On Saturday 7th, October most people in the Melbourne Exhibition area were getting ready for another day of PAX Aus 2023 at 9 AM. I was lucky enough to be invited to check out two new upcoming board games from publisher Space Cowboys, sitting down with designer Phil Walker-Harding to check out the spellbinding Spellbook and joined by Matthew Dunstan, Designer of the co-op detective game Perspective prior to their release. Within the hour, I was whisked away to join a familiar to build my Spellbook against three other players and investigate the murder of a politician without having to leave the grounds of the Melbourne-based cafe.
Spellbook takes the baton from Phil Walker-Harding’s previous release, Sushi Go, by creating an experience with countless hours of unique gameplay. Spellbook is a 1 – 4 player game where players work to acquire spells from a set of seven cards to build their very own Spellbooks. Each card consists of 2 – 3 spells that players can earn through tokens collected from the Alter or counter bag each turn. Each player has the same seven cards starting with the recommended set of cards (out of 3 complete sets that come with the game). Each of the spells ranges from having the ability to take multiple counters each turn, upgrading spells for free, to instant cast spells that give you more tokens in the heat of the game. This is the basis for each game, and games run for roughly 45 minutes each time, with the win conditions ending the game of either one player reaching seven spells or players storing 18 counters with their familiar leading to the final scores combined between stored familiar tokens and the point value of each spell collected.
Talking with Phil over the first 30 minutes, it was easy to see the potential for variety and strategy throughout Spellbook. Though the game comes with three sets of cards, once players understand the flow of the game and the potential of the variety of spells, the sets can be mixed to get a new variety of spells with each game. This potential for variety combined with the variety of spell designs for the game would excite me to play the next game the moment the first had finished. During our play session, it was great to see the decisions made by players. Do you collect two random tokens from the bag or one token of choice from the alter? Do players value storing tokens with their familiar or spending tokens to buy new spells or upgrade spells further? In the short time we played with Phil, it was clear to see the variety of play styles that could be found just with the base set of cards.
Spellbook is a fantastically presented game. Cyrille Bertin’s artwork throughout the Spell cards and Familiar boards is outstanding, and I have been excited to go through each card since the demo. The art combined with the presentation and finish of each of the game pieces brings the whole experience to a truly magical standard. It is easy to see the potential of Spellbook and the opportunity it has to be the game that many return to each and every week to play with family and friends. Since the demo, I have been playing more with a variety of people, and I look forward to providing my full thoughts in a review soon.
Though Spellbook scratches that competitive and strategic itch that many board game lovers have, it is the cooperative detective experience of Perspectives that will bring players together to work out who dun it! Over the time I spent with Matthew Dunstan, it was clear that his love for the co-op detective board game shone through and his desire to bring the best possible experience through Perspectives. The game comes with five cases, spanning 4-5 acts; each gives players all the details through the Case Summary, but the vital evidence to solve the case is spread out across multiple cards distributed randomly without players. It is this distribution of evidence that is the heart of perspectives. Players are not allowed to show each other their cards, which leads to plenty of discussion.
The case we played with Matthew was straightforward in its set-up, your classic politician shot during a speech. Our job as players was to work out who did it and where the shot came from. Our evidence was fingerprints found at the various potential shooting spots, employee cards of possible suspects that include their matching fingerprints and multiple images of each potential crime scene. Once the set-up was completed, it was up to players to discuss what their cards contained. In my 29 years of life, I had not realised how difficult it could be to describe a fingerprint to another person. At some point, I remember saying, “Well, this one has a squiggle that goes kind of up from the right and spirals out afterwards.” which, in hindsight, was not the best way I have described something in those 29 years. The restriction of not being able to see the other players’ cards was fascinating. If one player was quiet about their evidence or missed something, then it could be straightforward for discussions to go in the wrong direction. The art on the images of the buildings was also detailed enough that we could describe the differences in architecture to work through the potential location of the shooting.
In this small showing of Perspectives, it was quick to see how much this game could change through the number of players at the table. Designed for 2 – 6 players, the range of difficulty would change based on the amount of players. Two players would have more cards each, but there would be the potential for evidence to be missed with the cards to sort through. But with six players only having two cards each, it would require more detailed conversation and communication to sort through the evidence that each person was seeing. Matthew gleamed when discussing this possibility, which instantly made me want to see how different groups would come to the same conclusions. Once players had settled on a suspect, there were questions on each summary to answer: who did it? Where did they do it? Who else had also been in the room? Though my time was short with Perspectives, it was easy to see myself bringing this over to a friend’s house or around the dinner table after Sunday lunch to see how badly the people I care about can describe fingerprints and a fantastic example of Co-op detective games for players of any experience levels to start with.
I would love to thank Matthew Dunstan and Phil Walker-Harding for taking the time to go through these fantastic new release board games, Double Jump Communications and Space Cowboys, for the opportunity. I’m excited to share my extended thoughts on Spellbook very soon.