On the Table: Wizard Kings from Columbia Games

Friday , 5, August 2016 7 Comments

I have gotten a tremendous amount of play out of Wizard Kings since picking it up a couple of weeks ago. As I’ve posted pics of this on social media, I’ve gotten feedback from people that are underwhelmed by it, so let me explain real quick here what’s going on with that and why this game is awesome anyway.

First, it contains the smallest example that I have ever seen of what the Columbia style block game is all about. The five turn “Barbarian Raid” scenario puts both players on the horns of a dilemma throughout the entirety of its short gameplay. It is an example of pitch perfect game design and is a great introduction to this line of games.

Second, what looks like the default scenario for the game has a couple of flaws. One, it kind of needs you to buy a couple of expansions for it to really get interesting. Two… it’s a 4X strategy game that rewards turtling. This is bad. If you go into this game thinking this is what you’re “supposed” to do with it, then you’re going to get frustrated with it. If you’re going to go outside the bounds of a fully developed design, be prepared to tackle the inevitable game design issues that are going to arise. (As an example of that, we replaced the economic system with a rule to allow invaders to loot and pillage enemy cities.)

Third, the best thing about this game is that it is an ideal system to introduce a thirteen-year-old to wargaming tactics. His every impulse will be to simply concentrate his best blocks and go smash things. And yes, this game does seem to present as the quintessential “beer and pretzels” block game. But it also rewards players that look before they leap, that discern when to fall back and regroup, and that exploit “come at me bro” type positioning. I can’t think of many games at this complexity level that incorporate these sorts of maneuvers. There’s more to this than might appear at first glance!

Yes, its expansions are on the “booster pack” model. (You can see an example of what you get from one below, but don’t count on getting the uber cool dragon in your first set!) This is going to be a minus to a lot of people and it would have been for me, too. On the other hand, when I offered to buy one after five full plays, my son kept begging to play until we’d done twice that. The resulting hour-long discussions about which factions to assign the special blocks to are way more fun than I expected. And my son will talk for hours about which factions are overpowered and which situations they’d be best at handling. This is an entirely predictable consequence of the “gotta get ’em all” format… and to tell you the truth, I really don’t mind it working for the sort of game I like to play for once.

But no, this game is not as well loved as some of the other entries from Columbia Games. And I certainly didn’t see anyone clamoring to play it at PrezCon this year. But at my house, this is the sort of epic fantasy game we’ve always wanted. Knock it if you want, but it hits the table a great deal more than many other games with reputations for good design. It just not feel like a chore to get this one out. The blocks are a pleasure to handle. And the gameplay is good and brutal.

I like it, even if it does have an elvish cleric…!

7 Comments
  • Sky says:

    What’s not to like? Neato pieces, intuitive rules, a big honking modular hex map, cinematic battles. I know the expansions are randomized but its not like Heroclix. You get a lot of pieces in there. And no cards. I need a break from wargames with cards.

    The looting, that’s a great house rule, I will be trying that out.

  • David says:

    Good to know about this one. I have had success with Awful Green Things from Outer Space after this site’s suggestion to use it as an introduction for children to wargames. Now I have something else to try.

  • Nothing wrong with an Elven Cleric. Good quick review. I looked into this game at Gen Con and now wish I’d bought it!

    • Jeffro says:

      Elven Cleric will make your head explode only if you just got done reading The King of Elfland’s Daughter and Three Hearts and Three Lions.

      Son is still keep on playing this one, though. I think making the perfect scenario will be our first real game design collaboration. Stoked!

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