Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of Animagicians in order to complete this review.
I always enjoy seeing new designers enter the industry. Kickstarter has been a huge boon to this (and to existing, larger companies, but that’s a rant for another day), and Arcadia Designs’s first entry, Animagicians, is now live on Kickstarter. I was gifted with a copy to review for them, and after being reasonably impressed with the quality of the prototype, I ended up giving it a crack.
How To Play
In Animagicians, players take on the role of various, you guessed it, anthropomorphic wizards attempting to brave the horrors of “the mansion”. At the start of the game, players are dealt a hand of five cards from a “Magic” deck. These cards come in two varieties: Elements or one use powers.
Each turn, a variety of monsters will appear and be assigned to various players around the table. The monsters indicate which player they’ll pursue (either the player who draws it, or the player to their left or right), their level, and the elements required to defeat them. Defeating monsters earns you souls; collect ten of them and you’ll win the game!
On your turn, you can take any number of actions, including:
- Playing elements face down in front of you. These will be resolved later on in the turn, and cannot be referenced again once placed face down.
- Playing various one use powers from their hands. These cards come in a few varieties, with a range of abilities including discarding monsters from play, summoning more in front of other players, drawing more cards, or even forcing a player to hide!
- Using the ability printed on your character. Some of the abilities instead have a triggering condition, and thus are unusable on a player’s turn.
- Using the ability on a relic you’ve collected (these randomly appear throughout the game).
- Passing the turn (which you must do if you’re hidden).
Play continues in this fashion until all players opt to pass consecutively. During the next stage of the game, players reveal the elements they prepared for this turn and use them for one of two things: either defeating monsters in play, or activating their soulblast, which allows them to steal hard earned souls from others. However, multiple players can potentially defeat the same monster, splitting the souls earned or possibly earning nothing at all! It is very possible, in fact, to have prepared many elements to use and yet end up using very few of them due to the various powers people have thrown around.
Afterwards, any monsters still left in play chase their prey out of the mansion. Players who get chased out must discard their hand, lose a soul, and skip their next turn. In return, they draw three cards from the deck. Sometimes, a tactical withdrawal out of the mansion may give you the breather you need to come back and sweep the competition!
There are two ways to win the game: collect 10 souls, or defeat a Lich to gain a special relic, then use that special relic to defeat a Lich alone. A combination of luck, hand management, and trickery are needed to see you come out on top.
Thoughts About Animagicians
In all honesty, I was not enthused about playing Animagicians after reading the rules and learning the game myself. It seemed chaotic, highly random, and slow. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the game flowed smoothly from the get-go, and an opening turn of one player being swarmed by monsters had players smiling and ready to take them down, especially the swarmed one! The hand management aspect also had appeal, and I did find myself holding some cards back for just the right moment.
Even so, I still found numerous issues with the game. Some player powers appeared much more useful than others. For instance, I had a character which let me draw multiple cards per turn, which was extremely powerful. Another player’s ability simply punished other players for drawing cards, but provided no actual benefit to themself. Funnily enough, the timing of my card draw ability actually meant I was immune to the punishment!
This point clearly demonstrates that certain abilities are stronger or weaker based on the presence of other characters in the game. The designer even states that selection of characters based on previous selections is a way to further explore the game. If that’s the case, that means that whoever picks first is at a severe disadvantage! While this can be fixed by simply randomly dealing out the characters, the fact that counters exist is problematic to this idea as well!
Additionally, luck plays a not insignificant role in the game. Sometimes, you draw cards which then let you draw more cards, or cards with multiple elements instead of one. Sometimes, you just don’t have the right cards to defeat a monster in front of you, and it’s not a fault of your poor hand management. Sometimes, you end up with a swarm of enemies that you just can’t handle and get forced to leave the mansion. The fact that you have to skip a turn is pretty irritating, as it serves as nothing but downtime for you as a player.
Adding to that downtime is the Hidden mechanic, which is far and away the biggest offender of ‘negative play experience’ in the game. One of the cards you can draw causes a player to become hidden. This means that the player cannot be chased by monsters for the turn, but also means they must pass all future actions for the round. These “Hide” cards act effectively as skip cards from Uno, except the resultant downtime is far, far longer. They’re also the perfect way to completely take someone out of the experience, and I (and others at the table) felt the game would be far better if the Hidden mechanic was simply removed.
Perhaps these negatives would be fairly well accepted in a lighter game. This is not to say that Animagicians does not fall into the light category, but the bluffing elements and hand management (due to slow card draw) require more mental investment than the party game these mechanisms typically exist in.
I feel that Animagicians is a fairly inoffensive card game that seems to be on a quest for identity. The designer clearly has lots of love for the theme, with solid, unique artwork and backstories prepared for each character (though these were strangely absent from the prototype). However, the end result is a game that ended up in a strange limbo between genres; too complex for a party game, but with too many party elements to completely divorce itself from the title.
This is a fairly easy pass for me, but if the mechanisms in the game seem interesting to you, check out their Kickstarter here. I wish Arcadia Designs all the best for their campaign and their future endeavours!