I do love a good deck builder, and more and more are being published all the time, which is great news for me. Even better news was hearing that USAopoly were making their very own Harry Potter version. I was apprehensive, sure. Would they do the fans of Harry Potter any justice with making yet another game from this IP? Could they appease the deck-building fans as well? Read on.
Hogwarts Battle is a co-operative game for 2-4 players, about £40. You can play as Harry, Ron, Hermione, or Neville Longbottom. An odd choice for the fourth character, you say? Well, he could have been the chosen one instead of Harry if you happen to be clued up on your Harry Potter lore.
You will start the game off with basic spells, a few personal items and allies and over time you will acquire and spend Gringot gold in order to build your personal deck of cards with even better spells, items and allies to assist you as you fight some truly nasty villains, including He-who-shall-not-be-named himself.
What is it like?
Fans of the franchise will simply adore this game. The box itself draws gasps and oohs, lending its look to that of an old suitcase, which, once opened, appears to be full of assorted nik-naks, including the marauder’s map and a box of chocolate frogs. The artwork used on the cards could be one that divides opinion. Whilst the look and feel of the components and board look fantastic, the developers have settled on using stills from the films on the cards. I personally do not mind at all and think this suits quite well. Others may have preferred hand-drawn artwork instead, but for me, this is not a game changer. The cardstock components and tokens are pretty standard. Though I wish they had used a different design for the lightning spells used to attack the villains. Plus, when you see the metal skulls used to mark the villains slowly gaining control over well-known locations from the franchise you cannot help but wonder why they decided to spend a bit more money on these components and not on all of them? Either way, I am very happy with the skull tokens, even if they do stand out a bit more in quality than the others.
The mechanics of the game are pretty solid deck-builder fare: draw 5 cards; use them to acquire gold and lightning; draw more cards; heal players; purchase better cards if able and then rinse and repeat until the villains are defeated or the locations have been taken over, heralding the defeat of the heroes. The twist to this game is the introduction of Dark Arts card which can hurt or slow down the party, sometimes quite significantly, especially when combined with the villain’s abilities. Further woe and lament can be added when players reach zero health and are stunned, forcing them to discard cards and advance the villain’s control over locations. Note that players cannot be killed, only stunned. Players will then be fully healed for the next round, ready to throw caution to the wind again and go on the offensive. No doubt everyone will be working hard co-operatively to mitigate players from being stunned as little as possible, musing over whether they should heal themselves first or their friends who are about to take their next turn and the subsequent beating from the Dark Arts cards and villains.
Further mechanics are introduced over the game in modules found in little boxes representing the years 1-7 along with the books and films. In this regard, the game shines. It introduces players to deck-building and the extra mechanics of the game over time by having them finish and succeed each year first before continuing to the next and opening the corresponding box. Because of this, I shall not give away too many spoilers of what players can expect to see in the latter years. I shall say that they certainly improve the quality of the experience, whilst adding a little complexity. Many would agree the year 1 is probably a little too basic, and if ever I play with friends new to the game I am more than happy to play years 3 or 4 from the outset with them as it offers much more in terms of card diversity, and a healthier challenge from the villains.
So what are the negatives?
Not being able to remove weaker cards from your decks is a little frustrating, when your newly acquired powerful cards are watered down in their effects by your earlier, now redundant ones. The card sizes too are a bit frustrating if you want to sleeve them. Whilst the main deck of playable cards are a standard size, the Dark Arts, Villain and Location are not. The Dark Arts cards are shuffled a lot. I, and possibly many others will be wondering which Slytherin came up with the crazy idea of making these cards a shape that cannot be sleeved? And lastly, the disconnect at having to play the same villains from previous years in later ones. Having to fight and beat Professor Quirrel every year when, in the canon, he is defeated at the end of year one simply does not make sense. I’ve been prepared to ignore this aspect every time I play, but it is an annoying niggle that is always there at the back of my mind. I wish more villains had been created for each year, rather than simply carrying over previous villains to following years.
All-in-all, the game plays exceedingly well. Especially after year 3. The components are good, the artwork is beautiful and in keeping with the look and feel of the franchise. This is a decent deck-builder that is geared well towards newbies of this type of game and children due to the modular aspect. A must-have for fans of Harry Potter young and old who wish to defeat He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named once and for all through an amazing series of adventures that ramp up in intensity and fun. Highly recommended for wizards or muggles alike.
Overall Score 7.5/10