Sunday, March 21, 2010

Summoner Wars - A Card Game Of Death And Dismemberment

Reprinted from my review at

Let me start this review by saying this: I'm better than you, at least right now. Probably not always, maybe even never again, but right at this very moment, assuming you're NOT an owner of this game in any of it's forms, well, I've got you beat, and you'll soon know it.

I had a FEDEX truck show up at my house this morning and deliver my Starter set for Summoner Wars. Soon, you'll see why my life is so blessed, and you, well right now you're reading this thinking me a fool, but that's your ignorance talking. Read on and realize why.

The box is about the size of one that might come with a nicer pocket knife, or perhaps a large wallet. It's a hair slimmer in width than a DVD case, a hair longer, and about as thick as 3 sitting atop each other. The art on the front, back and sides is very compelling and makes you want to tear the shrinkwrap off with your teeth, foaming at the mouth like some rabid, terrible creature. Well, maybe not that nice, but damned nice. It has a glossy, seamless texture to it that elicits emotions of joy, almost to the point of Gollum and his precious. Well, perhaps more like a rat and something shiny, but still, it's a nice little carrying case for the perilous yet enchanting treasure it holds.

After maliciously murdering said shrinkwrap I opened the box to find 2 decks of wonderfully detailed cards, 5 dice, a fold-out playfield, some wound markers and a rulebook sitting on top, tempting me to read onward into this necronomicon of the dark arts. I hesitated, as I knew that no good could come of this. It was all becoming clear...this box contained a gateway to another dimension, where dishes remain dirty, where the TV remained tuned to channel 834, "Alternative Adult Rock - 90's" and where Pinot Grigio and The Glenlivet flow freely. Yes, this will definately soak up some hours.

After cracking this dark tome of infinite knowledge, I found the short, yet interesting backstory enough to keep me interested without the feeling of reading a novella that implied I may need to make some room in the "Tolkien Knock-Off" file as some games tend to attempt. No pretense, only a quick, one page, "These guys all seek Summoning Stones, they want to get more, so they're kicking some ass".

The actual incantations and explanatory text were appealing to the eye, straightforward, and even rather simple, but were very effective and well organized. Each section had everything where it should be, and it was so easy that had my 8-year old not been eating lunch when the package arrived I may have performed a prescribed ritual and attempted to summon a creature of terrible power to defeat the "Evil One" that lives with me, well, that was until I realized that I only had pocket lint on me, and no Summoning Stone in sight. Damn you, page 1! If only I could find a stone...well, I digress.

The cards, after being carefully removed from their protective cocoon of what I can only identify as an aetherial energy of some kind of arcane manufacture (which has an uncanny resemblance to cellophane),have such lifelike art that the characters may indeed pop out of the card itself in a burst of summoning energy, blinding my children. I shielded my daughters eyes and was buffeted by cries of, "Daddy, don't knock over the kool-aid! I'm eatin' here!!". So young, so brave.

The cards themselves have a slick, playing card texture and are appealingly keen upon the fingers of an old cardsharp such as I. The thickness is perfect for the constant movement of the card/characters as they parry, dodge, and strike at the heart of the opponent's shabby and inglorious ragtag company of soldiers. Any thicker and the cards would be a pain to pick up when defeated, and thinner and they'd bend too easily. As the prophet Golda E.Lox thrice noted, "Just Right".

The battlefield is printed on a parchment-type paper, and my copy was crisp yet uncreased when I pulled it out of the box. Upon deployment to begin my training as a master spellcaster and "King of all I Survey", I noticed that the mat did not lay completely flat due to the warping of being rolled/folded for so long. I covered the sheet with a piece of acrylic and all was well. This practice, as I found later, also aids in the movement of the cards, as the slippery surface allowed the cards to glide like so many ballerinas performing The Four Seasons.

The wound markers are binderboard chits with lovely artwork as well as being thick and durable. The double sided nature, with one side representing one wound and the opposite three, is nice as the evidence left behind from your working of evil magicks for your foul purposes, the better.

The final components were the dice, neatly tucked in a plastic bag, which by all appearance are exactly like the Chessex opaque white dice, with the exception these particular dice would later kill Dwarves and Goblins with such precision that I intend to register them as deadly weapons and lock them in my safe to protect the innocent. Perhaps these are the Summoning Stones foretold in Legend...and speaking of Legend, did I mention that there is a lovely glossary at the back of the Tome Of The Dark Arts? It's quite complete and will help you with your pursuit of power and glory.

All in all, I'd give this purchase a 9 out of 10 for it's quality of components. My major complaint is that the box, in all it's shiny goodness, with all it's wee bits of arcane magick and the promise of eternal power, does not contain the Summoner's Stones, which has hampered my ability to summon any actual Goblins or Dwarves. Dissapointing, so I had to dock a point.

As far as the gameplay goes, the tempo is fast paced, never dull, and was very easy to understand...for my daughter. Apparently her skill as a master summoner exceeds even my own remarkable power as she broke me like a cheap-ass lawn chair not once, but twice consecutively.

The main idea is to use magic (cards that you've spent earlier or captured cards) to summon creatures to walls (that you place initially and may add to later, Crom willing) and to use these summoned creatures to slay the opposing summoner. It's all very easy to understand, at least to those of the 7-9 age bracket.

I give the gameplay a solid 9 rating of 10, and that's only because my daughter kicked my ass. Had I won ONE of the games we played, this might have gone all the way.

So, as I close this thesis on my newfound game, know that until you too have a copy, I will always be better than you. Good luck with that!

What I liked:
*Fast gameplay and quick-reading rulebook make this a super gateway game
*The art is absolutely brilliant
*The value-to-price ratio is better than 1:1 - a ton of game for the money
*Replayability value is ridiculously high
*A multitude of expansions are planned and will be available within months

What I detested:
*That craptastic folded paper playmat is NOT a turn on
*I suck at the game and can't seem to beat my 8 year old

This fast-playing card/miniatures-sans-miniatures game will redefine how you look at card games. It's half Heroscape, half Battlegrounds Fantasy and all kick-ass. Anyone who doesn't have this in their collection is totally missing out.

4.5/5 Stars

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