Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday, 2 September 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Wizard Kittens

Game: Wizard Kittens

Publisher: Magpie Games

Designer:  Brendan G. Conway, Marissa Kelly, Mark Diaz Truman

Year: 2020



Magpie Games are best known for their roleplaying games and first caught our attention with a hugely successful Kickstarter for the Root roleplaying game However, it's no surprise that Wizard Kittens was also a well funded Kickstarter campaign, after all, it has cute cat artwork and everyone knows that cats sell board games.

Each player is one of a group of wizard kittens who have released a number of curses in a library. They need to use magic to defeat the curses before they are caught by a rather angry librarian - Professor Whispurr.
 


Gameplay

Each player will gain control of one of the four naughty kittens, with a choice of a standard side, or an asymmetrical side which gives each kitten a unique ability. Each player has a "ritual circle" featuring two (and later three) locations, and everyone starts with one magic item in both these locations. There are four kinds of magical items, in order to defeat a curse you need to have the correct combination of magical items in the correct location in your circle. Items in Chapter 1 can only be used against the curse assigned to Chapter 1. Each curse has its own unique requirements to defeat it, but you can always overpay if you have additional items in that location, however this will cost you one point per item you overpaid by. This seems bad, but Wizard Kittens has a twist at the end of the game which might make it a secret blessing.

Players will take turns drawing one item card, adding it to one of the locations in their circle and then performing one of four actions. After performing the action they check to see if they have finished a curse and if they have then they must spend everything in that location to complete the curse and draw a new one. The four standard actions are drawing an extra card, swapping the locations of two of your cards, giving a card to another player, and discarding two of your own cards. Using these in combination should have you busting curses in no time, but be careful - you can't use the same action twice in a row.



As you play the game you'll be running the draw deck dry, hidden among that deck is the Chaos Kitten, which will add a touch of chaotic energy to the mix. Not only does this unlock the third curse slot, adding an extra location to each player's circle, but it can add a new rule to the game in the advanced mode. As you keep drawing, eventually you'll get closer and closer to the Professor Whispurr card. Defeat all the curses before encounteringg this stern librarian and all is well, players will score points for curses defeated, as you would expect. However, if you are caught by Whispurr while there are still active curses, then the game ends in a different way, everyone who has earned 10 or more points is immediately caught red handed and disqualified, rewarding those who kept their scores low and their paws clean.

 
Amy's Final Thoughts

 
Wizard Kittens does what every cat game should aspire to do and absolutely melted my heart at first sight. The production quality is great, the insert in a wonderful surprise for such a simple card game and the card art is adorable. The kittens all have clear characters and cute names, even with alternate art on the advanced mode side, while the items you collect and the curses you attempt to end are all adorable. 
 
So how does the gameplay size up? Here we start to see some problems. While our first game was a fair amount of fun every subsequent game fell a little more flat than the last. Part of this were due to the constraints of playing two player, the chaos kitten doesn't unlock a new curse in the two player game, which makes sense, but means that the chaos kitty isn't very chaotic. Furthermore the scoring should Whispurr be revealed has also been tweaked, with you needing to be in the narrow range of 6-9 points in order to not call down their wrath. This isn't much fun to aim for when Curses can often give 6-8 points for one curse, you'd essentially have to play the whole game not playing the game in order to each your goal. There is also a lack of interaction when only two players are at the table, there's no opportunity for players to sling worthless junk at a player, or even try to force someone to solve a curse. You also have too much time to react to everything that happens to keep the frantic energy of the game alive.
 
 
Instead of a fast paced chaotic card game you end up with a slow set collection game with one power that you wish you could use every turn: Draw an extra card. Because ultimately when you drew a curse that needs four familiars and a curse that needs two familiars and an artifact, drawing scrolls is a wasted turn. A lot of the fun can get lost as you only want to cycle the deck faster and faster so that someone, anyone, has a chance to complete a curse. This often ends with you running out of time and everyone losing anyway the game, which isn't a fun ending. I think perhaps it would have been better to turn two player into a full co-op mode, which could probably be done with a little tweaking, but if I were to start reviewing games based on homebrew potential then things would get a lot more speculative around here!
 
Ultimately Wizard Kittens has some great card art and some interesting gameplay mechanics. If you wanted a light card game with some great cat-puns that is sure to make you smile then you should look no further. But if you are looking for the next great two player game to add to your collection you should look elsewhere. This is a game which really demands the higher end of it's player count to bring it to justice.

 
Fi’s Final Thoughts

Wizard Kittens definitely charmed me with theme and artwork. Grumpkins, the grumpiest of kitties really appeals to me as a character. The names of the curses and the artwork also work fantastically together in a game that is ripe for cat puns. 

Even our first game of Wizard Kittens was an interesting experience. Set collection is a very simple modern board game mechanism which has been done in many ways, but I really liked how Wizard Kittens puts its own spin on it. By building two or three sets at a time, with set collection goals that change as other players manage to defeat curses you really need to make the most of the four different actions on your player board to try and make perfect sets by shedding or swapping cards within your magic circle. In the symmetrical game, where players have the same four powers, switching the action you take each turn felt like an interesting and tricky decision. When we moved on to the asymmetrical game, we found that the additional alternate action led each player down a very specific path and some of them were not fun and made the game feel more scripted, with very few non-obvious choices to make.
 
 
Additionally, I was disappointed by the semi-cooperative aspect of the game. If you all lose the game, it doesn't feel like your fault, it's just a wasted game where the cards came out in an unfortunate order. At two players, we also found that no-one played for the low scoring consolation prize, it just wouldn't have made sense to spend the whole game trying to avoid points when there's only two people at the table. 

Wizard Kittens seemed to play at its best in its most simple form. Its theme is certainly an accessible, family friendly one and along with that attractive theme, it probably has an audience as a light family card game, but for a gamer audience, I wouldn't recommend it.


You Might Like...
  • The artwork is adorable and filled with humour.
  • There are some interesting manipulation mechanisms mixed into a simple set collection game.
  • Player interaction is high and the game should suit higher player counts.
You Might Not Like...
  • The majority of times we've played, the game has felt very much on rails, like you don't really have decisions to make.
  • One cat character in particular felt very mean in a two-player game, allowing cards to be stolen at almost the same rate they were being obtained.
  • The game is not particularly semi-cooperative. You can all lose though, and it's hard to imagine shooting for the secondary win condition.

The Verdict
5/10 Wizard Kittens is not short on adorable artwork and cute cat puns, but it is a little short on interesting mechanisms for a gamer audience. It does try and upgrade set collection a little bit with some interesting additional actions, a higher level of player interaction and ever changing set collection objectives. However, after a while your choices feel obvious and the semi-cooperative aspect just didn't feature at all in our two player games. It's probably a better bet than some other popular cat games that skirt the edges of hobby board gaming, but it's nothing new or exciting for us.
 
 
Wizard Kittens was a review copy kindly provided to us by Magpie Games.

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