Use the force Harry!
Straight out of the gate, I should make a confession: I’m not much of a Potterhead. I liked the books but found them to run out of steam by the sixth one and I think the first couple of films are terrible (as films, let alone as adaptations of a book) and the last one, a two-part cash cow, so I wasn’t really all that excited about the prospect of playing Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – a co-operative deck-building game set in Potter universe, spanning all seven years of the books/films.
You’ll note I keep referencing the films rather than just the books but the reason for that is Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, whilst drawing on the world of Potter, uses images from the films and for me, that’s strike one. Luckily there isn’t really strike two or three as the only thing I can find to criticise the game really begins and ends at that, so lets get to the good stuff!
Setting-up the Game
Starting right at the beginning, the game has the players, split into two teams (two players or four) pick one of four heroes; Harry, Hermione Ron or Neville. Each hero has their own starting deck of pretty basic spells, equipment and allies. For example, Harry begins with several Alohomora’s – which grant you ‘influence token’s’ (that look remarkably like coins,) his owl Hedwig, a firebolt broomstick and his invisibility cloak.
Hermione on the other hand has her Alohamora’s; her moggy Crookshanks, a time-turner and a copy of ‘Beedle The Bard’. The board is then set out with location cards (where round one of your battle will take place, for exmaple Diagon Alley), Dark Arts cards (which invariably degrade the heroes health, decks or location) and Villian cards which contain the various villians the plucky young wizards encountered throughout the seven years after starting Hogwarts.
This brings me to my one and only real complaint; the images used are all from the films and while that’s fine for the hero cards, which change at various stages throughout the game in both skills and image, the villians remain the same as each card is shuffled back into the deck as the game progresses from year to year. This means that the image for Draco Malfoy in year one, more resembles his age from the last film, whilst Lucius Malfoy looks pained and weary – again, from the latter years of the films. I personally think they should have gone with illustrations in the style of the book covers, which may have been able to overcome that obstacle a little bit better.
Each player is also given a board which is used to track health, sit your decks beside and little sections for attack and influence tokens. Already you can tell whether you’ll like this game or love it based on just hearing the names in those decks and the attention to detail.
Playing the Game
Already you can tell whether you’ll like Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle or love it based on just hearing the names in those decks and the attention to detail.
And so the game begins in earnest. Unfairly (although they are villains) each turn begins with the Dark Arts card(s) being turned and resolved, villains resolving any applicable powers and whatever is left of your hand after that is used to build your deck, heal yourself and other allies and damage the baddies with the ultimate aim of the game being to kill all of the baddies before they conquer all of the locations.
Co-operation is needed to figure out the best tactic to take down the baddies most effectively, with enough of a cushion to stay conscious to do so (you can’t actually die – just get knocked unconscious) as getting knocked out means losing half your hand and any reserve tokens, gifted by another player. And whilst defeating a baddie means receiving a reward, it also means revealing another baddie to take its place.
As is typical with any deck-building game, the best allies are the most expensive and often require some fair juggling to afford and some thought needs to go into which cards you buy rather than just grabbing anything you can afford, if you’re going to win.
So what makes it stand out from other games of it’s ilk?
Well, surprisingly for me, the sheer geekery of it all actually pulled me in further, rather than pushing me away. The spell cards not only go some way to explaining what each spell does but they also have little symbolic drawings of how you would perform the actual spell (something I think even a Hogwarts professor would have benefited from whilst teaching classes).
The different gameplay elements that get introduced as you go through the years help evolve and add interest to the already growing stack of spells, equipment and allies to purchase and call upon. The attention to detail in the art is fantastic – from the monochrome Hogwarts logo on the back of player boards to the colourful variation on the back of the hero cards, from the death-eater design on the back of the Dark Art cards to the more elaborate version on the back of the Villain cards - each is lovely and really needs to be made into laser-cut metal badges to wear on a jacket or pin to my laptop bag – even I’d have one and I’m not even a massive fan.
Each year has it’s own set of rules and the very easy to follow instruction book has a little pouch on the back page to store them. Each year comes with unique cards and ‘things’ in its own box, to be opened as you reach it. The decks have little index cards and compartments within the box to store them. The box itself is styled as an ‘olde worlde’ suitcase like the young wizards would use to take their stuff to school – inside which, the board itself has a Trompe-l'œil image (which is just a fancy art term for ‘painted to look like 3D') of the contents of a suitcase.
The location markers are little hexagonal metal skull pieces which look great on their own, outside the game. In fact everything feels well made and none of it rushed, no corners cut.
Final Thoughts on Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
The best thing about Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is the fact that it not only represents a love for its subject matter and the ultimate representation of that into a game (more-so than the Lego Harry Potter video game – and that’s no mean feat) but the fact it has the ability to convert people who were maybe not even fans, into fans of the Harry Potter universe.
If, like me, you have a (girl)friend who loves Harry Potter and who can’t understand why you just don’t ‘get it’ give them the gift of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle and you’ll be (boy)friend of the year.