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Released at last year's Spiel Essen, Spellbloom has been slow to reach retail shelves but it's a game that's worth the wait. Brain Games are perhaps best known for their dexterity and children's games, and Spellbloom is a step up in complexity from most of the publisher's previous titles, but this is still an accessible family-friendly game.

There's some mumbo jumbo premise about a magical flower on a small island that only blooms once a century when the planets align. That perhaps explains the game's title but it's otherwise irrelevant to the game, which is one where the 1-4 players are drafting spell cards from an open display and adding them to their individual tableaus where they will score points and give either bonus actions or additional end-game points.

Players each have a set of regular six-sided dice in six colours, corresponding to the slots on the central card display. You roll all the dice to create your pool and on your turn you take a die that corresponds to the colour of the location of the card you want to draft. That becomes your 'Difficulty' die. You then contribute one or more other dice so that the number of pips exactly matches the number on your Difficulty die. The dice used to match pips are known as your 'Provision' dice. You take the card you've drafted and add it to your tableau, and the dice you've used (Difficulty and Provision) go into the used dice area of your board. You won't get them back until you use a turn to take a Rest action.

There's more. You're incentivised to spend two or three Provision dice to match the Difficulty die: you get two Mana tokens if you use two Provision dice and you get three victory points if you use three; just using one die nets you no bonus. Assuming the numbers you've rolled give you the flexibility to choose, it becomes a judgement call over whether it's best to nab those bonuses or to minimise the number of Rest actions you have to take. And in addition to merely matching dice to claim a card, you can spend Mana tokens to modify a die up or down, and/or to use one of the dice on the central board either as a Difficulty or Provision die. Mana can also be spent to refresh (redraw) the spell cards in a row or column of the central display.

Some spell cards have a bottle icon on them. Any of these in your tableau can be activated on your turn. Typically these might give a player bonus points for drafting a spell card of a particular type or from a particular location. Spells in your tableau are activated by placing over the card's bottle icon a Mana token (from the general supply, not from among those you've collected). These Mana tokens come off and get added to your reserve when you take a Rest action - so spells are each single-use between Rests.

There are bonuses for placing cards with particular icons on specific spaces on your player board, and there are end-game bonuses for cards where the half-sigils to the left or right form pairs with the half-sigils to which they are adjacent. We like the fact that designer Alexandros Kapidakis has made the design choice to incentivise sigil matches et al rather than penalising players for non-compliance.

The game ends when a player adds a tenth spell card to their tableau but there can still be surprises in end-game scoring because players will also have probably three face-down 'Task' cards, that give additional end-game bonuses for particular combinations of spells. Players all start the game with two Task cards, so they can immediately direct their choices to maximise compliance; you get to add a third Task card when you complete a row of five spell cards. In our plays at Board's Eye View, we found this added another meaty consideration for players: it will be easier to add spell cards to both rows on your tableau board but the later you complete your first row of five, the less likely you'll be able to benefit from the extra Task card you get to draw.

Spellbloom is a game where players have wide choice and individual judgement calls to make over how best to utilise their dice and Mana, which cards to draft and where best to place them. Despite this, we've not found this to be a game where players get bogged down with Analysis Paralysis (AP). Tho' there are quite a few different icons to juggle and interpret, both on the spell and Task cards, there are clear examples in the rulebook to explain all the card effects. You may find players looking these up on their first couple of turns but you'll quickly get to grips with the iconography.

Spellbloom plays in around 40 minutes and we've enjoyed the game at all player counts. It's a game we've added to our list of 'gateway games' to ease new gamers into the joys of modern board gaming.

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