The Alliance of the Century Part 1
I’ve written a few words on the board game Summoner Wars before. It’s a fun little 2-player game that Derek will never discuss because it lacks the deep strategic element found in Netrunner or Tanto Cuore. However, my sister enjoys the game, the rules are pretty simple and the gameplay itself is straightforward enough that you don’t need a lot of investment into it to have some fun.
So as Kait gets more and more involved with the game, I’m hoping it serves as a gateway drug so that one day she may actually want to play Diplomacy or the Republic of Rome.
Hey, a man can dream.
Anyway, there is a big release coming up for Summoner Wars. For those not in the know, Summoner Wars is a cross between a board game and a collectible card game. Each player chooses a summoner which comes with a preset deck of cards that is customizable–to a point–which they then play upon a 8×8 (I think, I’m too lazy to check the box) grid that adds an element of positioning to an otherwise simplified game of Magic: the Gathering. We got into the game with the Master Box release that had six different factions to choose. Since then, we’ve grabbed three separate faction decks to add a little more variety bringing our total options up to nine.
Summoner Wars: Alliances will add eight new summoners. That nearly doubles our current holdings. Even more exciting, for me, is that each summoner represents a union between two factions. An “alliance” if you will. A couple of these new pairings has resulted in unique game elements and mechanics but all of them follow the same deck building rules: an alliance summoner is free to add any cards from its composite factions to its deck. Essentially, the Alliances box will give us the tools to customize all the factions we’ve bought so far. If I were to get this product (wink, wink) then I would be nearly doubling the content which I currently own and expand the possibilities for decks even further.
So, yeah, I’m a little excited. In the lead up to the launch of the box, the developers at Plaid Hat Games have been giving weekly teasers for all the cards which will be released. Furthermore, if you pre-order from their website, you get all four of the promotional champions only available through purchases on their website. The lead designer will also sign… something, but that’s nowhere near as important as four mercenaries and a second play mat so we can hold 2v2 battles.
I’m telling you, Kait, that I want this for Christmas. Pre-order would be better with all the goodies it includes.
At any rate, in my excitement, I’ve been analyzing the revealed factions and comparing them amongst those already released. While the deck building possibilities amongst all the cards released thus far makes a true measure of each summoner’s strength quite difficult (especially for those which I haven’t yet played) I’m going to judge the factions and briefly discuss my thoughts towards game design, balance and functionality. This is a long winded intro do say that I’m doing a pre-review of the Summoner Wars: Alliances product before it even releases.
Yes, there’s very little going on in my life at the moment.
- The Fallen Phoenixes: The “controversial” Prince Elien of the Phoenix Elves has partnered up with the ever decaying Ret-Talus of the horribly ineffective Fallen Kingdoms. Since I’ll never buy a starter box (they only contain two factions but come with more boards, dice and tokens that I don’t need anymore) I’ll never have to worry about those awkward Elien vs Elien battles as though we were recreating the epic battle between Luke Skywalker and the Swamp in The Empire Strikes Back.
- The Tundra Guild: The Tundra Orcs and Guild Dwarves are considered two of the best and most frustrating factions to fight… if you’re stuck on the game’s iOS version. Personally, I think they’re overrated but, once again, their first summoners feature in a product which I’ll never purchase. A curious decision to combine the two which has led to the revealed Rune Events which adds an interesting twist to improving units seen in both faction’s second summoner sets.
- The Cave Filth: Ermergerd erts teh ferth!
- The Vargath Vanguard: Missed labeling opportunity. They should have been the Mountain Vanguard. Mountain Vargath and the Vanguard regularly come up on the short end of the stick when people discuss tier lists so the question lies whether their alliance will actually improve their original summoners.
- The Sand Cloaks: I love Cloaks. I love Sand Goblins. I’m going to love Sand Cloaks. Kait is going to hate them.
- The Jungle Shadow: In our impromptu tournament with the factions we owned (Master Box plus Cloaks and Filth) the Shadow Elves managed to get into the top four. We just recently grabbed the Jungle Elves. They make sense as a combined faction as both play fast and aggressive but how will their alliance play on these themes of mobility and assassination?
- The Deep Benders: Now here is an actually controversial pairing. The Deep Dwarves and Benders are two of the most powerful factions despite not being expanded with a second summoner like half the other factions. The Benders came out on top in our tournament and, had Kait not sabotaged the Deep Dwarves, they probably would have been second. Will their first real expansion be even more dominating?
- The Swamp Mercenaries: Kait loves the horribly misleading Swamp Orcs. They grow vine walls (I know, they should be Jungle Orcs or they should grow root walls but here we are) which spread like a plague across the board choking out strategic locations and being generally obnoxious. The very close second place finisher in our tournament their combination with the Mercenary faction is a little odd but someone had to be stuck with the sellswords, I suppose.
