Estimated Play Time: 45+
Release Date: September 25, 2023
Following on from my time with Spellbook at a pre-PAX preview event, I was lucky enough to take home a copy of the game to check out and some bonus Familiar to use along with the base game. The preview event showed the potential of Spellbook with the variety of spell cards and strategies that could be explored, but does this potential ring true as players collect their spells against their rival familiars? Or would players be left wanting more once they turned the pages of Spellbook?
Spellbook comes with 84 Spell cards (3 Sets of 28 Cards), 104 Materia tokens, An Alter Tile, a “Vortex” pouch, a discard box and four familiar titles. Along with the base game, we also received four expansion Familiar tiles that could be used along with the four provided with the game. Out of the box, Spellbook is straightforward to set up; following the rules, there is a set of spell cards that are advised to be used for the first couple of games, and the discard box is the only piece that requires any set-up (if a couple folds and a piece of tape can really be called set up).
Everything included in the base game, as well as the additional Familiar, is high quality and presents the beautiful artwork of Cyrille Bertin beautifully. The colours presented throughout the spell cards vividly bring Cyrille’s artwork to life in a way that would put artwork from other card-based games to the test. The only misstep with the overall presentation of the board game would be around the mentioned discard box. As with most board games, this comes flat-packed with a piece of tape to affix the final fold. The problem with this is that once erected, there is no apparent way to disassemble it without the tape causing damage to the box. This would be fine if it did not cause a problem when packing the game away. Due to the discard box, it takes some careful packing to get all of the items back into the box, which did take some time after playing with Spellbook for the first time.
Spellbook builds its core concept simply but grows to create a spell-building game with a wide way to play and strategies to win. The game runs for 1-4 players, with each turn following a classic day/night cycle. When a player’s turn starts, it is morning, and they may either take a materia token from the alter or take two tokens from the bag at random. Then, in the midday step of the turn, players may store a token they have on their Familiar board and finally, in the evening stage, players can learn a new spell from their spell cards. When learning the game, Space Cowboys recommends using the 1st set of spell cards, meaning players all have the same seven spell cards for the game. Each spell card has 2-3 stages of the spell available for purchase using the materia tokens, with players also receiving any spells of a lower level from what they have purchased on the card. The spells are each assigned to a stage in the cycle of a turn, at which players are able to use a spell rather than the standard action of the morning. For example, in the morning, instead of taking a token from the alter or two from the bag, players may use a spell that takes multiple tokens of the same symbol from the alter (each materia token is a combination of a colour related to a spell card and a random symbol). It’s this variety of spells and actions that diversifies turns and leads to different strategies for victory.
With the general idea of the game settled, turns flow into a natural pattern as players build their Spellbooks until the end game conditions are met, either the first player to get to 7 spells or a player stores enough tokens on their familiar to fill the board, once this has been reached players calculate their points totals from how many tokens they have stored on their Familiar board and the points attributed to each spell they have purchased. This leads to a plethora of game styles unfolding at the table. Players could rush to store tokens on their board quickly enough to end the game before opponents build too many spells, or do players go for the spells that allow them to collect more tokens or store tokens faster on the familiar board?
This is only the beginning when it comes to the variety found within Spellbook; along with the different playstyles, the game itself can be very easily changed and adjusted each time you play. Alongside the base set of 28 spell cards, there are two other sets, each with unique mechanics and changes from the original set of spell cards, with a total of 84 cards. Once the flow of the game is down, players could move to replace the whole set with one of the others, or more experienced players could begin to mix spell cards at random, with players each having seven different spell cards. However, there are some limitations with each colour of spell card being linked with a particular stage of the cycle, which breaks down into two-morning cards, three midday cards and two evening cards with one additional yellow card that can be played at any time. The sheer potential of card combinations leads to great nights filled with a variety of games. When playtesting this with friends, we began to pick the cards at random (1 of each colour) to build our spells, which led to some of the most in-depth strategic games I had played so far. When all players have the same spell cards, it can be easier to track what other players are building, too, allowing you to start storing that coloured token onto your familiar so it becomes harder for players to obtain the levelled spells. With differing cards, players can build their own strategies and try to play them out against each other while hiding their intentions.
It is this variety that the true value comes in Spellbook. There are too many board games where once you have played it for a couple of game nights, it quickly becomes another dust collector on the shelf. There is no worry about this from Spellbook, as you can easily set up new and unique ways for the same group of players. In the future, I’ll bring along Spellbook with other games in case a palette cleanser is needed or during a break if players want to jump in, much like players do with trading card games. Beyond this base game, there is clearly the potential for expansions to be released with new cards to be added to the collection. It is easy to recommend picking up Spellbook to become a staple of any game night or board game club.