Review – Summoner Wars (Second Edition)

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Designer Colby Dauch

Artist Martin Abel, Madison D. Johnson

Publisher Plaid Hat Games

Category Battle Game, Card Game

Length 30-60 minutes

Release Date Summer 2021

Player Count 2

Price $50

In 2009, back when people designed card games that weren’t deckbuilders, Plaid Hat Games put out a little game called Summoner Wars with a simple premise: let’s do a miniatures battling game with units on a map, but the units are the cards themselves instead of miniatures. You get the back-and-forth card play of a game like Magic together with the map movement of games like BattleLore, all in one inexpensive package. It was a fantastic idea that led to many, many expansions, but eventually the game was retired. 

But now it’s back! There are many changes in the Second Edition, in every aspect of the game: the rules, the artwork, the components, the balance of the factions. This is truly a different game, but is it better? Let’s find out!

Review

As a mathematician, I have little trouble analyzing and critiquing most gameplay systems in board games – after all, a set of board game rules is not so different from a set of algebraic rules. When it comes to art, however, I know what I like, but I’m far less qualified. But here I go anyway.

The art in Summoner Wars Second Edition is absolutely fantastic, and this cannot be understated. I’ve always been a sucker for the cartoon look, but it is absolutely masterful here. The characters are colorful and expressive and just fun. In addition, the representation here is exemplary, and every board game publisher out there needs to be taking notes. For some of you, this might be reason enough alone to pick up this new edition. And it’s a good reason!

And you’ll also spend a lot of time looking at the art, because the first and foremost shtick of Summoner Wars is that it’s a miniatures battling game, but the miniatures are the cards themselves. In 2009, this was a brilliant innovation, and it’s still just a great way to play. I’ve always been a card battler more than anything else, cutting my teeth on Magic and now actively playing Star Realms. Replacing miniatures with cards is a net positive in my mind, allowing for lower prices and easier play without need for reference cards. 

There’s still a lot to read, though, because the second shtick of Summoner Wars is that every single unit has a special ability of some sort. This can seem overwhelming for your first few games, but once you’ve played with the same deck twice (and recognize how many cards are duplicates), the game flows easily. I also have to commend the new rulebook, with has an absolutely excellent glossary that quickly answered any mid-game rules questions we had. 

It has been a very long time since I played the first edition of Summoner Wars, so I can’t comment too much on faction balance with the many new changes. However, I do remember enough to say that the new rules changes (e.g. magic being a track, different phases) are all extremely positive. I played the original online several times, and it’s good to see some of the silly strategies (attacking your own units for magic, turtling) removed. It is a game with deep and complex interactions and strategies, and I’m still struggling with the hardest decision of all, the third and final shtick of Summoner Wars: when to give up cards in your hand to gain magic so you can play the other cards. It’s quite easy to run yourself out of cards and find yourself without any way to defend yourself, but those dice rolls keep the melodrama flowing until the final damage is dealt to a summoner.

So, Summoner Wars Second Edition is awesome. That leads to two big questions. The first is: what if you went all-in on the first edition? Should you buy this one too? That depends entirely on your own financial situation, and I think there’s plenty of justification either way. This is certainly the superior edition, by a long shot, but there’s plenty more content right now for the first edition. That leads to the second question: Plaid Hat has a new subscriber system where you can sign up to just receive new factions in the mail, two at a time, for $30 each time (every three months or so), and this also gives you lifetime access to the digital versions of the factions as well. Should you subscribe? I don’t have a great answer for this, either. The price seems good, especially with digital access for free. I’m seriously considering it, which is a testament to the strength of this new edition.

Here’s the easy question though: if you don’t currently own any version of Summoner Wars, now is the time. This is absolutely the best version of Summoner Wars out there, and 12 years later, Summoner Wars is still the best two-player “dudes on a map” game available.

The Bottom Line

If you want to do some card battling with a friend, this is as good as it gets.

 

10

Derek Thompson

I've been a board game reviewer since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.