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Review: Incantris

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Incantris - Box

The Kingdom of Aldramere needs a team of three champions to go forth and conquer its enemies to stop a magical war from destroying the kingdom. Rather than just randomly choose three wizards to fight in the war, the High Council summons the best and brightest teams to compete for the honor of representing Aldramere in battle. If your team wins, congratulations. You’ve won the right to go out and (likely) get killed in the war. Sure, there’s glory to be had but, really, might this not be an “honor” that you’d prefer to skip?

How It Plays

Incantris is a wizard dueling/skirmish game that uses dice to settle the score. Unlike some games of this type, you are not required to build a deck or otherwise create your army/team in order to play. Simply choose your team of three wizards from the pre-made teams and start attacking each other! Each team has their own unique abilities and things they do “best,” so each one plays a little differently.

To begin the game, players agree on which of the four scenarios you’ll be playing. Alternatively, you can play through all four scenarios in a full campaign game. The arena’s terrain is constructed according to the scenario’s rules using the prescribed tiles, or tiles of the player’s choosing. It’s up to the players whether or not/where you want to include any obstacles in the form of trees, walls, etc.

The game is played over a series of rounds. On your turn, you choose one (living) wizard from your team and activate it. The active wizard can move and then cast a spell, or cast and then move. Some wizards have special abilities that can be activated in lieu of spell casting, or which can be used at any time during your turn. You do not have to move or cast a spell, but the wizard must be activated regardless.

Incantris - Spell Effects & VP's
Some of the spell effect tokens, VP’s, and campaign currency.

A player’s movement, abilities, and available spells are determined by the active wizard and are different for every player/wizard. I won’t go into all the details, but generally movement costs one point to move from one hex to another, although the terrain and obstacles may limit where you can go, or how much it costs.

Spell casting involves first determining which of your active wizard’s spells you want to use. Then you must confirm that the target is in range and within your line of sight. If all checks out, you roll the required number of spell casting dice to determine whether or not your spell achieves any damage to the target.

Some spells/wizards have automatic additions to whatever you roll, increasing your hit potential. Your target has a chance to ward off your spell by rolling dice, as well. The amount of damage ultimately dealt is the difference between the spell caster’s number of wands rolled and the target’s number of wards rolled.

Certain types of wizards are more susceptible to certain types of magic than others. Conversely, some wizards better defend against certain types of magic than others. Choose your targets carefully.

Incantris - Terrain Pieces
Some of the terrain pieces.

Whenever a wizard takes damage, the reduction in life points is noted on their board. When the life points reach zero, the wizard is dead and removed from the arena.

Once the first player has completed his movement and/or spell casting, the next player chooses one wizard and moves and/or casts a spell. Play continues until everyone has activated one wizard. Play then returns to the first player who activates another (living) wizard and repeats the moving/spell casting steps. This continues around the table until everyone has activated all of their wizards. If you have dead wizards, it may be that you have no one to activate when your turn comes around again. If so, your turn is simply skipped.

Once everyone has activated all of their wizards, the round ends. A new round begins and play continues until the winning condition for the scenario is met. Whoever meets the winning criteria is the winner. The winning condition may be to be the last living wizard in the arena, or the first player to complete a specific objective.

Is This a War Worth Fighting, or Should You Stay Home?

I’m of two minds on Incantris. On one hand, I can see what the designers were trying to accomplish and I think they were fairly successful. On the other hand, the wizard dueling genre is fairly saturated so you have to do something extraordinary to stand out. That’s where I feel like Incantris falters.

But first, let’s talk about the good. Incantris is a simple game to learn and play. There’s no cumbersome building of decks or choosing powers/skill sets before you can play. Some wizard skirmish games have you spend a lot of time creating your team before you ever get to the actual game. Which is fine if you enjoy that, but if you just want something fill a small time gap, those games won’t help you. Incantris’ teams, by contrast, are pre-constructed and ready to play.

Incantris is also a quick game. If you’re only playing one scenario you can can be finished in twenty minutes or so. Sometimes it does run longer, but almost never more than fifty minutes to an hour. More players tends to create a longer game. We’ve had some two player games end in fifteen minutes, making it a game that fits the filler/lighter game category.

It’s also easy to set up. Despite the fact that there is terrain to lay out, you can use the preset constructions in the rules and be up and running in minutes. You can also create your own arena as long as you use tiles that match the rules for the scenario you’re playing.

Incantris - Trees, Walls & Obstacles
Some of the 3-D obstacles and markers.

I found the inclusion of scenarios to be a nice addition, as well. Each requires a different victory condition which keeps things interesting, at least for a while. Each also requires you to play your wizards a bit differently, so you to get to explore all they have to offer. There is a little more replayability here than there otherwise would be.

Incantris is not that heavy on strategy, however. What strategy there is comes from understanding what your wizard team does best and deploying your abilities against wizards who are not well suited to repel your “best.” Conversely, you want to keep your wizards out of range of those who can easily deal you the most damage. Where possible, at least. So you have to look at where your opponents are and move your team to effectively avoid the ones who will hurt you the most, while putting yourself in range of those you can hurt the most.

Beyond that, much of what happens in combat will be decided by the dice rolls. You may roll what you need to deal damage to an opponent, but you may not. And this can happen no matter how much “better” your wizard is on paper than your opponent. If you roll badly and he rolls great to ward you off, too bad.

