Summoner Wars: Master Set Review

 

The Summoning Stone, a powerful relic of the past, has been found. This stone brings great power and its owner and first Summoner, Ret-Talus, became invisible. Until, one day, a second stone was found and the mighty lord of the Fallen Kingdom finally had a challenger. Then the rumours started, stories of more Summoning Stones, long hidden, but once again found. More Summoners rising to power, not only wanting the freedom of their people but also desiring total domination. Allies became enemies. Friends became foes. The Summoner Wars had begun. 
Overview:
 
What you get for your money:
1 Battlefield board, 5 dice, 20 wound markers, 225 cards (6 factions) and the rules.
How do you play the game:
In Summoner Wars (Master Set) you play the role of a summoner, the leader of one of the six rival factions that are included in this game. As a summoner you have the ability to summon warriors and champions, and cast powerful spells. Your goal is to kill your opponent’s summoner, only then you will win the game.
 
At the beginning of the game you will choose a faction and you put their starting cards (summoner, units, walls) on the battlefield. A faction is a deck of cards with a summoner, some units and some event cards. Every faction has different characteristics and will feel and play differently.
 
The units in your deck have different statistics. They have a summon cost, an attack value, a special ability, a name, a type, a range symbol (melee/ ranged) and some life points. Event cards have either an effect or, in case of wall cards, have some life points.
The battlefield is divided into card spaces and on both sides there is an area for a draw deck, magic pile and discard pile. 
  
When you have set up your starting army, shuffle your remaining cards and put them in the draw deck area. Now the game can begin.
 
A turn is divided into 6 phases. First you need to draw from your draw deck until you have five cards in your hand. Then you’ll have the opportunity to summon units from your hand to the battlefield. You’ll have to pay the summon cost of the unit with Magic points, one card from the magic pile equals one point. A summoned unit must be placed adjacent to one of your wall cards on your side of the battlefield. During the third phase you can play event cards, if you have them. You discard the card and resolve its effect. After that you can move up to three of you units two spaces, then, after the movement phase, you may attack with up to three different units.  A melee unit can tack another unit next to it and a ranged unit can attack a unit up to three spaces away. When you attack, look at the attack value and roll that amount of dice. When you roll a three or more, it’s a hit! Lower than that, a miss. For every hit, you place a wound marker on the attacked unit. When a unit has equal or more wounds than his life points, it is killed and you have to place that unit card in your (the attacker) magic pile. This is one way to gain magic points. Another way is to, during the last phase, the build magic phase, place cards from your hand onto your magic pile. This is optional.  
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Every unit on the battlefield has a special ability. These abilities will change the way certain units move or attack and will change the rules, as described above, slightly.
The game ends immediately when one player kills the other player’s Summoner. That player, as expected,  wins Summoner Wars.
Review:
Theme
Summoner Wars is set in the fantasy world of Itharia. The different factions or races are very well taught of thematically. Benders, bend your will. The deep dwarves control their environment and when you play with the swamp orcs you have vines to entrap you opponent.
I couldn’t think of a way to fit the use of walls within the theme, though. It’s a bit weird.   
Does the game feel like an epic fantasy battle, a war, no, not at all.
Gameplay
The basic rules of the game are quite easy. The turn sequence is very straightforward. So players will not have any difficulty leaning those rules. The difficulty lies in the fact that every faction has different unit types with different special abilities and different kind of events. Little things, little bits of text that will change the rules. You have to read and know these abilities and adjust your strategy every time you play with or against another faction. 
The faction are pre-built, so you don’t have to figure out which unit works well with what. That’s a big plus, it saves time. (If you want/ like to, you can still do that, but then you have to buy some other ‘expansions’)
This game really benefits from multiple plays with one faction. When you know your deck, its strengths and weaknesses, you have a big advantage over an opponent who plays with a faction for the first or second time.
This is a weakness and a strength of the game. Let’s start with why it’s a weakness.
First timers will have a hard time against experienced players. The game is at its best with two players of equal skill and experience. So, as a first timer you (probably) need a regular opponent, to get the most out of this game. He or she might be hard to find.
On the other hand, when an experienced player knows one faction by heart and wants to play against a ‘weaker’ player, he only has to choose another, unfamiliar faction and he is (more or less) at a beginner level again.
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The idea of the game remains the same, but the way it manifests itself on the board is different every different battle.  The master set comes with 6 different factions. This means that you can have 30 different battles. 30 Plays and you probably play some battles more than once, the replay value going through the roof. This is the strength of the game.
Dice rolling combat seems random, but it balances out in Summoner Wars. You’re lucky one time and unfortunate the other. Plus, your opponent rolls the same dice, so he or she has similar problems.
It’s interesting to see that some players go through their deck much quicker than others. Some going for a ‘summon many cheap units’ strategy and others saving up magic to summon that beast of a champion. I do have a feeling that, in general, a more conservative (going through your deck slowly) and defensive strategy works better than an offensive one. It does depend on the faction you are playing with and against, off course. 
At the end of the game, the game can drag on a bit. You know you are losing, but just you keep ‘running’ from your opponents. In this way, the game can take a couple of turn to long.
I also have a small visual complaint, but I don’t think the artist could have done something about it. It is probably unavoidable when making this type of game. It’s about reading the unit abilities of your opponent. She reads it aloud, you forget it, you try to read upside-down, doesn’t work, you take card from the board and read it the right way. It takes some time and it interrupts the flow of the game. It’s not a big problem, I’m whining a bit, but you should be aware that during the first couple of turns (when you don’t play this game daily or weekly), your opponent and you need to familiarize yourself with the deck, which means reading and re-reading your and your opponent’s cards.

