Harry Potter: The Battle for Hogwarts
Like many out there, I saw the new Harry Potter game and thought: “Oh yay, another media marketing ploy and tie-in to promote a brand that’s slapped onto a generic game!” But, as a former teacher and a fantasy fan, Harry Potter has a certain pull for me. So I had to try the new game. And, because I like to push the envelope, I had to investigate its full merits. I played it through three times in a row: (1) as a single person playing both Ron and Hermione; (2) with three players using Hermione (myself, a fan and gamer- I am in Hufflepuff and my wand is Redwood with Unicorn hair), Harry (my teenage son who only admits to liking football and XBOX), and Ron (a friend); and (3) as a solo using just Neville. I rounded the trial off with Hermione playing just book 5.
Solid cooperative gameplay, easy to learn, high replay value, able to change game length and difficulty, solitaire friendly, don’t need knowledge of the series to play – though it helps to recognize the references, cat friendly.
The Battle for Hogwarts is a cooperative deck-building game, which means that everyone works together using cards to defeat the bad guys. It is a long and challenging cooperative game, overall. But it should be, since it covers all seven books! They’ve mitigated this by sectioning their game into seven parts, allowing players to begin and end at convenient points – it’s the closest to a “save point” that you can get without using a controller! You can start and end your game with any book, allowing for short vs long and easy vs hard games. Each card has text on the top right to say what book it came from for easy clean up, and each book has a separate box for storage. For example: when I started Hermione in Book 5, I used the 10 card starter deck for her, the location cards for book 5, and shuffled the other cards from Books 1 to 5. If you’ve never played a deck-builder before, books 1 and 2 give you a chance to feel out the basic mechanics. If you’re experienced with deck-builders, dive right into the third book (but don’t forget to shuffle in the cards from books 1 and 2).
When you begin in any book, you start with the deck of 10 cards tailored for your hero. Each starter deck has cards that gain influence (currency), an ally (the animal companion for each hero – depending on the hero, they can heal or attack or gain currency), and some items associated with the hero. For example, Hermione has the “Time Turner”, and Neville has the “Rememberall”. The stacks of Hogwarts cards (your resources), Villain cards, and the Dark Event cards grow with each book to create levels of difficulty. The heroes win each book by defeating every villain in the current stack, and the villains win by controlling every location for the book.
The gameplay is simple, as each card states exactly what they do in plain English. There are influence coins for buying new cards and lightning bolts for marking damage to villains, both made out of sturdy cardstock. Villains mark their control of locations with tiny metal hexagons (because it’s not a real game if there aren’t any hexagons, right?). Each turn a Dark Event (or more if a villain or location requires) is revealed and resolved, the villains use their abilities, and then the active player uses any or all cards from their hand. Those cards will generate Influence, deal attacks, draw cards, heal, and help your friends.
The game box says 2-4 players, but only minor adjustments were needed to allow for solitair e play. Cards that help or hurt your fellow heroes are simply redirected to yourself. The game also allows for a hero to be “stunned” (losing all health) without having to sit out for the rest of the session. The hero loses all attack and influence tokens, discards half their hand, can play their remaining cards normally, and the location gets a villain control token. The hero then regains full health for their next turn. With the length of the game, this is helpful to keep everyone playing during a cooperative run as well as allowing a person to solo the game.
Shuffling the resources, villains, and events creates a different gameplay experience every time. For example: when playing Book 6 with Ron and Hermione, I lost quickly. I pulled villains that added an extra Dark Event, did direct damage, and prevented me from healing – all active at the same time. In my replay of that book, the villains didn’t control a single location before I won. Stacking the villains in a certain order instead of shuffling would allow players to adjust the difficulty level, and won’t ruin the game mechanics. There is also a suggestion to use all three incarnations of Voldemort for an even more challenging level of play.
Fun game! Everyone enjoyed it, and it even got a half smile and a “maybe I’d play it again” from the disinterested teen. It had the right mix of challenge and ease to keep it engaging but not frustrating. The cooperation allows for different levels of gamers to play effectively without feeling like someone else is playing for you, and encourages conversation among players. The random shuffling of villains and events gives it a high replay value, as well as interesting ways to manipulate the difficulty. For book 4 of my Neville run, I only used the Hogwarts cards from book 4 – leaving out the resources from books 1 – 3. That was tough! And by selecting different books to start and end at, the length of play can be manipulated. We enjoyed the references to the series, from the “Levi-oh-SAAH” spell card to the time that Snape actually saved Ron from being stunned at one point!
Bonus Cat – the box lid is the perfect size for your cat that likes to terrorize games. It’s big enough to nap in for an average cat and deep enough to hide inside waiting to bat your hand when you reach for a token. The texture of the game board and cards allowed the graceful cranky cat to walk across with no disturbance, although the crazy cat did manage to flick some cards around when she flopped onto the board. Thankfully, the villain control tokens are weighty and your health tracker is on a separate card, so resetting the game after cat extraction was simple. Until book 7, there is even space in the middle of the board for your furry friend to sit while giving judgmental stares. But when offered the lid, there was happiness for all. (You know that this is a concern for gamers with kitties…)