Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a progressive deck-building Game. Starting from game one, you work your way through to game seven, unlocking new cards and other surprises as you go.
Playing Cooperatively or solo, you journey through the world according to J.K Rowling, but is it all Magic and Mayhem, or more of a broken broomstick?
- Designer: Forrest-Pruzan Creative; Kami Mandell; Andrew Wolf
- Artwork: Joe Van Wetering
- Publisher: USAopoly
- Year Released: 2016
- Players: 1-4
- Playing Time: Not stated (From my experience 30-90 minutes)
- Ages: 11+
- Recommended Retail Price: £49.99
What’s in the box?
- 1 Game board
- 252 Cards
- 4 Dice
- 7 Game Boxes
- 4 Player Boards
- 8 Metal villain control tokens
- 35 Attack tokens
- 25 Influence tokens
- 4 Health tokens
- 2 Shield tokens
- 4 More tokens for you to discover!
- 7 Game rules booklets
The board is nice, thick, and sturdy, having silhouettes of the cards to indicate where they go; it is printed in browns and earthy colours. It does have a very nice picture of a packed suitcase printed on its reverse, which can be seen when the box is opened.
The player boards, along with the health, attack and influence tokens, are good quality, 2mm, high-density grey board. All are, once again, printed in earth tones.
Possibly the nicest component in the box are the location tokens, small metal hexagons with a skull embossed on them. They have a lovely weight and feel to them.
The cards come in a variety of different sizes, some of which are square, but the Hogwarts cards are the obvious ones to sleeve, if you are so inclined. They are standard board game size (TCG) 63.5 x 88mm. The majority of the artwork is made up of motion picture stills and images, with a sprinkling of illustrations. All are gloss finished.
There are four dice, which are large (20mm), made of plastic, and have printed symbols.
Each ‘Game’ comes in its own brown box with the game number printed on it, but once opened, the cards can be stored using the included dividers, within the inlay.
The box itself is printed to represent a suitcase, which works well with the picture printed on the reverse of the board. Other than that, the box art is pretty unspectacular, being the house emblems on a… brown background!
How does it play?
- If your familiar with the game play, feel free to sneak along to ‘What do I think?’
This is assuming you start at game 1.
The aim of the game is to defeat all of the Villains before they control all of the locations.
Villains are defeated by causing the appropriate amount of damage to them, whilst Villains control locations by gaining the required amount of location tokens per location, as indicated on the card.
The Villain control tokens, Attack tokens, and the influence tokens, should be placed within easy reach at the side of the board.
Place the location cards in order and face upon the board.
Shuffle the Dark Arts cards and place them face down on the board.
Shuffle, and place the Villain cards face down on the board. Draw the top card placing it face up on the board below the villains stack.
Ensured the four starting decks, as indicated by the heroes name at the bottom, are separated from the rest of the Hogwarts cards. Shuffle the Hogwarts cards and place face down on the board. Draw the top six cards and place them, face up, in the spaces below, thus forming the Hogwarts ‘Market’.
Each player chooses a hero card and takes a turn order card, player board, and the heroes starting deck. They place a health token on the number 10 heart space; shuffle their starting deck and placing it alongside their player board where it indicated. They then draw the top 5 cards to form a hand.
Choose a player to go first.
A turn is broken down into 4 steps.
- Reveal and resolve a Dark Arts card.
- Resolve Villain abilities.
- Play cards from your hand and take hero actions.
- End turn and clean up.
Step 1 – Take a look at the top Location card, it indicates how many Dark Arts cards are to be revealed. Reveal and resolve them one at a time. (Resolutions include, amongst other things, adding a location token, or losing health.)
Step 2 – Each Villain has an ability stated on their card. Read and resolve this ability each turn. Some are triggered by other events, such as a location token being placed, or when a Dark Arts card causes a card to be discarded.
Step 3 – A hero can do the following actions in any order, and may take the same action more than once.
- Play cards from their hand to gain attack or influence tokens.
- Play cards from their hand to generate the effect indicated on the card.
- Assign attack tokens to a Villain.
- Use Influence tokens to acquire new cards from the market.
As any cards not used are discarded at the end of the turn, it is desirable to use all of the cards in the hand. Place a card in front of you to indicate that it has been played, and carry out the effects of that card. Any resources gained are placed in the appropriate section of your player board, ready to be used. (Once again, any resources not used by the active player, are discarded at the end of the turn.)
To assign attack tokens – place them beneath the villain you wish to attack. Once the number of tokens equals their health, then the villain is defeated. You immediately gain the reward stated on its card and remove the villain to the discard space on the board.
