White Wizard Games was founded by the folks behind some of the best collectable card games in the world. It just makes sense that they make some of the best duelling card games out there, and their latest card game Sorcerer is no exception.
Sorcerer is a hybrid card and board game where players mash together three preset decks to build their character and then battle over three areas of Victorian London using some board game elements.
Disclosure: 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. White Wizard games was cool enough to provide me with a review copy of Sorcerer.
What comes in a box of the card game Sorcerer?
Sorcerer was designed by Peter Scholtz, Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle. It features art from Jan Drenovec, Alena Kubíková, Vašek Pěnčík, Peter Scholtz, and Pavel Širůček. It was kickstarted in 2019 and published the same year by White Wizard Games.
To best see what you get when you crack open Sorcerer for the first time I recommend watching our Sorcerer unboxing video.
The first thing I noticed when opening the box was the amount of artwork on the inside cover of the box. It looks like a velvet-lined box with this great burgundy colour. I later learned that the box top is meant to act as a dice tray when you are playing. A nice touch.
The rulebook is on top, covering punch boards with lots and lots of little counters and tokens and some nice dividers for the cards. Next, are four rather solid player boards covering a plastic box insert. This insert has a ton of room for cards, way more than you get in this box. In this, I found the location tiles, the dice, some cubes, and some glass bead style counters.
The location tiles and the player boards are two-sided. One side offering a generic occult theme and the other offering an Egyptian theme. The game includes four location tiles, three being in London and the other featuring some messed up demon world place. Player boards have the mana bars flipped on them so this may be useful for left-handed players. All of these are mounted boards and of significant thickness. This isn’t just thin cardstock.
The dice include some custom dice and a D8. The D8 is oversized and easy to read, which is nice as it may get rolled each turn to determine how much power each player gets so it’s important that all players can read it. The custom dice are D6. The sides include Blank x2, Pentacle x1, One Skull x2, Two Skulls x1. There are seven of these which is the maximum you can throw on one roll.
The cards are packaged in those nice easy to open packs and there are a lot of them. There are three types of decks: Character, Lineage and Domain. In the base game, you get four different decks of each type. The information on the cards is very clear and easy to read. All special abilities are defined right on the cards so there’s no need to look up keywords in a book while playing. The card quality is excellent.
The one thing I do want to note here is the artwork. While Sorcerer has some fantastic artwork, this is not a happy friendly kids game. You are playing necromancers and demonologists and summoning horrible minions to do horrible things and the artwork reflects this. This artwork is going to turn off some players and may not be something you want your kids to be subject to.
The other thing that is important to note is that this isn’t any type of collectable card game. Everyone who buys Sorcerer gets the same twelve decks of cards with all of the same cards in them.
The remaining bits, the counters and such, are all decent quality. No complaints here. There are counters for tracking things, some standees to represent the characters, a first player token, etc.
What’s all this about a hybrid board/card game in Sorcerer?
Sorcerer from White Wizard games is at its core a two-player duelling card game. Similar to many games that came before it, the most famous being Magic The Gathering.
At the start of the game, players are going to pick one deck from each of the three types; a Character, a Lineage and a Domain. They are then going to take the top skill cards off of each deck and mash the rest of the cards together to form a play deck.
Each player takes a player board where they have a spot to place their deck, track their starting energy, store any omens they earn and track how many actions they have left. Action and energy tracking is done using glass beads. Three location boards are placed out between the players. These are the battlegrounds that this duel will be fought over. A player wins by destroying two of the three battlegrounds in play.
At the start of the game, players get a hand of cards (with a mulligan rule for if a player draws a hand with no minions in it) and some starting energy.
Each round has four phases. The Ready Phase, the Action Phase, the Battle Phase and an End of Round Phase.
In the ready phase first player swaps. All cards that were exhausted (tapped) last round are readied (untapped). The first player then has a choice to either give all players four energy or to roll the D8 to determine how much everyone gets. Each player’s action tracker re-sets to six. Each player gets one omen token (used to re-roll dice). Finally, players get to decide where they want to focus this next round. They do this by placing their player token on one of the active battlefields that are set up between the players.
In the Action Phase, players put cards into play, gain energy and move their units around on the battlefield. The possible actions include:
Channel Energy – The player gains two energy.
Meditate – Draw two cards. (Note this is the only way to draw cards except through another card effect. There is no replenishing your hand at the start or end of your turn).
Cast a Spell – Spend energy to put a card in play. Each card has a cost listed at the top left.
Activate a Power – Some cards, including your Character, Domain and Lineage cards, can have powers listed on them. To use these powers you must spend an action.
