Updated: Oct 24
'Strategy Games' reads the cover of Jumbo's pamphlet packaged inside Isidore, advertising the publisher's other titles such as Forbidden City, Okavango and the classic Stratego; that's a Knizia, Kramer & Kiesling and an all-time classic. Good company to say the least. Those games allow you to choose an overarching plan in their play: they have, well, strategy. Isidore does not: in fact, it doesn't have tactics either; it is a strange bedfellow for these games indeed.
With art by Roland MacDonald, Isidore is presented superbly and its School of Magic subtitle helps to further bolsters the Harry Potter-esque theme that players are young wizards gathering components to make spells to defeat three monsters. Unfortunately, behind the engaging facade, Hidde van Dijk has designed a game that lacks meaningful decisions. This means the action is reduced to rolling and moving on a five-space board, collecting mostly random resources, then trading those in for a rock/water/fire spell to play three rock/paper/scissors games. The heuristics are minimal: get gold or silver before going to Market; don't take on a monster with too few spells. There might be some player interaction over a scarce resource (or with a variant rule thrown in) but, for the most part, play is rote.
As just a gamer, I would be disappointed to play this over any of the other titles mentioned. However, as a gamer dad, I am obliged to give it a degree of appreciation because my son - an eight year old with plenty of board game experience - enjoyed the thought-free activity the game offered him (it probably helped that he won three out of his four spell 'battles'). That said, though, I would still reach for almost any HABA title before this, as they grant agency, even in the younger titles like Monza and Animal Upon Animal, and especially in the more recent family range.
Oddly, Isidore, being what it is, is somewhat harmed by its great presentation: if it looked more childish, if it pretended less, I could forgive the game's empty die-rolling, random token-collecting and luck-based fighting. If it were offered as a way to teach taking turns and coping with losing, I could almost let it slide; but, sold as is, there is not enough immaterial substance inside the box to commend the game beyond the appeal of its theme.
(Review by David Fox)