Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Summoner Wars - Cloaks Review - I'm in your home row, stealing your magic!

(Apologies for the meme.)

I received my Cloaks faction deck, one of the newest armies out there for the fast and fun mini's/card game Summoner Wars on Saturday. I took some time to mull the new deck over, and I'm very much liking what I see here. My only other Summoner Wars armies are the Goblins and Dwarves (both the starter and two copies of the reinforcement pack), so I was really itching to pick up a new army to try out. I love thief guild concepts wherever they pop up and knew that the Cloaks would have to be my third army.

Compared to the Goblins and Dwarves, both of which play very straight forward in their respective strategies, the Cloaks might appear weak on first pass. Their common units can see fairly convoluted with a big block of text to explain their powers. Their champions seem like they could be underpowered (except the obvious powerhouse in Violet who attacks everything within range in one direction!). Finally, their summoner is completely dependent on his friends in the field as his sole power is to copy a power from another Cloak unit once per turn (Vlox gets lonely, alright?)

Outside of Violet, the Cloaks don't really have a stand out character. They have to work together to be successful, so, how do they do it? Let's look at the common units a little closer. First you've got the Gunner. She's a basic 1str/1cost/1life range unit. Her trick is that she is a loner. If you move only her during your movement phase, she gets a bunch of extra movement. She's actually a very decent sniper since she's cheap, can shot, and can be incredibly mobile to take out those fragile back-line support figures. She gets really good though, when you have a couple of Scrappers out on the field to keep her company.

Scrappers are basically melee guys (but with an extra life over the Gunner) and make for a lot of swarming fun. You can afford to move only one character - the Gunner - each turn if you've got a Scrapper already adjacent to an enemy. When a Scrapper hits an enemy but doesn't kill it, he can warp another Scrapper from somewhere else on the field right next to the wounded enemy. I love how these little guys bamf all over the field like Nightcrawler. I really like the Goblin Summoner for the same reason (at the end of his turn he can switch places with another friendly Goblin character).

The Thief is the third common Cloak, and he, along with the Champion character Dagger represent the sneaky cut-throat aspect of the faction. They both have powers that work off of their position in relation to your opponent's back row of the field. Dagger, the Champion can be a real beatstick with a 5 attack if he's "behind" the target a.k.a. closer to the enemy's home row than the enemy is. I like how simple they introduce this Backstab ability without dealing with facing rules - it's very elegant. The Thief is a very odd common, but I like that they're trying something very new with him. He doesn't attack, instead running to your opponent's back row to Steal (the name of the power) one magic (the game's currency) from your opponent and give it to you. Then the Thief teleports to one of your walls (the game's spawn points). The Thieves and the Scrappers combine for a very unpredictable and dynamic battlefield. You lack a lot of hard-hitting and defensive capabilities, but you make up for it with strategic options.

These toys are fun, but when you get down to it, the factions' Summoner, Vlox, is really the centerpiece of the army more so even than Summoners of the other factions. He essentially has any many powers as you have types of characters on the field. He can be fleet of foot with the Gunner's help, he can call allies to aid him with the Scrappers, and Violet makes him a cannon of Common killing awesomeness. He has five different spells he can cast: 2 x Raid, 2 x Magic Drain, 2 x Assassinate, 2 x Cloak of Shadows, and 1 x Spy. Raid I love as it boosts a Thief's movement for the turn speeding up magic stealing and probably getting him out of a bad spot. Spy is alright, but it's deck manipulation and so is only so good as randomness allows (although it lets you discard one card out of the top five of an opponent's deck, which can be awesome if you can dump a Champion or Wall). Assassinate is fantastic - spend 2 Magic and kill a Common unit. You couldn't ask for a more useful spell. Cloak of Shadows is a nice defense spell, and is the only real defense ability given to the Cloaks. I have a feeling that it will be very useful on Thieves to get them in and out of touchy spots.

In Short

If I had to sum up the Cloaks in one word it would "Unpredictable" with the caveat that it only applies to how your opponent views them. They have a lot of unique tricks up their sleeve. They've surprisingly mobile, and it will be hard for your opponent to plan for what the battlefield will look like one or two turns from now. I was going to buy the Cloaks faction deck as soon as I saw the Thief theme, and it surely didn't disappoint. I'm now happy to see a faction that plays like no other, especially distancing themselves from the play styles of my two other armies with the Dwarves and Goblins. Summoner Wars is a game we push quite a bit around here, and part of the reason is that for $10.00 you get a fully playable army. I definitely got my money's worth here, and I'm excited to see them in action.

All the images used for this post were borrowed from the Board Game Geek entry for the faction deck which can be found here. Wanna learn more about Summoner Wars? Of course you do! Search "Summoner Wars" on the blog to see our other articles and find an interview with game designer Colby Dauch of Plaid Hat Games. Speaking of which, head on over to their website to buy this product and more, and tell 'em The Hopeless Gamer sent you!

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