Shape-shifting wizards, elemental spells, and risky wagers abound in Wizardz Bluff!
Wizardz Bluff originally launched on Kickstarter in 2018 but was not able to fund, so designers Ron and Jayson Smith did some further development and tweaking, and are coming back with a new campaign next week. This review is adapted from my original Kickstarter Tabletop Alert, edited to reflect the changes in this version.
What Is Wizardz Bluff?
Wizardz Bluff is a bidding/bluffing game for 2 to 4 players, ages 11 and up, and takes about 30–45 minutes to play. It is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $30 for a copy of the game. I’ve played with both kids and adults, and the game can work well with a mixed group, though players who are good at reading other players will have the most success.
New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.
Wizardz Bluff Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality.
The original prototype did include a very fancy box, though, which is pretty similar to what Gold Cauldron Games has planned: it looks like a hardcover book, with a magnetic lid, and the inside has a plastic insert that holds all the components nicely. The insert pictured below is from the old prototype, so will be adjusted for the new component sizes and shapes.
Here’s what’s included:
- 4 Wizard decks, each including:
- 1 Mage level card
- 1 Scoring card
- 6 plastic sliders (4 for mage levels, and 2 for scoring)
- 1 Alchemist card
- 11 Animal Transformation cards
- Headmaster token
- 60 Spellstones (12 each in five colors: red, green, blue, clear, and gold)
- 52 Spell cards (13 each in four types)
- Cloth bag
- Score track and scoring markers
- 4 Reference cards
The wizard decks are identical except for the illustration color on the faces of the cards, and the scoring cards, which show an illustration of the wizard in the center. The animal illustrations are stylized and look a bit like creatures you’d see on a coat of arms. The illustrations are by Travis Hanson (who also creates the Life of the Party comics you may have seen here on GeekDad).
The spell cards come in the four elemental colors (red fire, blue water, green earth, white air) and are half-sized cards. They include a simple illustration that looks like an alchemist’s laboratory, but are primarily text.
I will note that this is one of those games where the player colors (red, blue, green, white) also match up with some game element colors (fire, water, earth air), and that can be confusing, because there is otherwise no connection between, say, the red player and the fire element.
Where this can get confusing is identifying the correct “winning” color. For instance, the dragon card (value 12) has a red gem on it, regardless of the player—but each player has a dragon. If the green player wins with their dragon, the color to note is the red gem, not the green-colored dragon.
The spellstones are large plastic crystals, a standard shape that I’ve seen in many games, and the four colors are intended to match the four elements: red for fire, blue for water, colorless/white for air, and green for earth. There are also gold nuggets, which are a wild element.
The headmaster token is quite nice: a red glass sphere mounted on a wooden base. It’s nice and weighty and looks impressive.
Overall, the components were quite nice—it’s primarily a card game with some plastic gemstones, but the presentation is well done.
How to Play Wizardz Bluff
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to score the most points by winning spellstones and collecting elemental cards to rank up your wizard.
Give each player a wizard deck—the animal cards and alchemist card form their hand. The clips are placed on the scoring card to show zero points, and on the mage card to indicate rank 0 for each of the four elements. Each player will draw a number of spellstones and spell cards at random depending on the number of players. (Note that the gold spellstones are not included during the random draw.) Choose a player to be headmaster and give them the headmaster token.
The game will last a number of matches until at least one player has run out of cards or spellstones.
For each match, each player chooses a card from their hand and places it face-down, and then chooses 1 to 3 spellstones from their supply and puts it on top of their card, which serves as their wager and forms the pot. (Note: if you have a card and a spellstone, you must play them—there is no opting out!)
Then, in turn order, players may increase their bids or pass—each player may have a maximum bid of 3 spellstones total.
After the additional bidding is finished, the headmaster declares “Flip!” and all players flip over their cards. Generally, the highest card wins the match, though there’s an exception with the rat.
First, any player who spent a spellstone matching the winning animal card may take a spell card of that color: 2, 10, 11, and 12 are all mystical animals with colored gems; the rest of the numbers have gold nuggets, which allow the player to take a spell card of their choice.
For instance, the Unicorn (11) has a green crystal printed on the card. If the Unicorn wins a match (or ties for the win), then any player who bid a green spellstone may take a green (earth) spell card, even if they didn’t win the match. Then, the winning player takes all of the spellstones from the pot and puts them into their own supply, and becomes the next headmaster.
The rat is a special mystical animal—it is the lowest valued animal, but it has a blue crystal on it. If any other mystical animal (Griffin, Unicorn, or Dragon) is played in the match, the rat’s plague infects all the other animals and the rat wins. But if no other mystical animals are played, the rat is just counted as a 2 and will likely lose the match.
If there’s a tie for the win, the tied players will declare a truce or duel, going clockwise from the headmaster. If everyone declares a truce, players will take spellstones from the pot one at a time (clockwise from the headmaster) until everyone has taken the same amount, and then any remainder is left for the next match. If any player choose duel, then all tied players must duel. A duel is resolved much like the regular match, except only the tied players take part. Elemental cards may be awarded as the result of a duel, and in the case of a tie, there is an automatic truce. Once any ties have been resolved, the match concludes and all players proceed to the next match.
If any players play their alchemist card, those players will automatically lose the match but get an opportunity to trade for gold nuggets. Going clockwise from the headmaster, each player who played the alchemist card may trade up to 5 of their gemstones for gold nuggets from the supply, if available. Players who played their alchemist card are still eligible for winning spell cards if their bids match the winning card, as usual.
All cards played during a match (including those in duels) are discarded face-down.
