Note: Originally written for my FLGS, The Comic Hunter – comichunter.net
Magic: the Gathering is, without question, one of the most popular tabletop games around. I played for years and to this day I think it is easily the best game I have ever played or ever will play. That being said, due to a number of reasons, I don’t play Magic any more but I do enjoy board games a great deal, so I figured I would share some information about 4 different board games (all of which actually use cards) that I believe might appeal to Magic players who may be interested in trying out something a little different.
Released in 2008 by Donald X. Vaccarino, Dominion is arguably the quintessential ‘deck-building’ game. It supports 2 to 4 players, each of which start off with identical base decks of copper coin and victory point cards which will be used to ‘buy’ new cards from the supply (which are randomly determined prior to the start of the game) in order to build up their own deck. The game rules are relatively simple; on each turn you draw 5 cards, use cards that generate coins to purchase new action, victory point or higher-value coin cards, play action cards based on the number of actions you are allowed to take and discard any cards you don’t use. When you run out of cards to draw, just reshuffle your discard pile into your deck and keep going, ready to draw the new cards you’ve bought. Some of these cards will give additional coins when played, while others will give extra draws, actions or buys, which may lead to some huge combos where you can feasibly draw and play a good portion of your deck. There are also some ‘Attack’ cards which you can use to add ‘Curse’ cards into your opponents’ their deck (subtracting from their Victory Points at game-end), or force them to discard cards from their hand. The game ends when either the stack of ‘Province’ cards (they are worth the most Victory Points) have all been purchased, or when any 3 stacks of cards have been emptied from the supply, with the winner being the player who has the most total Victory Points in his or her deck.
While there isn’t anywhere near the amount of player interaction in Dominion as there is in Magic, this game scores points for being self-contained and due to the random nature of the supply setup (games only use 10 out of 25 possible cards to make up the supply), there is a tremendous amount of replayability just out of the base set. That being said, there are several expansions available which add new cards to the Supply, injecting new mechanics beyond what comes with the base game.
The supply in Dominion – image originally from http://boardgamegeek.com/image/392195/dominion?size=medium
Seasons is a competitive card and dice drafting game released in 2012 by designer Régis Bonnessée that plays from 2 to 4 players, with 2 player games taking roughly an hour, increasing with additional players. At the beginning of the game, 9 spell cards are drafted by each player and then split into 3 separate piles; one to start the game and the others to be unlocked on later turns. After the cards are drafted, the game begins with players taking turns rolling custom dice and then drafting from them before resolving the abilities granted. These dice abilities can allow players to gain Energy (which are used to play or activate cards), increase their Summoning Gauge (which increases the number of cards they can have in play at any time), draw additional cards, gain ‘Crystals’ (this games term for Victory Points) or perform a ‘Transmute’ which converts unspent Energy into Crystals, the amount of which varies depending on the season at the time. At the end of the 3rd year, the player with the most Crystals is the winner.
Of the four games in this article, I feel like Seasons offers the closest experience to Magic, despite the amount of dice rolling. There may not be creatures to summon and attack opponents with, but there are many cards that combo extremely well with each other to steal Crystals or Energy from other players, restrict what they are able to do or feed them cards worth negative points that they must then find a way to deal with, giving Seasons a heavy ‘take that’ feeling when played. As with all games in this article, there are a number of expansions that add new cards to the main deck, as well as a number of other tokens and abilities that add more variability to the game.
A 3-player game of Seasons – image originally from http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/1726071/seasons?size=medium
Race for the Galaxy (RftG) is a sci-fi themed, role selection, tableau-building game for 2 to 4 players by Thomas Lehmann, first released by Rio Grande games in 2007. Each round, players select a Role that they wish to activate, reveal them simultaneously and then resolve them in order of the Roles selected. All players get to take the action of each Role, with the players who selected the Role getting a bonus to it, usually in the form of additional cards drawn or kept. Cards serve multiple purposes in the game; they are the cards used when building your tableau, they are discarded as payment for building onto your tableau and they are also used to represent ‘goods’ which some planets can generate. The game ends when a player has built a total of 12 cards or when the the pile of Victory Point tokens has been depleted, at which point the player with the highest amount of VP is the winner.
Of the games listed in this article, I feel that RftG feels the least like Magic when it is played, but once the learning curve is overcome, I believe it should have the most appeal to Magic players. There is a tremendous amount of strategy in a single deck of cards and there are a large variety of ways to approach each and every game. Playing time is relatively quick for experienced players, so it’s easy to fit in several plays in the course of a few hours. While many new players (myself included) may find the iconography to be somewhat confusing at first, it only takes a handful of plays before the game clicks and strategies begin emerging, and should you ever feel the need to shake things up, there are several expansions to the base set which add new mechanics into the mix. In my experience, despite this game often being described as ‘multi-player solitaire’, the fact that the game is essentially a race to building the best tableau does give some feelings of competitiveness, even if you can’t directly affect what your opponents are doing.
A game of Race for the Galaxy in progress – image orignally from http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/1156412/race-galaxy?size=medium
Published by Colby Dauch and Plaid Hat Games in 2011, Summoner Wars is a 1-on-1 skirmish game that plays in roughly 30 minutes. For lack of a better comparison, Summoner Wars may best be described as a miniatures game without the miniatures. At the start of the game, each Player chooses their Faction and arranges their side of the board according to the provided setup card. On each turn, a Player will be able to summon new units, play Event cards, move their units on the board and then attack the enemy. Attacks are resolved by dice rolls, with 3 and above resulting in a hit in most cases. Enemy units that are killed and cards that can be discarded at the end of their turns make up a players Magic pile, which are used on later turns to summon new units and activate some special abilities. The game ends when one player loses takes lethal damage on their Summoner unit.
Of the 4 games I’ve written about in this article, I think Summoner Wars is probably the most approachable to Magic players. There are a good number of different faction decks to choose from (and 6 come with the Summoner Wars Master Set, easily the best mix of value and replayability), each with wildly different styles. Where I think this game may fall short for Magic players is the randomness of the dice; even after several dozen matches, it doesn’t often feel good to roll all misses on what should otherwise be a winning around, only to lose due to a perfect roll from your opponent.
A Summoner Wars match in progress – image originally from http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/1424999/summoner-wars-master-set?size=medium
So there you have it, the 4 board games that I think may appeal to Magic players who are looking for a new game to play between matches. There are a few others that I don’t have personal experience with, namely Mage Wars by Bryan Pope and Android: Netrunner by Richard Garfield, also of Magic: the Gathering fame. If you’re around Charlottetown and want to try either Seasons or Summoner Wars, let me know (either in the comments below on or on twitter @funeral0polis) and I’ll be happy to bring either or both of them down to board game night, which we run most Mondays from 6:30 PM to close.