This review is based on a Kickstarter copy of the game that I backed with my own hard earned cash . I got it a little earlier from Wrench Games so I could start working on this review.
We all like the thought of being able to command the forces of nature: conjuring a fireball, bending the forest to your will or communing with the vast oceans. This is the situation you find yourself in a whole slew of games, including a little known one called Magic: The Gathering, and unfortunately for you other wizards are about and want to fight you in the first game from Wrench Games, Blind Wizard Brawl.
Blind Wizard Brawl (BWB) was an unusual game for me in that I backed it sight unseen, mostly to show my support for the Scottish game design scene, but also because the merging of digital and physical game aspects is an intriguing concept for me. Please note I will not use the term phygital as it makes my brain throw up a little.
The fine folk at Wrench Games were nice enough to send me my Kickstarter copy a little early so I could start getting in games for a review and I set out to carry it around with me and play as many games as I could to dig into the game and figure out if it was lightning in a bottle or would be countered by stronger magic.
In The Country Of The Blind
Blind Wizard Brawl bills itself as a micro deckbuilder and that is pretty much on the money. The game consists of only of a svelte deck of plasticised cards, meaning you probably don’t need to sleeve these if you fear damage, and of course the app the makes the whole game tick. When you sit down across the table from your fellow acolytes you are never entirely sure who you are going to face: Naughty Marit of the Tools, Flamboyant Myincae who Tells Lies or perhaps Incompetent Rynscather the Overwhelming (all pulled from the app).
Not only do you get a random name from the app but also your all important stats and abilities: maybe you’ll be a powerful blast wizard or growth might be more your thing. The app keeps track of your health and is capable of producing something in the region of 19 million different names along with 80 pieces of art and around 40 abilities, making each wizard unique.
Keeper of the secret fire (or growth, or wave)
If you’ve not played a deckbuilder before then the basic idea is that you start with a small deck of cards and then change its makeup over the course of the game by adding or taking cards out of it. Most deckbuilders have a wide variety of cards but BWB has only 3 different varieties to choose from.
The cards get seperated out into these 3 types of spell: Growth, Wave and Blast. Every player will get one of each of these to form their teeny starting deck of 3 cards before stepping into the arena to brawl, taking an action about to smack your fellow wizards around the battlefield.
Chanting gains you a card from the deck of your choice, raises the stat of the card you are gaining and gives you some extra bonuses if you can play, channel, cards of the same type you are chanting: healing, drawing cards and doing direct damage. You can Mind Blast a wizard for 5 damage by returning one of each type of card to their decks, but the main way to do damage is to return a card to one of the decks allowing you to fire off a Cast at another wizard doing them some damage, and some extra damage if you can reveal cards in hand of the same type. Your stats come to the fore here as you compare one of yours to the other of your target, hoping to hit them with some fiery blast, viney attacks or watery death.
Blind Wizard Brawl relies on secrecy to tick along, your wizard being hidden from your opponent for the length of the game. You never declare your stats, the amount of damage you take from an attack or your special ability, unless the ability specifically tells you to, and a handy privacy screen exists in the app that you can pull across the stats and ability to hide them. The app does make a sound whenever you raise a stat your health or take damage but in order to hide the true amount of damage you are taking there is a button in the app, with limited uses, you can use to generate the same noise effectively allowing you to bluff your opponent.
When only one wizard is left standing the game ends and you can pick up the pieces shuffle up and go again with a completely different set of stats and ability, adding a lot of replayability into the game should it turn out to be your kind of thing.
You Shall Not Pass
I’ve played a few games of BWB, all two player so I can’t comment on the 3-4 player version of the game, and the game just fell a bit flat for me over those plays. It took me a while to figure out what I wasn’t liking about the game and in the end it comes down to a few things.
Firstly the app feels like it gets in the way of gameplay rather than enhance it, and this is mostly down to the secrecy required by the game. Since you are holding a hand of cards and playing them with your other hand you then need to put all this down to pick up your phone to record your stat increases etc, then put the phone back down to sort out the cards you played for the end of the turn. This just feels fiddly and constantly reminds you of the app component rather than integrating it into the game in a more elegant manner.
Some of the abilities you can get are just shockingly powerful compared to others. In one game my opponent had a power where he did more damage with the Wave cast. Since chanting Wave gains you health it meant he could just rack up health then whack me for loads. I tried to react by increasing my growth stat, which is used to defend against Wave, but it just wasn’t enough and I was quickly defeated. The worst part about this was that the ability was secret so I didn’t even know what was happening until it was all over.
Coming away from the app, there is a fundamental inability to react to what your opponents are doing and the hidden nature of abilities and stats leads to you scrambling in the dark strategy wise. In other games of this nature you can see someone developing a strategy and you can react: maybe you try and build that strategy faster, develop an opposing deck or buy up cards they need just to frustrate their plan. With Blind Wizard Brawl you just can’t do this, especially if, as in the example above, your opponent gets some incredibly powerful ability. With most deckbuilders you start on an even footing a simple deck and the same starting position, but with BWB you all have a different set of starting stats and that can put you on the backfoot without even realising that is where you are.
The interesting thing about Blind Wizard Brawl is since the app is core to the game it is possible that some updates to it will improve the game over time: I for one would be interested to try it as is with you being able to see your opponents stats and powers or maybe as a straight battle between two equally matched wizards. For the purposes of reviewing though I have to take it as it comes and it just didn’t grab me in the way other deckbuilders have.
I really admire Wrench Games choosing such an ambitious project for their first foray into Tabletop gaming and although I really wanted to like Blind Wizard Brawl I feel it has some fundamental problems and ultimately falls short of its goals. I think it’s ok to respect a company that releases an interesting title, even if you feel that game ultimately isn’t for you, and I hope that Wrench Games will go on to bigger and better things.