Summoner Wars: Second Edition Starter Set Review


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31 December 2021
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This article originally appeared in issue 62 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.

Following the successful launch of the Summoner Wars: Master Set Second Edition, Plaid Hat Games have simultaneously expanded the range and broadened their audience with this budget friendly Starter Set.

Squeezing in all the elements needed to get up and running, this pared down box introduces the ‘Tundra Orcs’ and ‘Phoenix Elves’; two new factions ideal for a pair of duelling newcomers or simply as a welcome addition to the Master Set’s six factions.

For those unfamiliar with the game, Summoner Wars is an expandable two player tactical card game of duelling summoners - think Magic: The Gathering without the randomness of booster-based deck construction. Further distancing itself from its contemporaries is the game’s added dimension of grid-based combat. This incredibly smart spatial element, melded with the slick card mechanics, is Summoner Wars’ defining feature, and thankfully, the decks introduced here exemplify this beautifully.

First up are the bitterly brutal ‘Tundra Orcs’. Lead by the fearsome ‘Grognack’, the ‘Tundra Orcs’ and their reliance on luck, speed, and relentlessness are a force to be reckoned with.

Common units such as ‘Frost Shamans’ and ‘Tundra Fighters’ demonstrate this deck’s close relationship with the Special symbol potentially popping up on each roll of the dice. Whilst the former is penalised for rolling the symbol, with its attack completely negated, the ‘Tundra Fighter’ is rewarded with bonus movement and attacks. Given the right amount of luck, this cheap common unit can wreak havoc across the board in a long chain of attacks.

Obviously players of this deck must be up for taking calculated risks, but there are some mitigating factors present to smooth out the chaos. Most notably, ‘Grognack’ possesses the Influence ability, granting re-rolls to nearby units at the cost of a Boost token.

At the other end of the spectrum are the ‘Phoenix Elves’; a calculated and less chaotic faction who emphasise timing and formation over brute strength and speed.

Whilst boasting a fierce ranged attack, ‘Queen Maldaria’ is equally comfortable calling back friendly units to her defence. This notion of having units pop up in unexpected places spreads to a number of other cards such as the ‘Fire Drake’, ‘Holleas’, and ‘Ember Beasts’. Rather than spawning adjacent to the usual Gates, these cards open up options for being summoned next to particular units - an ability useful for both defensive and offensive tactics.

The ‘Phoenix Elves’ also excel at dishing out damage outside of combat, be that through the forceful hold of the ‘Royal Guardians’, the sneaky quick shots of ‘Ember Archers’, or mere adjacency to a searing ‘Ember Beast’. Conveniently, the Event card ‘Spirit of the Phoenix’ adds an extra damage each time these non-combat abilities trigger.

Launched alongside this second edition is an extremely polished online version. For anyone wishing to try the game out, both the ‘Tundra Orcs’ and ‘Phoenix Elves’ are available to play completely free with plenty of additional decks available for a price. Whilst this is an excellent means of learning the game, Summoner Wars is undoubtably better experienced at the table, with a partner willing to unfurl each deck’s intricacies at the same rate as you. This ensures each player progresses in tandem, with the increasing familiarity resulting in an escalating series of exciting games and an overall experience that’s hard to beat in the large realm of tactical card games.

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CHAD WILKINSON

PLAY IT? YES

An excellent introduction to one of the best tactical card games in the hobby.

TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED BERSERK: WAR OF THE REALMS

Summoner Wars is an attractive and more approachable distillation of ideas present in this lesser known Russian card game.

Designer: Colby Dauch

Publisher: Plaid Hat Games

Time: 40-60 minutes

Players: 2

Ages: 9+

Price: £25

What’s in the box?

  • 34 Phoenix elves cards
  • 34 Tundra orcs cards
  • 8 Custom dice
  • Battle mat
  • 6 Tokens

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