Spell Saga first came across my radar in 2013, when designer Todd Michael Rogers sent me a prototype to try out in advance of his Kickstarter campaign. At the time, I hadn’t played many solo games, and I was intrigued by this “tabletop novel,” a story that unfolded as you played your cards. Unfortunately, though, the campaign was unsuccessful.
Undaunted, Rogers continued to work on the game, promising his backers that he would find a way to make the game somehow. His cousin Lauren Rogers created the artwork, which gives the game its lovely atmosphere. Finally, a year later in 2014, he tried again—and this time the campaign funded, with many of the original backers returning. The adventure wasn’t over, though, not by a long shot: creating this game with a very small team seems like a task that nearly devoured Rogers, who poured time and money and energy into getting it done, despite delays and obstacles. Although backers waited a long time to receive their rewards, Rogers was diligent about posting updates—and these are unlike anything I usually see in Kickstarter updates. It made the wait more tolerable, getting these dispatches from another world.
The games were finally manufactured—holofoil cards and all—and Rogers started shipping them out, finally completing all the shipping early this year. It’s been a long, strange journey for Spell Saga, and now we’re finally able to embark on this long, strange journey ourselves. (If you want a better sense of all the different challenges Spell Saga has been through, you can read more about it on the website—the real journey started long before I heard about it.)
You can check out my original review for how the game works, but the basic idea is this: you are the last minstrel, exploring a broken world, with nothing but a rusty revolver. When the game begins, there’s only one location: a lone tower. As you play, you’ll reveal more cards from the deck: locations, items, enemies, and additional story cards. The story cards also serve as your rank, because you cannot reach locations until you hit a certain threshold, and enemies will ignore you unless you’ve leveled up. Instead of rolling dice, you cut the deck to reveal cards for a random number.
You may even come across other characters who can join your party. The cards are all multi-purpose—many just serve as resources and are placed face-down in various piles. The map of locations grows and expands as you make your way through the deck, and bits of the story continue to reveal themselves.
Eventually, the game will expand to fill all available space on your table, so be prepared! You’ll need some tokens to track things: I used some miniatures, Penny Gems, and dice to keep track of multiple characters and their locations, hit points, and so on.
The game includes several decks, which form an ongoing story: The Highlands, The Forest, and The Caves, along with a Prelude and an “Endlude.” (The Caves and the Endlude aren’t out yet, but should be soon.) There will also be other decks that tell standalone stories set in this world, Realmwalkers. As you play through a deck, your goal is to reach the ending of the chapter, which propels you into the next.
Rogers sent me a finished Spell Saga set so I could try it out. The Highlands was familiar—that was the chapter I’d played as a demo, so it was great to see completed artwork on the cards and remind myself how to play. I also played The Forest (no spoilers!) but haven’t yet tried the small-deck Prelude, and there’s also a Deck One Bonus Box that I have yet to explore.
The game has some ups and downs: the artwork is beautiful and evocative, but the text layout is basic and a little cramped. (If you use reading glasses, you’ll want to get them out.) The story doesn’t unfold in a straightforward manner like a traditional novel, but instead you get snippets that are sometimes more evocative than narrative—but your decisions as you travel around, collect items, interact with characters, and battle monsters are what flesh out the rest of the tale.
It is, as I mentioned in my original review, a lonely sort of experience, though admittedly I don’t usually play a lot of single-player games so it felt a little unusual. In the years since the original Kickstarter campaign for Spell Saga, there’s been a significant growth in solo games and solo modes in multiplayer games. I think many who enjoy board games are finding that it can be difficult to get a regular group together in person, so having that option of playing a game by yourself is becoming more appealing. However, there is a difference between multiplayer games that have a solo mode and a game that was designed for one player from the ground up. Spell Saga is the latter, and its goal is for you to lose yourself in its world.
To celebrate the launch of the Spell Saga webstore, Rogers is giving away 5 Spell Saga prize packs to some lucky GeekDad readers!
Here’s what’s included in the prize package:
- 2019 playmat
- Spell Saga Deck 1: The Highlands w/Holo sleeve
- Spell Saga Deck 2: The Forest w/Holo sleeve
- 6 limited edition holo cards
- Spell Saga bonus box: includes over 70 Base Set expansion cards
To enter, please fill out this form below. The giveaway is open until Friday, October 11, and we will choose five winners at random.