Sorcerer’s simple, one-word name is the unassuming top hat from which it pulls an endless stream of colourful scarves.
Its lore brings together zombies, vampires, hellish demons, Medusan snakepeople, Lovecraftian cosmic spawn and you-name-it in a battle for Victorian London. Its gameplay is similarly missing only the kitchen sink, as it mashes up card-battling, dice-chucking, deckbuilding and even area control in a smorgasbord of interlocking mechanics. What’s so impressive about the whole thing is how satisfying and easy it is to get to grips with, even if its overstuffed nature leaves a few baggy areas.
Best of all, Sorcerer is tremendous fun from the off. At its centre is a Magic: The Gathering-style card-battler, as players summon minions and cast spells to claim two of the three regions of London represented by boards in the middle of the table. Like Magic, there’s a huge amount of joy to be found in assembling your personal deck, but Sorcerer cuts out the anxiety and effort of learning specific card combinations and selecting every card individually by simplifying each player’s 40-card ‘grimoire’ to three component parts: character, lineage and domain. Each is represented by a fixed list of 10 or 20 cards that combine together, forming both a personalised deck with distinctive gameplay effects and a unique ‘avatar’ represented by a cardboard standee who can lend their abilities to a battlefield each round. The decks can be selected specifically, drafted or randomised in a matter of seconds, resulting both in a game that feels like it has a significant amount of flexibility out of the box (extra decks are available as expansions) and the entertainment of creating a custom character in the vein of KeyForge’s algorithmically-generated decks, with the likes of Ariaspes the Necromancer of the Screaming Coast and Miselda the Bloodlord of the Haunted Forest hammering home the game’s enjoyably over-the-top tone.
Seeing how your particular deck holds up against your opponent’s – whether for the first or fortieth time – is a delight. With three battlefields to squabble over, the added layer of area control as minions hop between adjacent locations to lend their strength to allies or weaken enemies gives Sorcerer’s combat a different, dynamic feel to the direct head-to-head confrontation of traditional card-battlers. The interaction between cards on both sides of the table amps this up, as abilities pop off left, right and centre (literally) and players dig through their deck, discard pile and even their opponent’s hand to maximise their fighting power.
Victory isn’t just playing your cards right, though. In a decision that will no doubt turn off those players after a purely card-based clash, Sorcerer’s battle phase uses dice to determine how many hits are dished out on either side of each battlefield. The unpredictability of the dice is smartly mitigated by the common ability to gain reroll tokens that can be used to improve your own rolls or hamper those of your opponent, with successful hits divided up into critical strikes divvied up by the attacker and normal blows decided by the defender, allowing some control over how devastating a lucky roll ends up being.
The addition of dice in itself isn’t a problem – their integration with the card abilities feels natural and well judged when it comes to fairness. But it is in the battles that Sorcerer can begin to groan under its own weight. Both players having the chance to force rerolls, trigger abilities and activate each card in turn for up to three battlefields with eight minions apiece can lead to Sorcerer slowing down during what should be the most exciting part of the game. It’s this bagginess that means the game can take up to 90 minutes (or more) to play, falling well outside the realm of being a snappy half-hour duel – particularly given the extra table space required.
In some ways, though, Sorcerer’s excess is part of its charm. It’s a game to gorge upon, experimenting with the glut of deck combinations available and the surprisingly digestible gameplay offered by its buffet of cards, dice, boards and tokens. It runs a little long, but it’s hard to regret those extra minutes spent in the company of a game that offers so much.
PLAY IT? – YES
Its battle phase could be tighter, but Sorcerer rewards the extra time it requires with a tremendous combination of gameplay elements and a world overflowing with deck combinations to play around with.
Designer: Peter Scholtz, Robert Dougherty, Darwin Kastle
Time: 30-90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.