Summoner Wars: Master Set
Being a customizable card game connoisseur can be expensive. More often than not, you’ll drop five bucks or more on expansion packs in the hopes of getting a rare card that will boost your main deck…sometimes with disappointing results. I experienced a lot of that when trying to build my first Star Trek Customizable Card Game deck when I was a kid. I may have to bring my binder out of mothballs and review that game as well…but for now, we’re going to take a look at a lighter two player card game that is much easier to pick up and play.
*Editor’s Note: You can play with four players, but you need another board similar to this one and at least four decks, one for each player.
In Summoner Wars: Master Set, two players will be choosing one of the six decks included with the game. Each deck is a different faction that is made up of varying units and abilities. The object of the game is to destroy your opponent’s summoner…a mechanic similar to that of a king piece in chess. Let’s take a look at what comes with the game, how it is played, and finally get into the review.
The game comes with six decks that each have their own summoner card, wall cards, reference cards, event cards, and various unit cards. What separates each deck is their individual faction’s theme…some are all about brute force while others are better at being sneaky or using magical abilities.
Also included with the game are five dice and some wound markers. The dice will be used during battles and the wound markers will be placed on units in order to keep track of their life points.
That’s all there is to it. There are extra spaces in the box insert should you decide to expand on your collection by way of reinforcement packs and new faction decks…but I’ll get into all of that later.
Setup & Gameplay Mechanics
Setup is fairly simple. Place the two boards together and pull out your deck’s reference card. One side of this card will show you which units start the game in which spaces…set up your side of the board accordingly. After you are done, you may want to flip the reference card over and keep it handy as it lists the six phases you’ll see during a player’s turn.
Two players roll a die and the whoever rolls the higher number goes first. The starting player, to make up for having the advantage, only performs the last three phases of the normal six for their first turn only. They are also restricted to moving only two units instead of three during the movement phase.
Speaking of phases, let’s take a look at how a player’s turn progresses.
1. Draw – Draw up to five cards from your deck.
2. Summon – Spend magic points from your magic card pile to place units onto the battlefield. Summoned units are “spawned” next to one of your walls.
3. Event Cards – Play any event or wall cards that you may have in your hand.
4. Movement – Under normal circumstances, you can move up to three units, up to two spaces each.
5. Attack – Under normal circumstances, you can attack with three units, one attack per unit. When attacking, a roll of three or better on a die causes your enemy to receive a wound token. Some units can roll multiple dice when attacking, increasing how many wounds they can inflict per attack. After so many wounds, a unit is removed from the battlefield. Units that you defeat in this way are placed face down into your magic pile.
6. Build Magic – Place any cards you don’t want from your hand and place them face down into your magic pile. Players will be using magic to summon units and perform special abilities. Using magic in these ways means discarding the appropriate amount of facedown magic cards, face up into your discard pile.
I know that I didn’t go that in-depth on how everything works, but that is the gist of it. I found an excellent tutorial video that was extremely helpful in teaching me how to play, located here:
Players will be taking turns, trying to get to and defeat their opponent’s summoner. Once someone runs out of cards, they must continue to play with what they have…so there’s a bit of strategy involved. Players are often tasked with finding a good balance between building a good amount of magic while not hurting their overall potency on the battlefield.
Expanding Your Collection
The Summoner Wars: Master Set is a recent release that contains six races and a quality board. Previous releases included starter sets that featured two races each and a lower quality playing field. There are also stand-alone faction packs you can buy, as well as reinforcement decks that add new cards to existing factions. Unlike other customizable card games, reinforcement decks of one type all contain the same type of cards, so you’ll only need to buy them once.
You can see all the different kinds of products that are available here:
First, I want to give a thumbs up for how easy it is to set up and clean up the game. The makers managed to make a fairly complex game with a minimal amount of components. The box insert is designed to hold more than the six original decks, allowing owners of starter sets or expansions to organize all of their decks into one box. Excellent, excellent idea.
The learning curve wasn’t bad at all…watching the video that I linked above certainly helped. I believe the biggest challenge players will face is getting used to how each faction deck plays out and how best to utilize their abilities. My eleven year old son picked up on the game mechanics right away without ever having to watch the video. He spent more time reading the special abilities on the cards than asking for direction regarding the game mechanics.
As varied as the decks are, they are very balanced. In the two games we played, we both found ourselves fighting until the bitter end. When things looked bleak for one of us, we always managed to get right back into the game with either an event card or by summoning more units.
I personally enjoyed the strategy involved with troop placement and attacking. I was forced to constantly think ahead to see where my son might go on his next move. If I saw that he could push a ranged unit into attack range, I’d move the possible target back a space or behind a wall. Some of my event cards relied on certain board conditions to be met before they could be played, so it was a gamble to keep them in my hand until I could use them or dump them into my magic pool to help me summon more units. The dice rolling for attacks may turn off those that are pure strategists, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.
My only gripe thus far is not being able to find some of the faction decks for purchase…the ones I want are sold out on their website and when you do find them, the seller wants over twenty bucks for them…a piece. I hope that Plaid Hat has the ability to restock their inventory soon…they are missing out on some potential sales.
The quality is excellent and the game plays fairly quickly, which is a welcome change from the days one could spend building a deck in another game. The cards are also fairly simple to understand…another welcome change from having to decipher hundreds of different Magic: The Gathering cards. My Magic cards have been sitting on my desk for months and I still haven’t been able to figure out what half of them do…the curse of getting old I suppose.
Bottom line…I highly recommend this game. It’s fun and easy to pick up and play. If you’re looking to “duke it out” with someone else but can’t commit to a game that takes hours to play, Summoner Wars would fit the bill nicely.
Final Verdict: 7/10