Spell cards have icons indicating when they may be played: before animal cards are chosen, after animal cards are chosen, or after animal cards are revealed, or at any time. Once used, the player keeps them in their personal discard pile, called an inventory. When a player has played 3 spell cards of the same element, they return those cards to the bottom of the appropriate spell deck, and then rank up their mage for that element.
The game ends when everyone has run out of cards to play, though it can also end early if one player runs out of cards or spellstones. (Running out of cards can happen because of duels, or because of the effects of spell cards.) Any spell cards still in your hand are discarded to your inventory, where you can use sets of 3 to rank up your mage.
You score as follows:
- Leftover spell cards that were not used to rank up are worth 1 point each
- Each mage level is worth 3 points
- Each spellstone is worth 1 point plus 1 point per mage level of its element
- Gold spellstones are wild and can count as any one element
The highest score wins! Ties are resolved with a Wizard’s Duel: tied players get their entire starting deck back, and each bids one spellstone in a final match. The winner takes the pot, and then scores are recalculated.
You can simplify the game by removing the alchemist and spell cards; instead of distributing spellstones during setup and bidding spellstones with your card, the winner of a pot gains a spellstone of their card color from the bag.
Another variant uses the spell cards, but only the card backs to track the elements, without using the card powers. Each spell card ranks you up one level in that element, and adds a point to spellstones of that color. In this variant, players do not start with any spell cards during setup.
Why You Should Play Wizardz Bluff
Wizardz Bluff might seem very simple at first glance: everyone picks a card, highest card wins… it’s sort of a simultaneous-selection trick-taking game, or a bidding game. But underneath that simple surface, there’s some really fascinating stuff going on.
First: everyone has the same set of cards at the start of each round, so you are on fairly even footing. The only differences are that you have a different mix of spellstones and at least one spell. How do you choose which card to play first? Well, it may seem obvious to start with your dragon, the highest value in the deck—but remember, the dragon (and the other high numbers) can be defeated by the plague-infested rat. So perhaps you play a 9, the highest number that wouldn’t give victory to the rat… but if anyone else plays a mystical animal, you’ll lose whether a rat is in play or not. Hmmm.
You might think that there’s no way to tell what anyone is playing, but the spellstones can give hints (or be used to bluff). The goal isn’t just to win matches (though, of course, that’s always nice when you can do it)—you also want to win elemental spell cards. So if you can predict who’s going to win a match, you can score extra points. See a lot of players betting red gems? Chances are high that at least one of them is playing the dragon—so you can bet with them, or maybe take a chance with your plague rat. See a lot of green gems (matching the unicorn)? Maybe you could take the pot with your dragon.
Since you’re always required to play a spellstone with every card, the spellstones are not always conveying useful information. Sometimes a player is just buying time, and they know their spellstone is probably going to be lost. Being able to read the other players will definitely give you an edge. It’s also tricky knowing when to go to the alchemist’s shop to trade for gold nuggets—because if you wait too long, there aren’t any gold nuggets left in the supply, and the only way to get one is to win it from another player.
Knowing when to use your spells can be tricky, particularly those that are played before the cards are played or revealed. Spells played before cards are chosen can actually influence what gets played, which may help you in deciding what spellstones to bid. Spells played before cards are revealed are usually a gamble of some sort: you’re betting on a particular result.
Another aspect that comes into play is deciding when to try to win a match, based on the spellstones that have been bid. If you’ve run out of blue (and gold) spellstones, then you won’t be able to get any more water spells. If you need one more to rank up, then first you’ll have to win a blue spellstone from another player, so you’ll have to pay attention to when those are bid.
I like the way Wizardz Bluff handles ties, too. Generally, a truce isn’t terrible—the tied players will get their own bids back, and maybe earn one more (depending on the number of players). But if you want to take a risk, you might be able to claim the whole pot for yourself.
The game doesn’t have any automatic catch-up sorts of mechanics, so if you never win a match and also never manage to claim elemental cards, then you’ll find it hard to score points. I do like the fact that you can win elemental cards even when you lose a match, but you do have to guess the right winner. Getting spell cards may give you just enough of an edge to keep up, even if you’re not winning as many matches.
The game does feel a bit different based on the number of players, in part because there are so many more cards to keep track of. With fewer players, it’s a little easier to remember how many rats have turned up and whether your other mystical animals are safe from the plague—but once you’ve got four players, it’s a little harder to keep track. Plus, with more players, there are also a lot more spellstones in play, a lot more spells to consider, and a lot more mystical animals to watch for.
The changes to the game include merging what used to be elemental cards with magic item cards to become elemental spell cards, and also using sets of those to rank up your mage—you no longer have to decide between using card effects or scoring points for them. The big change, though, is the introduction of the gold nuggets and the gold icons on the cards from 3 to 9: it means that in every trick, there’s an opportunity to earn spell cards, not just the ones in which the mystical animals win the trick. Of course, you still need to manage to get some gold nuggets for that to work, which requires playing your alchemist card or winning a trick when there are gold nuggets in the pot. It changes the dynamics of the game a little, and it feels like every trick matters now, not just the ones in which mystical animals are played.
I also noticed they dropped the game from a maximum of 5 players down to 4, and dropped the game from three rounds to a single round. (In the original prototype, you would play, score, and then repeat two more times.) I think the shorter game length seems a better fit for the game—after all, you can always choose to play again!
Wizardz Bluff isn’t a heavy game, but I do think it adds a good amount of depth to a fairly simple core concept. I like simultaneous-selection games where you really have to think about what other players might be playing, and Wizardz Bluff provides some entertaining consequences for those choices. If you like bluffing games, magical themes, and lots of extra Zs, take a look at Wizardz BluffI!
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Wizardz Bluff Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.