ARCANE BLASTER CASTERS
No specific Designer/s or Illustrator/s Credited on the (P)review Copy
But thanks to Boardgamegeek.com: Designer
2–8 Players Community: 3–8 — Best: 3–5 15–120 Min Playing Time
Age: 14+ Community: 8+
I have played ARCANE BLASTER CASTERS with 2, 3 and 4 players and these, although somewhat limited, experiences have favoured the 4-player game. I can only guess that with up to 8 players the game will become even more chaotic and either more fun or frustratingly take too long. It is fun but you should aim to complete a game between 20-45 minutes depending on whether you play the short, medium or long version. This puts it on par to fast-paced Euro-style board games.
The board design itself is nothing notable, representing as it does a combat arena of dubious terrain. It is where the Casters enter into a spell-casting tournament against each other. The arena is a 9x9 square grid in which the central 5x5 squares form what appears to be a brown, cracked-stone floor with the surrounding 2x9 squares creating a deepening outwards of green. It could have been more attractively illustrated, maybe a few bones, skulls and other remains strewn about to give it some character. As it is it serves its purpose of being a grid where all terrain spaces are navigable for the Casters and their inhuman 'slug' form. Player's characters can move diagonally but it costs 2 movement points thus it is the same as spending one point per space and dog-legging. The Movement rules say that Casters can move through, and end their movement on spaces occupied by opponent Casters. We interpreted that as 'if you move onto a space with an opponent's Caster your movement can end on that space with the opponent, or if you have MPs remaining you can carry on unhindered'.
In the Arcane Blaster Arena there are no such thing as the generic 'Wizard' - they are regally referred to as Casters, the shortened version of Spell Casters, which encompasses Warlocks, Sorcerers, Magicians and so on, in fact as Witches come within this net of magical beings then Wizards are probably in there amongst them as well, just disliked for unexplained reasons.
Each player has a large round token to represent their Caster, one side showing them from a top down view in colourful robe and pointed hat, the other in Slug-form. Currently the art and illustrations are not the final pieces so it is possible there will be more description, detail and clarity when these tokens are ready for publishing for retail. As you need to be able to flip the Caster token over from Human to Slug having a standee or a miniature figure wouldn't be viable, but if the Caster tokens were three or four times the thickness they currently are they would look more impressive - in my opinion.
The game revolves around the use of component/resource cards being collated to form combat spells fired off at other player characters. The action takes place on a grid-like terrain board on which a number of Traps are placed at the beginning during setup and more can be added during play.
Played over Rounds, the idea is to be the last Caster alive (as in not in Slug form) when the Spells stop flying. Every player has a Caster Token, a Health Die (a D20 which is set at 10, 15 or 20 or whatever number of lives you want - this helps determine the length of the game - the lower each player's health the quicker they should become Slugs) and 4 Missile tokens (there are 32 Missile tokens (8x4) as the rules mention only 24 my guess is the game was originally for 6 players (6x4) ). Enough experience tokens are taken so there is one for each player and these are placed in a stack with the lowest number ('1') at the bottom and the highest number at the top.
Play begins with the first player, chosen randomly or as the rules suggest, the player reading the rules, and continue clockwise, but only for the first Round. After that Turns are taken by the players in initiative order, this being determined by initiative discs collected during play - the lowest numbered disc (which will always be the last one taken from the stack) going first, then the next etc. During play all players have to place their Caster Tokens plus Trap tiles randomly taken from one of the four stacks shuffled and positioned around the board. I'm not so sure about the initiative token stack. The rules say in ascending order, but that can be interpreted as the number 1 is at the bottom ascending to the highest number on the top. Seeing as the player with the #1 initiative goes first, and it is possible to be turned into a Slug before it gets to your turn, plus the top initiative token is taken by the first player to prepare their spell, We therefore played with the #1 on the top and the highest number on the bottom because this encouraged speed of play, plus it made more sense to us.
