Overview: This is a world of radical magic and over-the-top, head-a’splodin’ incantations. The full name of the game is Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre, which gives you a taste of what’s inside. The goal is to be the last wizard standing … twice, because dead wizards don’t stay dead.
Players: 2 to 6
Ages: 15 and up (for extreme cartoon violence, language, and innuendo)
Playing Time: 20 to 40 minutes (longer with more players)
Rating: It’s a riot, but one that your kids probably shouldn’t join.
Who Will Like It? If you like the idea of blasting your fellow players with crazy spells and you don’t mind the cartoon gore (or a good deal of luck-based mechanics), Epic Spell Wars is a hoot to play. If you’re easily offended, I’ll be blunt: this game will probably offend you.
The rulebook starts off with a two page story about the world of Mt. Skullzfyre and Uncle Andy, who created the battle wizard tournaments to keep things “from being normal and lame.” So now instead of everyday life, the world is filled with fireballs and skulls and “whirlpools of blood.” Dying just means you come back for the next round of the tournament, in the hopes of winning Annihilageddon. I should note: most of the swearing is in the rulebook itself, which drops a few f-bombs and plenty of other language innuendo that you probably shouldn’t read aloud to your kids.
The theme plays out in the cards, which graphically depict the results of spells like the “gorenado” and the “brain-suck.” Also, true to the theme, dying doesn’t mean the game’s over: you get Dead Wizard cards (more on that later) and come back in the next game.
- 8 Hero cards (health trackers)
- 7 Last Wizard Standing tokens
- 6 skull life counters
- 128 Spell cards (40 Source cards, 40 Quality cards, 40 Delivery cards, 8 Wild Magic cards)
- 25 Treasure cards
- 25 Dead Wizard cards
- 4 six-sided dice (black with red pips)
- 1 cardboard Mt. Skullzfyre stand-up sign
The cards and dice are standard sized and quality. The artwork, by Nick Edwards, is cartoony and extremely violent. Picture “Itchy & Scratchy” from The Simpsons, but with people and a bit more gore. It’s the sort of thing adolescent boys would probably really get a kick out of — your mileage may vary. I’ll show you a few of the tamer cards, but basically you need to be okay with exploding guts, melting faces, and that sort of thing. That said, if you like absurdly over-the-top cartoon violence, then you’ll probably love this artwork. One clever thing is the way the spell blast image lines up across three cards.
The cards themselves are fairly easy to read, although the little S, Q, D icons aren’t really necessary and just add some business to the cards. You can tell which part of a spell is which simply by the card borders and the illustration anyway. The text on the cards spells things out pretty clearly, so there’s usually no reason to consult the rulebook about what it means: strongest foe, weakest foe, player to the right, etc.
Speaking of the rulebook, though, I wish they’d spent more time checking it for rules and less time being clever. There are some things that aren’t specifically spelled out — most notably, when are you considered “slain”? Is it when you reach the “1” – the last spot on the Hero Card — or when you go below 1? We just decided for ourselves, but it doesn’t actually say in the rulebook as far as I can tell.
Each player takes a Hero card (they have different names and illustrations but no special abilities) and a skull counter, and starts with 20 hit points (HP). The Spell cards, the Treasure cards, and Dead Wizards cards are each shuffled separately and placed face down in three separate piles.
The object of the game is to collect two Last Wizard Standing tokens, by killing all of your opponents … twice.
At the start of each round of play, each living wizard draws from the main spell deck until they have eight cards.
Spell cards consist of Source, Quality, and Delivery (the beginning, middle, and end). The Source has the name of a character on it, like “Midnight Merlin’s” or “Thai Foon’s.” The Quality is an adjective: “inferno-tastic,” “maggotty,” “disco-mirrored.” The Delivery is the spell itself: “Death Wish,” “Meatier Swarm,” “Testikill.” (Yes, that’s the name of one o the spells.) The Delivery also has an initiative number on it — the higher the number, the sooner you get to play it. Also, each card has a glyph in the bottom corner representing one of five types of magic: Arcane, Dark, Elemental, Illusion, or Primal.
Each player selects up to three cards from their hand and creates a spell, and places it face-down in front of them. You can choose to use fewer than three cards if you want: you’ll get to play sooner, but you won’t do as much damage. Wild Magic cards are wild cards which can be substituted for any part of the spell — they will be replaced by a card from the main deck once your spell comes into play.
Once everyone has chosen a spell, you first reveal how many cards are in your spell, and then read the initiative number. (If you have no Delivery in your spell or the Delivery is a Wild Magic card, then the initiative is zero.) Players with the fewest cards in their spell go first, and then in order of initiative, highest to lowest. In the case of a tie, you roll dice to see who goes first.