Obviously, all that comes next is going to be speculation. I could do indepth posts on each faction and what I think of them but, in the sake of time, I’m simply going to give them a short ranking and a small blurb on why I think they deserve their spots. Let’s begin with the best.
1. Ermergerd erts teh ferth! (Cave Filth)
Personally, I think the original Filth faction is a top bet for being the best in the game. It’s certainly top three and balancing the faction is incredibly difficult because the Filth play incredibly different from everyone else. In a metagame that has revolved strongly around defensive play and heavy champion line-ups, the Filth stand out as being neither. Their unique mechanic, mutations, allows them to change one of their common units into a unique summon which is neither champion or common but something in between. The original summoner The Demagogue is especially powerful for his inherent ability allows him to search his deck or discard for the mutations he needs as well as give him a slow economic advantage by pulling cards from his discard pile which he can then burn for magic at the sacrifice of an attack.
Put simply, the Filth are a mid to late game deck that looks to play defensive until they generate a strong economic advantage by fueling their summoning costs with recycled mutations before flooding their opponent with powerful units that will tear apart commons and champions alike. I love them. Kait even loves them. All hail the Filth!
The new dude, The Warden, is interesting in that his alliance with the Cave Goblins is anything but an alliance. Presenting himself as an antiquated tyrant, the Warden introduces the “Prison Pile.” This acts as a sort of economic “bank.” Abilities that affect a player’s magic pile do not affect the Warden’s prison pile. Thus, the dreaded Magic Drain event can possibly be mitigated by the Warden by leaving his magic pile empty and undrainable.
For the most part, the Prison Pile doesn’t add a lot of strategic depth. The Warden can, for free, shuffle a single card from the prison pile to his magic pile. More than anything, the Prison creates an extra step for him to interact with his army. This would be an issue if the Cave Filth weren’t designed along the same vein as the Filth: make everything so damn amazing that the extra hassle is irrelevant. Technically, the Filth require two cards to get their “mutations” going and when they die they give twice the magic power to their opponent.
On the other hand, you can spend 3 magic to get a 3 strength, 3 health monster which enemies are too terrified to strike back and if it gets weakened you can always mutate that baby back to your hand to inflict upon your next devotee. The Warden has a similar “flawed advantage” which is really just an advantage for him. His basic unit, the Prisoner, has a 50% chance upon being summoned to just pop into your Prison. Course for a 1 strength 2 health unit for free, it’s a bit of a steal on its own. Combined with the fact the Warden himself can just turned “failed summons” into magic once per turn, the Cave Filth player hasn’t lost anything with his unruly subjects.
Furthermore, a lot of his cards require fuel from the Prison. Legion, Soul Eater, Scabbicus and Hector all need or grow stronger the more suckers you’ve locked up. The Warden will start stockpiling subjugates long before his inherent enslaving ability of sending destroyed units to Prison kicks in. To “balance” this “negative” the Cave Filth come with some of the best priced units. 3 strength 7 health for 4 magic is something you won’t find anywhere else. Plus they can have the most powerful unboosted unit in the game: 5 strength and 6 health. Granted, you pay out the nose for that guy. Hilarious enough, even Hector can grow astronomically if enough pressure isn’t applied to the Warden and he can get a rowdy Prison built. He gains 1 strength for every two prisoners beneath his care, has 6 health and a measly 4 cost. To compare, Leah Goodwin is the only other 0 strength card in the game who grows with an increasing economy pool and she has 5 health for 3 cost and maxes out her strength at 4.
Yeah, the Cave Filth are silly.
2. I’m not biased! (Sand Cloaks)
The Sand Goblins were the faction with which I was introduced to Summoner Wars. The Cloaks were my first faction received after the Master’s Box. Both hold a fond place in my heart even though they’re a little lackluster without second summoners or reinforcement decks. The alliance, however, is easily the top in the box.
The Sand Cloaks introduce Event Abilities. These events are like prior summoners’ upgrades which went under a unit to improve them. Unlike Bolvi and Torgan, however, these cards can be moved around and synchronized with all the pieces of the deck. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two stand out factions in the Alliance box are also the two decks that introduce their own unique mechanics which almost every unit reinforces or improves. All nine abilities open to Marek are strong abilities and they can not be lost like Filth mutations. Though they can only improve one unit at a time, Marek’s inherent ability lets her grant the bonus she holds to another unit once per round. Considering that you can enchant her with Camouflage (which makes it that she can only be attacked by adjacent units), you can make a very robust force with very few individuals. Nearly every unit in this deck is ranged as well, the sole exception being the unobtrusive scholar who allows you to move around your event abilities even from your own discard pile.
