With the unexpected death of the archmage, the book of spells requires a new keeper. There’s only one reasonable course of action for the archimages’ protégés to take. A duel to the death to determine who will take the archmage’s seat.
You can find a video version of this review on my YouTube Channel
Wizards of the Grimoire is a two-player card game about slinging spells. Players rip pages from the Grimoire to form a spell pool that they then use to cast against their opponent.
The duelists must take care, however, as there is more to magical fisticuffs than simply slinging fireballs and lightning bolts. Both players draft spells from the same book and must counter each other’s moves in addition to forming powerful combos.
|Gideon’s Bias||Wizards of the Grimoire Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: Grimoire Games|
|Number of Plays: 10+||Designers: Cole Banning, Joe Banning|
|Player Counts Played: 2||Player Count: 2|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Drafting, Hand Management, Tableau, and Engine Building|
|Fan of Weight: Yes||Weight: Medium|
|Gaming Groups Thoughts: Loved it||Price: $34.95|
I’m a sucker for games that go all in on a theme. Wizards of the Grimoire practically bleeds a magical atmosphere inside and out. The box itself is in the form of a spell book that opens as if you just unlatched its binding.
The game itself consists entirely of high-quality cards that are made out of matte cardstock. Not only are these cards more durable than most, they also have a parchment-like feel to them that emulates pages from a spellbook. I have no idea if that was intentional, but it’s a nifty detail that I enjoy.
The cards are split up between two decks, a couple of health trackers, and player aids. The Mana deck consists of orbs of energy with numbers on them, but they still look nice. The Spell deck on the other hand features fantastic artwork that maintains a consistent style and theme across every card.
On the mechanical side of it, the cards are easy to understand with very simple iconography. The rulebook is laid out very well. It explains how to play with great clarity without overburdening itself with excessive text. It teaches you how to play quickly, and leaves the back of the book to address edge cases that may arise.
There was a single slight misunderstanding I came across. Some cards reference “attack spells” but the term isn’t located anywhere in the rulebook or help card. It’s actually referring to “damage spells”. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together to figure that out, but for folks with less card game experience, it’s likely to cause some confusion.
Another nifty design feature is the fact that Wizards of the Grimoire has an exceptionally fast setup and tear-down time. The two decks remain separate, so it’s as easy as taking them out and shuffling them. There is no pregame prep or deck construction either, which means it’s very easy to reset the play area for consecutive games.
Gathering The Magic
Something that really stands out to me about Wizards of The Grimoire is how much it resembles the many trading card games I’ve played while playing nothing like them.
You don’t build a deck in Wizards of the Grimoire, in fact, you don’t have a personal deck at all. Ten random spells are always laid out between you and your opponent at any given time. You draft these spells as the game progresses to add them to your spell pool.
This interesting concept manages to do a couple of neat things. It makes the game feel like a true duel between wizards, as they continually pull out different types of spells to react to each other. It also makes the game a neat hybrid of card play, and tableau building in a head-to-head adversarial setting.
Every single spell card is unique, there are no duplicates. Any card you take is one that the other player can’t have for the whole game. What makes Wizards of the Grimoire special, is the sheer number of ways these spells interact. It’s not through a single mechanism taken in a vacuum, but a number of them that work together in a type of synergy that flows together nicely.
Generic Words of Coolness
In a lot of my reviews, I can blather on about combos, synergy, and cohesiveness. If you have read or watched much of my content, you likely have started to pick out some particulars of the language I use. I could tell you how Wizards of The Grimoire features synergistic cohesive combo building, but to truly grasp what makes this game different is going to require some contextualization. I’ll break it down the best I can.
You are able to draft one spell each turn to your pool. You draw three mana cards, and you can cast as many spells in your pool as you can afford. Spells are cast by placing mana cards on top of them facedown equal to their cost. If a card has mana on it, it’s on cooldown and can’t be cast. With each turn, you also remove a mana card from each spell you have that is on cooldown.
To put it simply, a spell with a mana cost of two, won’t be able to be cast again for two whole turns. But since when do wizards stick with the simple? Cards such as Renewed Fervor allow you to pick up mana cards from other spells, meaning you can cast them again even faster.
Some spells activate the moment you cast them, others have ongoing effects while they are on cooldown, and some activate every time a mana card is discarded from them. By planning out and manipulating the cooldowns of your spell pool, you can come up with some truly awesome combos. But Wizards of the Grimoire isn’t just about how well you build and manage your own tableau, but how you react to you’re opponent’s repertoire of spells.
The game’s cleverness lies in the fact that your cards don’t directly interact with the cards the other player has. They never have effects such as removing spells from their pool. They interact through the proxy of existence.
For example, after you’re done casting spells, you may discard a mana card from your hand to make a basic attack. This deals damage equal to the number on the mana card. Let’s say, your opponent has Power Hungry, an ongoing spell that makes cards used for basic attacks go to their hand. That means if you discard a 4, you deal four damage, but they get that card.
To counter it, you draft Secret Oath. As long as Secret Oath has mana on it, your opponent has to give you any 4 power mana cards in their hand. Now you can basic attack using 4s because while you still have to give it to them, they have to give it right back.