When it’s your turn, you reveal your spell (reading the name aloud in your best epic wizard voice), and then resolve it from left to right by doing what the card says. If the card says “Roll Power” then that’s a power roll: you get one die as a default, and you also add an additional die for each glyph in your spell that matches that card. After your spell is resolved, the next player in line gets to cast their spell — assuming they’re still alive.
Some of the spells will give you (or other players) treasures: you just draw the top card of the Treasure deck and place it face up in front of you, and it is immediately active. Occasionally treasures can be stolen or discarded by spells. Treasures give various bonuses: adding a die to particular rolls, counting as a particular type of glyph in your spells, or doing extra damage.
When you lose all your hit points, you die. (Presumably. The rulebook doesn’t specify.) When you die, you discard all of your cards (Treasures included) and then draw a Dead Wizard card. Then, at the beginning of each round of play, you draw another Dead Wizard card. So if you get killed early on and the other folks keep battling it out for a while, you’ll accumulate more of these.
As soon as a wizard finishes off everyone else (even if they died themselves in doing so), they get a Last Wizard Standing token, and the next “game” of the match begins. Everyone discards all their spells and treasures, resets their HP to 20, and then reveals their Dead Wizard cards. Some will give you more HP to start, some let you start with treasures or extra cards. Or, if you’re unlucky, you might get the Nectar of Nirvana: “You’re dead. Live with it.”
Then the next game continues as before. Play continues until one player gets two Last Wizard Standing tokens, and then they win.
Epic Spell Wars is a fun game with a lot of luck involved and a lot of silly humor — I just wish it were a game I could play with my kids. It’s not. The gameplay itself I think would probably be rated 8 and up, and most of the cartoon gore I could see as a 12 and up, but it’s the language in the rulebook and the innuendo that puts it at 15 and up. For instance, I’m okay with the “Lady Luck’s Garters” treasure that shows an old bearded wizard lifting his robes to show that he’s wearing garters and stockings. I’m even okay with “Lady Luck’s Brassiere,” with a knight wearing a conical, lightning-shooting bra over the armor. But “Lady Luck’s Panties” with the creepy lascivious wizard is a bit much, and I don’t need my kids asking me to explain the “Desperation Stones” or “Phister Cannon” or “The ‘Let’s End This’ S–t” (poo on a stick).
Sure, I get that this is a card game for adults and older kids, but my beef is that it didn’t have to be. In fact, the gameplay is clever and I think it would be fun for kids (as long as parents don’t mind the blood and guts) if they had toned down the language and omitted the few instances of foul language. We’re not talking about Cards Against Humanity here, where nearly every card is meant to be offensive in some way and the appeal of the game is entirely in its adult humor. Epic Spell Wars could very easily have been one that I could play with my family, blasting each other with ridiculously-named spells like “Dr. Rooty Bark’s Boulder-iffic Chicken,” instead of one which I have to hide on the top shelf so they’re not attracted by the colorful cover. I don’t really understand the strategy of purposely going for an R rating.
With that complaint out of the way, I think if you’re gaming with older teens and adults, and you don’t mind a bit of vulgarity in your games, Epic Spell Wars is worth a spin. Sure, a lot depends on the card draws and the luck of the dice, but because you get eight cards in your hand you do have a good chance of putting together something good. Early in the game, the fun comes in crafting the perfect spell for combos that do a lot of damage. Later, it becomes interesting because you want to ensure that you get to go first — or else you may not survive until your turn. But you get to go first by playing fewer cards, and generally the more powerful Delivery cards have lower initiative scores. This forces you to make some tough balancing decisions, and makes your choices more interesting.
And some of the humor is both funny and kid-friendly. The “Plink Cannon” treasure does one damage to the player to your left each turn. The “Impatient” Quality card lets you go first but doesn’t add any other abilities. One of our favorite Delivery cards was “Chicken” which doesn’t do a lot of damage unless you roll really high, but is just absurd.
The Dead Wizard cards, while they don’t give you a whole lot to do when you’re killed, are at least a fun way to handicap the game — especially since you’ll get to draw more of them if you died really early, potentially setting you up very nicely for the next fight. With only two Last Wizard Standing tokens to win, the game won’t drag on too long, though with six players I imagine it could start getting unwieldy. You can play with two players, but it’s definitely more interesting with at least three, since many of the spells will target different players.
In short: Epic Spell Wars is chaotic and fun, but not recommended for younger kids.
Wired: Fun, over-the-top spell blasting battles; Dead Wizard cards give you a bonus when you die; power/initiative balance makes for tough decisions.
Tired: Language and innuendo make this one inappropriate for kids, which is too bad.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.