So to be perfectly honest, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle completely took us off-guard. We hate to be negative (I mean, except maybe for Rob), but games based on big intellectual properties aren’t always…um…good, and when we heard that USAopoly was set to publish, well, we were concerned. USAopoly had, at the time, a fairly safe catalog of games, none of which seemed particularly groundbreaking.
Andrew: Absolutely, yes. We were worried that the game would either be lazy, trading on J.K. Rowling’s massively popular source material, or it would be needlessly simplistic, since USAopoly had to know that the HP name alone would sell units to people who had no idea what a deck builder even was.
Fortunately, it was neither of these things. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is, interestingly, an evolving game, designed to be played in parallel with the books of the Harry Potter series. The first book, and as such the first game, introduces players to the main characters from the story, as well as a few of the antagonists which Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Neville will find themselves facing.
The structure of the game is simple – villains arrive one at a time (shuffled randomly into place), and players must defeat them all before those villains manage to accrue enough dark marks to overtake key Hogwarts locations. The mechanisms are bare-bones simple and will be immediately familiar to anyone who has every played a deckbuilder, and are clearly designed to be easily fathomed by folks who haven’t.
Jess: Each turn, players will use various spells and lots of magical artifacts from the books to try and overcome the forces of darkness. They will also have the opportunity to add cards to their starter decks, including upgraded spells, more magic items, and allies from the books.
Each time the players manage to overcome the challenges of a group of villains, they will unlock the next ‘book’ – as we said, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is divided into 7 distinct chapters, each sealed in its own box. As players win games, they will open sequential boxes, adding new characters, items, villains, locations, spells, and even whole categories of game components – dice don’t show up until halfway through the campaign, and spells like petrificus totalis come with their own unique tokens.
Andrew: One of the best touches of the aesthetics of the game is how its art changes over the course of the games – as characters get older, cards depicting them will get switched out, showing how they mature and change over time. The cards show wear and tear as well, mirroring the team’s harrowing struggle against Him Who’s Name We Shouldn’t Say.
As the game unfolds itself, it moves further from casual to more hobby-level – by around game 3/4, it feels comparable to most other deckbuilders, and the difficulty can actually get fairly punishing toward the end. By game 7, you’re throwing around very powerful spells and calling on familiar allies, but the foes you face are greater in number and power than ever before.
Jess: The rules even suggest that, if you’re comfortable with deckbuilding games, you can probably just skip ahead to book 3, but honestly, we enjoyed playing the intro games – they didn’t take long and they’re just as fun as later games, albeit a little more simplistic.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a success on most every level. The presentation is great, the mechanisms are playable and fun, and the overall experience, of working through the story and gaining more and more game elements, is a really smart take on how to represent this long, well-beloved series in game form. While not a legacy-style game per se, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle changes enough from game to game that it keeps feeling fresh, and the difficulty can really sneak up on you.
For Harry Potter fans who board game, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a no-brainer; as long as its relatively simplistic early-game doesn’t put you off, there’s plenty of fun to be had here. For Harry Potter enthusiasts who don’t know what deckbuilders are, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is the perfect introduction into this fun world of hobby games. And if you’re a gamer who doesn’t know what Harry Potter is, 1) where the heck have you been, and 2) give Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle a whirl – it’ll be a great introduction to the wizarding world.
(Gameosity received a review copy of this game. We were not otherwise compensated.)
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