Eight Easy Steps to Becoming a Better Summoner

Only to team up when they're assaulted by glare! PLOT TWIST!

Ret-Talus and his Fallen Kingdom square off against Krusk’s Sand Goblins.

A few handsome and/or beautiful people have asked me to write down some strategy tips for Summoner Wars from Plaid Hat Games. Being an obscure blogger, I’m pretty much jumping up and down at the opportunity to both write about my favorite board game and to fulfill requests, which makes me feel oh so professional.

I hope to eventually write about each of the game’s factions, but for now here’s a few basic clues that I like to give players just barely introduced to Summoner Wars. If you’ve played more than a handful of games, you might not find these steps particularly useful. Though maybe you will. Who knows? The only solution is to keep reading.

I'm including him mostly because he's sort of an exception to this rule. Sort of.


1. Protect Your Summoner

“Duh,” you’re probably saying, out loud, with your eyes rolled and your finger hovering over the red X in the top right corner of your browser, unless you’re on Mac then I don’t know what the heck you’re doing.

But wait! The very fact that this rule seems too primitive to be worth your time is because you’re suppressing the memory of the time you learned this most fundamental concept. It was horrifically embarrassing, and your opponent said, “Good game!” but you could see laughter in her eyes, and if you weren’t so strong-willed you might have stopped playing Summoner Wars forever. And then your life would have a Master Set-sized hole right in the middle of it.

Which is why this is the first thing I tell new players. Protect your Summoner. The outcome of the entire game hinges on his survival, and all the other stuff—the good hand management, effective rates of magic building, tricky unit use, all of it—won’t do you much good if you can’t keep your Summoner alive. To use a tired comparison, if this game were Chess, your Summoner would be your King. Except that people can just kill him rather than getting him into checkmate.

I finished a game with a very adept player just a couple days ago. He’d beaten me twice before and was on the cusp of winning a third time when he left his Summoner open for just one turn. I was playing as the Jungle Elves, and had 8 magic to spend. He was probably expecting me to summon a champion to defend Abua Shi (my Summoner), who was under attack, but instead I summoned two Lioneers, used their “Rider” ability to move both of them adjacent to his Summoner, empowered one of them with Abua Shi’s Chant of Growth, and attacked. I was rolling 7 dice on a 5-hitpoint Summoner, and I managed to land just enough attacks to win the match. He had outperformed me the entire game, and then neglected to protect his King.

So protect your Summoner. There are exceptions, of course, but wait to figure those out when you can reliably keep your Summoner alive.

On the plus side, I *was* really relieved he didn't see this coming.

The end of a Jungle Elves mirror match.

2. Know Your Unit Abilities

Unit abilities. Learn them. Here’s why:

A friend and I were playing a Jungle Elves mirror match. He was new to Summoner Wars, but had been doing pretty well. It was his first time playing as the Jungle Elves, and as luck would have it, they’re the team I picked as well (I realize this makes it sound like I always play the J.E., which isn’t the case). At the end of the game, we’d both collapsed each others’ left flanks, so he was threatening my copy of Abua Shi and I was threatening his (yeah, I know it’s nonsense. I don’t like mirror matches very much, just from a thematic standpoint). Both had taken a few wounds. I needed to land one more hit to win. I had an Archer in range. He didn’t want to risk moving up his Summoner for fear of me summoning something to kill him on the next turn, so he summoned a Lioness to block my attack. Unfortunately, the Jungle Elf Archer’s ability is “Arcing Shot,” which lets him shoot over units. So one lucky shot later, I was the winner and my friend was peeved that he could have survived by just moving Abua Shi one space to the left, where he would have been protected by his Wall.

Of all the steps in this article, this is the one that most often bites me in the unprepared buttocks. I tend to make my moves more quickly than I should, so even though I’ve played a couple hundred games and have a strong grasp of what the units can do, I sometimes overlook the abilities (and their best uses) of the units out on the board.

If I were snarky, I would have made an article called "Six Easy Steps to Becoming a Better Summoner," and then had the six steps be the six phases. Thankfully, I'm not snarky in the slightest.

The six phases.

3. Remember the Six Phases

Very basic, yes, but I’m always caught off guard by how many new players mix up the six phases, or forget to play a card at the right time. Usually it’s a case of trying to summon a unit after they’ve built a Wall or performed a Magic Drain to get enough magic to afford that unit, but sometimes other wacky shenanigans crop up too.

I’m by no means immune to this either, especially in the iOS version of the game where there are no good-natured takebacks. If you intend to summon a unit and then accidentally mash the END button with your sausage fingers, that phase is over.

The easiest solution is to work out your plan before you take any action.

4. Love Your Events

I remember being nonplussed with the Events when I first began playing Summoner Wars. Oh, I considered them neat little perks or bonuses, but I didn’t recognize them as the potential game-changers that they are. I have no idea if all new players are as dense as I was, but if so, learn to know and love your Events. They’re tailored to your faction, and in many cases they can completely reverse the course of a game. Keep track of which ones you’ve used (or built into magic), and which ones are yet to appear.

