As a new board game review site, we’ve hit a lot of milestones and experienced a lot of ‘firsts’ here at Up With Meeple since we launched back in April. And hopefully, through our reviews, you’ve been able to not only get a different take on a few new games (or some old ones you weren’t aware of), but also to learn a bit about us, including what we like and don’t like in when it comes to board gaming, too.
However, since we’re still building up our library of reviews, one thing that we haven’t done yet is examine a new game by directly comparing it to a similar game we’ve looked at in the past. That’s where today’s review of Wizards of the Wild comes in. By coincidence, Wizards happened to be a new title that found its way to the table the week after our review of Seasons was posted, and given the similarities between the two – both use dice and a tableau of cards to represent a contest between rival magic users – evaluating Wizards by comparing it directly with Seasons seemed a natural fit. So, let’s check off another Up With Meeple milestone and see which game fares better in our first head-to-head review.
Wizards of the Wild is a card and dice game for one to five players taking place in world where humans have disappeared, and where the anthropomorphic, magic-using animals that remain behind have decided to engage in a contest to name the greatest wizard in the land. Over the course of seven rounds, players take turns rolling six dice to generate four types of resources – arcane bolts, tomes, mana, and gems – used to acquire and power the spells, and overcome the wizarding challenges, needed to score victory points. Each die can also generate skulls, which are not typically used as a resource, but instead increase the chances that the player will suffer a victory point penalty at the end of the round. Levels for all of these resources are tracked on each player’s wizard sheet, which also provides each wizard a unique gameplay ability.
Each round begins by revealing an acolyte card, presenting a mana penalty levied against all wizards to increase the difficulty of the round, a victory point penalty assessed against the player ending the round with most skulls, and a bribe (paid in gems) which the acolyte will accept in exchange for victory points. A starting selection of four cards available for purchase – two spells and two challenges – is also revealed to begin the game. With the acolyte card setting the parameters of each round, players then take turns rolling the game’s six dice and taking actions. After each player’s initial roll on a given turn, some or all of their dice may be rerolled up to two more times in the hopes of generating a more favorable result. However, each skull rolled adds to the total number of skulls tracked on a wizard’s character sheet, regardless of whether or not that player chooses to reroll the result. This introduces a ‘press-your-luck’ style element of risk to the game, where the odds of generating a better result through rerolls is balanced against the risk of rolling skulls and running afoul of the acolyte’s penalty at the end of the round.
Once a player has finished rolling the dice, they have the option of buying spell and/or challenge cards, activating the abilities of their spells in play, bribing the acolyte, and banking resources for future turns. Although the acolyte can only be bribed once per player per turn, exchanging gems for victory points, a player may buy as many cards and activate as many spell abilities as they wish (and are able to afford). While each of the game’s 39 spell and 39 challenge cards is different, in general, spell cards are purchased using tomes and offer a smaller number of victory points as well as an effect which is available to activate each turn, while challenges are bought with arcane bolts, providing a larger number of victory points (either immediately or at the end of the game) but with no additional effects. Most often, mana is required to activate a spell’s optional effects, although some spells also require a player to take on one or more skulls, and a few of the more expensive spells generate benefits each turn without any additional cost. The final action a player can take is to bank resources for use on a future turn. However, while gems and mana can be saved at any time, players cannot bank tomes and/or arcane bolts on turns in which they also purchased a spell or challenge card.
After a player takes their turn, the tableau of spell and challenge cards is replenished so that the next player has four total options from which to choose. At the end of the round, the player with the most skulls suffers the acolyte’s penalty, all players’ skull meters are reset, and play proceeds on to a new round with a new acolyte. After seven rounds have been completed, any challenges with end-of-game effects are scored, and the wizard with the most victory points is declared the winner.
Overall, Wizards of the Wild is a fun, light game that stands out in a number of respects. The first of these is packaging and value. At a suggested retail price of $25, Wizards packs a lot of high-quality components – linen-finished cards, wooden cubes/markers, custom engraved marbled dice – into a very small, and thus portable, box. The card and player mat art also represents one of Wizards’ biggest strengths. While the graphic design of Seasons was fantastic in its own right, the cute, Wizards whimsical animals available as player characters, featured as acolytes (based off Kickstarter backers’ own pets), and which appear on the cards’ nearly 80 different illustrations give the game that extra bit of appeal for kids, pet owners (like both of us at Up With Meeple), or anyone with a soft spot for our fuzzy friends.
