From Saruman to Voldemort, fantasy novels have put wizards in charge. With their long bears, crooked hats, or malevolent cackles (here's lookin' at you, Wicked Witch of the West), these magical malcontents tend to lead wrecking crews around their worlds chasing glory, artifacts, or that most tantalizing of nouns: Power.
Summoner Wars 2nd Edition, a newish game put forth by the decidedly non-wizardly Plaid Hat Games, taps into the bloodlust of those seeking power. The wizards here, and I'm calling them all wizards because even the gnarly goblin lord is still summoning and casting spells, are all out to murder the crap outta one another to become, you know, the best wizard.
One does not play Summoner Wars for the background narrative. This isn't Game of Thrones or Wheel of Time or even The Hobbit.
This is conflict, carnage, and cards.
Open the box and you'll get a straightforward board, gridded out with a couple spots for decks and discards. Each player in this 2-person spell slugfest gets a tracker to march up and down as you spend 'magic' to summon more monsters to your side and get magic when you send your opponents worthless garbage to the great beyond. There's a few dice to facilitate the combat, some tokens to track damage and the occasional power-up, and that's it.
The base game comes with six or seven factions, each one as varied as you'd expect given all the range fantasy conveys. Many are standard tropes: you've got the undead, the nature-loving elves, goblins, the noble Citadel knights and so on. What could've been a dull retread, though, sparks life by leaning into these familiar factions to make them so much fun.
Summoner Wars is primarily a tactics game. You'll be placing cards on the board, moving them around to eventually attack and destroy your opponent's leader. Units will die quickly and more will spawn to replace them. Decks only have 30 cards, you'll draw up to five every turn, and there's no reshuffling: these games are fast, brutal, and fun.
As an example, in my last game, with my leader clinging to life with a few hitpoints, I used his unholy ritual to respawn an undead chump in the space in front of me, just because that space brought him with the 2 spaces of Nicole's leader. Now, my undead creation had all the offensive power of a rotting puppy. Without striking the fatal blow this turn, Nicole's cheesy noble knights would have me carved and roasted, so I had to get in a bigger swing.
Using all my remaining magic, I sacrificed the same undead thing I'd just brought back to spawn in a monstrous demon. He took the undead fodder's spot, putting my demon just in range for a surprise, all-out assault on Nicole's summoner. The dice came in hot, just enough to win the game. A twist ending that felt fun and surprising to both of us while fitting my faction's theme.
I should add the game itself took maybe half an hour, a little more. Easy to do on a weeknight after kiddo drops off to sleep.
Plaid Hat plans on releasing more factions for the game over time, stretching further afield amid the many possibilities they can explore within their flexible, simple ruleset.
If there's a critique here, it's that Summoner Wars is exactly like other tactical 2 player games (think Chess, et al). A player with more experience and knowledge of the factions is going to have a big advantage over a newbie. Thankfully, the game is simple enough to grasp that even a neophyte's still going to have fun spawning in some critters and slinging arrows.
If you're looking for a cost-effective 2 player tactical experience, it's hard to get better than a good ol' wizard fight.
Summoner Wars 2nd Edition can be found at Plaid Hat's store.