March 06, 2015

Epic Spell Wars

Actually, Thursday's are when Wil Wheaton posts new episodes of "Tabletop". Used to be each week would be a new episode about a new game, but these days they're padding out their material by posting "gag" episodes which, well... aren't actually about games. I always skip those.

But he does post episodes that really are about games, maybe every third time, and that happened yesterday. I felt like venting about it, because the game in question just wasn't very good.

It's called "Epic Spell Wars" and the basic idea behind it is actually rather clever. Overall it's mainly an excuse for being silly, and as several of the participants themselves point out, it's aimed at the sensibility of 12 year old boys. The idea is that each turn, each player puts together a spell by using three cards from his hand. Then each player in turn executes his spell, causing various effects including usually doing damage to one or more opponent.

It's an interesting idea, and to carry it out each card has a title and graphic art so that they fit together and can be read right off. And most of the creativity involved in producing the game went into coming up with names and pictures for each card.

But as I was watching them play, I saw the same cards keep coming up, and I think that the game doesn't actually have all that many; I think they are duplicated in the deck. Also, once you ignore the fancy name and all the weird graphics, the actual cards in practical effect are mostly just about the same: do a "power roll" and look at a chart to see how much damage to do to the player on your left, or right, or the one with the highest score, or the one with the lowest score, etc.

There are a few other things that can happen (heal yourself, pick a treasure) but as the game went on I began to get bored, and I didn't finish watching it.

I found myself comparing it to "Munchkin". That's from Steve Jackson, so you know it's going to be creative and playable. The card art was done by Kovalic and it's excellent. None of the cards are duplicated in the deck, and all of them are strange and funny, with cool pictures and cool names. But what's most important is that in practical effect on the game play, the cards really vary all over the map. Plus the basic game mechanics encourage players to find unusual ways to use those cards, to their own benefit or to the detriment of other players.

You can get some really interesting encounters like that, and there was one really complicated case where Wheaton was doing his best to prevent Jackson (who was one of the guests) from getting a really big win. Jackson used bribery to get the other two players to help him, and even so Wheaton nearly prevailed.

Thing is, "Epic Spell Wars" in the end was just the same old thing, again and again: everybody puts together three cards, then they're revealed in turn and damage is dished out. "Munchkin" was far more varied and interesting. (And in Munchkin, damaging other players is a fine thing but the real goal of the game is to score 10 points for yourself. And there are several ways to score points.)

The players in the "Epic Spell Wars" episode did seem to be having fun, but mostly because they were hamming it up about the card names and the card art. The players doing Munchkin were having fun, too, but they were having fun playing the game. And that's a big difference.

"Epic Spell Wars" would probably be fun to play one time, unless you're a 12 year old boy. It's obvious that "Munchkin" would keep being fun over multiple sessions, for everyone! -- especially if you start tossing in expansion sets, of which there have been several.

UPDATE: By the way, Wheaton's introduction to the "Epic Spell Wars" episode makes clear that he had doubts about the game as well, and only did the episode because the series producer ordered him to. So it's not just me.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Gaming at 01:56 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
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1 I presume he's run out of his actual favorite games. And there aren't great new games published fast enough to keep the series going. So either the series slows or ends, or they start playing games that are not as good.

It's probably similar to how when you started this blog, you were watching lots of older series, but recently you've mostly been trying to pick from whatever is being broadcast now in Japan.

Posted by: Boviate at March 06, 2015 07:15 PM (iiTgy)

2 You might be right. That's an interesting take on the situation.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at March 06, 2015 07:25 PM (+rSRq)

3 To be fair, if you compare any game to Munchkin, you've got a huge chance of it coming off a very distant second-best.  Not trying to help Epic Spell Wars or anything, I don't know the game nor am I likely to remember it ten minutes from now, but Munchkin would be on that short list of Desert Island items for me.

Posted by: Wonderduck at March 06, 2015 08:53 PM (jGQR+)

4 The biggest downside to Munchkin, in my experience, is simply that its a competitive game that really requires lots of players to be fun.  You need a minimum of two, but really, any less than four and you run into issues.  Plus, since its a competitive game centered on backstabbery, it can be hard on relationships.  *cough*

Its why I tend to prefer games like Sentinels of the Multiverse instead:  similar level of complexity to Munchkin and its ilk, but its the players playing against the game.  Less dependent on player count ( some coop games can even be played solo ), and fewer problems with sportsmanship.

Posted by: metaphysician at March 06, 2015 09:16 PM (D5VaK)

5 Have you played any of the Munchkin expansions, like Munchkin Bites and Munchkin Cthulhu?

Posted by: muon at March 09, 2015 03:53 AM (XIprt)

6 Munchkin expansions? Guilty! I think our group collectively has them all, but we've only ever merged them into megadecks when all components were owned by the same person. Also, the FAQ has gotten a bit unwieldy over the years, so sometimes we just want to play one of the newer sets with the cleaned-up rules.


Posted by: J Greely at March 09, 2015 04:54 PM (1CisS)

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