ICv2 Stars: 4 (out of 5)
Posted by William Niebling on September 18, 2023 @ 3:42 pm CT
Publisher: Space Cowboys
Release Date: September, 2023
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Product #: SCSPEL01EN
Age Rating: 12 and up
ICv2 Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
Who hasn’t dreamed of being a powerful wizard, casting spells to bend reality to their every whim? Spellbook gives players their chance, challenging them to outwit their rivals in a contest of spell-casting. But is the result enchanting? Or does this spell fizzle?
The method used to achieve both goals is through collecting and spending "Materia"—Lucite tokens depicting magical runes in seven colors to match the seven spells—in the proper combinations. Each turn, a player gets to take three actions: a "morning" action that typically gains them Materia, a "midday" action that might manipulate their pool of Materia or store Materia on their Familiar board, and an "evening" action that normally involves learning a new spell. When a player learns a spell, they either gain a one-use or permanent advantage, or they gain an ability to "cast" the spell as one of their turn actions for an enhanced effect for the rest of the game.
Originality: Spellbook is, somehow, both familiar and fresh at the same time. There is something comfortably similar to other games I have played over the years, but it is put together in an interesting way that does not feel stale or derivative thanks to the interactions between the various spells and abilities. The game offers a number of strategic options that, based on our playtests, seem equally viable, leading to very close final scores. One can focus on building up their Familiar, or learning a lot of low-level spells quickly, or concentrating on learning a few higher-powered spells that offer more potent benefits. Or even other approaches or combinations that we haven’t imagined yet, depending on which spells are included in that game.
Presentation: The box is brightly colored and eye-catching, with dynamic cover art and easy-to-read text. The components are shown off to good effect, alongside a brief description of the gameplay that is enticing despite its brevity. The artistry continues inside the box, with high-quality artwork throughout, including distinctive art on every spell card, a nifty little cardboard bucket to hold discarded Materia, a lovely cloth bag to draw them from randomly, and charming little characters on the Familiar boards. The graphic layout and icons on the components are intuitive and communicate important information clearly.
But, I would feel remiss if I did not point out a couple of items that disappointed me to some extent. The cardboard insert in the box is not particularly useful for storing the components between games. I would have preferred that the cardboard "bucket" had been designed in a way that it could be assembled without resorting to a clear sticker to hold it together. And I worry that the cards may suffer damage as they have square corners instead of rounded ones. I would also have preferred the cards to be a bit thicker, and the text on the cards could have been a tad larger for those of us with aging eyes.
Marketability: Designer Phil Walker-Harding has a proven track record with successful titles including Sushi Go! and Barenpark, and Space Cowboys has established a strong reputation through their high-quality and popular designs. The price point is very reasonable considering the amount and quality of the components in the game. The gameplay fits solidly into the lighter end of the "Eurogame" genre, and promises to be accessible to a broad audience, with features to appeal to both casual and competitive players.
And that’s why I’m giving this game 4 out of 5.
- William Niebling