Summoner Wars: Phoenix Elves vs. Tundra Orcs
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What was once a fertile land of unparalleled beauty was replaced by a wasteland of ice. Now the Phoenix Elves, trapped for millennia in their volcanic halls, have found a Summoning Stone and are ready to seek revenge for the destruction of the Summerlands. But in their way are the Tundra Orcs: frozen reavers with a Stone of their own, as well as plans for grisly conquest.
Summoner Wars: Phoenix Elves vs. Tundra Orcs gives players everything they need to join the War for Itharia, as either of these great races. Will you play the Phoenix Elves, whose magic and ferocity burn as brightly as their anger? Or will you play the Tundra Orcs, and bury the world in a graveyard of ice?
This Summoner Wars Starter Set provides 2 complete Faction decks, as well as all the materials needed to play games of Summoner Wars.
Summoner Wars is an expandable, non-blind purchase card game. It will be expanded with new common and champion units for customizing your favorite faction, and will also be expanded with all new factions and all new Summoners for existing factions. Summoner Wars can also easily support 4 players with the purchase of 2 Starter Sets.
Summoner Wars is one of approximately 683 fantasy army battle games that have shown up on tabletops in the past half- century or so, and it's made by an upstart called Plaid Hat Games. Hence, not many people know about this game. But they ought to!
I'll note Summoner Wars comes available in a few different forms, including this 2- player starter set, faction decks (more teams to play with), expansion decks (allows you to customize the teams you already have), and the Master Set (which costs twice as much but has a bunch of factions and a nicer board). This starter set naturally contains everything two need to play. The box includes: 70 cards, enough for a pair of 35- card decks, a big sheet of paper that'll serve as the battlefield (really a makeshift board), dice, cardboard wound markers, and the rules. They aren't of the highest quality, particularly the paper board which is folded up so tightly that when you unfold it the creases and folds are so severe the cards do slip on them. However, they aren't awful either; they do the job. Plus it's only $20. I can imagine some will want to replace the markers with glass beads, for example, and if production value is paramount to you there's always that Master Set.
The goal of Summoner Wars is simple: kill the opposing Summoner. Each 35- card faction deck has one Summoner card. The remainder of the deck includes: a reference card which will show you how to set up your initial army on the board, nine Event cards, three Walls, and then 21 Units, which are the warriors that'll form the bulk of your army. The board itself is a grid of 8 rows and 6 columns and each space is just big enough to house one card. Players then take turns until one Summoner is toast. To start, the active player draws until he's holding a five- card hand. A player may summon warriors out of their hand and onto the battlefield, but that requires spending magic points. Players can gain magic points in one of two ways: by killing an opposing warrior, and by discarding cards at the end of your turn. Better units of course cost you more magic power. You may only summon guys next to one of your walls, which you begin with one and can draw and play more during the game. Walls can only be on your side of the battlefield, meaning you can't just start summoning guys near the other side near his summoner. After summoning the active player may play Walls and Event cards if any are in hand, which of course gives the player immediate beneficial effects.
Once all this is done, the player gets to move up to 3 units, 2 spots on the battlefield, and then they get to attack with up to 3 units on a target within range. Combat is handled with a combat dice mechanism - one rolls so many six- sided dice depending on how powerful the attack is, and then anything that shows up a 3 or better delivers 1 point of damage. Damage is permanent until healed, and of course once a warrior (or even a wall) takes enough damage, it's killed/ destroyed and the card becomes a point of magic power for the one who offed it. Of course, things aren't always this simple, as most units will have special abilities that mix things up. For example, the Phoenix Elves's Guardian unit is rather weak, only getting 1 die to roll, but is very Precise, meaning that it automatically hits and even a roll of 1-2 would damage the target. The Tundra Orcs meanwhile are usually stronger, in that they roll more dice, but aren't quite so accurate.
One thing I'll note is that in our games, the advantage seemed to shift dramatically with each turn. I'd take a turn and I'd feel good about things. Then my opponent would take a turn, and I was sure I'd be losing at that point. There was a real back and forth and perhaps that's due to the collective power that an event plus three attacks can all provide. There were also many times with multiple strong moves to take, both in terms of short- term tactics as well as on the strategic level. I had to think about whether to target Enemy Unit A or B, if A was easier prey but B was more dangerous to me. Or even something seemingly innocuous, such as where to place my Wall card on the battlefield... placing it on the side may block my opponent next turn, but would it put my summoned creatures in a poor spot out of the way? Or do I try and make a desperate strike on the Summoner and end the game quickly, or try to smoke him out by killing off all his buddies?
The act of discarding your cards to turn into magic points is more significant than what you'd first think. The beginner may soon figure out that by discarding his entire hand each turn that he'll soon be rolling in the magic and still draw back up to 5 cards next turn. And that's true. But there's a catch; doing this makes you exhaust your deck sooner. Once the deck runs out you don't draw any more cards, and if the opponent still has cards left to use you may find yourself all tapped out and in a losing position. So this leads to a spectrum between burning through your deck quickly to summon a bunch of guys quickly in hopes of bum- rushing the opposing summoner, or conserving your deck in hopes that you may find yourself in a winning position once your opponent runs out. It creates some real tension and leaves you with an important decision to make at the end of each turn.
Because each player's deck is only about 30 cards after your initial army setup, you run through the deck quickly and therefore the game plays rather quickly. Games of Summoner Wars can take anywhere from about half an hour to upwards of an hour and once you become comforatble with the game the playtime should be closer to 40-45 minutes. That's pretty quick by fantasy battles standards!
The various factions all have their own strengths and weaknesses, along with their own event cards. The Phoenix Elves for example have decent attacks that automatically hit and are also good at evading attacks. However, they have few hit points, especially their Summoner who's very vulnerable to a surprise attack by the opponents. Orcs have more muscle but can fail and get you nothing. Dwarves have excellent defense and are good at taking out opposing walls, while the Goblins are good at creating a bunch of units, crowding up the board and frustrating the opposition. And truth, each faction has multiple nice strengths and multiple shortcomings, so there's much to explore as you play any one faction a few dozen times. This helps give the game some much needed variety. And that's not even mentioning the other factions, each with their own playstyle(s)!
On the downside, each game has the same objective, which is to kill the Summoner, so the entire game revolves around a singular card and protecting it. And unless you go out and buy expansion packs each deck will remain the same at all times as they aren't initially customizable. The beauty of Summoner Wars comes with a well- tuned and well- built structure that facilitates tough decisions that one has to make, but that structure also limits what one can do with the game. There's no "alternative scenarios" and a more open- ended series of battle types that many other fantasy army battle systems enjoy. Part of my fascination with fantasy army games like Battleground or even Battlelore is that you can set up the board with different terrain and construct fan- made scenarios, but Summoner Wars tends to be rather structured. Heck, each army sets up the same way, every time! While this is hardly a show- stopper, it does make Summoner Wars suffer in comparison to the more open- ended fantasy battles games. The only other downside is that you're looking at $20 for 70 cards plus dice you likely already have, plus a few very cheap components. I suppose it's a good way to try out the game, and if you like it then you can go all- in and buy a better board.
Congratulations to Plaid Hat Games, as they have a honest- to- goodness diamond in the rough going on here with Summoner Wars. While it's not perfect for everyone, I struggle to think of an easy way to make the gameplay itself much better. That's because it's been so well- constructed and then playtested. If you play Summoner Wars you'll have a rich experience of difficult decisions to work through, and you'll probably find one race more to your liking over the others, because they do play so differently. Part chess, part Warhammer, and part resource management, Summoner Wars has plenty of upside with only minor quibbles to strike against it.