By spending influence tokens you may purchase any of the six face up Hogwarts cards in the market. Each card has the amount of influence required to purchase it printed in the bottom right hand corner. Purchased cards are placed on top of the players discard pile. The player can purchase as many cards as they like, providing they have enough influence to pay for them. Purchased cards are NOT replaced in the market until the end of turn.
Step 4 – The following actions should be followed at the end of each players turn.
- Check if the Villains control the current location. If there is the required amount of location tokens on the card, remove them and discard the location, either revealing the next one, or suffering defeat!
- If a Villain was defeated this turn, replace it with the next one from the Villain draw pile. If there are no Villains left to draw, and all in play Villains have been defeated, then you have won the game!
- If there are any empty spaces in the Hogwarts Market, draw cards to fill them. If there are not enough cards to replenish the market, then play continues using only those that are.
- All cards played by the hero this turn are placed in their discard pile, along with any un-played cards in the hand.
- Discard any unused attack and influence tokens.
- Draw a new hand of five cards. If the draw pile becomes empty, then shuffle the discard pile to use as a new draw deck.
Play continues with the next Hero in turn until either all the Villains have been defeated, or all the locations are controlled.
So, what do I think?
I’ll start by admitting that I’m not a Harry Potter fan, the movies are okay, getting better as they progress, but I really can’t get into the books. I just can’t get into a rhythm when reading them.
That said, I really wanted to like this game, if for no other reason than my daughter being a massive HP fan! And, to an extent, I do, but it isn’t all plain sailing…
Lets start with the components.
The box is okay, its a nice compact size, and represents the suitcase you’d be carrying on your way to your first year at Hogwarts, so far so good.
Lifting the lid sees you staring at what appears to be the inside of your nicely packed suitcase, but is actually the artwork on the reverse of the playing board, and it’s probably the nicest bit of artwork in the game!
Let’s quickly talk about the board. I have to ask the question, ‘Why?’ You can easily play this game without the board, which only serves as an indicator as to where to put the decks. Okay, including it is a nice thoughtful, touch, but why does it have to be so dull? The only artwork adorning the board are the silhouettes of the decks, the rest of it is made up of earthy colours, and if you look hard enough you can just make out a map of Hogwarts… I just found it to be very uninspiring!
Which brings me on to the player boards, which are equally as dull. Yes they are functional, but come on, with a name as big as Harry Potter on the box, surely you would expect some stunning artwork to appear somewhere.
Last but not least in the dullness stakes are the individual game boxes. They have ‘Game X’ written on them, and that’s it. Maybe, not being a HP fan, I’m missing something here, and to those in the know this all means something, please tell me if it does!
The tokens are a good size, and I especially like the metal location tokens as they feel like an added luxury and are by far the best component in the box, it just seems a pity that you don’t handle them very often.
The cards, as you’d expect in a deck builder, are numerous, building up as you progress from one game to the next. To me they felt very thin and easy to bend. On comparing them to the cards in Dominion they were only 0.02mm thinner, but the Dominion cards were much stiffer. It just made them feel a little cheap.
The card artwork is okay, especially for HP fans, as the majority of them are photo images.
There are four dice, which are a little on the large side; they’re functional, but not great quality.
Okay, now on to the game play.
For beginners new to deck-building, it’s recommended that you start from game 1, otherwise it is suggested that you start at game 3. As my daughter is new to this genre we started from game 1, and things got off to a promising start, for her… but there were a few things that I questioned straight away.
The starting decks, Harry, Hermione, Ron and Neville, each have ten cards. Of these ten cards, 7 are the spell ‘Alohomora’, 2 are items, and 1 is an ally. The ally, irrespective of who it is, has the exact same effect in each deck – Gain 1 attack; or gain 2 health. This leaves just 2 cards that are different from one hero to the next.
This basically makes it feel that the heroes names are a bit redundant, and that your starting character doesn’t define your strategy. Even in later games, when heroes gain abilities, there is not enough to make each character feel special and different.
My other disappointment was that there was no flavour text on any of the Hogwarts cards. Again this may come down to me not knowing enough about the HP world, but a bit of text on the cards might help to understand why, when you play ‘Arthur Weasley’, all heroes gain 2 influence? Or why should the spell ‘Finite’ remove a location token? For me, I just didn’t get a connection to the cards I was playing with.
All that said, once we got going, I did enjoy the game when playing with my daughter. Playing through to game 4 produced reasonably close finishes, with us just defeating the villains on the final location.
Unfortunately, worrying things began to creep in from game 4 and on – Randomness and balance issues. Whilst these issues don’t crop up in every game, they do appear often enough to warrant consideration.
The main issue of randomness affects the market. As you progress through the games the number of Hogwarts cards is ever expanding, and the issue is the balance of high/low cost cards within the deck. Our first game 4 play-through resulted in a very quick defeat, mainly due to everything available in the market being unaffordable; we made very slow progress in advancing our decks, and as it was a 3 player game, this was a game loser.
