Sorcerers & Starships

Sorcerers & Starships #2: KAPOW! Hype and Epic Card Game First Impressions

One of my favorite things about moving toward these monthly features is that I can take on different roles as a fan of games. I’m absolutely capable of falling victim to hype, no matter how much I might fight tooth and nail against the latest hotness trends in the hobby. However, my hype is less for the abundance of sculpted miniatures, or the latest multi-hundred dollar full-back pledge level with 99 Kickstarter Exclusive unlocks running on Kickstarter, or even the latest Stonemaier title to hit the wild (although I do admit, Tapestry turned out to be far better in the first play than I anticipated). I am more likely to get hyped for the latest titles from some of my favorite publishers, just like I’m sure many of you are, and White Wizard Games falls into that category. And so this morning, when there was an email announcing the latest game to hit their lineup – well, let’s just say I wouldn’t do much for a Klondike bar but I’d bend over backwards to get an early review copy of the game….

But before I talk about why I am extremely excited about KAPOW!, I wanted to create some useful content with some first impressions of Epic Card Game. I finally got in two games of it a few weeks ago, and was overall impressed with the quick-pacing and easy-to-understand flow of the game. Anyone who has played Magic: The Gathering will feel at home with the premise of playing events and deploying Champions to form your army which you will use to try and defeat your opponent. The clever twist in this game, and this is the thing that really impressed me, is that cards either cost 0 or they cost 1 coin. You get 1 coin to spend during each turn, meaning I have a coin to spend on my turn, and I have a coin to spend during my opponents’ turn. There are some insanely powerful cards in there, but when everyone feels overpowered it turns out to strike a sense of balance. Games are really fast, and armies of Champions can fill out quickly in the game. We used completely randomized decks of 30 cards from a single starter and had a really good time of it. It can only get better going forward, once we both take time to customize decks to use in the game.

The best thing about Epic is that it skips all the boring “ramp” of deploying puny cards and slowly building up to be able to play something fun in 7-10 turns – assuming a game would last that long. You can play your most powerful card on the first turn of the game, but so can your opponent and you want to make sure that powerful card isn’t lost quickly as a result. Because there is no stressing about resource generation, you also are able to focus on filling your deck with exciting cards and players are always on an equal footing in terms of what they could do.

However, it isn’t a perfect product. There are so many keywords, and you need to turn to the center of the rulebook to look them up – a printed player reference for each person playing is going to be a must for quick and easy reference of what these keywords mean. Some will complain about there being only 1 of each card in the game, when you could ideally construct decks with 3 of each card. This means some players are going to feel compelled to buy in at 3 of every product in order to have a maximized card pool for deck construction. If that doesn’t bother you (and it doesn’t bother me, as I don’t need 3x of every card!) the price to play this game is extremely reasonable at about $15 for the base game and plenty of expansion boosters that run around $5 each for a fixed set of cards. Going all-in on the game is not too far off from a normal board game, and there is plenty of fun to be had even with just the base game. I backed the latest Kickstarter for the Duel/Jungle sets before playing the base game, and I am pleased with that decision now that I tried the game. Turns out this is going to be a fun and solid one for my collection that I will eventually want to own everything for.

But first, I need to buy the bigger box because, well, there is no room for expansion cards in the base box.

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And now to hype their newest game: KAPOW! A Fast and Furious Buildable Dice Superhero Game. This looks like it checks so many boxes for me:

* Superhero theme
* 2-player dueling game
* Simple ruleset
* Fast and engaging gameplay where the “complexity” comes from the decisions made in-game rather than an overwhelming rules overhead.
* Customization of certain dice over the course of the game, allowing you to adopt strategies on the fly based upon how things are unfolding

I’ll be honest here, I hadn’t heard of KAPOW! Until this morning. Had I known about it, I probably wouldn’t have backed the Kickstarter because I don’t go in on those very often. However, I would have definitely considered it and found a way to get this into my collection before now. With the folks at White Wizard getting involved, this can only mean great things for a game that already sounds great. Because while dueling with a few Superheroes and Supervillains is fun and all, getting more variety in the future is going to be a desirable thing. And I have a hunch that this game is going to get expanded beyond the game that already exists. I’m not saying I’ll buy everything KAPOW!, but I’m also not saying I won’t. If it plays half as good as it sounds, this will be a game I will gladly own and expand in my collection for many years, much like Hero Realms, Star Realms, and Epic Card Game.