The only weakness the Sand Cloaks have is that there isn’t inherently any source of strong damage amongst their cards. Only one card naturally has 3 strength and all the commons natively have 2. However, their champions are cheap (4, 5 and 6 respectively) as are their units. That you can then give abilities to each of them to strengthen them or make them hard to kill gives the Sand Cloaks a very strong advantage that will overcome their inherent frailty.
3. Swamp Mercenaries
I’ll just say it: Glurblub, the new summoner, is worse than Mugglug. Yes, the swamp orcs have stupid names. No, it’s not a good idea to say that to their face.
Mugglug has the far stronger ability to spread his swamp. Any unit next to his walls which dies grows a vine wall. Glurblub only gets vine walls natively from his ranged attacks. Overall, I predict smaller swamps with Glur but faster invasion of the enemy’s board with those swamps. Which is good because the real strength of the walls is giving advanced summoning positions to overwhelm defences. Glur even takes this further by having a 2 strength, 1 health for 1 magic swordsman which is a statline I love for its pressure and aggression. The boarboons, his cheaper ravagers, have 3 strength on the turn they’re summoned. Though they essentially lose any extra abilities beyond the first turn, this is not actually a big negative given the proliferation of “nullify” abilities or cards that are starting to return units to their owner’s hands. Glur also finally comes with a 0 cost common though he can’t attack them for free walls. But the slippery swamp rats are open to his Spore Carrier events which lets him destroy his units to grow walls where necessary. Glub won’t choke his opponent out of the board but he will plant a garden in their front yard and immediately attack the house with it. And while Mik was designed for Mugglug’s deck (finally a useful champion below 6 magic), Glurb has a 3 attack 3 health 4 cost champion that can negate one attack so long as he is beside a vine wall.
It’s a good thing that Glurb flings his walls too since his deck is entirely composed of melee units.
4. Tundra Guild
They’re good and bad. I don’t know what else to say. Hogar was just recently revealed and my gut instinct is that he isn’t that great. I’m looking at scribes as the old, Master Box design of “always include one auto build as magic unit.” Scribes are probably one of the worst units released in the entire box. They have 1 attack, 1 health and 0 cost which I don’t super hate but their special ability lets them look at one card from the top of the deck per scribe and allow Hogan to put those cards back in any order whenever a Rune Event is used.
So, to get the most out of their ability, you need at least two scribes sitting on the field. You also only get 6 chances to trigger their power since that is the total number of Rune Events in Hogar’s deck. You can’t fling scribes at the enemy and immediately kill them to deny their magic since you need them to stick around the board. With them being melee, you aren’t likely to attack with them at all. So they’re just going to sit on your side of the field being useless hoping that you get a good Rune Event draw which will let you manipulate your pile for your rather lackluster champions to be a little less awful.
They’re bad. At least the swamp rats can be killed for vine walls.
The marauder doesn’t fare any better. It’s a 2 attack, 2 health for 2 magic. When he is enchanted with a rune, he can attack at range. However, you’re never going to waste one of your very limited Rune Events on these guys. So he’s a 2/2/2 which doesn’t really live longer than a 2 strength, 1 health unit but at twice the cost.
The only really great card in Hogar’s deck is the Ice Golems and they are really good. Rune Events are, essentially, Event Abilities that can stack on a single unit. However, unlike Event Abilities, any player can spend 2 magic during their event phase to discard all Rune Events on one target. So, yes, you can pump Hogar up with a ludicrous number of enchantments to turn him into a murder machine. And yes, the opponent can clear all of them for the low price of 2 magic on their turn to leave Hogar naked and sad.
On the up side, the cost to erase the runes is the same as Magic Drain so it’s a pretty hefty price. More than that, the previously mentioned Ice Golems get counted as Ice Walls when they are enchanted. This means they operate as mobile summoning platforms much like the Swamp Orc’s vine walls if they were on legs and could punch idiots in the face. Plus, Hogar’s boring ability (walls are only damaged on rolls of 4 or higher) stacks when the Ice Golems are enchanted making them extremely hardy.
Unfortunately, Hogar’s champions are all really expensive despite their abilities being pretty lackluster. He has two 6 cost champions and one 7 cost but only one of them actually has 3 strength. But it becomes 4 strength if you happen to have a Rune Event on the top of your deck when he attacks! At least he’s better than Dagger I suppose. Except Dagger can be built into Marek’s deck so he can gain Greater Sneak on top of his Backstab…
The “random chance” of the Tundra Orcs is represented in these champion abilities but, unlike most of the tundra dwellers, the champions aren’t really that great if they aren’t getting lucky.