The designers have since released an addendum to the rules that enables, once per game, a player to replace all the available cards in the market. They accepted that they were aware of this issue, though they believed it would be an uncommon one – This rule is added as a link at the end of the review.
The other issue of randomness only rears its head when combined with the balance problems I encountered.
Let me explain…
The game just doesn’t scale very well for player count. Play 2 players and the game is easy; play with 4 and it’s quite a challenge. This is down to the speed at which you build your deck – with 2 players, you can be adding cards every other turn, and so your deck quickly becomes efficient. With 4 players however, you add cards every fourth turn, and meanwhile, the Dark Arts cards and Villains are taking their toll on you; get an unlucky combination of these cards, especially when there are three Villains on the board, and the end can come rather quickly.
My final issue with the game is a smaller one – and it’s the fact that there is no way of getting rid of cards in your deck. Most deck builders provide a means of trashing cards, and there is a reason for it; it enables you to change the way your deck works as you go along, tailoring it to the game you are playing at the time. In Hogwarts Battle however, there is no way to achieve this. So, when you are building up a deck to a specific strategy, you have to rely upon the right cards being available in the market. It is a regular occurrence, especially when playing a low player count, where you have to buy something from the market you really don’t want, just to try and introduce something you do need, and because there is no way of trashing it, it clogs up your deck and becomes frustrating!
All this is a shame; when things are going well it can be a satisfying experience to see your deck working how you envisioned. Playing cards that all work together, increasing the damage you do, gaining so much influence you can purchase two or three more cards, or healing everyone and helping them out.
Player interaction is lively, you really need to discuss your deck strategy so that you don’t duplicate, this makes the team much more efficient. You can also help each other out, gaining attack and influence tokens for them to use on their turn.
It’s so frustrating, because under all the issues there is a game just wanting to be heard, but for me it kept falling a little short.
Can I play it… all on my own?
I played a lot of games solo, varying the amount of characters I used as well as the strategies I employed.
Here’s what I concluded –
Don’t play with just one character – It is by far too easy. I played games 4 to 6 like this and won each one with only 1 or 2 tokens on the first location. Even if you’re unlucky and get priced out of the market at the start, you should still be able to come back and win convincingly.
Playing with two characters was equally as easy, and I wouldn’t recommend it. The instructions say you can add tokens to the first location to increase the difficulty, but I found it didn’t make too much difference. Starting at location 2 however, especially in the later games, made for a far more interesting game; but in my opinion, you shouldn’t have deviate from the original rules to balance the game!
Play the game with 3 or 4 heroes however, and you do get a reasonable experience, though it will be a lengthy game, and missing the player interaction, can be a bit dull.
As a recommendation I would say this – If you’re a big Harry Potter fan, take a look at the issues I’ve raised above and, if you can put up with them (especially if you’ll be playing at the lower player count), then this is for you. If, like me, your interests lie elsewhere, then there are plenty of other deck builders around to consider.
You could look no further than the original, Dominion, and then there are so many with popular themes, such as the Legendary encounters series, that you’re sure to find something that suits.
The rules are excellently written, and talk you through your first game. I liked the inclusion of the individual rules leaflets, which fit nicely into the cover of the original rules, and highlight the differences for that game. Set up is quick, and you’ll be playing in just a few minutes.
Play time comes in around 30 minutes to 1 hour for a 2 player game, but stretches to 90 minutes with more players.
There is a fair amount of ‘replayability’; when you win you’re eager to play the next game in line; when you lose, you often feel it was down to luck than judgement, and want to set the record straight!
As for age, some might consider the dark theme of the later films and books unsuitable for young children, but the game doesn’t really go down the same path. I would say 10+ no problems. Playing with the family can lead to the best experiences of the game, and my daughter really enjoyed it; she brought the theme alive with her knowledge of all things Harry Potter!
Play it with 3 or 4 players and the game can be rewarding, especially the final two games. There’s plenty of player interaction, and games can get intense towards the end. Yes you might encounter the odd balance hiccup, but hopefully they should be few and far between.
Play it with 2 players and it’s just too easy, especially once you have a few games under your belt. You can ramp the difficulty by starting on location 2, and this will offer a better game, but the randomness of the Villains, Market, and Dark Arts cards, can also mean you can’t get a deck going, and can lose the game pretty quickly… It seems to be one thing or the other, with not a lot in-between!
Official site – USAopoly
Recommended video review – The Dice Tower with Tom Vasel
Board Game Geek Page – Here
Rule clarification regarding Hogwarts Cards – Designer Andrew Wolf on BGG