HARRY POTTER: HOGWART'S BATTLE is a cooperative Deck-Building game for 2-4 eleven-year old and above players. It is credited for design and development to USAopoly and invented by Forrest-Pruzan Creative (creators of over 300 games for all ages).
The box is designed to look like a suitcase adorned with faded and tattered Hogwarts stickers; the case and the stickers have seen far better days. Inside the box is a 14 page book of rules, 12 pages of heavy glossy paper in-between 2 very sturdy hard covers, the inside of each being part of the Set-Up.
The game is a 7 part conflict between the players who are in the roles of four of the Harry Potter books & films heroes and the forces of evil in the shape of infamous Hogwarts villains who are controlled by the rules, and of course the rules are controlled by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. This is a cooperative game in which the players ALL win or ALL lose, there is no individual winner other than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (don't tell anyone but He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is actually Voldemort (aka Tom Riddle) ). This is a good old Heroes versus Villains game about gaining or keeping control of numerous Locations from the Harry Potter series; if the Villains control them all then VoldeMustNotBeNamedMort and his enclave of villainous dastardlies wins.
On opening the box you are also confronted with 7 separate boxes marked from GAME 1 through to GAME 7, the differences in box size pertains to the various additives to the story that come with each part - Box 1 contains the first and main deck of Hogwarts cards as well as Character cards for the young heroes, three Villains, 2 Locations, Dark Arts cards etc while Box 4 has 4 Special Dice and an assortment of cards. The packaging is just beautiful and I especially like the fact that the all of the Die-Cut counters already punched out and are safe in a zip-loc bag, as are the metal Villain/Control Location pieces.
If you are already well informed on Deck-Building games there is the opportunity for you to by pass boxes 1 and 2 and go straight to Box 3, although you still need some of the cards from Boxes 1 & 2. To be fair, for experienced Deck-Builders, playing the first 2 Boxes is simple to the point of ALMOST going-through-the-motions. However, in my opinion, it is still good to play through ALL the boxes from start to finish because they all add something to the game and to the Harry Potter flavour. Whichever of the four characters you choose for yourself, or have chosen for you, the actual characters themselves have no special abilities to begin with - these come later as the "kid-wizards" grow up and become knowledgeable. What is different for each character is their personal set of 10 cards. HARRY POTTER HOGWARTS BATTLES uses the basic Deck-Building mechanic that everyone who has played a DB Game will know - shuffle your own deck, deal yourself 5 cards, use the abilities on the cards to gain Resources or other cards, discarding all cards from your hand at the end of your turn whether you have taken advantage of them or not. Some cards when used from your hand allow you to place any cards you "buy" onto the top of your deck, thus ensuring they will be in your hand on your next turn.
In a 2-player game it is hardly likely that you will lose the first Box game. This is because you need to lose 2 Locations, each of which has a strength of 4, before you can beat the 3 Villains, one at a time with strengths of 6, 6 and 5. There are very few Dark Arts cards that add Villain Control Markers to the Location and there are cards that remove them from Locations so you really have to be unlucky to allow 8 (2 x 4) Villain Control Markers into play; even bad decisions by the players are unlikely to cause this to happen. With 3 or 4 players the Dark Arts cards will rotate a lot quicker - one per player turn - and thus instead of extra players making it easier to win they can effectively make it easier to lose.
Players have several Actions available to them each turn and they can do each of them in any order, but before a player acts there is the Villainy Ritual - check the Location to see if the Villains control it, flip over and activate the next Dark Arts card and finally activate the ability of the current Villain(s). When you complete Box 1 you move onto Box 2, adding the new cards from it to those already available from Box 1. There is no suggestion that any Location from a previous Game that hasn't been claimed by the Villains is removed from the game, all that the rules say are to open the next box and follow the instructions. The instructions for Game 2 are the same as for Game 1, very basic with no mention of whether to reset the game, keep the cards and deck you already have and leave the undefeated Locations in place with any Control Markers already on them remaining. This would actually make the game harder for the Villains to win even though the idea is that as you progress from Box to Box the game gets tougher for the players/characters. We have played it like this but it really does make it easier to win when there are more Locations for the Villains to control, so we have settled that the Rule which states the Villains win if they control all of the Locations means all of the current Locations, ie those assigned to the current Game number. So although the majority of cards from each set are brought into play and stay in play, any Locations remaining are returned to the Box from whence they came, leaving the Villains to attempt to Control the Locations from the current Box/Game being played.
