Summoner Wars Master Set – A Written Review
Review #37 – For All Your Board Game News and Reviews Visit 2D6.org!
“It was Ret-Talus, the lord of the Fallen Kingdom, who found the first Summoning Stone. The stone bestowed its power onto the dark-hearted king, changing him into the first of the Summoners. For a thousand years Ret-Talus went unchallenged as he and his summonings wrought havoc upon the world of Itharia. The power of the stone was so great, that though the world sent entire armies to fight against him, none could defeat Ret-Talus. It was not until Dane Lightbringer discovered a second Summoning Stone, that Ret-Talus’s reign was put in check. The discovery of a second stone gave a new hope to the people of Itharia for not only did it mean that Ret-Talus’s power might be countered, but it also meant that the Summoning Stone was not unique. If there were two, surely there were more. Every faction of Itharia began pouring their resources into scouring the world for a Summoning Stone to claim as their own. More stones were revealed, and more Summoners emerged, but the Summoners of Itharia have failed to unite against their common threat and have instead let old faction rivalries and the desire for more Summoning Stones turn them against one another, and so it is that…
The Summoner Wars have begun!”
* * * * * * *
Summoner Wars, is a tactical board game for 2 players played on an 8×6 grid, with additional 2 versus 2 team based rules using 4 Summoners and 2 game boards. Each player controls a faction led by a powerful and unique Summoner in a battle where each player seeks to destroy their opponents Summoner and win the game. With gameplay reminiscent of classic tactical console games such as Final Fantasy: Tactics, Shining Force, and the more obscure but no less classic Mystaria, mixed in with the capture the leader objective of Chess, sautéed with a hint of Magic: The Gathering, and garnished with a subtle hint of Race for the Galaxy, Summoner Wars is a fantasy themed tactical miniatures style smorgasbord that uses cards in place of actual miniatures. The agonizing twist though is that you need to discard valuable cards from your hand to pay the cost to bring other cards into play!
Player’s will summon their forces, maneuver across a tactical grid, and crush the enemy but the game isn’t over until your opponent’s, far from helpless, Summoner is vanquished.
What’s In The Box
Summoner Wars, comes in a 14” x 14” x 3” box that includes a fantastic molded insert that aptly holds all the games components in a nice neat manner with ample room to sleeve your cards and store additional purchasable factions.
• 1 Rulebook
• 1 Battlefield Board split into 2 halves
• 5 Six-Sided Dice
• 20 double sided Wound Markers
• 225 Cards – Broken down into 6 separate factions
Cards: Summoner Wars is predominantly a card game. Thankfully money was thrown at the quality control department and it shows. The cardstock is thick with a glossy laminate which will definitely add to the longevity of the cards. These are full color cards with unique artwork on the front and back and different colored backs to help differentiate between the factions and speed up clean up after a match. The game mechanics are laid out on the cards in a very clean manner with extra large fonts used for the relevant rules, for example a unit’s combat strength number is large enough to be seen from across the table by an opponent. Very discernable images are used to differentiate between ranged and melee attacks, a bow and arrow signifies ranged attack and a sword denotes a melee unit. Even a unit’s special abilities are written in a nice clean font on a nicely contrasting background. Each card has a full color piece of artwork covering about 1/3rd of the card which is very thematic and done extremely well. From the humanoid “Goat-men” of the Mountain Vargath to the desert themed Sand Goblins these 40+ paintings are great. The cards are slightly smaller than what would be considered the standard card size probably best described as a middle ground between “Yu Gi Oh” and “Legend of the Five Rings” which can be slightly problematic when trying to sleeve these cards. While the cards are hardy enough that you do not need to sleeve the cards I was able to find sleeves that were passable if you are so inclined.
I’ll add a few footnotes at the end of this review (since this isn’t a review of game sleeves) elaborating on my sleeving experience.
Battlefield Board: The game board oddly enough comes as 2 separate none interlocking folding halves which are laid next to each other during game play. The boards are large, sturdy, and seem to be pretty durable so far. The image of the “battlefield” is reminiscent of a slightly tattered “battle map” where a general would plan his moves from adding to the theme of the game. There are also additional spaces on each player’s side of the board for a draw pile, discard pile, and a magic pile. Each rectangular “space” on the 8 x 6 board is large enough to fit a card in a space without crowding and there is a nice frictionless laminate on the board so you can simply “slide” your cards across the board as they move as opposed to constantly picking up the cards and moving them that way. I am honestly puzzled as to why the board is 2 halves versus a whole but other than that the board is nice.
