Last time on Entertaining to Myself I reviewed Magic Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 on Ipad, I was an old hand at the Magic game so that review was more about the iPad game and how it matched previous versions, today I am reviewing Summoner Wars a game by PlaidHat Games which I have never played before in any format, so this review will be about how I found the game to play and also my opinions on what I thought of the iPad version by Playdek.
Summoner Wars is a board game that uses cards to represent various individuals in two fantasy armies, a bit like the table top miniature games I used to play years ago but with the cards replacing the lead soldiers. Victory in the game is a straightforward objective, each side has one Summoner and the other side has to kill the opponent’s Summoner while keeping their one alive. During the game both sides can summon various extra units to the battlefield using magic points which are either accumulated by destroying cards on the battlefield or discarding cards from your hand. Once all the cards from your deck have been drawn and either played or discarded you have to finish the game with what is on the battlefield.
With the way the game plays out you quickly learn that resources are vital. Cast too many small guys early on and you might be left with bigger cards you can’t use later. It is all about planning and trying to judge what you need and when best to do it. You also have to keep an eye on the opponent and what they have resource wise, they might have a lot of units on the battlefield at one point, but if you can ride out that tide then you can get back the initiative later.
Walls are the other vital element of the game as you can only summon your units next to one of your walls. You also have extra walls that you can play during the game to allow you additional summoning areas, or to replace ones that have been destroyed, yes you can destroy walls. On initial appearance walls to me don’t seem to fit the theme of this magical world, I would really expect swirling vortex that prevent movement and bring the units into play. It just seems like a more natural fit to the game rather than a stone wall.
You are also limited with actions; you can only more three units and only attack with three units. This makes you have to plan what you are going to do very carefully. You want to attack with everyone but can’t, you want to move everyone but again have to weigh up where to take those actions. Your units can easily find themselves in a position of danger because you have had to concentrate on another area of the battlefield.
All of these elements come together to represent a very strategic game that can easily get out of your grasp if you don’t keep an eye what is going on. It is the type of game that if you lose too much ground you will just be waiting for the inevitable axe to eventually fall on your Summoner.
Now moving on to the game on the iPad I was initially confused by what was going on, dice were rolled and special things were named, so I headed over to the tutorial where the game was quickly explained to me. I had, while waiting for the game to be released, watched a video about how to play the board game so came in with a little bit of knowledge about what was going on, but the tutorial made it all very clear, through playing a game, what I had to do. About halfway through the guidance ends and they let you finish the game on your own, with a rewarding victory to help get you started.
Armed with this knowledge I then returned to the game I had already started and understood what was going on from this point on. The controls are easy to master; drag where you want a unit to move or attack and it carries it out with no problem, and everything is presented in a clear fashion. The Retina graphics are clear and sharp. Swirling vortexes form the backgrounds to character art, see they should have had them instead of the walls, and the presentation as a whole is well up to previous Playdek games. I did wonder at one point why we couldn’t have all the units in the game facing the same way, as the opponent’s ones are upside down, but during the tutorial it became clear this was the only way to show who controlled what.
Sometimes the things on the screen did get a bit frantic when the opponent summons a lot of units of plays a series of events. Cards flash across the play area and you either have to click on the discard pile to find out what the card did, or select the new unit to find out about them. The addition of a pause button for new player might have been useful, but obviously after frequent play you will be familiar with what the cards are.
I only really had a couple of negative thoughts on the initial play. The side bar that shows your hand obscures half of the first column of the board, so you have to make sure you haven’t missed any units lurking in those spaces when you go to put your cards on the battlefield, as I did when playing the tutorial.
The AI in the first game was a bit questionable at the end as the opponent’s Summoner, Grognack, was the only unit left and had built a series of walls all around the top left corner of the screen. He was standing in the only gap in at the top of the screen but then just stood there and let my archer peck away at him over several turns without moving away or taking actions. Hopefully this was just a rare mistake of the AI and I thought initially there might have been a skill level setting and it was set to low, but there are no skill levels for the AI as far as I can see.
The rulebook is also a bit thin. Without playing the tutorial you would have no idea of how far range attacks were as it isn’t mentioned in the rule book, not sure why they didn’t include the actual rule book or a more comprehensive version of it here.
So with my initial experience with the game on iPad how did I feel about it and what did I think was lacking from the experience?
With the basic game, which is free, you get one deck of cards, the Phoenix Elves. You can then buy the other seven decks and reinforcements separately or all together at a cheaper price. But even when you have brought these cards you can only play against four decks run by the AI. The only reason I can see why this is like this is they had a set release plan and could only be sure of getting half the factions ready with the AI, getting out a solid initial product. I expect the other decks will eventually be added to the list. You are also only given the default deck for each AI faction, the game has a detailed deck building element for you to use so it would be nice to see the option to maybe load your custom decks for the AI to play or for Pladek to provide additional deck variations in the future.
As I mentioned at the start of this review my previous review was of Magic on the iPad and I can’t help but compare the two games and think how Summoner Wars could be a more content rich experience. There is no doubt this is a quality version of a board game that seems to have a great following, you only have to look at the level of anticipation at the delayed wait for the game to see that, but I feel there could have been a few extra bit in there. I know I will return to Magic on a daily basis to unlock more cards, work out the puzzles, and progress through the campaign, but with Summoner Wars I don’t think that will be the case. I will load it up for the occasional game against the AI but there is not much outside of the Achievements to make me play it on a regular basis. The game could have done with a campaign of some sort, even if it was just like what Playdek did with Food Fight, an element where you could measure your progress through a series of games. Some sort of mini battles in a campaign map would have been good alongside full versions of the game, where you start the battle with a certain situation, maybe half the number of units available or the enemy in a certain position where you have to work out the path to victory.
Stats would also have been a good addition, charting who you played as, your wins and defeats against which AI opponents and things like that. It just needs that something extra to show the time you have spent with the game and encourage you back again to explore a game that no doubt has a lot of depth to offer. At the moment it is a very good version of the board game, but I think there could be so much more to make it rival the Magic experience.
These opinions are obviously just my thoughts as a single player who has not played the board game before. I am sure there are many players out there who will happily play the game multiplayer and come back to the game for their Summoner Wars daily fix. I enjoyed playing the game and look forward to learning the strategies involved in all the factions and am sure that Playdek will add to the experience as it develops, like they have done with their previous releases.
I will give the game five stars as it is a quality product and a challenging game, which I am sure will grow over time through PlaidHat Games and Pladek’s development.