Headed to Kickstarter tomorrow, Heirs of the Wizard King is a card game where an evil wizard has killed (who else) the Wizard King in order to fuel his dark rituals. You, the titular Heirs, must gather your power and assume the King’s throne before the dark wizard manages to finish his ritual…and before your fellow heirs can manage it.
**Kickstarter Prototype Warning! – All images are either of our prototype or stolen from the Kickstarter. Nothing is final!…though it already looks pretty good**
Heirs of the Wizard King is a ‘competitive cooperative’ game, which is to say that while there is only going to be one winner, the players must also work together to stop the Black Wizard from completing his dark work and ending the game for everyone in defeat.
In practice, this means that you will need to split your attention between three tasks – ascending in your own power (so that you can win), slowing down your opponents’ progress (so that they don’t win), and stymieing the Black Wizard (so that you don’t all lose). This 3-way tensions makes for interesting decisions, keeping gameplay engaging and fun, while never quite letting you feel like you’ve got things completely under control.
The basics of Heirs of the Wizard King are these – each player has an overall power rating (these are your victory points) as well as a rating in each of the six magical disciplines. On each turn, you will take one of three potential actions:
- Command: Discard a card for its effect
- Absorb: Discard a card to increase your ability to cast that school’s effect
- Cast: Trigger one of your learned magic disciplines, gaining its effect (and modified on how far you have increased your skill in it)
Jess: Each of the magic schools does something unique, and all of them can be really powerful and useful under the right circumstances, like Web’s ability to hamper your opponents and Lore’s power to increase your card draws.
Once a player has taken an action, they may then add as many cards as they care to to their ‘chain’. This row of cards grows in both directions, and can be added to based on either the color or number of the previous card. Like so:
The goal of Heirs of the Wizard King is to use your chains of cards to increase your score to the number required for your player count. Each time a chain exceeds your current score, you will discard it completely and advance your score marker once. First player who manages to score the required point total wins!…
…which would be easy, if it weren’t for the fact that your fellow players will be knocking you down at every turn. Some powers force players to discard their chained cards, or burn cards from their hands. Others let players draw back from the discard pile, draw piles of additional cards, or even chain directly from the draw deck. By Casting and Commanding the various schools of magic, players will have tons of opportunities to both mess with each other as well as grow their own power…
…which would be great, except there’s this other threat, one that will devastate the table if left unchecked. The Black Wizard builds chains of his own, and each time a card is added to it (at the end of every player turn), he also gains power in one of the disciples and uses them on the player in the best board position at the moment. And what’s worse is that if the draw deck is ever empty (something you will undoubtedly hasten with your powerful magics that mill through cards at an ever-increasing rate), the Black Wizard immediately increases his score, coming ever-closer to victory.
Sure, he starts out powerless, but you can expect to have this AI player blast your hand into oblivion, shred your chains, and grow at an exponential rate. It’s on all of you to work together to keep him in check long enough for at least one of you to win.
Heirs of the Wizard King both is and is not a simple game. The per-turn actions are straightforward enough, especially once you get the hang of what each of the magic schools do and how they work. Building chains is simple set collection, and overall this race really does come down to having the right cards at the right time.
On the other hand, there are lots of little decisions you need to make all along the way. Most of them revolve around how you are spending your cards, where you are placing them, and who you are targeting with your aggressive abilities (knock down an opposing player? Sure, but then you’re counting on them slowing down the Black Wizard). Do you Absorb a card to improve your permanent score in that school, or do you Command that card for its high-level effect?
The downside of this marginal complexity, and our only real gripe with the game, is that Heirs of the Wizard King requires a lot of little operations to be kept straight. The per-turn order of operations isn’t exactly complex, but it does have several stages and the order in which actions are taken and triggered has a real consequence on gameplay, so it’s something you need to be constantly mindful of. The abilities of the Black Wizard constantly come into play, and because of the nature of the cards, sometimes a player will find themselves needing to decide which 2 cards to keep from among the 8 they just drew, or which order to return webbed cards to the top of the deck, and lots of other little operations that can occasionally make the game drag.
But for the most part, Heirs of the Wizard King is engaging and quick. With the right cards in-hand, a player can race their way up the score track, but the ever-increasing scoring requirements make a run-away victory less and less likely. And the rogue AI of the Black Wizard acts as a universal check, giving everyone something to worry about, including the player in first place.
Jess: Heirs of the Wizard King surprised me in a couple of ways. I normally don’t like games that emphasize deconstructing what other players are trying to accomplish, but Heirs of the Wizard King is so fast and the negative interactions need to be balanced across all players (and the AI), so it never feels really crappy.
Andrew: I was also surprised and pleased by the relative penetration of the theme. While it’s an abstract card game in most every way, where the theme comes through is in the different spell schools – a wizard who is focused on Growth is a wild-card, often shifting the game state unpredictably, whereas a Web wizard is good at locking down opponents, slowing them to a crawl. It’s a neat bit of theme penetration into what is otherwise just a game about making chains of cards faster than anyone else.
The Heirs of the Wizard King Kickstarter comes online tomorrow, and we absolutely suggest checking it out (we’ll update with links when it goes live). What we have here is a small, attractive, engaging card game that’s a great fit in most any collection.