Rulebook: The rulebook contains 21 pages of rules, gameplay images, and gameplay examples. The rulebook is laid out in a fairly logical manner and while there isn’t a table of contents, the rules are presented in the order they should be encountered and there is even a handy terminology and definition section towards the end of the rulebook. The rulebook does a great job of explaining the games mechanics and even includes rules for deck construction for players who buy additional packs, 3-4 player team based rules, and discusses additional ways to expand your game play.
Dice and Tokens: Finally the game comes with 5 dice and 20 double sided wound tokens to represent damage on units as it is taken. The dice are well made with the pips engraved into the dice and have a decent heft and roll to them. The cardboard life tokens are made of thick cardboard with a 3 on one side and are blank on the other to represent a single point of damage or 3 points of damage, nothing too exceptional for either component but very serviceable none the less.
Components and Presentation Verdict: 9.0/10 Colby has been quoted a few times saying the Master Set was quite an expense for his company and I can see why. Card quality in the hobby seems to be dropping and it is refreshing to actually see sturdy durable cards that are not paper thin. The cards are also pleasing to look at and show that thought was put into their design. The board is well made and while I believe it would have been better served if it was a single board it still works well. Overall the components show a definite eye towards quality.
How Does It Play?
Summoner Wars is a competitive tactical game played out on an 8×6 rectangular grid that uses cards instead of miniatures to represent each player’s units, if you imagine it as a 2D skirmish game you are halfway to understanding how the game plays. Summoner Wars requires players to use advanced planning skills, a little bit of luck from dice rolling/card drawing, and some clever hand management in order to defeat an opponent. Each player controls a Summoner, a magical sorcerer that can summon allies, evoke magic, and even fight off enemies. Summoning allies is far from cheap though, costing mana which can only be gained by discarding your own cards and/or by defeating enemy units. The card discarding mechanic can occasionally create some very agonizing strategic decisions, do you discard a card that you might need later, to get Mana to summon a card you need now? In the end, there is only one path to victory… the utter destruction of your opponent’s Summoner!
Champion Summon: Each faction has three unique Champions. Champions differentiate themselves from Common Summons by generally being much more powerful (almost as powerful as the Summoners!), they are unique (you can only have one copy of each Champion in your deck (an important distinction if/when you decide to customize your factions), and they can be very expensive to bring into play (8 Mana not being unheard of). The card lists the Champions attack strength in a large circle in the upper left hand corner (how many D6’s you roll when the unit attacks), under that is listed the Champions summoning cost (how many cards must be discarded from your magic pile to bring the card into play), and whether it is a ranged or melee attacker. Next to that is a 3×3 series of dots representing how many Hit Points the Champion has. Under that is listed the unique special ability the Champion possesses.
Common Summon: Commons can be thought of as your grunts (don’t call them cannon fodder some of them are actually fairly tough). The cards are laid out exactly the same as a Champion card, with the difference being you can have up to 10 copies of the same common in your deck, and they are cheaper to summon into play.
Event Card: Event cards are one time use abilities that can thematically be thought of as single use spells cast by your Summoner (They can occasionally create permanent effects though such as resurrecting Units). They give a one time effect and do not cost anything to use. Each deck has to have certain Event Cards in them even if you customize your faction deck.
Reference Card: Each faction comes with a 2 sided reference card. One side lists the factions starting formation (each time you play you start with the same units in play, in the same starting position). The reverse side has a turn phase summary and the listed Event Cards that have to be included in your faction deck each time you play (this is only important when you start customizing your faction).
Summoner: Of course no faction would be complete without their Summoner, a mighty spell caster that can be the lynchpin between victory and defeat. Each Summoner card is laid out exactly the same as a Champion or Common with one exception, since all Summoners start in play, and you only get one Summoner (even if you customize your faction), there is a lightning bolt in place of the summoning cost (signifying there isn’t a casting cost). Each faction’s Summoner has a unique very strong power, some that might even require your Summoner to get into the thick of things, but if your Summoner dies you lose.
Wall: Finally the walls create a unique mechanic. Each faction has 2 walls in their deck (technically 3 but the third always starts in play), walls have 9 hit points (represented by the 9 dots at the bottom of the card), and walls are required to summon Units into play! When a Unit is summoned it has to be placed orthogonally next to a wall (one minor point diagonal actions are for the most part not allowed in Summoner Wars). So if you do not have any walls on the battlefield or you do not have any open orthogonal spaces next to a wall you control (whether because your opponent is blocking or you are blocking), then you cannot summon units into play. This can occasionally lead to some interesting battle tactics by opponents who will intentionally minimize your available summoning locations. Walls are brought into play during the Event Phase (not the Summon Phase) and remember you only have 2 more Walls in your deck.
