First Thoughts – Summoner Wars

I’ve had about six or seven games of Summoner Wars and so I thought it was time to share my first thoughts of what could be described as, Magic with a board!

Okay, let’s not get carried away, it’s nowhere near as complicated as Magic, what with its unprecedented choice of cards and equally numerous keywords, no, this is a simple game, at least in terms of rules, that is!

There are a few versions of the game on the market but the one we have is the Second Edition starter set, which sees the Tundra Orcs take on the Phoenix Elves. We also have a couple of faction packs, the Eternal Council and the Cloaks.

Whilst you can stick to these pre-built decks, there is an option to build your own, but this is better utilised when you have a greater choice of cards.

The board is a 6 x 8 grid, as shown below.

As you can see, its paper, and suffers from what all paper play mats do, folds! Never mind, as this doesn’t distract from the game at all, though I would like the neoprene version that’s available.

To start, we had a flick through our decks just to get a feel for what they do. It appeared as if it was going to be a simple, quick game, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a game of depth, one of strategic and tactical head scratching.

After placing your Summoner, starting gate, and basic units, as per the back of the Summoners card, you draw 5-cards and the War begins.

The units set up and ready for action!

Players take it in turns and each turn consists of the following – Summon, Move, Build, Attack, Magic, and Draw.

Each unit has a summoning cost. Basically, you spend Magic to summon units, as you will also have to do to cast spells/events, though some do cost 0. Summoned units have to spawn adjacent to a gate. Next you move your units, up to 3-units 1 or 2-spaces each. Then you can build a structure, again paying the cost in Magic if applicable, and these can be placed anywhere in your back three rows is either or adjacent to your Summoner.

Summoner Wars
Some of the Tundra Orcs’ units and events

To attack an enemy unit depends upon the unit. Either melee (adjacent) or ranged (up to 3 spaces away) and you roll a number of dice as indicated on the unit’s card. Damage is then assigned for each symbol rolled that matches that of the unit.

Summoner Wars

During the Magic Phase, you have the option to discard cards from your hand, adding one Magic to your total for each one discarded. That’s followed by the Draw Phase, where you draw back up to a hand of five, unless your draw pile is empty, in which case, tough, you’re stuck with what you have!

Event cards can be played during the phase stated on the card. Some are played onto a unit, keeping their effect from turn to turn, whilst others are Active Events, which last until the start of your next turn.

Well, that’s the basic gist of it, here’s my initial thoughts…

I found it a real quick game to learn and get into, the rules were well written and simple to understand, it sets up pretty rapidly too.

As the first game developed I had several ‘light bulb’ moments, as I twigged on how my cards worked together and how clever the mechanisms actually were. The units worked together quite well, though some more than others, and it paid to hold units in hand until they could be most useful.

There’s a lot of strategy just in how and when to play units to the boards and it can depend upon spawning points. You spawn summoned units next to a gate and you soon learn that building gates in the right place can be advantageous. Rushing your summoner into your opponent’s half of the board may be living dangerously, but if you can get a gate built there and protect it (structures can be attacked too) then you could gain an important advantage.

Of course, the aim of the game is to kill your opposing Summoner, so it can be a risky business putting him in danger, but no risk, no reward!

Ranged units can’t fire through other units, unless they have a specific ability to enable them to do so, and so you can use units as blockers. This also works the other way, too, as some units can move after they attack, so they can move aside for a ranged unit behind to then attack. And so, the tactics start to emerge!

I really enjoyed this part of the game. Working out how to manoeuver my units in order to make the most impact. I could try to surround my opponents units, bringing them down with sheer numbers or preventing them from moving, or I could try and play devious, firing at range and then moving another unit in front to protect the firer.

The all-important Summoner is the strategic key, though. As powerful as they can be, they need protection, so hit and run was a good tactic at times. Mostly, though, we both kept our Summoners in the rear, trying away from direct combat and buffing other units. That is, until I realised that pushing forward and then building gates was an excellent tactic to use. I could then spawn units almost directly into the path of my opposite number, restricting their movement and making them react to me rather than taking the initiative.