Reinforce – This action lets you move your minions around on the board. Movement is limited to moving from one location to an adjacent one unless the unit being moved has flying.
After players are out of actions the game moves to the Battle Phase.
The order battlefields are resolved in is based on who the first player is, with the defender generally getting a small advantage. In turn, players are going to pick one minion to attack with. This exhausts (taps) the minion. For every power the minion has the player will roll one die. Omens can then be spent to re-roll one or more dice at the cost of one omen per die. The attacker gets priority on this.
Results are resolved with the defender assigning damage from hits (skulls) and the attacker assigning damage from crits (pentacles). Damage can be placed on a minion or a site. When a minion’s damage matches its defence it is removed from play. Once a site takes twelve damage the team that caused the damage wins that site. The site is flipped over and that player now only needs one more site to win. If this was their second site claimed they win instantly.
Attacking goes back and forth until all minions have attacked or the player passes choosing not to attack with a minion. Battle now moves to the next active site and this phase ends when battles at all three sites have been resolved.
Along with all of this you have a ton of card effects. This is a card-driven exception-based game. What I’ve listed above are the basics but all of these things can and will be modified by the cards in play. Each of the different lineages also gives the player some unique ability that makes them very distinct from the others. One has minions that light things on fire, another is a vampire and can gain and spend blood to enhance their minions and so on.
While the game was designed for two players it can be played with more. There is a three-player variant where players place a location between each pair of players and players win by taking out the locations on each side of them. This mode can be extended to up to six players if you pick up more player boards. There are also four and six-player team play rules included with the base rules, though you will need two sets to play with six players. Like in the base game, during a team game players work together to take over two locations. More minions can be at each location, and there are some interesting mechanics for determining which player gets to act next.
What did I think of Sorcerer from White Wizard Games
I first got to try Sorcerer at Origins 2019 where one of the designers, Rob Dougherty, taught me the game. I have to say that Rob’s enthusiasm and obvious love of the game immediately sold me on it. I left that demo thinking that even if White Wizard wasn’t willing to give me a review copy of this game by the end of the weekend, I’m still taking one home.
Once getting the game home and getting some more plays in, I’m happy to say I still feel the same. I wouldn’t have been at all disappointed with Sorcerer had I paid full price for it.
Sorcerer is an excellent two-player duelling card game that does some cool stuff I haven’t really seen before. The first highlight is the very cool deck building system, where you pick three different decks and mash them together to make your play deck, which reminds me of Smash Up. This system a great middle ground between games where you need to make your own decks from scratch, like Magic, and games that just have pre-set decks, like Keyforge.
The next thing I really liked was the board game elements that are included in this game. The three location boards, having to decide where your character is focusing each turn, the ability to roll dice for energy generation and the very dice based combat system, are all great elements.
At first, I was worried about how random the combat system might be but I’ve found over many plays that there are plenty of things that can mitigate that randomness. This varies from actual minion abilities, to attachments that give bonuses and penalties, and the use and importance of Omens and knowing when to use them. While luck has been a factor in every game, I’ve never felt that I got totally screwed over by the dice. Sure it happened in this one battle, but over a full game, I’ve found the dice to be both a bane and a boon pretty much equally.
Another thing I dig in this game is the unique theme. I’ve always dug the whole demons and demonology thing going back to the Warhammer Realm of Chaos books. I dig the dark theme and creepy artwork. That said I won’t be playing this game with my kids any time soon. It’s way too much for either of them both visually and thematically, even though I’m sure Ms Twelve is more than capable of playing.
Sorcerer isn’t perfect. The biggest failing it has is the fact that it’s basically a two-player game. While there are rules for playing with more players, and I fully understand the folly of releasing a two-player only board game nowadays, I think in this case they should have just stuck with two. While the four-player team based game works well enough, I found that I disliked the three-player version and this sentiment was shared by the other players I tried it with.
Any other issues I saw with the game were tied to the type of game it is. These are things that are true of any two-player duelling card game. A player that knows the game and knows the cards is going to beat a player that is new to the game. The first few plays of this game players are going to be lost and the game time is going to be at least twice as long as expected due to everyone having to read the cards for the first time. The true joy in the game is discovering card combinations and taking advantage of them and that’s a skill that not everyone has.
Overall I really dig Sorcerer, as a two-player game. Personally, I quit playing Magic The Gathering quite a long time ago, but this may be just the game to convince someone to get out of the collectable card game rut. For me, this is one of the best modern two-player duelling card games on the market now. In the past when I might have reached for ASHES or Star Realms, I’m now reaching for Sorcerer.
Do you enjoy two-player duelling card games? What’s your favourite? Did you ever find a replacement for Magic? And if so, what was it?