My kids are big Harry Potter fans and when I heard that The Op was putting out a gateway worker-placement board game with a Harry Potter theme I jumped at a chance to check it out.
Harry Potter House Cup Competion is just that, a light, intro-level, family friendly worker-placement boardgame where players representing each of the four Hogwarts houses face off by completing challenges in order to win the House Cup.
Disclosure: I have to thank The Op for sending us a review copy of House Cup Competition. Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What is Harry Potter House Cup Competition about?
Harry Potter: House Cup Competition was designed by Nate Heiss and Kami Mandell. It features artwork by Delaney Mamer. This Harry Potter themed board game was published in 2020 by The Op who are known for their other Wizarding World themed games like Harry Potter Hogwart’s Battle. House Cup Competition plays two to four players with the average game being about an hour and a half long.
In House Cup Competition each player leads one of the four Hogwart’s houses, sending their three students to various locations and classes to improve their skill level in three areas and collect magic and knowledge tokens. These are traded in to complete challenges and earn points for their house. The house with the most points by the end of the semester wins the House Cup and the game.
For a piece-by-piece look at what you get in the box for this game check out our Harry Potter: House Cup Competition unboxing video on YouTube.
The only thing I think needs to be called out here is one highlight and one disappointment in regards to game components.
The highlight is the House Cup hourglass display piece, which you build out of cardboard and that holds four plastic test tube-like vials each with its own cork stopper. To go with these you get a bunch of small plastic gems in the four Hogwarts house colours.
The display is used to track your score during the game, with players putting gems into the appropriate tubes when they score points during the game.
This not only looks fantastic, but it’s also a great way to quickly look over and get a good idea of what everyone’s current score is without knowing the exact numbers. This helps reduce the chance of any Kingmaking.
These two symbols are extremely similar. They aren’t just hard to tell apart from across the table, I’ve messed this up with cards I’m holding in my own hand. I really wish the icons were less similar and also featured some colour or something else to differentiate them.
How is Harry Potter House Cup Competition played?
To start a game of Harry Potter House Cup Competition, the main board is placed in the centre of the table and players each pick a house to play.
They then collect the Common Room player board for the appropriate house, nine-level trackers which they place on this board at level one for each class for each of their three students, two basic lesson cards and two knowledge tokens. The second, third and fourth players get some additional starting resources.
The Basic Lessons are shuffled and placed on the board with three of them flipped face up to form a marketplace. The same thing is done for the Advanced Lessons, the Easy Challenges and the Hard Challenges.
The game is played over seven rounds in which players will complete lessons, send their three students out to locations on the main playing board, collect resources and level up in their skills in three different classes and hopefully complete challenges to earn points for their house.
Phase One: Classes
Optional, Learn A Lesson: Play a lesson card from your hand to gain the benefit on the card. Each lesson card has a class requirement and can only be played if you have a student with the appropriate class levels. Each student is ranked in three different classes, Charms, Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts. These levels are tracked on your Common Room board.
Lessons provide things like gaining levels in one or more of the three classes and/or gaining resources like Magic or Knowledge. A small number of lessons will also award house points, which are tracked by placing one scoring token into your scoring vial for every ten points earned. This can be done before or after you Place a Student.
Place A Student: Place one of your student tokens onto a worker placement spot on the board. Take the reward shown on that spot. Most spots on the board can only hold one student. Rewards include Magic, Knowledge, levelling up in one or more of the three classes or the ability to take cards from one of the four markets.
Cards include Lessons that I just mentioned and Challenges, which I will get to in a minute. There is also a spot that lets you take the first player during the next round.
Most of the worker placement spots are permanent and the same for every game. Location cards add a number of random worker placement spots that change every game. At the start of the game, only one location is unlocked but more will become available as the game progresses. Some locations will feature class requirements and you can’t place a student onto one of these unless they have the appropriate levels in the appropriate classes. Locations may also have a knowledge cost and you will have to spend knowledge tokens gained earlier in order to use that spot.
Phase Two: Challenges
Each turn you may attempt to complete a maximum of two challenges. Either two easy challenges or one easy and one hard challenge. Challenges are represented by cards that you have to obtain by attending the right classes with your students.
Each challenge lists one or more classes, a minimum level for each of those classes and two rewards. One of the rewards is always a number of house points. To complete a challenge you must select a set of your students whose total levels in their classes meets or exceeds the class level(s) listed on the challenge card. You must use at least one student for each challenge and can use up to all three of your students on a single challenge. No one student can be used to complete two different challenges.
When completing challenges you also have the option of spending Magic. Magic is a resource earned from some lessons and worker placement spots. Each magic token spent counts as one level in any class for completing the challenge it is spent on and that challenge only. Magic is not a permanent increase in class level. You must also spend magic if you want to advance any of your student’s class skill to level five or higher. This is a one time cost per student per class.
