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Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt! Wiz-War Review

Updated on October 18, 2014

I limped out of my base, four points away from death. I was going to melt someone with enough lightning to make Emperor Palpatine cringe. When the time came to strike, I produced two cards, the first, a lightning spell and the second, enough magical energy to make it travel the entire length of a corridor. I chuckled as I slapped the cards down, but was cut off mid-laugh as my opponent produced something I didn't expect: A wall of earth. The perfect counter.

With horror, I realized there was nothing I could do. My spell rebounded, reducing me to ashes.

This was my tenth game of Wiz-War, marking the very first time I'd died, and I loved every second.

History

Wiz-War was originally created in 1985 by Tom Jolly. The game has gone through many editions, revisions and publishers, the most recent being Fantasy Flight Games. For this edition, they've greatly improved the components, adding art to the cards, plastic miniatures and full-color maps.

The essence of the game is the Tri-Wizard Tournament and the Hunger Games rolled into one very tight, violent package. A number of wizards (four in the base game) are trapped in a maze together. The maze never ends; it simply wraps around itself Pac-Man style. There is only one way out; either stealing your enemy's treasure (think Capture the Flag), or destroying them utterly.

Sadly, that doesn't happen very often. Stealing treasure is the way most games are won. You only need to capture two in order to win; if two players get tangled up in a Wizard Duel, another player will often ignore the fight completely and ferry treasure to their base, winning in a matter of minutes.

Everything included in the box. Your table will never look like this.
Everything included in the box. Your table will never look like this.

Gathering the Magic

The game is a mix of card game and board game; there are pieces to move around on the table, but I estimate that around 70% of its strategy comes from hand management and card play. Before dealing cards, players select four schools of magic from the available eight, which include everything from items to elemental tricks to transfiguration. Each school is designed to have natural synergies and counters, so it balances itself a little better than just a few hundred random spells. Even so, the game is very random. But it's supposed to be that way.

Unlike Gears of War's utterly random dice-rolling combat, Wiz-War filters its randomness through the players themselves. You're given a hand of cards and its your job to figure out how to make the most of them. In effect, the game asks you not only to lasso chaos itself, but to ride it.

Who DOESN'T want to be a golem?
Who DOESN'T want to be a golem?

Embrace the Chaos

Because the game ends so quickly (somewhere between twenty minutes to an hour), it's hard to stay mad at it, especially when you can reset the game in about ten seconds. It's light enough, random enough and short enough to make it all work.

If you remember a game called Star Wars: Epic Duels, this is the next rung up the ladder of complexity, but the gameplay is largely identical. Move your character, play some cards and hope for the best. Massaging tactics out of your cards is part of the inherent challenge.

Like one of my other favorite games, Cosmic Encounter, Wiz-War isn't a supremely deep tactical challenge; its gameplay is random and varied. The only thing you really control is your interaction with other players. Staying alive until you draw into an strong Wombo Combo is part of the appeal. Your job is to keep everyone else from winning until that happens, however. This isn't anything like chess, but rather a beer-and-pretzels game that will take forty-five minutes of your time and leave you with stories to tell.

The House Rules

Because the game has so many cards that can interact in a variety of different ways, it's important to have a firm understanding of the rules. This hasn't been a problem with our group, but a cursory glance around the internet will reveal this as a potential problem for most people. If you don't have a way to resolve rules disputes, or if you have a player who seems to cause them, beware.

However, I was delighted to find a bunch of variant rules in the back of the rulebook. After trying them out, I realized this game is like a sandbox. Want to play with every card in the game? Remove all counterspells? Make all spells fail 75% of the time? This game will let you do it with ease. I find it very interesting that it's a board game that you can play as much as play with.

In fact, the game DOES contain counter-counter spells!
In fact, the game DOES contain counter-counter spells!

Closing Thoughts

This is a fun, light game that's good at being what it is. Don't expect League of Legends; expect Unreal Tournament.

Pros:

+ Short, light, vicious gameplay

+ Lends itself to house rules

+ High-quality components

+ Wizards

Cons:

- Some card interactions are unclear

- Some players will dislike the randomness present in the card draws

- This is a very particular kind of game for a very particular type of person

9.5/10

Once the expansion is released and I can add a fifth player, it'll be a 10/10. I'm always ready to play this game.

© 2014 William157

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