Game Overview: Playing as a team in this cooperative game, you are students just starting to learn magic that sometimes works as expected and sometimes creates unexpected havoc. Each student has a unique ability and you must rely on your knowledge (or lack of) of magic as you attempt to protect the Wizard’s academy from imps, trolls, demons, fires, and floods.
Box Contents: There is a lot going on in this box as it weighs in a little over five pounds. It includes two separate game boards, two rule books, 41 sculptured plastic miniatures, 14 thick double sided room boards, 143 game cards, 7 over sized character cards, and 246 cardboard tokens.
The box has a plastic insert that has compartments for the cards and room tiles. The multiple cardboard tiles along with the miniatures must share a much larger open space. With the number of cardboard tokens that are included in the game, bagging them is a must to speed up the setup of the game. Thankfully, there were 15 plastic baggies included.
While we are not really into miniatures like some other gamers, we do appreciate them and how they add to the game experience when they are present. They are very detailed and bring a lot to the game. The imps are pretty small but when comparing them to the size of the player characters, trolls, demons, and guardians it does make sense to have a smaller creature. With that being said, it does not take away from the game play in any way.
The core rule book goes over the game setup, descriptions of the rooms, character cards, and the playing cards. It also briefly touches on the glyphs (used to cast spells), threats, and mana that you will see and use during the game.
The most important thing is that it takes you through a basic game which doesn’t have all of the game rules in place but provides a very solid background on how to play the game. It then gets into the differences between the basic game and the advanced game.
The Grimoire goes it much greater detail on the creatures, threats, cards and room tiles. It also goes into the different scenarios (ten total) that you can play and explains how to set them up. There are normal scenarios using the advanced rules and expert scenarios.
I’m not sure why it was split up into two different rule manuals. Does it work? Kind of. Sometimes it is just easier to look through one manual instead of flipping between them to figure out which manual it is in. It could have easily covered both basic and advanced rules for the different aspects of the game in one location.
While the rules do cover all things, I think it could have been better organized. An example of this is during the basic setup it tells you to place a guardian in two rooms. However, it is three pages later before you actually know which of the plastic miniatures the Guardian actually is.
It should be noted that the game designer, Gregory Carslaw, has created an errata which helps clarify some rules that caused confusion. Those can be found here. In addition, Gregory is very active answering questions on Board Game Geek.
When setting up the game, you shuffle the room tiles and randomly place them onto the main game board. Generally the only exception is that a room called Outer Dimension is placed outside of the academy, which can only be gotten to through a teleportation spell. You will have the ability to shift up to three rooms to improve the academy before the game starts.
The rooms will have different doorways where you will place hallway tokens if they match up with another room’s doorway. This indicates which rooms you can travel in and out of. Each of the room tiles will have a name along with a room action that you can take if you are in that room during the game.
One room is called the Mana Crystal room, where you place glass gems. The mana represents your team’s life. If all of the mana crystals are removed, the game ends.
On the second game board, you will populate your spell book. Each spell card has a spell level on it (1 to 4). These are placed onto the board based on their level. Each scenario will require you to use certain spell’s for each level and then you get to choose the remaining ones. You will be required to select some successful spells and some botched spells.
Next, you prepare the disaster and progression deck. Again, based on the scenario you are playing you use certain cards for each deck and then you can choose the remaining cards that will come into play based on their level.
Finally, you create the room deck which is the same deck used for every scenario.
Each player will select one of the wizards in training to play as. The oversized cards provide a special ability for each character along with the specialist school symbol that they belong to. This is used when you turn over spell cards. If the characters symbol is found, that spell is boosted.
The character cards also allow you to store glyphs, share glyphs, wands, staffs, and robes that you have obtained from room abilities.
As players take their turns, they will first play a previously drawn disaster card. These cards will generally tell you to activate threats that are located in certain rooms. At the start of the game, there will not be any threats and these cards will have no effect. Over time, the game will slowly increase the issues that you will have to deal with.
