Game Buzz: Spellbound

One of the most noticeable presences at every Spiel is the Lamont Brothers.  These two Scottish brothers are famous for coming up with unique mechanisms, animal themes, and very cool bits for their games.  This year’s offering is

image by BGG user dicemanjnr

Spellbound is a game from Fraser and Gordon Lamont, and is published by their company Fragor Games.  1-4 players aged 10 and up can play this h0ur long cooperative deckbuilding game.  The basic premise is that you are a group of mages that have been transformed by an evil witch, and you must collect spellbooks in order to banish her and reverse the curse.

The game comes with a board, 4 mages, 5 spell books, 4 witch hats, a troll, a City Watchman, a witch, a bag, 20 stones, and 90 cards.  Fragor Games is quite well known for their components, which they reveal as they’re starting their preorders.  The 1000-copy run of Spellbound sold out in 6 days with nothing except a title, a general concept, and a few pictures:

Collage of images by BGG user W Eric Martin.  From the top left and going around: the City Watchman, the troll (Trollololo), the witch, a mage, the five spellbooks.

As awesome as those are, I usually like a little more info before ordering.  Not that I would have been at Spiel to get a copy anyway.

At the start of the game, figures go out on the board – the troll goes on the wilderness track, one witch hat goes in each city, the witch goes in the witch’s tower, books go on the fourth space of each track (wilderness and city), and mages go in the wilderness (one per player).  A starting destiny deck is created out of 15 basic cards, four witch cards, Fortuna, and the City Watchman ally card (only with 1-2 players).  Villages are formed by taking one card from the 16 ally sets, removing seven randomly, adding the Witch’s Tower, Fortuna, and Fairy Spring cards, shuffling, then placing one next to each of the 12 village spaces.  The wicked deck is shuffled, with a troll card added to the bottom, then turned face up so that troll card is on top.  Two moonstones and three sunstones go in the bag.  Cards are revealed from the destiny deck until there are five (wicked cards are placed on an upper row and hats are moved respectively – if you draw all four witch cards in the first draw, you have to reshuffle everything and try again).  Four village cards are randomly turned face up.

On your turn, you do three things: send a card to the witch’s tower, play or discard mage cards on the destiny display, and refill the destiny display.

SEND A CARD TO THE WITCH’S TOWER: You can choose any card from the destiny display (wicked or mage) and place it on the witch’s tower.  Cards with sun will benefit the players, cards with the moon benefit the witch.

PLAY OR DISCARD MAGE CARDS: Here, you’ll play cards from the destiny display until there are no more than two mage cards remaining.  Mage cards might allow your mage to move  number of spaces indicated.  From a city, you must travel to a village or the wilderness.  From a village or the wilderness, you can move anywhere.  Mage cards might also get you some magic to charge your wand or attempt to move a witch’s hat back in a city.  You could also use influence to recruit allies from villages.  A recruited ally goes right into the destiny play, while the other allies from the deck go in the discard pile.

Another thing you could do is research.  Using a card with the proper book symbol, you can move the book along its track, drawing a spell if it crosses a spell track.  When a book reaches the last space of its track, it is placed above the witch’s tower.

Your wand is also available during this phase of the game.  What you can do with it depends on how much it is charged (move a space, use as a book of any color, discard a troll or witch card from the display).

REFILL THE DESTINY DISPLAY: When you’re done (and there are no more than 2 mage cards remaining), you refill the display to five mage cards by drawing new cards.  If there are 3+ wicked cards before you start refilling, you’ll discard them and move all witch’s hats and the troll.  If a hat or the troll reaches a book, that book is lost.

If the destiny deck becomes exhausted before the display is full, you have a witch encounter.  The action on each wicked card is resolved and discarded.  Cities without a mage or city watchman have their hats moved (same goes for the troll in the wilderness).  You’ll then draw a new wicked card, adding it to your discards.  The witch and mages will then have a skirmish – draw stones equal to the witch’s strength, then add those to the sun or moon cards that have been played.  If the mages win, they get to move any book one space, but the witch adds a minion to the tower.  If the witch wins by 0-4, the witch will move up on the tower, becoming stronger.  A win by 5-9 moves the witch up two spaces.  A 10+ win means the mages lose.

After the witch encounter, discards are reshuffled and the destiny deck continues to be refilled.

The game is lost is you lose two spellbooks, or if two of the wicked pieces reach the ends of their tracks, or if the witch reaches the top of the tower, or if you can’t add a wicked card when required to do so.  To win, you must collect at least four spellbooks, gather all mages at the witch’s tower village card, and declare a final battle.  Spellbooks can destroy witch cards or add sun to your total.  If you win, hooray!  If not, ribbit. (That joke comes straight from the rules.)

So far in my life, I’ve played two Lamont games – Shear Panic and Snow Tails.  Shear Panic is a very good abstract game that I enjoy, but I dislike Snow Tails.  However, I’m always interested to see what they come up with.  This is a completely new thing for the Lamont Brothers – it’s not about animals, it’s cooperative, and it’s a sort of a deckbuilding game.  It looks like fun.  The rules graphics aren’t great, but they give the idea of how things are supposed to work.

I don’t see this game quieting the critics of co-ops that claim it’s too easy for one player to boss everyone around.  With no hidden information, this is going to be easy to control if you’re that kind of person.  However, it definitely addresses the complaint that DBGs are just multiplayer solitaire.  Since all players are using the same deck, interaction is kind of forced.  I like the ideas that are here, and I’d love to be able to try it out sometime.

That leads me to my final point – I’m not sure I understand why publishers aren’t snatching up the Lamont games for wider distribution.  I know Fragor Games is a small operation, so I understand why they have to do such small runs.  However, as fast as they sell out, you’d think someone would want to bring it out for a wider release.  Mayfair has had some good success with Shear Panic, and Snow Tails did fairly well for Asmodee.  But where’s Poseidon’s Kingdom?  Or Antics?  They both got good buzz and sold out quickly.  Is it the bits?  Are publishers not wanting to take that risk?  With the production values what they are in the world of games, I can’t imagine why people wouldn’t be able to make it work.  Maybe someone needs to look into Kickstarting some Fragor stuff.

Anyway, that’s Spellbound.  I’m eager to hear what people think, and hoping someone picks it up domestically eventually.  Thanks for reading.

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