There is no shortage of games involving mages chasing around a board chucking spells at each other. We've reviewed a fair few of these ourselves on Board's Eye View; for example, most recently, Crystal Hall (Gibsons). This game from Battle Boar has a novel feature that helps it stands out from the crowd, however. In Arcane Blaster Casters, you are actually compiling and physically composing the multi-card spells that you'll be casting to defeat your foes.
Designed by Malcolm Armstrong, the game is played on a 9x9 grid of squares on which players place out the counters representing their spellcasting wizards. In the preview prototype we've been playing at Board's Eye View, each spell caster's health is represented using a matching colour 20-sided die. Face-down 'trap' cards are placed out. These are triggered by a wizard wandering into that space or, more likely, being pushed there when hit by a spell. Traps either harm the character that triggers them or benefit the spellcaster that pushed them. But it's the cards that are at the heart of Arcane Blaster Casters. Unless adversely affected by a trap, players start each round with a hand of six cards. They choose three of them to create a spell that takes the noun from one card, the adjective from another and an adverb from the third. The spell has the characteristics and impact of the three elements that make it up, so this will dictate its range, the damage it inflicts and any special impact it might have. It's great fun compiling your own spells in this way but it's far from mindless: there's scope for much strategy in selecting the elements you propose to use. Each round players simultaneously generate their spells face down, so you need to bear in mind the likely impact that turn order might have; will your intended target still be in range when your spell triggers?
The spells and traps can impose a degree of mayhem. If your wizard is 'Blinded', they cannot look at their spell cards; in effect, they have to cast a spell using randomly selected cards. A spellcaster that is Slowed has to make their spell with just two cards. On the other hand, a spellcaster who is Hastened gets to create a spell using four cards. Some of the special effects can be especially powerful: Burst affects not just the square it lands on but also the eight squares that surround it; Split effectively doubles the impact of your spell, or lets you target two different opponents. And for an element of chance, a Chaos icon allows you to add in the effect shown on the roll of a six-sided die.
Players are trying throughout to reduce opponents' health to zero, but that's not necessarily Game Over. Instead of player elimination, reduction to zero health results in the spellcaster being 'Sluggified', They roll and take the effect on the game's Sluggification table and they continue to play, immune from traps and most effects but only able to cast single-card spells. If you get Sluggified, you'll be striving to meet one of the conditions that allows you to Reform (regenerate) because the game cannot be won by a player while they remain Sluggified.
Arcane Blaster Casters is a lot of fun. It's certainly playable as a two-player game but it is at its most enjoyable with four or more. The game actually takes up to eight players, and you can expect a joyfully chaotic experience playing with the maximum player count. The game is due to launch on Kickstarter later this month, and we can expect to see some changes, including to the art by Mihai Georgescu. We'll add a link to the Kickstarter campaign when that goes live.