If you’re old like me, you might remember Harry Potter, the boy wizard and eponymous hero of a series of popular children’s books. These days of course, Harry Potter is only one of a whole host of valuable trademarks owned by Warner Brothers, Trademarks that are finally given a new lease of revenue uh, sorry, “life” in Board Game form.
Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle is a cooperative deck-building adventure that allows you to play through the seven years of Harry’s time at Hogwarts, learning spells, enlisting allies, acquiring equipment, and generally trying to prevent things from falling in to the hands of the forces of you-know-who. The theme pretty-much guarantees the game popularity, but is it any good? Let’s find out!
Hogwarts Battle: What’s in the box?
The component quality in Hogwarts Battle is good – the card stock is nice, and the layout is fairly clear. Art-wise there are a lot of film-stills, which isn’t generally my preferred style, but quality is high, so no major eyesores to worry about. A nice touch comes on the art for the various spell cards, with a shape drawn on each card, showing the pattern your wand would need to make in order to cast the relevant spell.
The Metal skull tokens which you use to mark the forces of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named are particularly nice, with a real bit of weight to them – the rest of the tokens are cardboard and a bit more ordinary, but still perfectly serviceable.
The biggest problem with an initial survey of the pieces for Hogwarts’ Battle, is that it feels like it was assembled by an especially paranoid corporate lawyer. This game doesn’t allow you to play as Harry, Ron, Hermione or Neville, it allows you to play as Harry PotterTM, Ron WeasleyTM, Hermione GraingerTM and Neville LongbottomTM. When you’re expanding your deck, you don’t buy Hogwarts cards, you buy HogwartsTM cards. In some ways, this isn’t a big deal, as it shouldn’t make a material impact upon the game, but it really bugged me, and it is EVERYWHERE in this game.
Anyway, assuming you can get past that (you were probably fine until I pointed it out), how does this game play?
Keep It Simple – Deckbuilding 101!
Hogwarts Battle is divided into 7 years, initially stored in 7 boxes, each corresponding to 1 year in Harry’s time at Hogwarts. As the game progresses, you will not only add new cards to increase the variety of the assorted decks, but to introduce new rules and mechanics.
Apparently, some people like to approach Hogwarts Battle as if it were a legacy game, not looking in boxes until they reach that game. Personally, I don’t understand this: this is clearly a game pitched at fans of the Harry PotterTM films. If you’ve seen the film, you know what’s going to happen, and if you haven’t, there isn’t much reason to pick up this game. In this review I’ll be discussing things that appear in later boxes – you have been warned!
The objectives in Hogwarts Battle are simple – the forces of you-know-who want to take control of all the locations in the game, and the players lose if this ever happens. The players want to defeat all the Villains, and win when the last one is discarded.
Likewise, the turn structure of a game of Hogwarts Battle is really straightforward. First of all you draw a Dark Arts card – this is a deck of bad events, which will all do something nasty, and are all pretty self-explanatory. Then you resolve the ability of the active Villain: some of these are fairly direct – Professor Quirrell deals you a damage at the start of your turn. Others are passive – you can’t draw extra cards whilst the Basilisk is in play. Others are conditional – Draco damages you when the villains place a control token on the location.
After the villains have done their stuff, it’s your go. You start with a hand of 5 cards, and you use them to generate attack points, health, and influence. Place attack on the villains, spend influence to buy new cards from the Hogwarts deck, and use health to restore your character’s life. Lastly discard anything left, and draw a new hand.
Villains and Dark Arts will deplete your health, whilst your items and allies can restore it
Your character has 10 health. Enemies and Dark Arts cards will try to reduce it, cards that you and your team-mates play will increase it. Reaching zero doesn’t end the game, but it does “Stun” your character, slowing you down for a turn, and allowing the Dark forces to push their agenda forward.
The first game is simple. Very simple. Painfully simple. In fact, the rules suggest that if you’re an experienced deck-builder, you should go straight to game 3. In the interests of a comprehensive review, I did play through games 1 and 2, just to see what was missing – it really isn’t much! (starter versions of the 4 player-characters without a special ability, and some generic locations). Unless this is the first deck-builder you’ve played and/or you’re introducing the game to children, take their advice, and go straight to Year 3!
Growing the Game
Each year/game of Hogwarts Battle adds more cards – the Dark Arts deck gets a bit more substantial, the Hogwarts deck gets enormous, and there are various other additions to look out for. In game 5 you’ll get dice to roll allowing you to gain / suffer a more random effect than something fixed. In game 6, having passed your OWLS, you’ll get to choose a proficiency, which gives your character a bit more personality play-wise, enhances the replayability of the game, and provides a focus for your deck-building.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment with Hogwarts Battle is that whilst lots of things are added, almost nothing is removed. As a result, the decks get bigger and bigger, and the odds of actually seeing one of the new cards drop. There are lots of discussions online of how to fix this,but it would have been nice to have had an official way of purging cards for tighter decks.
