All I can say now is "Wow".
Combining elements of a customizable card game with a strategic board game, Summoner Wars does a great job of making these two blend together in a way that is innovative and a ton of fun to play. But enough praise! Let's get down to the nitty gritty.
So What's In The Box?
The Summoner Wars Master Set contains six decks representing six very different armies and a very nice looking game board. This last bit is a vast improvement over the original two player sets which came with a paper board that you had to unfold and flatten out. I haven't seen one of these first hand but just the thought of it is enough to make me cringe. This might be a minor point to some but I'm definitely glad they decided to step it up with the Master Set.
As for the cards themselves, they feel like they are a good quality so its not like you have to worry about these getting worn down after a few shuffles and the artwork is superb as well.
Last but definitely not least the box comes with a spacer that gives you enough room for not only the cards that are included in the set but most of the decks that are currently out should fit in there as well! This is great bit of foresight by Plaid Hat as there's nothing worse than having to dig around for a bunch of additional boxes to be able to play the game.
How Do You Get Started?
Once you have the board set up its time to pick your faction! The Master Set comes with six pre made decks for you to just grab and go but Plaid Hat also makes a number of additional faction decks as well. You're not limited there though as most of the factions currently out also have reinforcements that you can swap into your deck as well as mercenaries to let you really add your own flavor to your deck. Even with these options available, there are very specific rules on deck construction that makes customizing your deck a very quick and painless task.
After you've chosen your faction, deployment is incredibly straightforward as its all laid out on a reference card that comes with the various decks. Just pull out the cards you need and put them on the board, give your deck a quick shuffle, and you're ready to go!
How Do You Win?
The goal of the game is extremely straightforward in concept; kill the opponent's summoner. It sounds easy enough but first you have to get past their defenses while keeping yourself safe from your opponents units. This creates an almost chess like ballet of moves and counter moves as you each vie for position to deliver that killing blow.
How Do You Play?
A regular turn in Summoner Wars consists of six very distinct phases that you play though.
1) Draw your hand up to fives cards.
2) Summon units from your hand by spending magic equal to their summoning cost. Of course you have to get build up your own magic to do that but that's one of the ingenious things about this game. One of the two ways that you can build up your magic is by destroying enemy units so right off the bat the game pushes you to be aggressive and rewards you for going for the throat. This mechanic virtually guarantees that every game is going to be quick and bloody as holding back and turtling will result in you quickly being overrun.
3) In addition to the units cards there are also event cards, most of which are played at this point in the turn. These cards let you do some kind of special move that fits in with the character of the various summoners. The militaristic Mountain Vargath have cards that boost their summoner natural command abilities or call common military units to him instantly while the mind altering Benders have cards that let you steal one of your opponents event cards to use on your own troops.
4) Once you've played your events its time to get to grips and let the bloodbath begin! The catch is that you can't move all of your cards. Instead you can only move three of them in your turn and even then most units can only move two spaces tops with no diagonal! This really pushes you to think about you moves in advance as you try to slowly out maneuver your opponent.
5) After you've moved its time to strike down the enemy but just like the movement phase you can only make a total of three attacks. The combination of these two limits not keeps the game moving quickly but also greatly reduces the down time you experience during your opponents turn which is great. There's nothing worse than just sitting around waiting for your opponent to move all of the pieces in their army while you just sit there and wait and this game does a great job of keeping your engaged and invested.
As for the combat itself, its quick and simple just like the rest of the game. Each unit has an attack value printed on their card which is how many you dice you roll when you attack. For each die that comes up three or more a hit is scored and a wound is inflicted. In some cases this is enough to take out the unit (most of the common units for example can out take one wound before being destroyed) while others like the champions can take four to six points of damage.
6) At the end of the turn its time to do one of the most important things; build magic. This is the second way that you can gain magic that you need to summon units or use various special powers of the summoners or your other units. To build magic all you do is put cards from your hand into your magic pile. This sounds deceptively simple but sometimes putting those cards down is almost painful. Do you really want to get rid of that champion to build up your magic? Or what about those other units or event cards? Magic is essential to win the game but that usually doesn't make it any easier to take those cards out of your hand.
And that in a nutshell is a turn! Quick, simple, and right to the point... unless its the first turn. This is an additional mechanic that I really like. The player that goes first in the game skips steps 1, 2, and 3 and can only move two units of the first turn. This ensures that the first player isn't able to get the drop on their opponent and just run them into the ground.
How Does It Measure Up?
This is a great game that I really can't recommend highly enough and with all the expansions out there you have tons of options available to you so its not a game that's going to get stale any time soon. Each army has its own distinct feel and the folks at Plaid Hat Games have done everything they can to make sure that the factions are balanced against each other so you don't have to worry about somebody getting a hold of the uber deck and just decimating everyone on a regular basis.
The Parting Shot...
I hope you've enjoyed this look at Summoner Wars Master Set. If you have any comments or questions about the game I'd love to here them so go ahead and post them right in the comments and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Until next time...