Games Gazette Logo

SERPENT'S TONGUE is an awesome and massive project of a magic based card player-cooperative storytelling game which the author hopes will emulate Magic the Gathering in popularity once people have played it and seen
just how good it is. The game comes in various formats and is quite expensive due to the fantastic composition of the production. SERPENT'S TONGUE is designed for 1 - 8 players and the most popular, and best way to begin,
is to start with the 2-player boxed set. There is more than enough here for anyone, experienced gamer or not, to cut their teeth on. To show you how popular and highly thought of the game is, when it went onto Kickstarter Unbound
Games  were looking for $18K (eighteen thousand dollars) to publish. They hit over $101K (a hundred thousand dollars). This included one $5K backer. SERPENT'S TONGUE is designed by Christopher Gabrielson, the Artist is
Jere Kasanen and it is published by Unbound Games. You can read and see more about the game here :

I have said it is a cooperative game because that is the best way to play - you and your Magi friends on a campaign or adventure against the environment (aka PvE). However it is also possible to have duels or combat between 2 Magi
(aka PvP) in a Player versus Player battle.

To begin your first one v one battle, one Player will have a Codex with spells from Level 1 incantations from the Soul and Matter spheres and this player shall be the White Magi. The Black Magi has Level 1 spells from the spheres of Bio
and Forces. All Level 1 spells in the 2-player boxed edition should be used.  In later battles or campaigns each magi will be able to cast spells up to the Level they have experience in and will build up their Codex accordingly - like Deck Building in
Magic the Gathering(Tm) etc.



The components are exquisite, original and adorned with wonderful artwork, as good as any found on MtG cards. Each player, Magi, is allowed a maximum of 27 spells in their Codex, with up to 3 identical copies of any spell.
The players also have an Essence Wheel which is used to keep track of their Essence (health, physical and etheric), their resonance (universal energy for powering incantations and spells) and Harmony & Discord (repair  & damage).

When we played this with the designer in Germany we were amazed at the quality, especially of the Magi's Codex. These are made of faux-leather and each has a different Magic Rune on its intricately designed cover - even these
designs, imprinted into the material, are totally different for each Codex, ensuring all Magi have their own unique identity.  The spells are on cards that are twice the size (and a bit more) of 2 regular Magic the Gathering cards and
like MtG cards they have a lot of information: Card Title, Role (Attack, Defence, Component, Enhance, Abjuration, Transmute) Sphere of Magick (Soul - yellow, Mind - purple, Quantum - white, Bio - green, Matter - red, Forces -
blue), Energy Costs, Aspects, Rules, Ritual Paths, Fluency Level, Language and Broadcast Bar. On the flip side you'll see the Title, Sphere, Role, Cast Phrase (note: the word is Phrase not phase), Hand Gesture, Notes and Lore.


It is imperative, if you wish to play the game as it is intended, that players learn the correct way to cast their spells before beginning to play competitively. The Rules Book that comes with this version of the game has been translated
from Finnish, and American, (it is an American/Finland joint production) which accounts for it's quite bad performance in grammar. Trying to play from scratch with just this rules book as your guide is likely to have you either (or both)
tearing your hair our or giving up on the game - I advise against both of these. However I would also advise against persevering with the rules book, at least on its own. I located a 60+ page (A4) full colour walkthrough online and this
spells (pun not intended) out the game step by step in easy to follow flowing pages. It isn't an easy game to learn but it is fun - especially if you are seriously looking for a challenge, not just a by-the-book run-of-the-mill ccg. Note that
this isn't a trading card game, nor at the moment, a collectible card game - though my thoughts and beliefs are that spell card packs will become available if the core game sells enough to make them viable.

Casting Spells is not easy until you learn what it is you have to do, but it is fun learning - as long as you aren't self-conscious - because it involves Reciting weird words (a new language) aloud whilst weaving your hands creating the
spell pattern. Every spell has a word of phrase to activate it. The caster has to work out what the word or phrase is by following the line of code on the spell card (bottom right). Players may never look at the reverse side of their spell
cards once the game has begun. Level 1 spells are easier to cast because you have every piece of information you need on the spell card. Spell levels are denoted on the bottom right of the card in white dots; one dot equals Level One,
2 dots Level Two etc. Look at the Serpent's Key on the card and follow the direction of the spell via the thin black line, starting from the o------- and ending at the ........¦  At each junction on the Key there is a Letter and once you have
all the letters you have to say the spell's name - your opponent or partner will be looking at the back of the card where this is printed and will let you know if you are correct or not. For Level 1 spells you can use the Serpent's Key on
page 27 of your Codex.

If you want to cast, as an example, the Acidic Matter incantation you will see it is a Level 1 spell with 3 points on the casting line (a dog-leg line on the Key). If you look at the Serpent's Key on the inner cover of your Codex you can
trace the line from D to V to A. In fact above the Key on the card is the word "DEVOPA" which incorporates these 3 letters. First thought is that this must be the way to say the spell, but it isn't. You need to go to page 27 of your Codex
and look at the Level 1 Key there. You now find that the path isn't DVA, instead it is Dal Vad Av, this is what you must say to correctly cast the spell.

When you get onto Level 2 spells the Level 1 Codex is of no use as the required word or phrase is now only to be found made out of single letters, and as you get to Level 3 and Level 4 the casting becomes even harder as your letters
turn to symbols which you need to be able to translate.