The flip side is, of course, to Hate Your Enemy’s Events. Pay attention to them, and try to deny your opponent of situations to make good use of them. Although it can be a pain to keep your unit count low, keeping your enemy’s hand clogged with a pair of Magic Drain cards can be a great way to cripple his economy.

5. Don’t Suffer a Worthless Unit to Live (or to be summoned at all)

Summoner Wars has a very strict action limit. In general, you can only move three units and attack with three units per turn. There are exceptions, but they’re few and far between. Unless you need them to block enemy movement, summoning extra units that won’t move or attack is a bad idea. They’re costing you magic (even if they’re a cost-0 unit, but more on that in a minute), and are possibly providing your opponent with new opportunities to gain magic. So you’re better off not summoning them to begin with. Likewise, if a unit is sitting around on the battlefield doing nothing, remember that every unit is worth 1 magic when killed, and snuffing out your own units once they’ve outlived their usefulness can be a good way to earn a little extra (especially if that unit has cards attached to him—they will also go to their killer’s magic pile).

Answer: I'd go with everything. Probably. It depends, but probably.

Pop quiz: It’s turn 1, what do you build to magic?

6. Know Thy Economy: Build Duplicates

It’s easy to get caught up in trying to summon or play the cards you have in your hand, but if you’re holding onto duplicates (common units, certain events, all three champs at once) near the beginning of the game, you’re better off building (some of) them into magic. A good exercise is to pretend that you don’t get a summon phase for the first two or three turns of the game, and instead focus on turning as many cards into magic as possible. This often means getting rid of every single common that you can, unless you need them for something. And when I say “need,” I mean need, not want.

Remember: The sooner you have a healthy pile of magic is the sooner you can play a champion to supplement your starting common units. And an early champion can really ruin your enemy’s plans.

Mr. Escalante said I'd find a use for all that calculus! I still haven't, but this is kind of cool too.


7. Know Thy Economy: The Value of Units

I mentioned above that even cost-0 units are costing you magic, and I meant it. See, every unit is worth its value plus one, since if you summon that unit you aren’t turning them into magic. In the above example, we can see how it’s easy to regard Gror as the financial equivalent of a whole pile of commons, but in actuality Gror’s true cost is 8 and those commons weigh in at a whopping 14 magic.

Keep this in mind. I’ve played against a few decks that made liberal use of cost-0 units that absolutely flooded the board but still didn’t manage to produce any results (or champions).

Another good general-purpose tidbit of economy advice is to keep track of your opponent’s magic pile and try to think what he can do with it, always keeping in mind that he’s playing the same economic game as you.

No malice here. Unless you really do believe in the Dice Gods. At which point, you're bonkers.

Some inanimate objects.

8. Stop Blaming the Dice / Deck / whatever

There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, when you sit and moan about how the dice are screwing you, or how you haven’t pulled a champion out of your deck, or how you just pulled all three champions out of your deck, you aren’t providing worthwhile reasons for your performance. You’re also decreasing your opponent’s enjoyment of the game by robbing them of the butt-stomping they’re in the process of handing you, and that’s simply a sign of low quality on your part. If they’re smart, you’re also giving them some useful tidbits of information and an increased will to crush you even more resoundingly.

Second, you’re robbing yourself of opportunities to improve. Yes, it’s possible for games of Summoner Wars to be determined by dice rolls and deck draws, but that’s frankly rare. At its core, Summoner Wars is a game about two players trying to mitigate chance. There’s nearly always something you can do to change the way the game is going, so instead of bellyaching, look for opportunities.

Anyway, I hope that was helpful for you beginners out there. Good luck!

Posted on August 27, 2012, in Board Game, How-to and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I want SW on the Android OS now :(. Then some epic matches against those IOS pros will be brutal. I suspect I`ll lose them to dice rolls 🙂 . Perhaps digital dice will not be the cruel mistress those darn tiny dice are. No bellyaching and all but those tiny dice have it in for me. The sweet themed dice are a life saver on the board game.

  2. I AM handsome, thanks. And beautiful.

    Anyway, thanks for fulfilling my request. When you do the faction-specific strat articles, you should do Cave Goblins first, as they’re my fave.

    Are you going to do all 16, or just the ones that are on iOS?

    • Sure, I can do CG first. As for whether I’ll do all 16 factions, I’ll probably start with the 8 basic/iOS factions, then see if there’s enough interest to continue.

  3. digitalpariah76

    FWIW, I was thinking the whole hand of Tundra Orcs should be built too! =D

    Nice piece. I look forward to seeing the faction articles. I’m ashamed to admit that I still haven’t played all the factions I own, so I may find it VERY useful.

    • Good job! Yeah, it’s hard for me to think of an instance when I *wouldn’t* build that entire hand. Maybe if I were fighting the Cave Goblins I’d keep the Reinforcements card, just because I’d have a good chance of being outnumbered soon.

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