19th Feb2021

‘Black Rose Wars’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

I have always been a bit of a sucker for a thematic game that links mechanical gameplay with the storyline of each turn as it unfolds. In Black Rose Wars, each of up to four players acts as a mages seeking the favour of the titular black rose – an artifact of tremendous power. As each turn unfolds, the mages will cast spells and summon powerful allies to gain power, doing battle with each other, completing quests and destroying rooms as they go.

Black Rose Wars is one of those games that has an insane number of pieces and which looks incredibly complex on the face of it, but actually it’s not too bad. I say this because it’s a game that has a simple turn structure and straightforward objectives, but it gives you a lot of ways to achieve your goals. A players first few games will be spent learning the ways in which their mage can interact with the game world – and how best to use the dizzying number of spells (belonging to six different schools) to best effect.

These spells are the heart of Black Rose Wars‘ gameplay, and up to four can be cast on each turn. At the beginning of each game round, the players will perform some housekeeping – including setting out a new event and progressing those already in play, but most importantly, during the study phase, they will draw four new spells (from any school) and keep two in their hand, discarding the others. The players may then place up to four of these spells in either of their two orientations (regular or inverted) face down into the three “regular” spaces on their player board. One final spell can be placed into a fourth Quick Spell space.

Also on their player board, each player has two “Physical Actions” which allow them to move up to two spaces and then activate a room (for a benefit) or to move and attack for two basic damage. Why would you do this? Well, it’s simple – let’s talk more about those objectives again. Firstly, as players cast spells and deal damage to both rooms and each other, they will place cubes in their colour into slotted spaces on whatever they damage. In this way, as rooms and mages accrue damage over various turns, the amount of damage each player has personally inflicted can easily be tracked.

When a room reaches its damage – or instability – limit, it is destroyed. The modular nature of the board means that at this point it is flipped over, and the token that was placed on it (which would previously have been flipped each time a player activated it) would be claimed by the player who did the most damage. Similarly, when a player reaches their health limit and is defeated (sending them back to their starting room) then the player who dealt the most damage overall will take a trophy from them. Other players contributing damage to either rooms or players will also gain power.

The other key way to gain power is to complete quests, one of which will be drawn at the beginning of each round – and many of which will likely be drawn over the course of the rounds themselves. Quests range in complexity and much like events, get more complex and powerful as the game goes on. There are four decks associated with both quests and events, and as the player power level increases, new phases of the moon will introduce new decks. Similarly, as events enter play, progress and then leave play, the black rose itself will gain power – should it ever reach 30 before any player does, then all players lose the game.

Having said all this, we haven’t even discussed spells – the real meat of the game. With objectives as simple as “activate a grey room” or “deal X damage to any model” there’s always some guiding force, but until at least the late or midgame when you really need to achieve some of the more complex or challenging objectives, you’ll mostly want to set up your spells in sequence to deal with your opponents. A player turn consists of two actions, which can include doing both their physical actions (flipping the tokens) or casting a quick action, or a stored spell. There are several other things a player can do, but the only action you can’t do two of in the same turn is cast standard spells.

When you do cast a spell, you’ll flip it upwards so that the activated “end” has its text orientated correctly, and you’ll then take the described action. The six schools of magic include necromancy, destruction, illusion and so on, and each deck is surprisingly large and varied and of course – only you will know which specific spells you’ve placed in each slot. To make this even more interesting, your three standard spells must be placed in sequence – left to right. Only your Quick Spell can be used out of this sequence, so it’s a great place to put a spell that might allow you to make an opportunistic attack on another player, or steal the last few hits on a damaged room.

It’s hard to describe the full variety of different spells and how they impact the game in the brevity required for a review, and it’s also fair to say that you’ll never see all of the ones from each deck in a single game – perhaps even several games. Many spells deal damage directly, whilst others create traps, summon creatures, or permanently enchant rooms to change the way that they behave. One of my favourites is an illusion spell that deals a load of damage, but if the target model isn’t killed this turn, that damage is healed – because the damage isn’t real, see? This kind of thematic, mechanical creativity can be found all over Black Rose Wars, and it really helps to elevate the gameplay.

The rooms, cards and tokens add to the overall look and feel that bring this mysterious lodge to life – every detail is captured perfectly. In the base retail version that I’m reviewing, there are only four miniatures (one for each player character) with the summonable creatures represented by tokens (but still counting as models for the purpose of spells.) As a big budget Kickstarter, Black Rose Wars already has a huge number of expansions available for it, including miniatures that can replace those different tokens I just mentioned. Let me tell you this; I like this game so much that I’m already thinking about how I can get my hands on the whole collection.

Wrapping up, Black Rose Wars looks fantastic even in this base form, but the expansions and additional miniatures are available to make the experience truly breath-taking. The look and quality of the presentation is fully endorsed by the excellent gameplay, and again, the mechanics link into the theme and the presentation superbly. Despite the literal tons of components and large number of different tokens and cards, the systems here are simple enough to learn and remember in a few sittings. With that said, it takes several games to unlock Black Rose Wars secrets, and I don’t know if it’s ever possible to master it, given the amount of variety in the base game alone.

**** 4/5

A copy of Black Rose Wars was supplied for review by Ares Games. For more info check out https://ludusmagnusstudio.com/black-rose-wars/

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