The luck involved in combat can detract from the game because your best strategy may not pay off. I don’t mind it as much in the short scenarios. One scenario isn’t much more than a dice rolling filler, after all. It’s easier to shrug it off with, “Oh, well. Wanna play again?” In the campaign mode, though, it can feel punishing and frustrating.

Incantris - Wizard References
A few of the wizard boards.

The campaign mode is kind of neat in that you do get to level up your wizards a little as the campaign moves along. A campaign is played by chaining all four scenarios together into a longer game. Victory points are amassed as the game unfolds and the player with the most at the end of four scenarios is the winner. Leveling up happens as you gain experience points for killing other wizards or sapping crystals (in the Crystal Sap scenario). Each experience point earns you a token which can be used to buy extra items for your wizards. Some items help with healing, others provide additional movement or ways to alter your dice rolls. The campaign is not as progressive or immersive as something like D&D, but it is a fun way to make the longer game interesting.

Unfortunately, the campaign game suffers from its length. While the amount of luck involved in the dice rolling battles is tolerable in the individual scenarios, it gets tedious in the longer game. A campaign can run a couple of hours and constantly being at the mercy of your rolls can feel punishing in a game that long. If I’m going to play something for two hours, I don’t want the outcome to be determined by unlucky dice.

Overall, Incantris is a lighter game that scratches that, “Hey, let’s go at each other until there’s a last man standing,” itch. It’s got a good presentation with the minis and the 3-D terrain, and the simplicity of setup, play, and teardown make it an attractive option for time-crunched days.

But it’s not perfect, and here are the problems I see. The first problem is with the components and the box. While I appreciate that the designers tried to keep the box size small, you cannot store the assembled terrain in the box. This means that there has to be some assembly/disassembly for every game.

Incantris - Tokens & Dice
Assorted tokens and markers.

Unfortunately, while the cardboard is thick, the layers aren’t sealed/glued together well and after only a couple of games they were starting to peel apart from use. Anyone will tell you that I highly respect my game components and was trying to be gentle, but it happened regardless. These pieces aren’t going to stand up to years of play.

Small boxes are good, but boxes that actually accommodate the game are better. The box for this really should have been big enough to accommodate everything assembled to save wear and tear on the components.

Next, I don’t feel that the game has the legs to keep it interesting for the long term. While the scenarios, different wizard teams, and campaign keep things interesting for a while, it doesn’t take long to explore all the game has to offer. Then it becomes a matter of whether or not you love rolling dice enough to keep playing this. The scenarios and wizard teams do not change. There are no events that pop up to change things, and no individual goals/objectives to strive for. The only thing that changes is the terrain/obstacles, and even those aren’t numerous enough to last forever.

While I mentioned earlier that this is a good alternative to games that require you to build your army, I think this is also its greatest weakness. My all time favorite game in this genre is Summoner Wars. That game comes with pre-constructed decks that make it super simple to get up and playing, but you also have the ability to customize your deck once you’re ready to up the difficulty and experiment. The troops in Summoner Wars are also more varied, forcing you to consider how to use everything from the lowest canon fodder to the powerful Summoner. The wizards in Incantris differ in the spells they can cast, but there’s nothing that differentiates their relative strength or expendability.

Incantris - Minis
Wizard minis!

Of course, Summoner Wars is just an example, and it only plays two players, while Incantris plays up to four. But my point is that the wizard duel genre is crowded with other games and some of those offer a better chance to grow with you or adapt to your different gaming styles.

Given that the MSRP for Incantris is $59.95 (the same price as the Summoner Wars Alliances Master Set or Mage Wars Arena) I would advise a potential purchaser to think about which elements are most important in a game for you and judge from there. Do you want a simple, light game that will always be simple and light (but has minis), or do you want something that starts out light but which has more growth potential (but which is card-based)?

I think the people who will most enjoy this are those who are new to the “wizard skirmish” genre and want a simple entry point. Or, those who are used to games like Mage Wars/Summoner Wars but want a game to play as a filler or with non-gamers that has cool minis and 3-D terrain to lure them in. Incantris can be useful for teaching things like line of sight rules, managing special abilities, and getting used to dice based battles. 

For those looking for a game with more depth, strategy, and replay/growth potential, I’d recommend looking elsewhere. Ultimately I found Incantris to be an okay game. Unfortunately, it wasn’t great, either. I think it will be one that I’ll play a few more times and by then the novelty will have worn off. It does what it does fairly well in that it scratches that dueling itch in an easy package, but beyond that it doesn’t do much. In other words, it’s fun for a while but ultimately forgettable.

iSlaytheDragon.com thanks RAINN Studios for giving us a copy of Incantris to review. 

  • Rating 6.5
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Summary

Pros

Shorter/easier than some wizard dueling games.
Does not require you to build a deck to get up and playing.
Scenarios give different victory conditions and styles of play.
Campaign mode offers some leveling up.
Strategy comes from managing wizard's strengths/weaknesses.

Cons

No way to store assembled terrain in box.
Cardboard isn't strong enough to handle disassembling/reassembling.
Lots of luck in the dice rolling; especially bothersome in lengthy campaign mode.
Not much replayability/long term longevity.
Not as much depth/strategy as some wizard skirmish games.

6.5 Average

I like games with tiles/modular boards that set up and play differently each time. I'm also one of "those people" who likes dice and revels in randomness.

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