her actions. Play then repeats until one of the victory conditions are met. Sounds simple right? Well, it is.
The only issue that I ran into with the game, and to be fair, it’s an issue with all games of this type, were some scattered instances during our play testing where matches came down to simple luck of the draw. By design, you control a placard if the top card on said placard is facing you, which means that you can spam the same card round after round unless your opponent covers that card with one of their own to take control of the placard, the problem arises when we did not draw an appropriately colored card to block. This issue only exacerbated when said card was an “active” card, which doesn’t require the player to use one of their two actions to activate it. Out of the dozen or so games we played, we encountered this issue four times. Eventually we just house ruled that all active cards require an action to activate, which basically solved the problem.
Outside of that minor, and admittedly easily solvable hiccup, we all had a blast playing the game. We even mixed it up, playing 2 v 1, and 2 v 2 matches to great success. Spellcaster is an intelligently designed game. It has a ridiculously low buy in cost, which not only refers to it’s price point ($19.99 on www.rnrgames.com), but also in time investment. You won’t be at the table for 9 hours reading the instructions or watching “how to play videos” on YouTube. And then if you put the game away for a couple months, and then come back to it, you won’t have to re-read the manual. It’s perfect for a light game night, especially if said game night will include your “not so into gaming” friends. As a final thought, this game is custom built for bracket style tournaments. Either using one deck, or by purchasing multiple copies, and having two or more games going at the same time. One of the biggest issues I have with the card combat genre is the obnoxiously high learning curve. Couple that with the constant retiring of cards and the seemingly endless updates, and you create a genre not very inviting to casual players. Spellcaster does a fantastic job of eliminating all of these roadblocks, and while there are expansions available for the base game, you do not need them to enjoy the game at all. Until next time everyone, keep gaming.