 

Looks
The card illustrations are nice. Every unit type has a different picture. I would have liked different pictures for every different event type too. It is not a problem when you know a faction well, but it could save some reading time during the game.
The colours of some of the factions in the master set are quite similar, it’s a minor issue and I don’t think it affects the gameplay very much.
The board is nicely illustrated too and it looks a lot better than a paper map.
Quality of the game parts
A couple of standard dice, some fine cardboard wound tokens and a decent quality board. The cards aren’t linen, which has my preference, but they are fine. There is not a lot of shuffling going on in this game anyway.

 

Fun
Summoner Wars is very strategic and you have to make a lot of tactical decisions. Every battle feels different, because every factions plays differently. You get six factions (and can buy more if you want to), so the replay value is very high.
These are all good things. Things I like in a game and I do quite like Summoner Wars. Every time I play it, I think: What a cool game, you can do a lot of neat stuff with your units and with the events. I should play this more often.
But I don’t. Why not?
First of all it’s a two-player game and I don’t have a regular Summoner Wars gaming buddy. I already said that I think the game is better when you invest time in a faction. A battle is more fun, for you and your opponent, when you both know your factions well and you are of equal skill.
I do not consider myself as an experienced player, I’ve played the game a couple of times, so finding an equal opponent should be easy. True, but they are irregulars.
Plus,  I also feel that the game takes a little too long for what it is. Many, almost every game, in my case, takes almost an hour, especially with two inexperienced players.
It’s maybe a bit simplistic, but I feel that there are three ‘phases’ in the game, the building phase, the actual battle, and the knock out phase . I only enjoy the second phase. The first one can be boring, because you need to read a lot and you need to get familiar with the factions. The last one can also be boring, because you might already know who will win, but you only don’t know when it will happen. The first and last phase take up half the time and just aren’t that fun.
So I do really like the tactical nature of the game and the feel of the different factions. What keeps me from playing this game more often and loving the game instead of liking it, is the time it takes and the less exciting first and last ‘phase’.

 

One thought on “Summoner Wars: Master Set Review”

  1. I don’t find the games takes nearly that long. Battles begin usually on the first turn on fact. Not sure if I’m just a laying less deeply than you or you’re overthinking it. It’s not a game like chess or go that requires deep thought, just some basic tactical decisions. Perhaps I’m not experienced enough, as are my opponents?

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