So as far as we understand, using prior knowledge og Deck-Building, we reset the game for each Box but kept the cards we had collected in our decks, added the new cards from the next Box as necessary - Hogwarts cards, Allies, Spells, Equipment, Villains, Locations, Dark Arts cards etc - so that each game your personal deck builds up as does the power of the Dark Arts and the possibilities of the Villains gaining control of the Locations - they only have to control the Locations from the current Box.
When you reach the 7th Box He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named makes his final appearance and at his strongest. He first crops up in Game 5 and then again in Game 6, each time gaining in strength and power, as do the other Villains. Needless to say, but always worth saying, almost all of your favourite characters and Villains appear at some point in the game.
Deck Building experience will probably make you want to get to the meat of the game and bypass the build-up phases, but the designers have put so much of the stories from the Harry Potter movies and books into this game that missing out on any of it would be a shame. The age range of 11+ is possibly a little high. I am sure that younger players who are used to playing games will have no problem with understanding the mechanics or the reasoning so I would think that kids aged 8+ (the same as required for the Books) should be able to handle this, especially when their are teenagers and/or adults involved.
The basic 10 card deck for each player is headed by the character's known familiar. Harry has Hedwig of course and Hermione has the adorable Cruickshanks. Everyone remembers Neville and his Toad, possibly because he also has a Remembrall, but I am at a loss as to why Ron Weasley begins with an owl called Pigwidgeon when everyone knows he begins with Scabbers (the Rat that changes from Black in the first book, to Brown later on and then into Peter Pettigrew). I could understand if the next set of Hero cards (Game 3) had swapped out Scabbers for Pigwidgeon, but not for the first year of school which Box 1 basically covers. Still that's a minor squabble and as it doesn't influence the game it was only worth mentioning because if I hadn't someone reading this review would notice that I hadn't and think I never saw it. Oh the life of a reviewer can be so hard at times ....
Everything about HARRY POTTER HOGWARTS BATTLES screams class. From the Suitcase box it comes in, to the board with the light (maybe could have been a little darker) rooms and corridors of the mighty Hogwarts laid out, and on to the cards of all shapes and sizes. In each of the Boxes the different cards are not only separated by their size but each type also has its own plastic half-sack for safe keeping. Where artwork is required scenes from the movies are used to great effect. For spells great red and white whirlys in various shapes (as per how your wand should be shaped in the air while casting, I believe) don the cards. Each Box set is marked clearly on the cards that belong to it and each character deck card carries the character's name clearly bottom and centre. I don't think the publishers could have used any better quality card or paper and the printing is legible and visually exciting - recreating the atmosphere felt when the depicted scenes come back into memory.
For a deck builder it is not in the same street as Dominion but then it isn't aimed at the same players. HARRY POTTER HOGWARTS BATTLES is aimed at the younger and family player and although it may lead to them seeking out other Deck-Builders later on it is a great entertainment for an hour or so at any time of day. There are also a number of larger cards to be used as dividers for the various card types and decks if you can't complete the 7 Boxes in one session.
It can be found for around £35.00* at your local game store or online. Boardgamegeek.com credits it as such: Designer:
Overall I found this to be a warm, enchanting, fun game that leans more to the family and inexperienced player than the hard core gamer, but definitely a must for Harry Potter fans who are also games players. I have probably omitted something that may come back to me at a later date, but suffice it to say that this is a very good game, well worth the £35.00 - £40.00 it is likely to be in the UK.
Note of Caution if playing in the vicinity of very young children; The metal Villain Location Control Tokens are small and easily swallowed.