Today is my blog’s sixth birthday – can you believe it?! It’s also game day, so we’re going to be taking a look at the Harry Potter deck-building game from The OP (formerly USAopoly), Hogwarts Battle!
This came out a few years ago now, and I got it for my wife back in 2018 for a birthday present, a little apprehensive as I know deck building games can be a little difficult to get into. Of course, time was I had a plethora of the things, from Dominion through to Marvel Legendary and Thunderstone. Comparisons will be made with several of these as we go through, inevitably!
The game is quite straightforward, really – the core game is for four players, each of whom takes the role of Harry, Ron, Hermione or Neville. There have been expansions that bring both Luna and Ginny in as playable characters, but we won’t be getting to these in this blog.
It is quite cleverly structured over seven “years”, marking each of the seven school years that each book covers. Each hero comes with a starting deck of ten cards, including the currency cards (the currency of the game is called ‘influence’) as well as some special cards that give you an idea for how you might like to take the construction of that hero’s deck. For example, Ron has the ‘Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans’ card that rewards you for playing Ally cards, so maybe you’ll want to buy some Ally cards from the market.
The market contains these Allies, as well as Magical Items and Spells. There’s no real rhyme or reason to how these cards work – some Spells will allow you to gain attacks, others will give you influence, while others still might let you draw cards. The same is true of the Items and Allies, as well. From game four onwards, there are also dice involved – more shortly – and the ability to roll these dice comes across a variety of cards, also.
But what’s the point of the game, I hear you cry?
There are a series of Villains that need to be overcome by our intrepid heroes, each themed around the point in the story in which they appear for the first time (although there are, of course, exceptions). For instance, in Game One, the enemies are Draco Malfoy, Crabbe & Goyle, and Professor Quirrell. Once Lord Voldemort has made his return, he forms a kind of boss villain for the heroes to overcome, and more Villains are revealed from the deck to attack the heroes through their various means. For instance, in the photo above, we see Fenrir Greyback prevents heroes from healing themselves, which is quite the horrendous effect when you have other Villains, like the Dementors or Quirrell, who cause you to lose health each turn.
In addition, there are Dark Arts cards that get flipped over at the start of each turn. These are basically the game’s way to fight back on a more interactive level – the Villains might be quite passive or situational, allowing turns where they actually don’t have any negative effect on the heroes’ progress. The Dark Arts event cards, therefore, ensure that something will always happen to affect the gameplay.
Finally, there is the Location deck, which shows both how many of these Dark Arts events to draw each turn, as well as tracking the Villains’ progress towards defeating the Heroes. See, when Heroes are reduced to 0 health points, they are merely Stunned – discard half of your hand, rounded down, and then at the end of the turn, reset your health to 10 and continue. Hardly the most grievous of effects! However, the Locations provide something of a clock for the game, making sure that things don’t fall into that holding pattern. As the Villains place more progress markers on these Locations, showing the influence they’re gaining over the wizarding world, more Dark Arts events will be drawn, causing more pain and suffering for the Heroes.
So that, in a nutshell, is the game!
It’s very similar to the DC deck-building game, I feel, in that you have a deck of villains to defeat (although DC brings them out one at a time). However, it isn’t really like any of the other deck-builders that I’ve played, as there are a variety of things that make it fairly unique. For starters, the starting deck each hero has includes more than just basic cards – sure, some of the cards, like each hero’s pet, feel a little basic in their effects, but the starting deck of ten cards covers much more than the basic ‘attack and currency’ style. I really like the fact that these decks provide that sort of base for how you might like to take the deck as you purchase cards for it, too.
The “Year” structure is also something that I really like. When I first opened the box, I had the idea that it might be a game along the lines of these Legacy-style games that started with Pandemic back in the day, giving additional content that is added in depending on what happens within the game. Well, that’s not entirely untrue, of course, though it isn’t quite so “secret envelope” style here – instead, you basically get a base game and all six expansions for it in one box, and you grow the game a little more organically than perhaps some of these Legacy games have it.
Something that I particularly like is how the heroes change over the course of the game, and also the extra gubbins that get thrown into the mix along the way.
