Recently we did our first board game article and this week is going to be another first; our first full review of a board game! In this article, Tim reviews Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle.
As with Fallout, I could take or leave this franchise. The films are enjoyable for what they are (still haven’t see all of them!), and have been a gateway into the fantasy genre for a lot of people.
This article differs from our last board game article because this is a full review; I’ve played this game ten times now, which I consider just enough to really give more than just a first impression. Anyway, on with the review!
What Do You Do?
Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle is a co-operative deckbuilding game for 2-4 players. Each player takes on the role of one of the main characters (Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, or Neville Longbottom), who each have their own starting deck which contain a few unique cards.
Each game takes place in one of the different school years that the books and films are set in. You can start at any year, but it’s probably best to begin with year one because the game adds more game mechanics as the years go on. During a game, the players must work together to defeat the villains before the villains can gain control of all of the locations.
The core mechanics will be familiar to anyone who has played a deckbuilder before. Where it differs (in my experience) is that each player has a health total, and that you can gain tokens representing currency/attack in other player’s turns which you can then have ready for when it’s your turn.
If you haven’t played a deckbuilder before, the basic idea is that each player begins with a deck of (usually) ten cards which they can play to either attack the villains or recruit improved cards from the lineup. As the game progresses, the cards you have recruited will make your deck more powerful, allowing you to fight the villains more easily.
Each game continues until either all the villains have been defeated (players win) or the villains have taken control of all the locations (player lose).
What Did I Like About It?
The first thing that I liked about it was the character boards that we had. While probably not totally necessary, it neatly provided some framework for setting up your play area. I think that this is particularly helpful, as the target audience for this game are probably Harry Potter fans rather than just gamers in general, so anything that helps them out is a good thing. The board itself is also not strictly necessary, but it lays out the game for you.
The box that the game comes in looks the part and has a useful insert. It has a section for storing your current progress through the different years (there are seven different years; simulating the ones from the films/books). As you go through the years, more cards are added to the ones that you can acquire, different villains and dark arts cards are added, additional game mechanics are added, and sometimes your characters improve. It isn’t a legacy game as such, but it definitely could be described as legacy-light.
The game itself is relatively straightforward, even for non-gamers. Fans of the deckbuilding genre of board games will find the earlier years quite easy (the rulebook even suggests skipping some of the first few if you are an experienced player). It has two main currencies (similar to Ascension), one allowing you to acquire cards and the other to deal damage to the villains.
One area that it differed from other deckbuilders (as far as I know) was the co-operative element of the cards. Some of the cards allow you to directly target other players with healing abilities, or grant them extra cards or resources. Some cards would even have effects that allowed everyone to gain cards/resources. Helping each other out (particularly healing) means that you will usually have less terrible turns.
Each of the characters starts with their own deck. Most of the cards are the same amongst all of the decks, but there’s a few cards that are unique to each character. They will also gain abilities as you go through the different years (I was using Neville for our games and he has a bonus to healing. He does like his Butterbeer!). This allows the players to specialise a bit, and also gives them a slight focus as to which cards they should try and acquire.
What Didn’t I Like About It?
While the cards look nice, they are a bit on the flimsy side. It’s only a minor criticism, as many gamers will sleeve them straight away, but not everyone buying this game is necessarily an existing gamer.
As the different years progress, you still keep the old villains in the deck. To me, this seemed a bit against the theme. While we didn’t mind consistently fighting Professor Quirrell (as he is something of a pushover), after the first year he really shouldn’t be there. In fact, some of these earlier (generally weaker) villains would make later games a bit too easy, as you could prioritise later, more powerful, villains and leave the weaker ones in the lineup. To me, this was a bit gamey and removed some of the satisfaction of beating the later years.
Continuing on the villains, sometimes you would get a lineup to begin with that would be nearly impossible to beat. Look at the one below; Quirrell is no problem, but Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange were a potent duo. Other times the lineup would be too easy. I think that some direction in which ones were used would be much better.
Another problem we encountered was that there was no way to reset the cards that were available for purchase. Early on in one game the entire lineup cost five or more influence, making it nearly impossible for us to acquire any cards. This led to several turns where we basically had to pass. After doing a bit of reading online, it seems that an official rule was that once per game you could skip your turn in order to clear the lineup. Quite useful, but something that should have probably been in the rules to begin with.
Overall, I enjoyed Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle. I think fans of the Harry Potter franchise will really enjoy it. The gameplay is quite light, and I think some of that is due to the randomness of the villains lineup and dark arts cards.
However, I won’t be adding this to my collection (not just because someone in my gaming circle has a copy), but I can say that this is a good game to introduce people to board games, particularly if there are Harry Potter fans. If there is a future expansion that deals with some of my criticisms of the game, I would be happy to revisit my decision, as the co-operative nature of the game was a highlight.
Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed our first full review of a board game. Any comments or suggestions on how to improve the format are most welcome.