My biggest hope with the game, like any game I end up loving obsessively, is that they develop some strong lore for the game. They don’t need to go as far at Greater Than Games did with their Sentinels of the Multiverse line, but I’d love something. As a writer, and as a fan, I want to know the background of the world, and to know more of the characters than just their simple stat sheet with various powers.

If you are at Essen, I’m jealous of you because you can go try out the game. If you go to PAX Unplugged this year, I’m more jealous because it sounds like it will be available for purchase there. And this game is very, very high right now on my wishlist of games to play because it simply sounds like it will be a lot of fun. If you want to learn more, check out the announcement from White Wizard Games here:

https://www.whitewizardgames.com/introducing-kapow-a-fast-an…

Expansion Review · Sorcerers & Starships

Sorcerers & Starships #1: Hero Realms Character Packs

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many focuses on games by White Wizard Games. My introduction to the company, like many, was through Star Realms which remains a fast and fun deckbuilder at an excellent pricepoint (until you want more…) and its sequel game, Hero Realms, was one I honestly avoided for a long time. I had Star Realms, after all, so why did I need the same exact game?

Well, because it isn’t the exact same. Similar? Yes, absolutely. But also very, very different. And one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with Hero Realms was the introduction of the character packs and so I felt it was fitting to give the five of them a sort of mini-review/overview to kick off my White Wizard focus.

My Thoughts on Character Packs in General

The best thing about the character packs for Hero Realms is that they introduce asymmetric starting decks. Yes, most of them are still similar enough to each other that they are capable of playing out the same. But they have just enough uniqueness to give some flavor to each player’s approach toward the game. By not only adding a few unique cards to each deck, but also providing two abilities for each class, they opened things up for variability and customization. It also creates a stronger draw for a new player, allowing you to ask them what sort of character they would prefer to play, and it provides some level of impact on the overall gameplay experience.

And if White Wizard had left it at just that, it would have been enough to make the character packs a worthwhile addition to any Hero Realms collection. But they have taken it all a step further, providing a campaign experience that begins with the Ruin of Thandar box and will continue in future adventures. And while we haven’t seen the full results of where those campaigns will take us, Thandar was enough to provide a taste of things to come and I love it. Each class has a Skill Tree and an Ability Tree they can upgrade along as they move through the campaigns. These allow you to further upgrade your characters by replacing some of their weaker cards with stronger variations that enhance the flavor and provide decisions to make for the characters. With branching decisions on both trees, at some point you’ll need to decide where your focus of that particular area of the character will go, something that cannot be undone moving forward. And oh how I love that.

By providing every one of those upgrade cards in the Thandar box, it allows you to choose wisely from the start where you want to branch, giving control to the players up front rather than trying to spread them out across multiple boxes in order to get a little more story into the first campaign box. This is why I have to declare the Hero Realms Character Packs as not just great expansions to an excellent game, but I have to call them essential – even if you have no intention of playing the campaign, they are absolutely worth the purchase.

The Cleric

Three of the unique cards in the Cleric deck involve adding some damage production. Two different Followers are here, each adding one Combat if you Expend them. With a meager 1 Defense, they are easily defeated but their Guard ability can make them an extreme annoyance to your opponent. The Spiked Mace is a nice item in the deck, adding 2 Combat every time you play it from your hand. The Prayer Beads are incredibly appropriate for the Cleric, offering you either 2 Gold or 5 Health – they are either getting alms or healing themselves. However, if you have two or more Champions in play you get both, which is something you will always want to strive toward. Go figure that those two Followers are in the starting deck, making it a possibility to get that boost from Turn 1 if everything goes right. The Expend ability for the Cleric is a Bless, which lets you choose a player to gain 3 Health. Yes, most of the time it will be yourself as the target but keeping it open is a nice touch, either against the boss decks, in a team format, or when simply trying to delay an opponent’s victory so you can steal it for yourself. It also boosts all of that player’s champions by 1 Defense until the end of their next turn, providing an excellent benefit at a cost of 2 Gold. It isn’t an ability you will use every turn, but it is an ability worth using any turn where you have that Gold not being spent elsewhere. Finally there is the Resurrect, which can be Sacrificed to bring a champion from your Discard Pile into play – but only one that has been Stunned since your last turn. After all, you are bringing them back to life and not playing the part of a Necromancer, right? If they’ve been dead too long, you’re animating the dead… a really nice touch with that condition on the power that you’ll find frustrating rather than useful because there will always be that Champion you want that didn’t just get Stunned.