After resolving the disaster card, players have three actions that they can take on a turn. These can involve moving from one room to another connected room. Take an action in a room, this could include the written text for that room or picking up a glyph that exists in that room. Finally, they can choose to perform magic (once per turn).
To perform a spell, the wizard must have at a minimum two glyphs available to them. You can have them yourself or one can be shared by another player. When casting a spell, you will go to the spell board and turn over the card that matches the two glyphs that you used. You must then take the actions indicated on the card. The card is then turned back over, face side down. The spell cast could be good or could be a botched spell, causing bad things to happen. One important aspect is to remember the name of the spell. Once you have identified the spell, if you have those same glyphs available to you, you can move to the library. Here, if you cast that spell and if you can remember its name, you can bind the spell. This means that it will remain face up and you can use that spell at any time with those glyphs. You want to do this as there are certain disaster cards that will require you to reshuffle all unbound spell cards for a certain spell level.
Initially the upper level spells may not be available to you and you will need to work your way up to them. Many times you will have to resolve other issues before those upper level glyph types become available to you.
As you move through the disaster cards, threats will be added to the academy. When these are initiated, you draw a location card which tells you where the threat is located at. Some of the same disaster cards will have you activate any current threats. You use the same location cards which will tell you which direction those threats will be traveling through the academy.
Once the initial deck of disaster cards has been used, you bring in the top two cards of the progression deck and reshuffle the disaster cards. The progression deck adds new issues that you will have to deal with. They start out on the easier level before really getting amped up once all cards have been added. If at any time you are no longer able to add cards from the progression deck, the game is over.
Replay Ability: The game really stands out with the replay ability options that are available. Yes, there are ten scenarios but what you can do in each scenario is where it really shines. First, each scenario has an easy mode along with a hard mode. From there you will have the randomness of the rooms being set up which will certainly affect every game differently.
Certain spells and disaster/progression cards are required for each scenario but you can either pick or randomly choose the additional spells (both good and bad) that may be seen.
From game to game, the monsters and threats that occur will be moving around the academy differently as they are all based on the location cards that come out when they are activated.
So many variables will come into play each time giving you a different experience.
In addition, this is a game that is easily played solo. You can either go at it with a single character or run multiple characters at the same time, which is probably the better way to do it.
Appropriate Audience: The game suggests 12+ which we think is appropriate based on the complexity of the game. However, since this is a cooperative game you could go slightly lower since an adult could assist.
What We Liked/Didn't Like: The fact that it is truly a cooperative game where everyone must work together is a huge plus here. If the team doesn’t work together, your chances of accomplishing things are greatly reduced.
There is a time commitment involved with getting into a game. When following the directions for the scenarios, it is not a quick and easy setup. It could take up to half an hour with the setup and tear down of the game. Once you get to the game, it seems pretty accurate in the estimate of 90-180 minutes.
There is a quite a bit of luck involved when trying to figure out where the spells are that are needed to move forward in the game. We have had games where we barley made progress because we just couldn’t find the spell card that was needed. We would get it narrowed down and then they would get shuffled around. Sometimes you hit on the card you need right away and other times you struggle finding it.
This game is not easy! While we have no issue with that fact, if you are looking to get into this game you should know this. Currently, we have won approximately 20% of the time.
Because the game has its built in timer with the progression deck, there are times you will see the writing on the wall knowing that you have a very small chance of winning as those cards continue to dwindle. Because of this, as a group you have to decide whether to push on or to just give up on the current game. If not everyone agrees, it can truly take away from the game at that point.
We think it would have been helpful to have a better reference to the glyphs and the type that is associated with them. When setting up the game it tells you to place type # (1-7) in a certain room location, we are always having to go back to the rules manual to identify which glyph type that actually is. If they could have included a number along with a symbol it would have made setup a little easier for something that already takes some time.
Add-ons/Other Releases: n/a