Wizards also takes less time to play than Seasons, which can be counted as an advantage for any lighter game which might be used in a warmup role for weightier titles, or to occupy time while waiting for all the members of your group to trickle in for a day of gaming. Although the box lists playtime at 30-45 minutes, in both of my two-player games, I was able to teach Wizards of the Wild and complete our playthrough in under half an hour, making it reasonable to assume that future two-player games with experienced players could be completed in 20 minutes.
Finally, Wizards positively distinguishes itself with its gameplay. The previously-noted press-your-luck aspect of the game’s dice rolling adds an element of risk to players’ decision calculus, making it feel quite different than Seasons. Additionally, the game’s challenges, and especially the spells, seemed to offer a bit more synergy than the spells and familiars in Seasons – both of my Wizards of the Wild plays ended with one of the players being able to construct an engine to generate points, resources, or to hamstring their opponent, and which was ultimately able to power them to victory. While such card interactions are certainly present in Seasons, they seemed more immediately obvious, and appeared to carry a more powerful payoff to pursue, in Wizards of the Wild. Lastly, players’ actions seemed to more directly impact their opponents in Wizards than was the case in Seasons. While not always taking the form of direct interaction, it felt as if there were more spells and challenges in Wizards that impeded your opponents than was the case in Seasons, where most player interaction revolved around dice selection.
…and a Couple of Snags
Still, Wizards of the Wild does fall flat in a few respects. The biggest of these is a relatively minimal level of strategic choice, especially compared to Seasons. While Seasons forces players to make difficult decisions – between spending and saving resources, among benefits to claim from available dice, balancing those rewards with time costs, and weighing the opportunity cost of playing a card now against their summoning limit – the basic strategy in Wizards simply seems to be ‘buy early and often.’ Given the minimal chance that a card you pass on now will still be available for purchase on future turns, and considering that most cards are worth at least some victory points, it makes little sense to save up for a small number of bigger purchases rather than invest in buying a larger number of smaller cards, nor does it make sense not to power your spell effects (which consume different resources than it takes to purchase cards or bribe the acolyte) every turn if possible. While there is some strategy to card choice, especially when it comes to constructing the powerful (and, admittedly, fun) card engines noted earlier, Wizards of the Wild seems to boil down to the player who can do the most stuff over seven turns winning.
For this reason, you can also argue that Wizards of the Wild is more vulnerable to pure luck than is the case with Seasons. While chance figures prominently into any game involving dice, the ability to select from available resources, and to save those resources more easily, in Seasons helps ensure that any seemingly redundant resources you end up with on one turn can be kept, and might be more useful in the future. In Wizards, conversely, the prohibition against saving tomes/bolts AND buying cards in the same turn leads to a greater chance of wasting surplus resources. As a result, it feels like the player who gets the better rolls in terms of fewer skulls, and exactly the resources they need to buy the maximum number of cards with no wasted, unusable dice, rather than the wizard who has crafted and executed the best strategy, has the best shot being the winner.
In a head-to-head review, there has to be a winner. Here, that winner is Seasons, defeating Wizards of the Wild in our one-on-one contest between card and dice games. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this doesn’t mean Wizards of the Wild isn’t a good game – just that we feel Seasons is a better one. I’d argue that its accessibility to multiple audiences and ages, shorter playing time, affordability, and sheer cuteness make Wizards a viable choice to add to your gaming library, even if you already own Seasons. In the end, Wizards of the Wild is a game we like very much here at Up With Meeple… even if we do like Seasons a bit more.
Up With Meeple Rating:
Bronze medal games are games that are enjoyable and fun, and that you’d like to play again. They might have a minor flaw or two, or there might be a similar game you like to play better, but they’re still games you make a point to play periodically, especially if they haven’t hit the table in awhile.
Wizards of the Wild
by Dan Schnake, Adam West