At the end of each round players retrieve their students, advance the round tracker one space and also reveal a new location card if it happens to be round two, four or six.
At the end of the seventh round, you complete end game scoring.
You get ten points per gem in your house’s hourglass, ten points per class skill you have managed to advance to level seven, and ten points for each pair of magic and knowledge tokens you have left at the end of the game. The player with the most point wins the house cup.
The game includes a detailed glossary explaining how each lesson card works, what each game board location represents and what they provide, and the details of each of the location cards.
Is Harry Potter House Cup Competition a Worker Placement Game?
At this point, I’m pretty sure all of the long-time hobby gamers reading this are already thinking: this sounds like a very basic, rather pure, worker placement game, and they would be totally right. That’s exactly what Harry Potter House Cup Competition is.
Lords of Waterdeep has often been called the ultimate gateway worker placement game and I can’t help compare this game to that. I think House Cup is actually an even simpler, more pure worker placement game. One which, in many ways, is as good as or better than Lords of Waterdeep at presenting these tried and true mechanics.
The entire game of Harry Potter House Cup Competition is about sending your workers out to get resources and improve their skills so you can compete for challenges. It features a slow steady growth engine-building system where the more lessons you complete and the more classes you attend the harder the lessons you will be able to complete and the more challenges you can accomplish, starting off with easy ones and moving up to harder ones.
The trick to the game is doing this as efficiently as possible, and that’s actually surprisingly harder than you think. Despite being what I think is a lighter overall game than Lords of Waterdeep, I also find that this game features more potential analysis paralysis as players try to figure out the most efficient way to earn those House Cup Points.
Right from turn one of the games you need to look at what challenges are face up on the board and try to figure out a way to complete at least one, if not two, in the first round. Then every round going forward your goal is going to be similar, trying to make sure you can complete the maximum number of challenges and trying to get to those hard level challenges as quickly as possible.
To do this you are going to have to be very strategic with picking your lessons and levelling up your students and very tactical with choosing which worker placement spots to take.
Overall this leads to what is a very simple to teach the game that uses well-known mechanics in very pure ways but that combines them in a way that leads to surprisingly deep gameplay. I was shocked by this the first time I played Harry Potter Houe Cup Competition and still continue to be impressed by this depth every time I get the game to the table.
Here we have a game that my youngest daughter can play, that features a theme she loves, but which is deep enough to keep someone like me, who prefers heavier games, fully engaged.
There are some elements of the game that I think could be improved. For one the overall look and aesthetic is very boring. I expect something more from a game with a Harry Potter theme than a board filled with a bunch of rectangles, many of which are stuffed with icons. It doesn’t help that a couple of those icons are so similar that we continue to mess them up (as I mentioned earlier). The only actual artwork in the game is on the location cards and on the student tokens, that’s it. For a licence with such a great visual history, this seems like a shame to me.
The other disappointment is just how little the theme here really matters. This is the same problem that Lords of Waterdeep has, as do a number of other worker placement games. I’m pretty sure you could re-theme this game to almost any other licence without any effect on the gameplay at all. It feels like I’m putting a token on a spot on a board and collecting two tokens not sending Harry Potter to Professor Snape’s Defense Against the Dark Arts class. The same goes for the challenges. It feels like I am collecting point for having the right levels in various skills, not Assembling Dumbledore’s Army.
House Cup Competition plays extremely well at all three player counts, working surprisingly well at only two players. We did find that with four players the game runs a bit longer than the box indicates due to the amount of planning required, with a couple of our games reaching the two hour mark . Our first game with four players took significantly longer, but that was with the kids learning the game.
I have really enjoyed every single play I’ve had of Harry Potter House Cup Competition. This is a very solid game and a great example of the worker placement mechanic being used in a rather pure way. The Harry Potter theme may not be as well integrated as I would like and there are definitely some graphic choices that I think could be improved, but this game is still worth checking out. Especially if you have a Harry Potter fan in your family or game group. Even for non-Harry Potter fans, this is an excellent gateway worker placement game that would be perfect for introducing new players to that genre.
What shocked me the most though about House Cup Competition is just how engaging it is for fans of heavier games like myself. While featuring gateway family friendly level rules, winning this game takes a surprising level of strategy and tactics.
I always love when I’m pleasantly surprised by a board game. That’s exactly what happened with Harry Potter House Cup Competition. While I expected to enjoy it, I didn’t expect to find nearly as much depth as there is in this game. I thought it was going to be something light I play with my kids not a game that Deanna and I would enjoy playing against each other.
The other recent game that was a pleasant surprise for me was Funfair from Good Games Publishing, which you can read about in my review. What was your most recent board gaming pleasant surprise? Tell us about it in the comments.