A Parade of Villains
Hogwarts Battle is very much a game of confronting the Villains, and you’ll need to take all of them down: in games 1 and 2 there is only a single villain in play at a time, but this rises to 2 by the time you start playing Hogwarts Battle proper, and 3 by the time you-know-who is back
Again, the sequence of villains is a place where the theme comes a bit unstuck in Hogwarts Battle, and leads to some slightly odd solutions, and strange crescendos and anti-climaxes.
Year 1: Professor Quirrell, Draco Malfoy, and Crabbe & Goyle (shared card) make a fair amount of sense. However, when you get to year 2, the new villains are just mixed in with the old – I started off facing Tom Riddle, eventually wore him down only to run into Quirrell again. Then dealt with Lucius Malfoy, Crabbe & Goyle and even took down the Basilisk, before a strangely underwhelming finale against Draco once more.
By year 7, when you’re duking it out with a really powered-up version of Voldemort it just seems ridiculous to still be having to take down Barty Crouch Junior and professor Quirrell again. One tweak which I did like from year 5 onwards is that Voldemort is always the last villain out, and cannot be damaged until you have taken down the others – this felt much more like the sort of boss-fight that the game should end with.
Aside from the thematic jumble, the fact that you constantly add villains to the game means that year 7 of Hogwarts Battle can take a really long time. Once you’ve played through the whole thing once, I think there’s definitely an argument for cutting out some of the more incongruous ones, although you would then need to make other changes to balance the difficulty.
Spot the Odd one out
For a game that’s this light mechanically, I’m usually looking for things to be very rich thematically. Hogwarts Battle is a bit odd in this respect. For example, each character has a starting ally – Hedwig, Pigwidgeon, Cruickshanks and Neville – but the starter allies all do exactly the same thing (deal a damage to a Villain, or heal 2 health). Other cards are more unique in their effects, but the chronology is wonky – Hermione has the Time-Turner from year 1, which she shouldn’t get until she starts her OWLS, and Harry has the Firebolt which should only appear after his Nimbus gets whomped in year 3. Overall, there’s still plenty of theme, with most of the spells, items and allies feeling like they make sense in terms of what they do, but I thought I ought to flag up the little niggles.
A varied experience? Or a confused muddle?
Ultimately, for a game to have long-term value, I think the big questions are about how many meaningful decisions there are to make, and whether this is a game that I can just “figure out,” or whether it will keep me thinking, adapting, and improvising?
That’s the film 6 Riddle, what’s he doing in the chamber of secrets?
In this respect, I think that the random nature of certain decks is a bonus: loading up on allies won’t help you against Tom Riddle, bucket-loads of card-draw does nothing against the Basilisk. If you see one or both of those early on, then you can really lean into a particular deck-build, but other times you’ll need to hold back, to be sure that your deck can adapt to whichever villain appears next.
Whilst that’s a good aspect of the variety in Hogwarts Battle, there are definitely down-sides. As you add more cards, decks get bloated, and the ever-increasing number of villains mean that the game gets longer and longer to the point where a nice 45-60 experienced is dragged out towards 2 hours or more, time in which I could be playing something more substantial, like Zombicide or Eldritch Horror.
In many respects, Hogwarts Battle is an odd game. It’s not-quite a campaign game (you always go back to your 10-card starting deck each time), that looks like it’s trying to be a campaign game. It’s not quite a legacy game (no permanent changes made to game components) that looks like it’s trying to be a legacy game. The game builds and builds as you go through the years, but the cool elements like proficiencies and Horcrux-destruction have to be weighed against something that feels more dragged out and chaotic.
Hogwarts Battle: Final Thoughts
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, and thinking about dipping your toe into the world of Board Gaming, then Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle is a great place to start – years 1 and 2 will walk you through how to play without assuming anything about your previous gaming experience. The fact that the game is cooperative means that you can all learn together, and can be ideal for introducing the game to children (it recommends 11+, but my friend’s 9 year-old coped well, although her 6 year-old brother got quite confused).
If you’re an experienced gamer, Hogwarts Battle still has a lot to offer – lots of flavourful cards and some interesting interactions in a setting that will be popular with many people. The game is very random, and a lot can hinge on some unexpected combinations of cards: sadly it feels a bit like this game needs a lot of modding and house-ruling to be properly playable in the long-term (some way of fixing the market, something to stop the parade of villains from lasting all week).
Overall this is a hard game to rate: as a make-your-own-Harry-Potter-game box, it’s fun and thematic 9/10. As a polished, balanced game, it’s more like 7/10.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.