Summoning Favoritism

It is only fair to note I stole this image off of Games & Grub's review of this game. 

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I'm keen to remind folks that I'm not a reviewer and this isn't a review site. However, from time to time, articles like this that are eerily close to reviews appear. I've played 75+ games of Plaid Hat Games' Summoner Wars on iOS and a handful more on physical copies. After all that, I still love it and want to play it so much more. This is a great game and, if I may be so bold, my favorite game.

I think there's value in breaking down what it is about the game that I love so much. The game embraces so many things that are core to my philosophical approach to design. I also think it is a brilliant game for a small publisher.

Simple: Lately, so many games impress me as a designer and delight me as a player for streamlining and focusing their designs. One of my goals for Empire was to make a strategy/war game without all the familiar trappings and complexity of these games. 1812 distills so many elements with simple dice symbols and focused rules. Summoner Wars does this wonderfully.

Firstly, every turn follows 6 simple steps that I can recite by memory.

  1. Draw
  2. Summon Units
  3. Play Events
  4. Move
  5. Attack
  6. Discard for Magic

This simple order makes learning the game easy. They avoid the pitfall of games that let you do things in any order or have really complicated steps. To move, move any 3 Units. How far? 2 spaces. To attack, you attack with any 3 Units. How? Well, they are either melee (adjacent) or range (up to 3 straight spaces). It's so simple and demonstrated with very clear icons.

You also have a ridiculously simple and straightforward combat mechanic. Roll one D6 for every attack number on your Unit. Rolls of 3 and up are hits. That's it. No defense or any of that.

By simplifying these elements, they can go deeper with other elements. Every Unit in the game has a special ability or behavior. Essentially, these merely break or manipulate the few core rules. They allow for additional movement, shooting through friendly units, moving enemy units, and more. This allows for combinations and tactics that let players feel clever and have really dynamic, exciting games. Plus, because the core rules are simple, learning these one-offs isn't difficult or overwhelming.

Board games are really niche. Some of the things that keep them from grabbing new players are cumbersome and confusing rules. With Summoner Wars, Plaid Hat has made a GAMER'S GAME that isn't exhausting or tedious. You have real heft and meat without having to be Alpha Nerd. It's not surprising then that the game is so well regarded on Board Game Geek.

Plays Quickly: This feeds into my previous point, but it's so important that I want to call attention to it. Yesterday, my friend and I played 2 games in 2 hours. My friend had never played before and neither of us had played any of the four factions we used. The next time we play, that hour will drop to a half hour. I can finish games on the iPhone in 15 minutes easily.

Summoner Wars respects my lack of time and plays well with my busy life. The few times when I do have many hours to play we can easily play several games. This lets us try new factions, new strategies, and generally have a great time with quick setup.

Allows for Player Creativity: The game does this most obviously with its Reinforcement packs. For $10 or less (depending on where you buy it), you can buy Reinforcement packs. These include new champion and common Units for 2 Factions PLUS the Mercenary faction (which can be played as a unique faction or mixed in with all other factions).

The game has very strict rules on what constitutes a deck. This might bother really hardcore Magic players. However, for me, it gives me a very finite box in which to be experimental. This simplifies things, makes it more accessible.  I love creating new decks and trying out new strategies. I love discovering synergies between common units and champions. I love finding killer strategies to counter my friends' killer strategies, then tweaking again as they tweak.

The game also allows for creativity in how you play. The game begs you to be clever with how you place walls, the strategies you employ, and how you manipulate and wield your Units' abilities. The game has a subtle bluffing element, rewards a good flank, and allows for spectacular finishes.

Infinitely replayable: You may counter this by noting one must spend money to have this level of replayability, but I have no such problem about continuing to pay. But, let's set expansions aside for a moment.

For $20 you get two Factions that you can expand. For $40, you get SIX Factions and a really slick board, not to mention a huge box to accommodate many many cards. Both of these provide great value without another cent spent.

Let's say you spend $15 (I spent $10 at my FLGS) to get a Reinforcement Pack. You now have cards to modify and tweak 2-3 Factions. There's no CCG collection nonsense. You get everything in that pack. For $6 you can add an entirely new Faction.

There are so many combinations of content available for very reasonable prices. Even if you never buy anything more than the Master Set, by mixing any two of those six, changing your opponent, and changing how you play the factions, you can play for such a long time. Also, and this goes back to my first point, because the new Faction content largely involves slight modifications to the simple core rule set, it isn't difficult to learn the new content.

Easy to learn, tough to master. Infinitely replayable.

Expandable: You may be thinking, "didn't you just talk about this above?" Yes, I did. I'm not going to repeat myself. But, I am going to quickly note that I think the Summoner Wars' business model is brilliant.

They get you into the door at a low price and provide a great value. 6 factions for $40 is very reasonable. Then, for those interested in doing so, they sell small expansions at a low cost. These expansions are a great value as they can work in any combination with the existing content of whatever base set you purchased.

Also, these expansions help Plaid Hat drive additional revenue without hugely increasing their costs. Printing new base games with new IP (like Mice and Mystics) is very expensive. Printing faction packs for dedicated fans? Not so much. Because Plaid Hat has carefully and consistently released new content for their fans, they have earned enough to print not one, but two big new games. That's awesome!

I've love to release new factions for Empire. Granted, it needs to be finished and published, first. But, the business model set forth and demonstrated so successfully by Plaid Hat Games is one I'd love to emulate.

Do you agree or disagree? What's your favorite game? What makes it your favorite? Care to write a companion post? Comment below!