Setup is extremely quick and easy. Each player picks a faction, sets up the game board according to your faction’s starting layout, shuffles their remaining cards and place them face-down on their Draw Pile section of the board (players start the game without ANY cards in their hand), and then decide who goes first.
Rulebook turn Summary.
Each turn in Summoner Wars is divided into 6 phases that have to be completed in order (the first player of the first turn takes a slightly modified turn to counteract the advantage of going first).
1. Draw: Draw up to 5 cards if you possess less than 5 cards
2. Summon: Bring Units into play from your hand by removing cards from your Magic Pile and placing them in your discard pile. You must remove 1 card for each point of summoning cost listed on a Unit. You may summon as many Units as you can afford and are willing to play on your turn. The summoned Unit(s) must be placed orthogonally next to a wall in play you control.
3. Play Event Cards: Play Event Cards one at a time in any order you like. You must fully resolve an Event Card before you can play another one but you can play as many Event cards as you have in hand.
4. Movement: You may move up to 3 of your Units up to 2 spaces each. Cards cannot move diagonally. Cards cannot move through spaces occupied by other cards. Cards must end their move on an unoccupied space. No Unit can be moved more than once per Movement Phase unless an Event or Special Ability directs otherwise.
5. Attack: Attack with up to 3 different Units that you control on the Battlefield. The Units that you choose to attack with do not have to be the same Units that moved in the previous phase. No Unit can attack more than once per Attack Phase unless an Event or Special Ability directs otherwise. If a Special Ability or Event allows a Unit to attack multiple times that Unit still only counts as 1 of the 3 Units you are allowed to attack with during this Phase. Resolve each attack before moving to the next. When attacking a Unit, if you destroy that Unit, place that Unit Card face-down on top of YOUR Magic Pile.
- Sword Symbol: The Unit can ONLY attack orthogonally a unit adjacent.
- Bow Symbol: The Unit can ONLY attack orthogonally UP TO three spaces away (including adjacent). Again no diagonal attacks are allowed and the 3 spaces must be in a straight line and any card (even friendly) between the attacker and the target BLOCKS line of sight.
- Attack Roll: Roll 1 D6 per point of attack (3 attack means you roll 3 dice for example). Every dice that scores a 3 or higher scores a hit and a 2 or 1 is a miss. Every hit scores 1 point of damage and if a Unit takes damage equal to its remaining hit points (called life points in the game), it is slain and placed in the ATTACKERS Magic Pile.
6. Build Magic: You may take any number of cards from your hand and put them face-down on top of your Magic Pile. This builds up your Magic Pile and frees up your hand so that you can draw more cards on your next turn.
After a player completes all 6 phases, it becomes their opponent’s turn.
A sample game might look something like this:
It is a very interesting game between the Benders and the Deep Dwarves. The Benders turn is about to begin with 7 cards in the Magic Pile, no cards in hand, and due to a tough prior round only 2 commons on the board with the Summoner. The turn starts with Bender drawing the following 5 cards, Controller (2 summon cost, 2 attack, ranged attack, and only 1 hit point), Deceiver (1 summon, 1 attack, ranged, 1 hit point), Breaker (2 summon, 1 attack, ranged, 1 hit point), Wall, and the Event Card Mimic (look at opponents hand if they have an event card take it and place it in your own hand). Bender spends the summon phase brining all 3 of the commons into play, placing them orthogonally next to a wall, and spending a total of 5 Magic to do so. Next for the Event phase Bender casts Mimic, taking the Event card Magic Torrent (spend Magic Points to damage Units Near your Summoner) from the Deep Dwarf, and then plays it! Magic Torrent is put to great effect. Bender spends his remaining 2 Magic Points to injure 2 nearby Gem Mages, slaying both, and placing them in Benders Magic Pile (granting Bender 2 Magic Points in the process).