The Fighter

No surprises here, the Fighter is all about more Combat all the time. Well, almost. Their trusty Longsword adds 3 Combat, while the handy Throwing Axe will toss in 2 when used. What good is a Fighter without their loyal Shield Bearer? This Champion is really nice as a starting card, providing a solid 3 Defense with Guard to annoy and frustrate your foes. Any well-equipped Fighter knows they need some form of funding to get stronger, and so there is a nice little Ruby worth 2 Gold in the deck to speed up your purchasing power. For the abilities, the Shoulder Bash deals 2 Combat at the cost of 2 Gold, while the Crushing Blow can be Sacrificed for a well-timed 8 Combat to finish the opponent off or break through a strong defense – or land a hard blow after breaking those defenses. As a straight-forward class to play, this one is perfect for – but not limited to – newer players because it is all about more damage done faster.

The Ranger

The Ranger is one of my favorite characters to play as, but also arguably the weakest of them all. The Ruby in his deck does provide some extra economy, as does the Horn of Calling which adds 1 Gold plus reduces the cost of your next Champion this turn by 1. The Hunting Bow provides the Ranger with a consistent 2 Combat when it comes up, and a pair of Black Arrows are far better when a Bow is in play – they give 1 Combat no matter what, but also allow you to draw a card if a Bow is in play. Track can be a helpful ability in the game, allowing you to spend 2 Gold to look at the top 3 cards of your deck and discard up to two of them, and then put the rest back on top of the deck in any order. Yes, it can help set up the Bow + Arrows combo a little more consistently but as the game winds on, that one will come up less often. However, the Ranger is still one who will be able to pull off Faction pairings more often when using this ability and can cycle cards out of the deck when they aren’t needed. The Headshot ability is useful, allowing the Ranger to draw a card and Stun a target Champion – making this ability more potent as the most powerful cards begin to appear on the table.

The Thief

Another extremely straight-forward class to play, the Thief has ways of getting more cards faster, doing small damage that can increase with combos, making opponents discard cards, and even a way of stealing a card from an opponent. The two Ruby cards are the easiest in the deck, adding 2 Gold when played for increased economy. Three Throwing Knives round out the deck, each adding 1 Combat plus an additional 2 Combat for each knife already played that round – making it cap at 9 Combat boost if you play all three in a turn. The Pick Pocket ability is extremely useful, and would be even if it just gave you 3 Health for 2 Gold – something the Thief usually has little trouble having available. However it also makes a target opponent discard a card, helping to hinder your opponents turn after turn after turn with great efficiency. Finally comes the Heist, which is able to be Sacrificed to purchase a card from an opponent’s discard at its printed cost. It has limitations, being unable to gain a card without a cost or a card in the first two turns of the game, but this is one that will always keep your opponents guessing as they play a strong card – hoping you aren’t going to take it away and start using it on them.

The Wizard

This is one of the more interesting classes to play as, especially since it starts with the lowest life total at 50. However, it has strong flexibility and power capability in its arsenal! Two Ignite spells deal 2 Combat each, and a Fire Staff is good for 1 Combat plus allowing you to draw a card if you have two or more Actions in play. The Cat Familiar is a utilitarian Champion, allowing it to be Expended for 1 Combat, 1 Gold, or 1 Health and its 2 Defense isn’t great, but its lack of the Guard keyword means it might just stay in play for a while. Spell Components is almost like having a Ruby in the deck, providing 1 Gold and making the next Action acquired this turn cost 1 less – making it so you are incentivized to collect cards that will synergize with your Fire Staff for more future card draws. Channel gives you the ability to draw an extra card each turn at the cost of 2 Gold, but you also lose 1 Health in the process – knowledge is power, but it comes at a steep cost. The Fireball is arguably the coolest Sacrifice ability for the Character Packs, allowing you to deal 4 Damage to a target player and each of their Champions – and this even bypasses those annoying Guard abilities so you can be guaranteed a hit.