All the events in my Tundra Orcs deck were Active events, meaning they only lasted until the start of my next turn. When I came to play the Cloaks, more of them later, some Events were played under a unit card and lasted until it was destroyed.

My Events did various things, such as buffing the strength of an attacking unit(s), forcing units to move, and even granting an extra attack to my Summoner. The Events didn’t look too powerful when looked at before I played, but once I got the strategy in my head and a grasp of how and when to play them, they became a powerful tool. Forcing a unit to move, especially one of my own, after an attack was a major boon because it was like getting an extra move. I could, for example, move three units in my move phase, then, in the attack phase, I could attack with one unit, force another unit to move 2-spaces, and maybe obtain a better position to attack with that unit.

Suddenly, there became a lot to think about. This simple game had revealed an elegance to its mechanisms – simply full of depth!

We only intended to play the one game that evening, we ended up spending about three hours and played a further two or three games – we enjoyed it that much.

A few weeks later we got the Faction Packs I mentioned, and I played the cloaks. I played blind, in other words I didn’t look through the deck before playing, and it took until about half way through, when I drew some different units, for the penny to drop on how to play them. They were quite different to the Orcs.

My play style had to change. From a powerful melee force that was the Orcs, to a more subtle, Sly, and speedy one that belonged to the Cloaks. I also had to get to know my enemy, in this case the Eternal Council, and found them to be really annoying to play against.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a first thoughts not a full blown review, so I’ll start to wind it up.

Summoner Wars, so far, has been an enjoyable, tactical game, pitting the guiles of two Summoners against one another. The decks were all very well themed and the units thematic – they behaved just as you’d think when reading their title and looking at the picture. The decks were well balanced and had a distinct play style, which was great, as swapping decks made the game totally different.

When we got up to speed with our decks, the game flowed at a pace and a game lasted less than an hour (40-60 minutes as per the box).

It was fun to try different tactics out, such as trying to overwhelm your opponent by building gates to restrict movement and summoning at every chance, and there’s still a lot to explore in this area, which I’m looking forward to.

I don’t have any gripes so far. One may think the paper board a bit of a let-down, but you’d be wrong, because this game is cheap, coming in at about £25, with the Master Set around £40. Something to mention here, is that the Master Set doesn’t contain the Factions in the starter set, so by upgrading you get another 6-Factions to add to your collection.

And so, Summoner Wars, so far, so good. More exploration needed yet, though, and then on to a full review.

7 thoughts on “First Thoughts – Summoner Wars

  1. Very nice review Justin, Sounds like there is plenty going on in there to keepo you entertained and with the addition of other faction decks, you get a totally different playing style.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Dave.
      Yeah, each Faction deck we’ve played so far has been quite different, of course, the real challenge will be when we have enough cards to start building our own decks.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds good, Justin! 🙂 Good that the starter set and master sets have different factions and that you can get both for a reasonable price!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We’ve certainly enjoyed it, thanks.
      The price was a factor when I was looking what to buy. I think you get a lot of ‘game’ for your money, even if you don’t get a lot of components, if you know what I mean!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad to hear that you like it, me ol’ mucker! If it was solo-friendly, I could be interested but as it stands, I am not tempted to pick up a new game (thankfully!). I do like the fantasy artwork used in the game though. It looks pretty nice!

    How many expansions are available for this game? If I remember right, Summoner Wars has been out for a while so that could mean a fair few (which would be a good thing, in my book).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The art is limited but what there is, is pretty good.
      There are 12 Faction decks available, plus what you can get in the Masters set. I don’t know if first Edition is compatible with the newer sets, something I’ll have to look into.
      The decks are cheap, which makes it all the more likely that I’ll pick more up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s a pretty good amount of variety and it sounds like it’d be rude not to pick up a few more 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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