Bender smiles at the Deep Dwarves player, places the Wall on the board, and then moves on to the Movement Phase of the game turn. Bender moves the Controller into range to hit Tundle the Dwarven Summoner, the newly summoned Deceiver next to another Gem Mage, and the Breaker moves into an advantageous position for the next game turn. It is now time for the Attack! First Bender resolves their Controller attack against Tundle, rolls 2 dice resulting in a 4 and a 5, and scores 2 hits! Tundle is hurt and only has 4 hit points left! The Controllers special power then kicks in allowing Bender to move a close Unit 1 space! Bender moves Breaker 1 space putting Breaker in range to now attack Tundle, a die is rolled scoring a 6! Another hit and Tundle is now down to 3 hit points! For the 3rd attack Deceiver attacks the adjacent Gem Mage rolling a die resulting in a 1, missing the target! The attack phase is over with Bender feeling like he now has the upper hand! Bender doesn’t have any cards in hand so the Build Magic phase is ignored and it is now time for the Deep Dwarves to regroup!
Simplicity of the Rules: 8.5/10 The rules are very well written and organized with game play examples and images. The game is also designed to play simply but have deep strategies. For example all units (barring special abilities) have the same movement, the same to hit target number, and the same line of sight rules. For a skirmish style of game it does a great job avoiding ambiguity.
Daddy Why’s This Guy Got A Sword In His Belly?
As a father of 2 future board gamers, a large concern of mine is how secure am I in letting my eldest son play and or rummage through a game box. Granted, BGG and board games themselves very clearly tell you a minimum age, they don’t tell you exactly why that minimum age was chosen. My hope is to arbitrarily tell you why I think this age range was chosen for this game and then hopefully give a few ideas I might have for a game to make it easier on the young ones. Finally I will close with what seems to be the “sweet spot” for number of players and if the game has solo rules I’ll comment on those too.
Summoner Wars is a competitive board game for 2-4 players ages 9+. The game is full of high fantasy images such as, humanoid goats, orcs, dark elves, and even goblins. While the images are not gory they do have a slightly darker feel to them but nothing overly risqué. Honestly this isn’t anything kids cannot see on Saturday morning cartoons. The basic gameplay is also pretty simple, my 6 year old was able to figure out how to play the game but he did need some adult “tactical suggestions” such as when it was a good time to discard cards, and timing of Event cards. Some of the factions were too complex for him to understand the subtler powers of but he still had fun, even though “Dad these Deep Dwarves die easily don’t they?” Overall an 8 or 9 year old should have no problems playing Summoner Wars and an adult can really enjoy the deeper strategies some of the factions require.
Family Friendliness Verdict: 7.75/10 Summoner Wars is a fun Father/Son, Mother/Daughter game. The game is easy to teach and there aren’t any obtuse rules to confuse younger players.
Summoner wars states it is for 2-4 players but it is really a 2 player game. The back of the box DOES state it is a 2 player game, but the rulebook includes rules for 4 players, which requires the purchase of a second game board. The 4 player rules are for team based play but in my opinion they simply muddy the waters of a game that is fine as a 2 player game. While I thought the 4 player team based rules were OK, I did feel the 3 player rules were a waste of time. For a 3 player game 1 player controls 2 factions, while the other 2 players each control a single faction in a team based battle and I honestly would not play this way again. The 4 player rules aren’t bad though, they are just not for me (I don’t really enjoy team based games that much; I guess I want all the glory from a win.). The game can also be simplified for younger players by removing Event cards and directing them towards more simplistic factions. The Mountain Vargath are a great faction for teaching the game to younger players with their higher hit points and aggressive play style they can easily grasp their tactics “Roman Legion advance!”. An average 2 player game should take in the 30-45 minute range to play and a 4 player game will run about an hour.
* 6 VERY different faction included in the box.
* Rules to customize your Factions (if you buy reinforcement packs).
* The included Factions are fairly well balanced.
* Great card quality.
* Very simple to teach the game.
* Clean rules with very few rules exceptions.
* The storage box, not only does it hold the included Factions there is room for MORE!
* Plays fairly quickly.
* The luck factor, from bad rolls of the dice, to bad card draws, even the best of players can lose due to terrible luck.
* The Factions can get predictable. “You’re playing Mountain Vargath? OK that means you are going to be playing extremely offensively and I need to watch out for your Rusher advance and Brute knock back….”
— Which leads to —
* You WILL eventually want to get reinforcement packs for these factions to reduce the predictability of matches.
* You really need to understand your Faction AND your opponents Faction which creates a learning curve for new players (admittedly for me this is a PRO too).
But Is It Fun?