For each Round players have a hand of six cards from which they generally select three to create a spell, though this will be affected by effects - Slugs may only cast ONE card spells, while Slowed Casters can select two cards. Hasted Casters select four cards. There are Tiles to place on the Casters when they are affected. These tiles are double-sided with a single effect on one side and a double effect on the other. Cards are laid out in a specific way to form spells. They start with an A-edge (the card placed Portrait style) then a B-edge (this card is played Landscape style) and then the C-edge - the card backs being marked A, B & C to ensure that when you position your spell in front of you, face down, you do not make an error. Two-card spells are usually an A and a C, four-card spells have an extra B.
A large part of the fun of the game is casting missiles, via spells, at your opponent's Casters. This is done via the cards chosen from your hand, selecting how to play them according to what you want the spell effect to be. The icons on three of the edges of the cards are the effects, the words above these icons are one of the fun aspects of Casting the spell aloud. For example you might cast a 'Wet, Dripping, Horror spell' which will have the effects of all the icons on the edges of the three cards selected to be in play. Each icon usually has a number or maybe another icon that powers it, ie 2♥ = 2 Heal points - Health being the top number of your D20 life die (note: this can not go above the original number you started with). These Magic icons are resolved in a specific order. This order is listed on page 12 of the Rules booklet (and the Player's Reference sheets) with the top icon being Chaos running down through them all to Trap; the icon by shape and colour with its full description alongside it.
I like the fact that Players are never out of the game as they can come back after being Sluggified, regaining their Human form if they are lucky. Of course they cannot actually win the Tournament whilst in their Slug body but they can still play King Maker. The Slug forms of the Casters are the weirdest collect of coloured Blobs I have seen in a long while, though if you look carefully at them you can see the Caster's skull within the raw magical substance that the Casters are reduced to; it's no wonder that they are cruelly referred to as Slugs by those Magicians lucky enough to still have human body parts.
ARCANE BLASTER CASTERS is a different take on the Arena combat genre, taking its lead from games where choice of cards and actual card play are the most significant mechanics. When moving on the board you should take into account the Traps. Sometimes it may be prudent to purposely step on one to set it off so it affects you when you are at your healthiest - you cannot spring traps in Slug form - and not getting yourself into a position where you could be pushed onto one is also a good strategy. You should always note where your opponents are on the board so you can determine which cards will give you the best spell for your purpose this Round. Cards show things like the distance a missile can fly and what damage it will do, but they can also give Health back to the Caster, allow you to lay Traps, Teleport or even charge your missiles with a burst effect so that more than one Caster might be implicated in the fallout. Go for the fun effect as well as the most damaging one whenever you can.
Players should always be encouraged to play ARCANE BLASTER CASTERS at pace. Games like this are meant to be roll about fun and not hard work, thus the more you think about what you are going to do, which cards to make your spell, where to move, who to cast your spell at etc the slower the game becomes, and it really isn't the type of game you should be over-thinking. Therefore we added a time limit into our games so that from the time one player lays down the cards for their spell there should be no longer than 20 seconds (30 seconds if there is/are younger player/s) before all players have their spells ready. You are only selecting from 6 cards each time so it isn't particularly difficult to work out which of those are your best three (two or one).
It is also very helpful if each player has a good knowledge of the icons, their meaning and their place in the effects order. This prevents time dragging as each player counts out their individual card icon values and applies them. This should be a snappy happy game full of good humour, bad puns, funny spell names and more than the occasional groan!
As for the components; the cards are very well produced and easy to read with sharper, clearer graphics than the player's Caster and Missile tokens. The rules book is nicely laid out with heavy blue Headers and bold white Sub-Headers on each page. These pages are a sort of lightish khaki with yellow text in a bold but clear font. However, I, (personal choice) will admit to especially not liking the light blue, pink and red bold text used to highlight specific words in each chapter because they blend into the page under certain household lighting. Overall though the rules layout is very good with examples or points of note standing out in black boxes with white text.