I have a very clear memory of reading the final Harry Potter book, and thinking that the Battle of Hogwarts would actually make a rather good miniature game. Now, ten years on, Knight Models have heard me, it seems.
So how does the Harry Potter Miniature Game (HPMG) shape up? Well lucky for you we’re going to take a detailed look at the game and the models, both for experienced and novice gamers. In this, I’ll be helped as usual by my personal house elves (age 11 and 8), some non-gamer kids, and with a bit of luck a non-gaming Potter fangirl (aka The Wife).
Read on until the end, and you can even win a Potter Prize!
UNBOXING THE PRODUCT
Let’s start with what you get when you open it up from its lovely tin. You get:
- 13 resin miniatures (Harry, Ron, Hermione, 4 Death Eaters, Acromantula [Aragog] and 5 Acromantula swarms)
- Three double-sided game boards.
- 9 Character cards.
- 10 Potion cards.
- 10 Artefact cards.
- 40 Adventure cards
- 20 cardboard Tokens.
- 20 spell cards.
- 20 Quest cards.
- 16 Event cards.
- 25 Campaign cards
- 6 custom dice.
- 7 30mm plastic bases.
- Campaign deck.
- Assembly instructions.
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Let’s begin with the negative: the quality of the cardstock. Costs have clearly been saved here, as the cardstock feels painfully thin. I may be wrong but it feels double, rather than the standard triple, layered (much like the spell cards from BMG’s Book of Magic). Likewise, whilst there are a *lot* of cards, the card stock of the tokens is very thin, not feeling at all durable – and I’m sorry but any high-end board game I’ve ever played prides itself on decent quality tokens. The board overlays are also very thin – of the same cardstock, not board thickness. Then again, even the boards are not the most rugged in the world. Perhaps I’m being excessively picky, but this a £90 retail game, after all. If you weren’t already going to, make sure you get some decent quality card sleeves (100 standard, though you’ll have a couple spare, and 100 small American, as you need 60 and they come in packs of 50).
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On the other hand, it contains some of the most astonishing models you’ve ever seen. They are, and this is no exaggeration, exquisite. The sculpts are dynamic and characterful, Harry mid-cast, Ron slouching about, and Hermione in a storm of spell and scarf. But the Death Eaters are likewise great, imposing and imperious – I particularly like the female in heels, which feels remarkably sturdy also. Because these are very delicate models, which is the flip side.Though the robes make them feel generally solid, the wands are tiny and brittle. I do worry about potential snapping, and highly recommend some foam for storage (I’m waiting for some smart company to make an insert for the tin).
Clean-up on the figs is easy, very little in the way of mould lines or tabs, though some clipping of sprue from the casting process is required. They’re well thought-out models, also, not exceedingly fiddly to build (with the possible exception of Hermione): in the spirit of research, I got the kids to it, and aside from the usual fears arising from small children and Superglue, they were fine. The only slightly tricky models were the mono cast Death Eater, oddly ( because of flash on the base tab, but easily cleaned up with a sharp knife) and Ron, who inexplicably did not want to be stuck on to his legs.
A little note on washing. There’s no requirement to give them a warm soapy water bath to remove release agent prior to painting, and I’ve seen them painted up beautifully without the need to do so. But I would still recommend it, just to be on the safe side.
Back to the models, as you also get Acromantula swarms and a big ‘un (Aragog, in other words). The swarms are great, the big Acromantula is… fine. Honestly? Give me one MAHOOSIVE spider and card tokens for the swarms – or better yet, have better quality tokens all round, and don’t give us spider models. My other criticism of the models is, for all that the Hermione sculpt is impressive and dynamic (and looks like Emma Watson) it doesn’t feel that much like her, with its oddly balletic pose and giant scarf that would put The Doctor to shame.
This game has Mark Latham written all over it (even though he wasn’t the lead designer): if you’ve played a recent Manticgame, you’ll see some interesting mechanical similarities. It’s IGOUGO, with 2 actions per model per turn (much like walking dead), with characters able to take 1 basic (Move/Use Potion) and 1 advanced (Attack/Cast Spell), or vice-versa. It’s also grid based movement, with characters ordinarily moving 3 squares (like Here’s Negan). Characters can purchase equipment (potions, wands etc) and spells up to their Mastery level (with most characters having an inbuilt, memorized spell also), and on their cards have their various key stats laid out.
A word about the character cards. Being standard CCG size, they’re quite cramped, particularly with the (admittedly very authentic potter-verse) aesthetic. However, this is not helped by the description in the rulebook: page 14 has a numbered card, then the labelling explanation is not till page 16 (page 15 explains the card backs). This is a ridiculous oversight that just makes the game harder to learn than is necessary: a poor layout decision that could so easily be rectified. Likewise, I would’ve liked the different card types (adventure, event, quest) clearly marked on the front. I should add though that, generally (and if I’m being completely honest, surprisingly) the rulebook is very well laid out.
All rolls are made with 3 dice (very Mantic), 3+ success, exploding 6s. I like the better than average roll success mechanic for a (sort of) kids’ game. There’s also a nice mechanic in the form of the Mystery dice: some situations add Lucky dice, where you pick the best results, and some add Jinxed dice, where you take the worst. It’s a very natural, easy, intuitive mechanic.
