The Cardboard Hoard: Initial Thoughts on House Rivalry
I was only able to get a preview copy of New World Magiscola House Rivalry when the Kickstarter campaign was already underway, so I wasn’t able to play it enough to give it a full review, but I did want to give some impressions after my one play for anyone considering backing the game.
The copy I received had prototype components and no box, but I want to mention a few notable things about the finished components I did receive.
The artwork on the character cards, the rule book, and the player mats was charming and evocative, and did a lot to help sell the magical school theme. The player mats were laid out well, allowing us to play our first game with few references to the rule book. The tarot-sized course, club, and conjure cards allowed for a lot of information to be present without feeling cluttered, and left room to hold the grade and time cubes without obscuring the pertinent details on the cards.
My one component issue was with the scoring track, which is a hexagon shaped board that spiraled counter-clockwise toward the center, and made the score hard to see at a glance and a bit fiddly to update.
In House Rivalry, players are students at the New World Magischola wizard school, competing to score the most points by completing courses and clubs, and casting conjures. The game ends either when a player reaches 100 points, or completes their required course, three additional courses, and two clubs.
Every turn, the players will simultaneously select from three actions -- the first allows them to take new cards, the second allows them to play conjure cards, and the third allows them to manipulate the time cubes on their existing courses. Not only do players get to do their own action each turn, they also get a minor version of their opponents’ chosen actions.
The courses all take different amounts of times to complete, and are worth differing amounts of points, depending on the grade earned. Players will try to boost their grades for each course as they remove that course's time cubes. When the last time cube is taken off, that course is completed, and scores, regardless if the player is happy with their grade. Courses also have symbols on the side, such as skulls and moons, which will give bonuses or detriments depending on their chosen house, character, and other enrolled courses and clubs.
We played with three players, and it was the first game of House Rivalry for all involved. We were able to get into the flow of our simultaneous selections -- taking our actions and reaction actions, and getting our course engines running, fairly quickly. We found the game to be on the lighter side, with considerable randomness due to the drawing of cards off four decks. The Magischola cards added unique events at the end of each round, and helped to sell the whimsical magical school theme. The conjure cards added an element of take-that to the game, but we more often than not found it more efficient to use our actions to further our own goals over sabotaging the goals of others. Of course, I am sure that is quite group dependent.
Very early in the game, I drew the ‘Debate Club’ card, which did negatively affect the flow of our game, as it penalized me for not prefacing everything I said with “wrong.” Of course, since I was teaching the game, this became problematic rather quickly. There are other cards of this sort in the club deck as well, such as the ‘Sign of the Arrow,’ which does not allow the player to say “I, me, or my,” but I spoke to the publisher, and they are considering marking those cards so they can be easily removed in the case of a teaching game, or with a group that does not enjoy that kind of gameplay element.
The game took just under an hour to play, excluding setting up the boards and components. While we didn’t find any groundbreaking innovations or unique new mechanisms in House Rivalry, it blended existing board game mechanisms with a strong magical school theme that will attract fans of JK Rowling, Lev Grossman, Ursula LeGuin, Rick Riordan, and more. Importantly, the game was easy to learn and teach, giving it a low barrier to entry, and allowing non-gamers that are interested in the magical theme an entryway into the hobby of modern board gaming.
The New World Magischola House Rivalry Kickstarter campaign can be found here.
Full disclosure: I received a preview copy of New World Magiscola House Rivalry from the publisher.