Symetra is an elemental-themed, hexagonal card game created by designer Brad Finlayson’s studio, Game Point, and is inspired by the game at the focus of Herman Hesse’s novel The Glass Bead Game: (Magister Ludi). It’s an erudite pedigree that shows in everything from the art to the gameplay.
At a glance: Symetra is a strategy card game for 1-6 players ages 13 and up, and takes anywhere between 20 minutes to 2 hours to play (depending on number of players and game mode). Be warned, unless you’re playing with older (or exceptionally bookish) kids, you’ll need to have a vocab lesson beforehand. My 12-year-old needed to be schooled on affinity and enmity, two of the concepts that drive the mechanics of the game.
The deck is comprised of 60 strikingly illustrated cards. They cover abstract concepts such as base elements, emotions, and energies as well as different traditions of philosophy, spirituality, and divination. That being said, the iconographic art does a superb job of conveying the basic idea behind the cards at a glance. Scoring and using abilities is handled via a pool of equally gorgeous glass beads. This is one game that will get non-gamers to stop and ask “what the heck are you playing?” Unfortunately, the game’s abstract beauty can be a tough sell for kids who are used to in-your-face artwork or miniatures. The rules are, likewise, a bit difficult to grok on first play-through and we had a lot of stops and starts as we determined what powers could be used and when the best times to use them were.
The project is now on Kickstarter with just a little over two weeks left. The pledge level for a copy of the game is $33 (CAD) for the full game. There is also a $99 pledge level that snares you three copies of the game, enough to run local tournaments.
- 60 unique hexagonal cards
- 300 glass beads (50 each of 6 different colours)
- Detailed rule book
- Vacuum form box insert with 7 hexagonal trays for the deck and 6 sets of beads
The copy I played was a demo copy, but the components were very close to final. The only stretch goal that will affect the final look and feel of the game is an expansion that adds six new holo-foil element cards.
How to Play
If you’d like to give it a shot now, there’s a Print and Play version on Game Point Central (make sure you stock up on ink first). Each player starts with a pool of actual and potential energy, represented by glass beads. Your overall goal is to move beads from your potential energy to your actual energy, amassing the most actual energy to win the game.
Each player takes turns fusing cards into the matrix and then adding energy to those cards, based on the affinity or enmity the cards have with their neighbors (if you win, you’ll get to collect this energy back for your actual pool). It’s a deceptively simple basic concept, until you factor in the variety of actions each card makes. Some force you to move energy to other cards until they’re even, others determine what type of cards you and your opponents are allowed to play during the round, and still others can be used to change the playing field, shifting cards about at will. For many of these actions, you’ll move energy into a third, universal pool, (you’ll get to plunder this too at the end of three rounds if you win). There are also options to do draft play, solitaire, and even a tarot reading.
It’s a lot to keep track of, but the strategic placement of cards and the careful timing of actions bring a level of thoughtful strategy that I find lacking in a lot of the shallower offerings on my game shelf. Of course, a lot of those games are there because they’re fast and fun — two things that my kids demand when sitting down to a game. Symetra can be fun, but not necessarily fast. If you can find a group of players willing to tackle its complexities head-on, Symetra is ultimately a very rewarding game. For more information and updates, visit the Symetra Kickstarter page.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a demo prototype of this game for review.