Colby Dauch has done a great job creating a game that mimics the enjoyment of a grid based miniatures game without the extreme cost often associated with those kinds of games. The Master Set box comes with 6 new Factions but this game has grown even larger. With almost twenty Factions currently available on the market, reinforcement packs that allow you to modify your Factions, and a play test team that seems to have Goblin Whips at their back the game is only getting better.
The game comes with rules to modify your Faction which for me is a great plus. I actually want to buy the reinforcement packs so I can play with a sideboard adding to the surprise element of the game. Admittedly though it’s going to take a lot of plays before you will feel like you need the variety a sideboard can provide.
I really appreciate the simplicity of the rules. I almost hate saying that because I don’t mean to infer the game is simplistic and lacks strategy because that is far from the truth. Simple touches such as the reuse of the number 3, 3 or higher to hit, attack with 3 units, range attack is 3 spaces away, move 3 units on your phase. The symmetry makes it easy to remember the rules. I may not like some of the rules, such as the lack of diagonal interaction, but I can appreciate how it matters on a smaller game board and reduces discrepancies of the rules, especially with ranged line of sight.
The game is very quick to set up and most matches will take only 30ish minutes to play which really aids the Re-match mentality. I like a game where I can challenge someone again if they kick my butt which sadly isn’t possible with some of these 2-4 hour monstrosities. With all due respect to those 2-4 hour monstrosities I do enjoy playing.
Sadly, the game is unbalanced… for anyone unable or flat out unwilling to learn their chosen factions strategy. Yes that was a sensationalist comment made in an effort to lead to the following point. The included factions are indeed fairly well balanced (an impressive feet, in and of itself) but you have to A: Play to your faction’s strengths and B: Know how to exploit your opponents weaknesses. For example the Deep Dwarves are great at turtling and guerilla hit and run tactics. If you are using them, capitalize on this; if you are fighting against them do your best to tear their advantage away! The Mountain Vargath on the other hand follow a much simpler “Charge down your opponent’s throat and beat the living tar out of them” strategy. Be smart, know your faction, but beyond that know your opponents faction too! At the risk of sounding smug, it is fun to crush an opponent with a faction they just spent 5 minutes describing to you just how inept they are.
The game is not perfect though, luck can really hinder your game play. While you would THINK is shouldn’t be too difficult to roll a 3 or higher on a 6 sided die, you will be surprised how often you miss that crucial roll. I have also had my fair share of pretty lousy starting hands “All 3 champions and 1 of my walls? Seriously? What the heck!” It won’t happen often and a good sport will let you either mulligan… or trounce you mercilessly and then challenge you to another match. It all depends on what kind of friends you keep.
With the smaller deck sizes I have yet to feel like a game has turned into a slog or an attrition of forces. Each unit feels like it is important because you know in the back of your mind your draw pile is very finite and that may be your last Unit. This can also create some agonizing decisions when you need to discard cards into your magic pile. Do you hang on to your Champion and discard that event card and those Commons and hope you can somehow get enough Mana to summon that Champion? Do you toss the Champion knowing your Magic Pile is dangerously low and there isn’t a chance you will ever get the Mana… or is there? The additional strategic ramifications of this mechanic do add to the strategy level of what could have been a very simple skirmish level game.
Overall Final Game Verdict: 8.25/10 If you are looking for an expandable skirmish level game to play with a friend that won’t break the bank, this is a game for you!
I picked up Summoner Wars from Myriad Games and wanted to say thanks for a great game!
TO SLEEVE, OR NOT TO SLEEVE, THAT IS THE QUESTION!
I know I already said these cards are well made, so why would I go and sleeve my cards? Well I have 2 boys, they love board games, but they don’t love to wash their hands all the time. I am not germaphobic but I have seen them pick their noses on occasion… So without further rabbit holes I bring you Adventures in sleeving .
After some studious research and weighing the pro’s and con’s of what was available on the market, I settled on Dragon Shield card sleeves.
These are the Mini card sleeves for non-standard card games, which interestingly enough describes Summoner Wars cards. These sleeves provided a few advantages for me. First they are pretty darn durable. Second they come in quite a few different colors which helps to sort the cards after a match.
As you can see the cards fit pretty snugly in the sleeves.
Closer examination does show that the cards stick out of the sleeves just a hair but for me it was worth it for the next point…
… the cards still fit quite nicely on the board even when sleeved.
So in the end it wasn’t a perfect solution but considering all the alternatives, with their own issues, these seemed to work best for me.
Life is short, Play games!
Michael V K
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