This is an actual, abridged conversation held between Aaron Lynch, Jordan Barber and Jason Schumacher.
Aaron: Epic Spell Warz: Duel at Mt. Skullz Fire is a new game by Cryptozoic Entertainment. It feels somewhere between a heavy metal concert and Adventure Time. To explain the basics, every player acts as a sorcerer that is in a duel with between one and five other players in any game. In each round, sorcerers take turns playing spells composed of a source, a quality and a delivery with the goal of destroying their opponents. The player that does not die in each round played gets a “Last Wizard Standing Token” and the first person to win two rounds wins the game.
Cryptozoic Entertainment is a relatively new company, but this game showed real promise. Jordan, Jason and played the game and took this opportunity to analyze the game’s strengths and weaknesses. Overall, what drew me to it was the game’s unique mechanics and it’s silly yet violent personality.
Jason: Oh my god. The fonts! The game is very tongue-in-cheek and makes everything extreme and absurd. It’s crazy and a silly game, which makes it a lot of fun to play. Also, It is super easy to pick up and the rounds themselves should be very quick.
Jordan: There is a lack of games that expand easily from two players to six players. If I were to compare this to
any other game, I think Bang, Citadels or a multiplayer game of Magic: The Gathering are the easiest parallels to make. This is a game you can easily play with a whole bunch of players and you are trying to kill each other. The makers behind it are clearly very talented artistically and originality.
Aaron: I would agree with both of you – it is well designed both artistically and mechanically. It was easy to pick up from the rule book the first time I played it and subsequently to teach each new person. It was fairly simple in concept and the explanations were very straight forward.
Jason: The great thing about the game is you cannot take it too seriously. Everything is absolutely ridiculous, from Pisster, the Pissed Wizard to the card ‘Meatier’ Swarm. The theme and tone of the game ensures that the game is fun regardless of whether or not you win.
Jordan: In fact, it deemphasizes the winning aspect, which puts it in the same category as a party game and makes it feel more like entertainment than pure strategy games. It has a nice catch and theme, which works really well. The catch for me is its ability to create an ‘explode everyone spell,’ which makes everyone excited every turn and includes the anticipation that keeps you going.
Aaron: To me it felt like middle schoolers playing with fireworks. People would get bored when they didn’t have a firework in their hand, but when their turn came up, their powerful spell would explode in a blaze of glory and then it was the next person’s turn to shoot off their firework.
Jason: I have only played this a couple times, but this game reminds me a little of Munchkin Quest as far as the absurd setting.
It feels really silly, stupid and ridiculous and things often backfire on you, but people don’t care too much because it makes a good story.
Classifying this Game
Jason: I agree with Jordan – this is a little bit of a party game. It doesn’t fit into party gaming in the traditional sense based on the audience it is trying to reach, but it can incorporate lots of people and the people having fun are not always winning.
Jordan: Also, it feels like a party game for the reason that anyone can win if they get lucky. Any one has the power to affect everyone else in the game at any point in the game. It’s not about building up your economy or constructing a long term strategy, but what you get in your hand.
Jason: Yes, there is a little bit of strategy, but it is also about what you have in your hand and what you do in the moment.
Aaron: It seemed that there were a few scalability issues in the game. One that I identified was that cards mattered differently depending on the number of players. Cards change value between a two player game and a six player game. To get into specifics, healing can be much better in bigger games, healing didn’t matter too much in a two player game. Whereas, in a two player game, there was no reason to play the cards that target all foes because they tend to be much weaker.
Jordan: I think scalability is always hard with games with wide player ranges, kind of like the way Bang has some scalability issues. Clearly the game wasn’t designed for two players and, while we didn’t played with four, it seems like that is the sweet spot.
Aaron: The victory mechanic was another reason for scalability issues. There seems to be a multiplier effect based on the active number of players. So while one round in a two player game is relatively quick, one round in a five player game takes so much longer time because there are so many more hit points to account for. So the number of players in the game changes the length of the game drastically.
Jason: One game mechanic I really liked was the dead wizard token, which acted as a benefit for players who were killed in the round early. The mechanic does a good job of naturally making rounds end quickly, by incentivizing other wizards to kill each other, which has the added benefit of making people feel okay about dying early.
Jordan: Not many games have the objective of eliminating players from play itself. That mechanic is always a bit of a risk, especially in party games, because it causes players to feel excluded for potentially large portions of the game. However, I think this game did a good job of mitigating that negative feeling.
Jordan: I was actually convinced the dead wizard cards were a negative thing. Because there are so many cards that emphasize killing the player with the greatest number of hit points, having the most hit points usually directed more attacks in your direction.
Jason: That is actually a really interesting point you bring up. Let’s talk a little bit about the balance of who the game naturally targets. It seems that the game targets the strongest opponents much more frequently in the game and even the cards that target the weakest foes are less powerful, which I think is both intentional and a very good decision if this is intended to be a pa
Jordan: This type of game always reminds me of a western style dual, similar to Bang. The game doesn’t always direct you to who you should be shooting. Sometimes in game, it is very directionalist, but Battle Wizards does it better because there is forced fire (left, right, weakest, strongest). I didn’t feel like there is a goal.rty game.
Jason: I agree. There were only a few spell cards that allowed someone to choose who they wanted to attack, which takes the responsibility out of the actor and made it about the game rather than personally attacking people.
Jordan: One other thing I was always waiting for was the opportunity to cast a 3 glyph spell in the game.
Jason: I had the opportunity a couple times and it only seemed moderately more powerful, but powerful enough to save your set of two. There is a little tension in the game between power rolls and non-power roll cards. So the power roll cards are the only ones that benefit from mat
ching glyphs up with one another. Do you think that the game would benefit from allowing players to benefit from having more cards that balance the benefit of having three glyphs.
Aaron: I think one of the great balancing mechanics in the game was the cards that benefited from having multiple glyphs in your spell rather than trying to triple up on glyphs at every opportunity. However, I also think that the game should emphasize matching spells up because that is harder to do.
Jason: I would be interested to see how the game would play out if dead wizard cards were given out in an escalating fashion. So instead players would instead be given one in the first round, two in the second round, etc.
Jordan: I think that’s a good idea, but it could also spiral out of control. I never felt that the dead wizard cards really helped anyone win. After playing it a couple times, I feel that I would eventually be looking for the goofy fun cards that aren’t necessarily all about damage, but more about having interesting interactions, like the illusion cards, which forced more interesting choices. If there is an expansion, I would be interested in more interesting mechanics.
Jason: It would be interesting to have the cards that change the complexity. For example, the crystal ball card that allows you to clone another one of your spells that turn. I wish there were more cards that rewarded you for playing one to two cards. I felt the initiative issue was a very small one and one that might need some balancing.
Aaron: One thing I would suggest to improve the game is increase the scale of the number in the game. While not changing the game play at all, this small change would make the players feel much more powerful and epic when an action happens. I wou
ldn’t change the actual balance of the game, but I think it just feels better to do seventy damage rather than seven damage. Also, scaling the numbers up would give the game designers a little more flexibility in balancing, rather than having damage between 1 and 10.
For more information on Epic Spell Warz: Duel at Mt. Skullz Fire and Crypotozoic Entertainment, visit their website.