Hard to believe it’s only been a year since I bid adieu to Summoner Wars. When I wrote that piece, I believed it was my final paean to a game that kindled friendships and shaped my approach to the tabletop hobby. Only a short time later, Colby Dauch mentioned he was working on a second edition. It didn’t seem real. Even after chatting about it on the Space-Cast!, I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe it would ever materialize.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve played the second edition of Summoner Wars nearly every day. Some part of me still doesn’t quite believe it. The other part has to acknowledge that it might not be the same this time around. The same friendships. The same community. That same pull to create new factions and discuss rules on the Plaid Hat forums.
That all comes later. For now, I want to tell you about Summoner Wars, and why the second edition feels like coming home.
What do storybooks, Crossroads events, digital apps, worker placement, countdown timers, skill checks, and Mad Libs have in common? They all appear in Forgotten Waters by J. Arthur Ellis, Isaac Vega, and Mr. Bistro, the latest title from Plaid Hat Games! And although that might sound like the setup to a crack about how too many ingredients makes for one nasty porridge — especially after their last Crossroads game, Gen7, was such a bust — it turns out that Forgotten Waters is more than the sum of its parts.
After three unbearable years, the Space-Biff! Space-Cast! is back! And to celebrate this momentous occasion, Dan Thurot and Brock Poulsen are joined by Colby Dauch to talk about a much more important revival: the independence of Plaid Hat Games. We also chat about Summoner Wars old and new, Dungeon Run (that’s Brock’s fault), and Forgotten Waters.
You can kill your own units for magic.
That’s something I always tell people when I teach them how to play Summoner Wars. Over the past decade, I’ve taught Plaid Hat’s inaugural game to perhaps forty people. In person, that is. Online, the number gets fuzzier. Whether through my match reports, faction discussions, or that one rudimentary strategy guide, whenever somebody mentions they began reading Space-Biff! through Summoner Wars, it warms my heart. Maybe that’s because there aren’t many games I’ve felt such a need to talk about. Which is why, after introducing the phases, the way units move and attack, and the clever magic system, I always share three pieces of advice — because, as this game’s advocate, there’s nothing I’d want less than to stomp a newcomer. One, you should try to block the spaces around my walls. Two, keep in mind that units also cost the magic you aren’t gaining by discarding them. And three, you can kill your own units for magic.
Ten years later, with even its would-be successor dead and gone, I want to talk about Summoner Wars one last time.
When I heard somebody mention that Andrea Mezzotero and Jerry Hawthorne’s BattleLands would be reminiscent of Condottiere, I was both thrilled (because Condottiere is a classic) and a bit apprehensive (because Condottiere is a classic). After all, the first rule of looking good is to stand alongside someone more vertically challenged than you. Which is why I tell everyone that the closest parallel to my forthcoming dice game is basically Bunco.
The good news is that there was no need to be worried. BattleLands may not be an instant classic, but it’s hardly a slouch.
It’s the Age of the Hybrid. Fair enough. Got a spare mechanism? Cram it in there. Shove something else to the side if you need to make room. When you’re finished, your deck-building set-collection roll-and-move dexterity game won’t only be named everybody’s game of the year, but game of the millennium, going down in history alongside Senet and Chess as the most likely to be extracted from a garbage dump by alien archaeologists.
Except here’s the thing: you’ve got to make it stick. Like stitching together body parts from a dozen “donors” to create a companion for Frankenstein’s Monster, your creation needs to walk and talk and probably shag. And none of that is happening without functioning ligaments and tendons and everything else that puts a body into motion and keeps it from sloughing apart after a handshake.
Want a negative example? There are few finer than Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein.
Did you know that Brock Poulsen and Dan Thurot originally bonded over their shared love of Plaid Hat Games’ Summoner Wars? It’s true. Which is why this month’s Two Minds About… is such a meeting of the minds. Welcome to Super Punch Fighter, one of the latest titles from Plaid Hat.
Brock: Tabletop gamers are an opinionated bunch. Ask a group of us our favorite things about the hobby, and you’re likely to hear a lot of tactile answers: The riffle of a deck of cards. A well-written rulebook. The fresh cardboard smell of a new game.
Occasionally, though, this celebration gets weaponized as proof that board games are better than video games. It’s a silly war for which the stakes could simply not be lower. Yet Super Punch Fighter, from Robert Klotz and Plaid Hat Games, tries to bring peace to those warring factions.
Dan: Because it’s a board game of a video game of a fighting game?
Brock: Right. So maybe they’re bringing pain, rather than peace? You’ve reviewed a few fighting games on Space-Biff, including BattleCON and my personal favorite, EXCEED. What do you think are key factors to make a brawler successful?
Despite containing enough minor problems to fuel an entire convoy of nitpickers, Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game did the impossible by making me care about the zombie apocalypse. Scratch that — it made me care about my family of ragtag survivors. I cared enough to support their pill addiction, or reconstitute an entire library of books, or sometimes burn the very colony that had accepted us with open arms. All that zombie stuff was just the backdrop to its all-too-human tale of greed and selflessness. The real focus was always squarely on the people. It’s surprising how many zombie games don’t get that right.
Now there’s a new Crossroads game by the name of Gen7. At least it claims to be the heir to Dead of Winter’s throne. Other than a few patchy scraps of heraldry, I’m not convinced.
I’ve played Overwatch for all of fifteen minutes, and still they were enough to peg Guardians as an imitator. From the colorful roster of characters to the powerful “ultimate” abilities, this thing practically screams “I didn’t even try to get the license.”
You know what? I don’t care. Seriously, not a jot. Nor a tittle. And I’m unsure why anybody else should, either. Despite one or two hitches, this thing is a sublime location-grabber, and it deserves more attention.
When writing about Crystal Clans earlier this year, I pointed out that this was a system with a lot to prove. It was fiendishly clever the way it bounced initiative between players, not to mention how it marched to a killer tempo and boasted some cool ideas about unit and hand management. But deck construction and a solid roster of factions were still to be seen. Even more unenviably, the specter of Summoner Wars lingered over the whole thing. Was it possible for Plaid Hat to deliver a tactical card game when they’d already perfected the formula just a few years earlier?
Well, the first four expansion decks are out. Let’s see if they allay any of those concerns.