As you move up the series of games, your hero “levels-up” twice, at Game Three, and then again at Game Seven. When you begin, you just have your hero; then with Game Three your hero has an effect that will trigger when something happens – for example, Hermione can choose for any one hero to gain one influence when she plays four or more spells. For Game Seven, that ability changes from “any one hero” to “all heroes”.
In addition, in Game Six you get to choose one “Proficiency” that gives your hero more in the way of choices – a second, always-on ability. In the previous picture, we can see that Hermione has chosen the Arithmancy Proficiency, which allows her to interact with cards that make use of four House Dice. These dice make their appearance in Game Four, which is something of a mid-point both in terms of the series as a whole, and the complexity of the game here. We get four dice that give bonuses to all heroes such as giving extra attacks, extra resources, drawing cards or healing. However, some of the Villains and the Dark Arts events make use of the Slytherin die (the one that has more attacks on it), with negative results for the heroes.
These dice are also instrumental in the final battle, as Horcrux cards are introduced. In Games Five and Six, Voldemort is the final Villain to be defeated, with the single caveat that you must have defeated all of the other Villains first. For Game Seven though, you must also destroy the six Horcruxes – that is, roll a House Die and, rather than apply its effect, use it to place a marker on the Horcrux card. These cannot simply be ignored, however, as they also have always-on effects that will often trigger along with the Villains and the Dark Arts events – meaning that, on your turn, it is quite possible that you can go from full health to 0 due to the accumulated horrors of the Dark Side!
It all builds up quite nicely as things progress, although you don’t get to keep the deck that you’ve built up over the course of an entire “campaign” – with the start of each Game/Year, you re-set back to your starting ten, although this isn’t all that much of a handicap when you take account of the fact your hero card has leveled-up by Game Seven, and you also have the Proficiency from Game Six.
For Potterheads, this game is wonderfully thematic, with a lot of cards that kinda make sense when you think about what they do. ‘Expecto Patronum’, for instance, allows you to push the Villains back by removing their progress from the current Location, as well as granting you additional attacks. ‘Lumos’ allows you to draw cards, etc etc. A lot of the moving parts of the game, particularly on the Villains’ side of things, work really well together, too – a shining example of this is Lucius and Draco Malfoy, who interact with the Location cards in a nightmarish fashion. Adding Barty Crouch Jnr into the mix, who prevents progress tokens from being removed from the Location, can cause all manner of problems for the heroes!
However, the game is not without its flaws. For starters, there is no way to thin out your deck, which is a staple of pretty much every deck-builder I’ve played. Being able to cull the basic cards from your deck when you’ve managed to build it up is quite important, but even when you’re playing in Game Seven, and you’re up against Lord Voldemort himself for the final time, there is still the chance that you might draw a hand of five ‘Alohomora’s, which is just a pain in the rear at such a critical point!
There are also no “always on” cards. DC has “kicks”, and Legendary has “Maria Hill”s, where you can (usually) always buy at least one standby card that isn’t really part of the main market. The potential for heroes to be locked out of the market by seeing very high-cost cards very early on is definitely there, and there have been many points where we’ve ended up buying chaff cards simply because they’re the only ones we can afford, or to clear them out of the market stack. I think the game designer has suggested a fix whereby you skip your turn (that is, you don’t purchase anything or assign any damage) and you can wipe the market clear or something. But I’m never really a fan of these kinds of after-thoughts!
There are also a lot of promo cards out there. I’ve talked about my aversion to such cards before, but I find it quite strange when a game like this has promo cards that feature fairly significant characters – the Dursleys and Seamus aren’t top-tier characters, don’t get me wrong, but they’re characters that appear in every novel; I’d have thought therefore that they would be in the main game. Of course, there’s also the issue of the effects these cards have on the game, and a spell like ‘Silencio’ is massive for it to have been left as a promo. This is a co-operative game, for sure, and the idea of there being “chase rares” or something is quite bizarre, but for completionists such as myself, it does feel a little irksome that these cards are out there in the wild!
But the issue of promos shouldn’t, and doesn’t overshadow what is otherwise a really fun gaming experience. There’s a lot to enjoy here, from the straightforward deck-building experience, to the way the game builds up from year one through to seven. I think more than anything, though, I enjoy this game so much because it brings my wife, who is not a gamer, to the gaming table with me, and we can spend the entire evening going through each year and having so much fun. Definitely a winner in my book!