What makes a good cooperative board game? A good cooperative makes you think and work as a team more so than those team building exercises than those stupid corporate days when you have to build a tower out of newspaper. A good co-op has to be difficult, there’s no point playing a game that feels like a push over. It’s got to have some randomness; if the game is too deterministic then you can effectively solve the game. Last of all, it helps if every player has some unique ability or talent so when put together the players work together to defeat the game. I can happily say that Wizard’s Academy has all these things in droves. It’s a damn difficult game, there’s plenty of randomness and the mechanics of the game encourage team play.
Players take the role of students in the Wizard’s Academy, and play one of 6 scenario driven objectives. The aim of the game may be to bind a demon into servitude or protect the Academy from invaders. Players will be to move through the academy collecting glyphs to cast spells from spell grid (more on that later), these spells should then allow access to more powerful spells that are needed to complete the goal.
The real clever mechanic here, and the one that’s really going to set Wizard’s Academy apart, are the spells. A matrix of face down cards is laid out on a separate board. To cast a spell you need to spend the two glyphs that represent that spell and then flip it over to reveal its effects, which could be good or bad. The card then gets placed back facedown. A player can go to the library and ‘lock in’ that spell and frankly they to need to as the winds of magic are constantly changing and every so often the face down cards will be shuffled.
This on its own is an amazing aspect to the game; it’s very similar to the potion brewing mechanic in Alchemists, except with more factors to deal with. The simple mechanic that elevates this even further is the ability for players to share a glyph. Now players really can act as a team; one player moves to pick up the glyph, the second player uses that glyph to cast a new spell and then a third player heads to the library to keep it locked in.
There’s a lot of tension built into the spell system, especially towards the end of the game where things are getting a bit close. The academy could be ablaze and you’re desperately trying to find the water summoning spell when you accidently cast a demon summoning spell. Now you have a raging inferno and an angry demon to deal with.
It’s not a good co-op without multiple ways to lose and again Wizard’s Academy comes up trumps. There are two main game ending conditions (apart from winning); running out of cards or losing mana. The mana crystal is the all encompassing resource and game saver, for example if a fire manages to reach the mana crystal it will put the fire out, but will also use up its valuable resources, if you run out of mana, the game ends. It leads to that great trade off, do we let the fire reach the mana crystal therefore dousing the flames but take us closer to a lose condition or do we spend our efforts attempting to fight the fire?
It's Wizard’s Academies combination of random events and scenarios that makes me think this game will be a keeper. In a typical scenario you will only be using half the available spells and disaster cards so you can see how much variety the game is going to provide. Of course this follows the usual Kickstarter caveat that I as using an early prototype with 3D printed minis and paper tokens, but the art on the cards was very nice, the graphical design intuitive and minis fantastic. It may only be based on only one game but I was seriously impressed by Wizard’s Academy and can’t wait to play the final version.
Wizard's Academy is available on Kickstarter now.
This Kickstarter preview is based on a prototype version played with the publisher; the final product may look, play or smell different to that used in this preview. In the interest of openness, the publisher also provided me with a cup of tea and a biscuit, this was not seen as payment for a positive review but just good manners.