Underneath the spellbook tome’s pages, is there enough substance to keep you playing? Turn the page on our Spellbook boardgame review!
Spellbook, a tabletop game published by Space Cowboys is Phil Walker Harding’s latest engine-builder title. You’re a wizard, pitted to dual against other wizards to win the Annual Grand Rite. To do this, you have to construct spells for spellbook, and cast them at your rival wizards. You’re also accompanied by a familiar, your sidekick.
His primary influence was Rummy, ‘I wanted to make a game where every set you made would give you a special ability for the rest of the game, and the bigger the set, the better the ability.’ Want to find out more about what went into making the game? Read our interview with Phil Walker-Harding from PAX AUS 2023.
Spellbook Boardgame Review – Presentation
Opening Spellbook is a delight. What comes with the bright, appealing packaging is a lot of things. It comes with one Vortex pouch (a bag to store Materia), Materia tokens, an Alter tile, Familiar boards, spell decks comprised of 7 elemental cards, and a discard box (my group called it the ‘recycle bin’.)
As a tactile sensation, it’s fun to constantly be swapping Materia, which are made of shiny acrylic (hello constant Final Fantasy 7 associations) tokens around. The tokens are made of acrylic and are satisfying The artwork on the cards is colourful and eye-catching, great for kids especially. The layout and design is easy to read and understand. The only criticism one might take is that the spell cards themselves are a tad thin and a bit flimsy.
Spellbook Boardgame Review – Gameplay
Spellbook is a breeze to learn, and quick to get through. If you’ve played The Quacks of Quedlinburg, you’ll have an idea of what you’re in for.
Players race to the win condition by collecting points the most points. The game ends when a player has either filled their Familiar board up to 16 points or when a player has learnt all 7 elemental spells from their spell deck. Materia are the main resource of the game, comprising of little plastic tokens used as ‘currency’ to learn spells. The Materia have 7 colours associated with an element. They also have Runes inscribed on them, which also have an effect on how you play the game.
For the classic version of the game, you have 1 spell card of each of the 7 elemental colours. For each of these 7 elemental spell cards, you shuffle the 3 cards of that colour and draw one randomly, then every other player takes the same card from their deck. Each player then gets the same card, so you’re all at the same ‘starting line’. Whatever game method is chosen, each player must have the same 7 spell cards, 1 of each colour.
Each turn, there are 3 respective phases players go through. A ‘morning’ phase, where you can either take 1 materia of your choosing from the Alter board in the centre, or 2 random Materia from the Vortex Pouch. The ‘midday’ phase, where you can store 1 Materia on the Familiar board, or, perform a midday card action (only once you’ve learnt a respective spell), and the ‘evening’ phase, where you can learn one spell or perform an evening card action.
You can only have 9 total in your Materia pool, and you must have Materia that is the correct colour to learn a spell. Each spell has 3 levels (abilities) you can learn, which cost varying amounts of the corresponding Materia. You can only learn a spell once, i.e, if you learn (complete a spell card) at level 2, you can’t then upgrade it to a level 3 ability (the higher level is usually better) BUT you can use any lower level on a spell. You can cast it as many times as you want, though, as long as you use it in the right phase.
Spells can only be cast during certain times of the day. Each level on a spellcard has a number of points attached to it. The higher level of the spell usually has the more points. It really does come down to which player can read and implement the best spellcard ability synergies, as well as deny other players, too.
This is an example of a particularly good synergy of cards.
Now, I will say that the start of the game is really just…collecting Materia and learning spells. It is a little bit of a detractor that it takes so long for the game to fire up. So you can’t really do a whole lot for the first chunk of the game, which might frustrate. It is also only a 4-player max game. It really is just setting up your chickens. Once you’re finally able to learn some spells and cast them, then the real fun begins. You build your engine and let it run wild.
Your strategy might be to wait it out and go for the highest level spell on a spellcard, as it has more points attached, and offers a better ability to cast, buuuuut you also might want to not wait so long and go for the ‘cheaper’ spells to start the action earlier than other players. I had a lot of fun trying to calculate which spells had the best effects to cripple my opponents. There is a bit of complexity here, and it’s fun slinging abilities around, but not a lot of player interaction goes on here.
Spellbook offers a delightful journey into the realm of wizardry with its colourful presentation and engaging gameplay mechanics. From the vibrant artwork to the tactile sensation of manipulating Materia tokens, every aspect of the game draws players into its magical world. While it may take a bit of time for the game to reach its full potential as players gather resources and learn spells, once the engine starts running, the fun truly begins.
With its accessible ruleset and quick playtime, Spellbook is an ideal choice for families and casual gamers looking for a light-hearted yet strategic experience. However, those seeking intense player interaction or a highly competitive challenge may find themselves wanting more from this enchanting adventure. Overall, Spellbook shines as a charming addition to any game night, offering enjoyable gameplay wrapped in a spellbinding package. Turn the page on your tabletop adventures and delve into the magical realm of Spellbook!
So, why should you play Spellbook?
- Fun, colourful presentation
- Nice resource race for a small group of players
- Easy to learn, and quick to play
But why shouldn’t you play Spellbook?
- While it has a bit of complexity, it is more of a family-friendly game, rather than a super sweaty bust-your-brain-a-thon
- A bit fiddly with all the tokens and other bits and bobs.
- Not a lot of player interaction
A review copy was kindly provided for the purpose of our Spellbook review. If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out more of our tabletop coverage and join us over on the Qualbert Discord to chat about the latest boardgames!