From the BoardGameGeek Description
The language of creation was stolen and given to Eve, and with it the power to alter reality. Inheritors of this forbidden knowledge have walked amongst us for millennia, scrabbling for greater power, controlling mankind, seeking
god-hood, and they are known as Magi. Serpent's Tongue is a spell-casting simulation game, with a standalone core set that is expandable with Inscription Packs. In the game, players become Magi by building their Hardbound
Spell Codex with Incantations and casting them using an actual functioning language, whether in competitive battles or cooperative adventures.

Personally I wouldn't say that the language was functioning for although it is used to cast spells (incantation) it isn't used during gameplay to any extent, even though the author would like us to learn it. To be honest I truly believe that
after a game or two most players will not even bother with the arm waving and hand weaving and by the third or fourth game players will be casting their spells by simply playing the necessary card. I hope I'm wrong as this is all part
of the fun, but I believe it will become like spell components in D&D(tm) and other fantasy rpg's - they are taken as available unless they are a major part of the story. For example: (using any generic rpg) the Town Mage is required to
cast a specific spell in honour of the new King (he says, rapidly creating a scenario as he types) and he (the Mage) doesn't have a special component, a herb known only to be available from the underbelly of a sleeping blue dragon. In
this case the game cannot simply accept that the spell component is readily available and so a group of highly skilled and well trained mercenary characters (aka the PCs) are hired to go get the herb. (hmmm! wonder if I should now
actually write that adventure ?)  The Serpent's Tongue game is a card driven adventure where the players are Magi that cooperate with each other or attack each other by casting spells in an enjoyable challenging experience.


The Magickal Spheres of Reality are: Mind, Soul, Quantum, Bio, Matter and Forces. Mind, Soul and Quantum coming under the heading ETHERIC Spheres and Bio, Matter and Forces are known as PHYSICAL Spheres. Each sphere
determines how it is affected by, or how it affects spells when they are cast, much like a spell in MtG that blocks Blue Magic, for example, does not affect spells of any other colour. Spells that cause a Physical or Etheric effect can be
affected by spells that target their plane of existence - ie. spells that have a Physical effect can target Bio, Matter or Forces spells. Spells can be cast in Attack and in Defence of an attack and they can also be cast to enhance another spell
or cause additional damage etc. etc. Some spells are fired off, their effect noted and they disappear into the ether, whilst other spells have a specific duration and their effect will last and continue for that period of time (aka game turns).
Casting spells usually has a cost, generally paid in Resonance being marked off on your tracker Device. At the beginning of each Round one Magi rolls the D10 once only to determine the Resonance gained for each player. (Note: the die
result is then checked against the Resonance chart. You can gain only 1, 2, 3 or 5 depending on the die roll.

There are spells that actually cannot be cast until you have another incantation already in effect. Because of this the creating of your Codex (spell book) is something you cannot take lightly. It is okay for your first game to do as the booklet
says and simply select the Level 1 spells and add them to your Codex accordingly, but once you have those spells in your book you still have to decide when you wish to cast them. All spells in your Codex are attuned for use but Magi may
only ever cast 3 spells in a round and thus you need to be carefully selective about which 3 spells you move to the front of your Codex ready to cast. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and your opponents strengths and weaknesses will
be of great value to you in your selecting, but this experience can only be gained in time and through knowledge of the spells and spheres available to you and your adversaries. In other words, it is a very good idea to learn as many spells and
spheres as quickly as you can.

Although Magi can have 3 spells prepared to cast each round, they only have 2 Full Actions available and each Spell costs 1 Full Action. There are a number of reasons why you select 3 cards, one is because you are not committed to casting
them in any particular order - you get to choose when they are cast, and another reason is because some spells do not cost an Action making it possible for all 3 chosen spells to be cast.


The 2-player version also comes with a few Encounter cards that, with a variable number of counters, aid the GM'less cooperative adventure games. These Encounters are of Master level and should only be attempted once you are familiar with
the game's mechanics and possibilities. They are like the end of game level encounters in electronic fantasy adventure games like DIABLO III (tm) and as such should be treated with some respect, at least until you are ready to kick their butts.
There are 6 character cards for you to choose from once you are ready. These are titled but the characters aren't named. Each has a short description of the caster type, a full spell list for your Codex and specific type abilities.


As the game progresses so you learn new spells and can add them to your Codex. Games can be played using just Level One spells or a mixture of spells from any Level, though it is naturally best to leave the higher Level spells until you are more
experienced in the ways of casting them. I know I have said that I expect players will soon dispense with the use of verbal incantations and hand weaving (each spell type also has a starting position the hand(s) should be in) but part of the quaintness
and uniqueness of SERPENT'S TONGUE is the feeling that you are actually casting magic rather than just playing at it. If you do take that away from your game then you will be left with a variation on MtG of sorts.

My overall impression of SERPENT'S TONGUE is that it is unique, it is beautifully crafted, and it is challenging and fun to play. My negativity bones kick in by saying that it is quite an expensive game to buy if you are purchasing cold, without prior
knowledge of it (as in on a whim having seen it on a store shelf) and that also if you have no prior knowledge the rules may be quite daunting to new players, unless you do as I suggest and find the wonderfully impressive and highly useful 60+ page
Walkthrough Tutorial for Levels 1 & 2. I would love to tell you where to get this but I have only the saved file on my PC (it is an Adobe Reader pdf) which you can find HERE

I strongly advise that you find someone who has this and play it with them first. Don't forget to have your chequebook or Credit card available for after playing I am pretty darn sure you will be out looking for your own copy.                          

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015