A digression. My old nan loved the Harry Potter books, though she never lived to book 5. However, I am reminded of a marvellous conversation (imagine Monty Python little old lady voice):
“How do owls climb trees?”
“Oooh! That explains it.”
Yes, she was happy with the bizarre and needlessly complicated answer. Bless her.
Why I am telling you this? Because in a couple of places, this game revels in needless complexity.
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Take damage tokens. To indicate a point of damage, they goYellow/red/indigo/violet, with the Deathly Hallows symbol becoming more overt. Why? Why not just number them? Or number them as well? That’s FFG levels of token fetishism: obstructive and unhelpful.
Another example is the rules for Adventure cards. At the start of each game turn, a random player draws 3 cards and they go face up. The player who activates 2nd gets to pick one. Each subsequent activation gets that model one of the remaining cards. A neat idea – it pays to go second, in some ways – but WHY the needless fiddling about with A random Player? If I seem like I’m being ridiculously picky, I just don’t see the point in unnecessary rules, especially in a game that’s (arguably) targeting non-traditional gamers.
Talking of the relative complexity of cards in the game, in addition to the character card, spells and equipment, there’s also an Event Card at the start of every turn (fair enough), 3 quest cards per player AND the reference card for whichever scenario you’re playing. All perfectly logical in their way, but that’s a lot of cardboard floating around the table.
Magic is handled with spell cards, along with all Wizard characters having an innate spell printed on their card (Expecto Patronum for Harry, for example). Characters have one or two magic points to spend casting each turn, with most spells being Neutral (useable by anyone) and Unforgivable Curses only useable by Dark Wizards. Some spells have an Upkeep cost (power every turn to keep it going) whilst all have a Countdown Clock: once cast, time taken before you can reuse. It’s a nice wee mechanic this, and the time turner tokens make it really obvious. It also encourages you to have a range of spells on your characters, to maximise efficiency.
Characters use their 4 traits – Magic, Courage, Wisdom, Temper (a poor translation of Temperament from Spanish; Determination or Willpower would be far more accurate) to solve challenges (have X of skill from your collective wizards, pass challenge), which is fairly simple, verging on the simplistic, but means the game flows well.
In the core box you get 12 different scenarios to play, based on iconic moments from the whole series, from The Forbidden Forest to the Battle of Hogwarts itself. Now not to be contentious – because I love the Death Eater models – but in the starter set, I’d’ve rather seen the Slytherins; Draco, Crabbe and Goyle, for instance, are available as a booster set. Apart from anything else, the Death Eaters feel underpowered so that they’re equivalent to the Big 3. I mean maybe a bunch of slightly crap Wizards decided that because they’re less good at magic than a 14 year old they should join the Evil One – fair enough – but still. Now actually, they’re balanced by the fact that they have 0 as their Courage rating, but that also grates – if you play Villains, there’s a full quarter of challenges you can’t solve.
Personally, I would have liked either an introductory scenario or example 50 Galleon list using the box contents (or both). There are some good introductory videos on the KM YouTube but I think it’s especially important for a game that’s targeting non-gamers to have a clear walkthru. I’d also like a reference sheet, on the back page for example. But, these are really just niggles.
Because this game genuinely exceeds all expectations.
The gameplay is solid, accessible but complex. The twin mechanics of Quests and Events mean everything is to play for right until the very end (warning: side effects – may cause tantrums if someone loses on the last turn!) Apart from anything else, with 12 different board layouts with different overlays every game, and the constantly changing quests every time, it offers a massive replay experience. This, combined with the campaign deck, allows you to develop your own Hogwarts narrative, making it a very attractive prospect indeed.
Now there are some bugs that crop up. It’s rather confusing, especially to a younger player, which death eater is which. There’s a Lack of extra impassable terrain markers when certain events occur. But the game is fast, fluid and fun. Having never played before, start to finish took us 2 hrs for an 8 turn game, but once you’ve got the hang of it you’re looking at an hour to 1 1/2 for a standard game. My only caveat would be we used the excellent cheat sheet that’s available on the HP Facebook group, which is highly recommended.
On balance, this is not just one for the Potterheads, but is certainly accessible to the non- or novice gamer. Yes, the entry cost is pretty brutal, though there are bundles available from the KM site. It’s a cracking game, really evocative of the series – who doesn’t want to wander round the Forbidden Forest yelling ‘Stupefy!’ at Death Eaters, anyway? So, it’s a definite thumbs-up from this cynical old Muggle, never mind the kids as well.
So what can you win? Well, you get another chance to win a Luna Lovegood (in her lion hat, no less), the GenConexclusive promo.
So here’s the rules:
Once you’ve done that, you can earn one competition entry for doing each of the following (maximum of six entries in total):
Entry is open worldwide, but we can only pay postage within the UK (sorry, folks) so if you are entering from outside the UK, please be aware that you’ll have to cover P&P. You also have 30 days from competition winner being announced to claim your prize.
The winner will be chosen at random from all the eligible entries when we publish our review of January releases!
So what are you waiting for? Get on it!