Harry Potter continues to be a global phenomenon and even though you might have thought we’d left Hogwarts and the gang behind after the resolution of the Deathly Hallows, the franchise continues to entrance the public with new movies, new books, a stage play and even board games. It’s the latter that I’m writing about today, a deck building co-op board game that the team at USAopoly sent for review called Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle.
Deck building games all have the same general structure: You start out with a number of relatively weak cards and have to combine them and strategize to acquire better and more powerful cards. While you’re doing that, you also have to survive whatever the game throws at you: in a competitive game your opponent might be more focused on knocking you out than building up their own world, but in a co-operative game like Hogwarts Battle, you’re both building powerful decks while trying to last long enough to use those powerful new spells and allies.
It seems Lord Voldemort and his followers are determined to take over Hogwarts and every other magical place and it’s up to Harry, Hermione, Ron and Neville to stop them!
The game is broken into two main areas: a shared board with villains and the marketplace of better cards, and an individual character area that lets you track health and build your increasingly powerful hand as you combat He Who Shall Not Be Named and his minions!
Check out the photograph below: It’s the shared board area where there are Locations (top left), Dark Arts cards that can cause all sorts of mischief (approx center on the top row), Villains (Crabbe & Goyle are the active villains) and the marketplace of better cards you can acquire by smartly utilizing your starting card deck:
Let’s look at each category of card more closely, starting with the Locations.
Facing up is Diagon Alley:
On the top right you can see this is one of two locations that the Dark Lord is trying to control: If he manages to get control of both you’ve lost the game. Not good. The middle portion of the card describes what bad thing happens while this location is in play: Each turn reveals 1 Dark Arts event. The bottom shows how many villain control tokens need to be placed here before the location is completely controlled. In this instance, one is already placed, which means we only have three more before we’ve lost Diagon Alley to the Death Eaters! Not good.
Dark Arts cards can be pretty bad news too. Here’s the one that Diagon Alley revealed on this first turn:
Petrification: All heroes lose 1 health and cannot draw extra cards this turn. Fortunately this only applies at the moment it’s revealed, so it’s a health hit, but just one time. Some of the Dark Arts events are quite a bit more painful than this as there are a fair number of different ways to restore health!
Below the Location card on the board are the Villain cards. In the first year of the game (it’s broken into seven years or phases, but I’ll get back to that in a bit) you only have one Villain in play at a time, but notice on the board that there’s space for three to be active. That makes it quite a bit more difficult, as you would expect!
While the mischievous two are in play, the hero (active player) will lose a health point every time they end up having to discard. See the ‘5’ on the lower right? That’s their health: you’ll have to accumulate five Attack Tokens (lightning bolts) to defeat them and stop the adverse event. Do so and you’ll get the reward: All heroes draw a card. Crabbe and Goyle are actually the least malevolent of the villains at this level.
Let’s sidetrack just a minute so I can show you the tokens included with Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle:
The coins are Influence Tokens and are the currency that lets you purchase better cards to make your deck more powerful. Remember, it’s a deck building game! The lightning bolt tokens are Attack Tokens, and the creepy metal skulls are Villain Control Tokens.
With those in mind, check out the cards in a typical hand:
Each of the four players available on the first level – Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom – has their own starting cards. Above are three of Hermione’s cards, as denoted by her name being on the bottom of the cards.
Play the Crookshanks card and you gain either one Attack or two health (as shown on the card). The Tales of Beedle the Bard get you two influence OR you can have every player (yourself included) gain 1. As a co-op sometimes it can be smart to bolster another player’s tokens to help them gain a stronger hand too, of course. The third card, Alohomora, is the least interesting: gain one Influence. Played together, these can get you 1 Attack and 3 Influence, for example. The Attack you can then use against Crabbe & Goyle.
Three influence are the currency that lets you buy better cards from the Hogwarts marketplace. Here are a couple of the cards in the marketplace currently:
The lower right indicates the cost in Influence tokens, and you can see that the Golden Snitch is pretty sweet: it gets you two influence tokens every time you play it and you get to draw an additional card from your deck. The Incendio spell gets you an attack token and also lets you draw a card. Three influence isn’t quite enough to buy either, which is too bad, because you can’t retain any tokens from round to round, so use it or lose it. That’s tough to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, it makes rounds go really fast because you can accumulate and spend without actually using the tokens.
With all that in mind, let’s have a quick look at Hermione’s play area:
You can see her full hand in play is the Beedle the Bard card, Crookshanks, and three Alohomora cards. That’s good, because that means we can get 1 attack and FIVE influence tokens, enough to buy the Golden Snitch! Cards you’ve played are placed to the right of the board in the discard pile. Facedown cards on the left are yet to play, and any new cards you purchase go into the discard pile and show up later, once you’ve run out of your draw deck and reshuffle the discards.
Hermione is also at full health – 10 – and not only is there a character “flavor” card with a photo and info about her, but notice the second turn order play reminder card. I really like games that have these sort of reminder cards because it makes it soooo much easier to get started.
In fact, everything about this game is great and beautifully designed. Rarely do I get a game where every component is lovely, all the artwork is thematic without being cryptic, and even the box is perfectly designed for the components and easy to load up and close. As in “close all the way”, something too many games won’t do once you’ve set it up for first play.
Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle is also notable for another feature; It’s a game that is played in seven levels, each more difficult than the previous. These all show up in the box (no expansions for this title) and are neatly divided into years 1-7:
Not sure what’s in store for us in year 4, but the bigger box certainly is a harbinger of some fun additions and variations on the basic theme.
My kids and I are all fans of Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle. It’s fast, easy, nicely cooperative, and just hard enough to have a sense of accomplishment when you win, even if you then have a smidge of anxiety about what the next year’s competition has in store for your group. It’s a great game for even the younger crowd, and I’m confident that a bright 8-10 year old would be able to jump into the game and have fun with it too. Recommended.
Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle, published by USAopoly. $41.58 at Amazon.com.
Disclosure: USAopoly sent us a copy of this game in return for this candid review.