These types of layered interactions can snowball in a variety of directions. For example, most damage cards have some type of rule attached to them. Icestorm deals 1 damage for each of your spells with one mana card on them.
Plenty of cards allow you to gain mana, remove mana from cards or move it around. You could come up with several pathways to maneuver your tableau in a way to maximize Icestorm.
Wizards of the Grimoire manages to evoke a lot of the same feelings I had when playing games like Magic the Gathering. The joy of combo building, and the satisfying counter plays. However, Wizards of the Grimoire manages to do it while the game is actually being played at the table. Let’s be honest, when it comes to a lot of card games, half of the game is played before it begins, during deck building.
In Wizards of the Grimoire, both players start on even ground and build those combos, not through a predetermined meta they found online, but through the cards in front of them and by reacting to the other player, and it works exceptionally well.
Tableau up your Engine
Once a player has 6 spells in their pool, they have to discard a spell in order to draft a new one. The trick is, you can only replace a spell if it’s not on cooldown. It adds another layer of planning, and replacing spells is a key part of the game. A wizard that doesn’t replace their spells isn’t a wizard, they are a pile of ash under a pointy hat.
Once both players’ engines are built, a skilled player will need to make tactical decisions on what to replace to ensure that their engine isn’t outpaced. After all, in some ways Wizards of the Grimoire is a race, it’s just a race to see who can do 60 points of damage the fastest. Being able to tweak your Tableau and continue making counter moves is one of the things that helps elevate the fun factor and prevents the game from being decided in the first few turns.
That said, I do feel like the game’s relentless focus on damage hinders it to some degree. While there are probably more card synergies than I could ever discover on my own, they really do boil down to squeezing out as much punching power as possible. It would have been cool to have defensive wards, healing, status effects, and concepts outside of wand blasting my opponent to dust that could have elevated the gameplay further.
Since damage is the focus, there are times when someone just nails their damage engine so well that it feels like you can’t possibly catch up. Some damage is dealt almost every turn, so once you fall far enough behind, no amount of abracadabra is gonna help you. Thankfully, most matches I played were really close.
One other issue that came up every now and then was how long someone’s turn could be. Some combo setups would have you executing a line of actions that could go in the double digits.
“I do this thing, and that lets me move that doohicky here, which pops this gizmo to my hand, so I can cast this spell and gain this much mana, to cast this other spell, which triggers this that and the other thing, etc”
Anyone who has played a card game knows that’s not entirely uncommon. But since your tableau of spells is only replaced one spell at a time, there’s a good chance that when a player has that long-winded combo ready, it’s happening almost every turn.
It was certainly the exception, not the rule. Most games flowed smoothly, but when it happens, and you aren’t the one doing it, it can be painful.
Here’s the thing, Wizards of the Grimoire is a simple game. I could teach it to anyone in five minutes. But the game punches well above its weight due to how much you have to flex your strategic muscles. It’s a duel of wits in every sense, and that’s fitting for a game of wizardry.
I love that the theme ebbs and flows throughout the entire game, it’s not simply painted on to hide numerical equations. It’s enchanted throughout the gameplay, the visuals, and even the box to nail that feeling of magic.
Wizards of the Grimoire packs a serious strategic game into a small package that captures the spirit of a great many trading card games that have come before it, while dancing to an incantation of its own making. The spell-drafting, cooldown system, combos, and counters just work incredibly well.
To top it off, it condenses the experience into a graceful package that allows you to set up and play within minutes. It puts all the weight of its tactics and strategy into an ever-evolving decision space as the game is being played. There’s no preparation, it’s baked into the duel, turn by turn.
Sure, I think the designers played it a little safe when it comes to spell effects. I would have liked to have seen effects outside of simply trying to deal the biggest damage numbers as fast as possible.
It was just likely outside the scope of what they envisioned. As much as I would personally enjoy ideas like healing, defenses, and status ailments, it would have undoubtedly had an impact on how long it takes to finish a match. I would love to see it in an expansion at some point anyway.
One thing that I feel like a lot of two-player-only games fail to capture, is replay value. It’s always a bummer because simple math dictates it’s far easier to get two players together than any player counts above it, and thus, is easier for a two-player game to hit the table. Yet, they always seem to dry up the fastest.
Wizards of the Grimoire, on the other hand, feels like an evergreen game. One that would take a great many hours of play to truly master. Every aspect of its tactical nature is contained in the gameplay itself in a way that’s similar to classics such as Chess but still offers that modern variability with its variety of cards and synergies. It’s definitely worth picking up for anyone looking for a great two-player game.
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Pick up Wizards of the Grimoire from these stores
- The game radiates with the energy of its magical theme
- The drafting and counter play makes for a tactical game of wizarding wits
- High-quality cards
- Plenty of replay value
- Fast set up and tear down
- Tons of combos
- A unique cooldown management system baked into the card tableau
- A slight rule misprint regarding “attack spells”
- Some combos can make a players turn drag on
- The focus on damage means you can sometimes be left behind with no way to catch up