Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wizard Kings rebooted

It's interesting to see a game "rebooted" and head off into new directions.

It's a risky move for a game company, because it often tends to alienate people who liked the first version and it's hard to lure back players who didn't like the first version and have them give you a second chance.

Some reboots fall kind of flat, like the AH edition of Cosmic Encounter, which few fans think was an improvement over the Mayfair edition.

So the reintroduction of Wizard Kings, styled 2.0, by Columbia Games is an interesting experiment. Wisely, Columbia kept the component changes relatively small, so anyone who invested in Wizard Kings 1.0 could still use most of their stuff.

And the changes that were made were not wholesale concept re-imaginings, so players didn't need to relearn the game. But the changes were important, nonetheless, and changed the focus of the game significantly. Among the most important changes were stacking limits, the economic/build systems and the elimination of one race (the Ferkin warboars) for another (the human Feudals).

The original edition of Wizard Kings was essentially a two-player wargame, conceptually a magicked-up version of Victory: The Blocks of War. The base game had two armies, Elves and Goblins and players had the option for adding more by purchasing additional armies of Ferkins, Dwarves, Undead, Amazons and/or Barbarians; reinforcing forces of Chaos creatures with their own spells and more maps. The biggest weakness of the base game was that there wasn't really a good scenario and many players complained it seemed kind of boring.

Online scenarios soon popped up and many of those were creative and interesting. And many took advantage of the fact that there were seven different armies to play to create viable multi-player scenarios. Feeding off the resurgence in multiplayer gaming caused by the growth of euros, I think this became the preferred way to play for many people.

The 2.0 version of Wizard Kings is, at heart, a multi-player wargame. All seven races are now in the base set with small armies and there is just one kind of expansion set Heroes & Treasures, which adds two new units for each army and stickers and blocks to give each army one additional special unit such as a chaos creature (stripped of their old spells) a treasure or other item such as portable gold and silver treasures caches.

There's a "collectible" aspect to these expansions in that the exact contents are random and vary between boxes without being known to the purchaser beforehand. This is mitigated by the fact that all units are valued on the same basis in the game system without any strange rarity or overwhelming power.

The focus of the scenarios (in the base game, four 2-player battles) is now on short, sharp actions, instead of the longer, full-scale wars encouraged in 1.0. The reduced stacking and hexside limits have the effect of increasing the power of the stronger pieces because it's harder to swarm them with lots of low value units. Because the battles are smaller, there's also a bigger luck element and more chance for extreme results.

It appears that this reboot has been a success. There seems to be renewed interest in Wizard Kings. The 2.0 version seems a better match for the theme and the game's potential.


  1. I've already stated in my own blog that I consider the lack of discussion of the collectible nature of the game (it's barely mentioned in the rules) to be bordering on fraud, and I stand by that. The few decent improvements, such as gold to allow you to reinforce existing blocks in places other than controlled cities is a joke - you have to pick a specific army to use it with, and you get *one* gold sticker per pack. I'd much prefer to be buying a complete army at a time - the whole idea craps all over the preset scenario concept.

    This is a game that went straight from shrink to sell pile for me, and the one attempt we made to play it two player felt pointless and repetitive. Maybe I'd have had a better opinion had I not felt so cheated - I'm even thinking of adding Columbia to my list of Companies To Avoid (along with Phalanx, Critical Hit, and Eagle), I'm so steamed. Too bad, as they have published a few classics - East Front, Rommel in the Desert, and Hammer of the Scots.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Everything is still available from the company, so I can't send you scans.

    If you're interested inseeing what they look like there are scans of some components at the Columbia site and on BGG.