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Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle Review

Kyle & Michael

What does this rating mean?

Posted by Kyle & Michael on Oct 19, 2016

Michael:
Kyle:


KM: Harry Potter is a huge license with very few worthwhile games, sadly. There was a serviceable trading card game back in the day, the solid but forgettable House Cup Challenge a few years back—and then a whole pile of the usual licensed trash.

MB: There is also the Harry Potter Clue, which I found at a Goodwill a couple of weeks ago. And yes, a bunch of licensed game nonsense better left unmentioned.

KM: So Hogwarts Battle comes on strong right out of the gate, facing very little competition from worthy Harry Potter fare for those looking to dive into J. K. Rowling’s fantastical world of magic. The production impresses too, with a neat box and packaging made to look like a travelling trunk, and helpful tuckboxes, baggies, and trays to sort all seven books’ worth of content into something manageable. While it would have been easy to phone in the production, given the dearth of good Harry Potter games, it’s nice to see USAopoly putting in the effort on the physical side of things, even if most of the art is either unhelpful abstract magic symbols or lame-o movie stills.

MB: Kyle, if I were rating this game solely on its presentation and its product design, this would be a five star game. The folks at Forrest-Pruzan (who did this game for USAopoly) really knocked it out of the park in terms of creating a wonderful, very Harry Potter package. As a huge Potter fan, I was just grinning ear to ear opening this thing- even at the lame-o movie stills.

KM: Yes, totally. It’s nice to see them go the extra mile, when the game would still probably sell like butterbeers just on the novelty of having a decent Harry Potter deck builder. It looks, feels, sounds, and smells like Rowling’s world of witchcraft through and through, and that really does make all the difference here.

MB: What’s more, I think they way that they have presented the entire Harry Potter saga in a series of seven games that match up with the books and films is just brilliant. As you play through it, it eventually introduces more and more of the Wizarding World and by the end just about anything you can name from the series is in the game. New elements surprise you over the sort of “campaign” you can play, and there was one part (no spoilers) that took me completely by surprise involving components that I didn’t even know were in the game because they were in one of the boxes. It’s a pity then, that other than all of the above it is just a somewhat above average deckbuilder.

KM: I liked the concept of the separate game boxes more than actually using them. If each pack had simply contained a few new items to mix in the decks in order to change things slightly, I think it would have worked pretty well. But as it stands, starting a new game box was a bit of a chore: checking to see which cards replaced previous cards, which ones were add-ons, and what the new rules are for each new session.

MB: Once I played through all seven games, I pretty much left everything mixed together for the “ultimate” Hogwarts Battle experience. Which is awesome from a Potter fan perspective, but there is also a weird curve that the gameplay develops along- it doesn’t necessarily get any deeper or richer, it just tends to get longer and have a couple more items or particular cards to fuss over. Which is something of a problem because I’m not sure there is any significant development engendered by the sort of “legacy”-like alteration of the game over each successive play.

KM: For sure, the games keep getting longer and longer, as you’re mixing in a greater number of villains the group has to defeat to win each time you start a new book.

MB: The length would be tolerable if we were building up to a more Mage Knight-like deckbuilding experience where by the end of the seventh game you have progressively learned how to play a much more complex game than what was offered in the first. But here again, it’s a fairly standard deckbuilder like we’ve seen many times in the years since Dominion. Other than the presentation, I can’t point to anything in this design that feels like it is adding something to the deckbuilding grammar.

KM: Right. That little surprise you mention in the middle was a nice goody to open, but even then, it didn’t add anything of note to the gameplay, or at least not anything to elevate the gameplay above “bog-standard.” It really plays like a cooperative version of something stupid-simple like the DC Deck Building Game, but lacks that game’s advantage of being easy to set up, quick to play, and easy to stick back in the box.

MB: Yeah, it’s definitely in the vein of DC or even Legendary - although I think this game is superior to all of the Legendary titles I’ve played and I enjoyed it more than most other deckbuilders. But it does come packed in with a little more hassle and a longer playtime that really jeopardizes its otherwise high level of accessibility.

KM: What we have here then is a somewhat brainless deck builder that tasks players with leveraging the game’s two currencies (buy and attack) in order to collectively beat a stack of villain cards before the time runs out. There are little choices in terms of purchasing, as the choice is usually obvious, and there’s not much downside to buying a card. Contrasted with the likes of masterpieces like Dominion, wherein players have to agonize over whether a card purchase will help their deck designs or not, it feels a little flat.

MB: This is an area where I feel like a lot of not-Dominion deckbuilders stumble- in making those buying choices feel impactful and providing the player with a matrix of possible choices. You’ve got to have a sense of investment, risk, and payoff in terms of combinations or advantages or discernible benefit. But you also have to have that tension between the decisions or else there are too many situations where you look at the array of cards and there’s no decision to be made- you buy the most expensive one. This is one of those deckbuilders where you just buy the most expensive thing out there, whether it’s Snape or Luna Lovegood or a Patronus.

KM: Where the game does offer some tactical meat is in the way the group chooses to approach the threats thrown at the players by way of the villain and event decks. Ganging up on a baddy with a nasty superpower is paramount to winning the game, especially in later games where losing is within the realm of possibility. The design also constantly asks players to decide between helping themselves and gathering resources for the group, which is a nice bit of tension.

MB: Yes, I also think the design is more successful here- the villains and events hit HARD. I was actually kind of shocked at how bluntly this game can beat Harry and the gang, and it can just ruthlessly keep KOing the characters if you can’t put some damage on the villains and surmount those event cards. This does naturally incentivize cooperation on its own, but the game also has these built-in cooperative hooks that I think are quite well done. Abilities that allow you to award other players or gift resources, choices where your decisions impact another character, those kinds of things. I really liked those little touches, and they made the cardplay feel much less solitary than it might have otherwise.

KM: I actually double-checked the rulebook on some of the villain abilities—they’re that nasty. But I like that the game is willing to challenge the players to work together if they’re going to succeed. That feels like a very Harry Potter-like theme baked into the design, and perhaps elevates this game above similar licensed titles that just slap art on a game and call it a day. The whole sense of “magical cooperation” permeates the design, and that makes it work on a thematic level that other games like DC or Legendary just don’t.

I’m sensing I’m not quite as enamored as you, but I get why you like it a touch more than I do. If the themes of cooperation and selflessness along with the Harry Potter setting really click with you, you’re going to love this game.

MB: I don’t know if I’m enamored of it so much as I’ve just marginally failed my saving throw against Harry Potter merchandise. It’s a decent game mechanically, but that’s about it. However, I do think you are right about the theming. There is clearly a very direct and wilful attempt to capture both the camaraderie of the friends (plus fourth-wheel Neville) and also the ways in which they complement each other. There’s a little sacrifice, a little specialization. And that goes a long way toward making this game a net success despite some shortcomings.

KM: I would have liked to see more of an emphasis on some real strategy to the purchasing and deck-building aspects, or else a leaner design that works as a simpler experience. As it stands, the total package is neat, but occupies a strange space on my shelf due to the slightly longer playtime coupled with the simplistic strategy.Still, I’m hanging onto this one for the time being. It’s an honest-to-goodness Harry Potter game, and a thumpin’ good one at that.


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