Spellbinder Review by David Lent
Spellbinder is a 1980’s microgame for 2-4 players. The players each control a wizard and his army and make alliances in order to defeat their enemies in the various scenarios or campaign game. Spellbinder is a wargame that could only have been made in the 1980’s. Back then it was possible for wargamers to have more than one wargaming buddy to play against; making a 3 or 4 player game feasible. Today’s wargamers are lucky to have one wargaming buddy to play against and many don’t have any and can only play solitaire games unless they play at a convention. Unfortunately, most of us are middle aged or senior citizens and we are having great difficulty getting younger people into this hobby. Those who call today “A New Golden Era in Wargaming” obviously don’t remember the real Golden Era where numerous wargames sold over 100,000 copies each. In today’s “Golden” era, a wargame that sells 500 copies is usually deemed a complete success.
The components for Spellbinder are of average quality as far as 1980’s microgames are concerned. Spellbinder includes a 12-page rulebook, counters, 4 player aid cards and a full color map.
Spellbinder’s rulebook isn’t written as clearly as modern rulebooks and some of the information isn’t logically organized such as the terrain effects chart. It shows the movement cost, but does not show defense modifiers. That is on another page. However, the rulebook does have an index, which is something more rulebooks (including modern rulebooks) desperately need.
The counters that represent units in this game are pretty lackluster. They only have a rudimentary picture and a letter to identify the unit. Unit strength, movement, etc. are NOT printed on the counter. You are supposed to keep track of the movement rate by looking it up in the book. Obviously, printing it on the counter was too difficult. To make matters worse, you have to keep track of the unit strengths on a piece of paper. This game would have worked better with multi-step units.
Player aid cards contain the offensive/defensive spell grid, combat results table, current spell grid and spellbinder points section. I feel it would have been better if the terrain effects chart was also printed on the player aid card.
The basic sequence of play is:
1. Magical Combat
2. Regular Combat
The movement and regular combat are pretty much just “typical” wargame mechanics so I won’t waste time explaining those. What makes this game different is the magical combat.
Magic combat can be done between wizards or from a wizard directed at an enemy army unit. There are 6 defensive spells and 6 offensive spells. The defensive spells are used to reduce the effectiveness of an enemy’s offensive spell. Four of the offensive spells do damage to an enemy, but the regeneration and spellbinder spells have special effects. Regeneration gives hit points back to one of your army units, while spellbinder can only be used once and gives you back all your spellbinder points.
Spellbinder points are used by wizards to pay for spells. If a wizard falls to zero spellbinder points, he is transported back to his castle along with his army. He can regain 1 point per turn in his castle by doing nothing. If a wizard falls to less than zero spellbinder points, both he and his army are immediately defeated. What is strange about this game is wizards can only be harmed by other wizards. There is no mechanic for army units to attack or damage a wizard. You can surround an enemy wizard with your entire army and they can’t lay a finger on him.
Wizards can cast a spell against another wizard or an army unit. If an enemy wizard is in range, he can cast a defensive spell. The opposing players choose their spell and spend up to 10 spellbinder points. Next, they reveal their intentions and the two spells are cross-referenced on offensive/defensive spell table. A result of NE completely cancels the offensive spell. Numeric results are the base number of hit points destroyed. The offensive wizard’s spellbinder points are added to the base hit points destroyed and the defensive wizards spellbinder points are removed from it to give the total number of hit points destroyed. Essentially, you are trying to guess what spell your opponents are going to use so you can cancel it or limit its effectiveness.
The first scenario has the players trying to take the castle in the center of the map, which is guarded by neutral forces. Each player’s forces start in their own stronghold. Players get victory points by either taking this castle, enemy strongholds or ending the game in certain hexes. This scenario lasts 20 turns, but many of the turns consist only of movement, since the movement rate is so slow.
Scenarios two and three have a different setup than scenario one, but the victory points are calculated the same way. I only played the first scenario, so will not comment on two and three.
The campaign game consists of playing the three scenarios in order, where each army starts where it left off. If a player starts a new scenario with a castle, his forces regain hit points and his wizard regains his spellbinder points. The campaign is won when one wizard exiles or destroys all the opposing wizards.
Playing this game with just 2 players felt like playing an old wargame with some unusual magic rules. It wasn’t particularly interesting and the movement rate of the units seemed too slow. The 3-4 player game is better since alliances can be created, but in a 3-player game the 2 players who ally are essentially guaranteed to get more victory points than the guy without an ally, so why should he keep playing once the other 2 players form an alliance? I don’t regret learning to play this game, but I don’t feel I’ll ever play it again in the future. It’s an ok game, but there’s nothing about it that’s interesting enough to draw me back again. I collect microgames from the late 1970’s and 1980’s so this will help me complete my collection.
View the components in the unboxing video below: