Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle – Defence Against the Dark Arts not only has an insanely long title it has also just been released by publisher The OP (previously USAopoly). Designed by Kami Mandell and Andrew Wolf, the game sees 2 players dueling for around 45 minutes. Unlike Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle, this is a competitive deck building game – with allies, items and spells all being used to stun your opponent. However, would you rather encounter a death eater than play? Let’s find out!
The aim of the duel is to force your opponent backwards until stunning them, whilst avoiding being stunned yourself. On a turn the active player plays their hand of up to 5 cards in any order they wish. Being a deck builder, along the way players will acquire new cards to make the objective easier to succeed at. Each player starts with an identical same set of 9 basic cards and a pet. While there are other effects the starter cards represent the core actions.
Each player starts with 7 Alohomora cards, gaining a single coin when played. Summing up the total coin count players can use these coins to purchase new cards from the 4 face up in the classroom or a book from the library. These coins do not carry over from one turn to the next, with any unspent are simply lost. Purchased cards are not automatically added to your hand, instead are placed into your discard pile. Both players also starts with 2 items: a wand, which grants a lightning bolt attack symbol, and a cauldron, which offers players either a coin or a heart. For each attack symbol played you shift your opponent one step towards their stun point on the tracker. For each heart played you regain health, moving one step away from your stun point – towards the center of the board.
The pet is the first way players can differ deck wise. Three are available ranging from a toad that gives one heart per turn to an owl that allows coins to be stored between rounds. Both players can choose the same or different pets. These are ally cards, the first of the type that players will encounter. While other cards once played go into the discard pile allies stay in play until removed by card effects. Some simply see an effect trigger while others require something to happen, such as three spells being played, before triggering. Future allies also come with a house, with players having chosen one house at the start of the game. Houses are used to trigger bonus effects on select cards, with the player needing to match either an in-play ally or their own house symbol to trigger the bonus effect.
A range of new abilities becomes available when playing purchased cards. These could see hexes added into your opponents discard pile, the ability to draw new cards or even banish cards – removing them permanently from either your deck or the classroom shop. Once a player has finished their turn non-ally cards are added to their discard pile. A new hand of 5 cards is then drawn from their draw pile. While this runs out but more cards need to be drawn the player shuffles their discard pile to form a new draw pile. This is how purchased and used cards, and hexes, get into the players deck and have the potential to be drawn.
The game continues back and forth, with each player taking a turn until one is stunned. At this point all cards a player has, including in-play allies, are shuffled and a new round begins, with both players starting back at the middle of the tracker. In Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle – Defence Against the Dark Arts the aim is to stun your opponent three times, doing so grants you the victory.
The deck of potential cards is huge. From one game to the next different spell and items will surface, taking a few games to see all the cards due to shuffling. This makes for great replayability but does remove the ability for strategic planning. With cards from the randomised deck filling the classroom market players must reach to the best available options. There is little point going into a duel thinking about spamming hex dealing cards, if few become available. It would have been nice to include a couple of other always available cards such as books, to allow this a little bit more.
Having bonus effects on the cards based upon houses is a great way to add an additional layer of choice. It means that the ideal action is not always clear between passing up on a solid ally of a house already obtained against a less useful ally to gain an additional house symbol. The size of deck players build up over three rounds can be huge, with bloated decks a bit of a problem players must try to avoid. The bonus effects help to make specific cards more exciting, as they feel more powerful when played. This is key to making each turn feel productive and not wasted.
The random order cards come out of the huge deck is always going to add a bit of luck to the game balance. Though there are a few balance oddities. The toad pet does seem to start the player building towards an almost unbeatable health recovering machine. What makes this more noticeable is that players can comfortably shorten the game by neither picking the toad. Another oddity is the swing of Hexes, which will be impactful in one game and worthless in another. Mostly due to the ability to banish cards from your discard pile, which sees them disappear before impacting you.
The OP has missed a bit of a trick with Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle – Defence Against the Dark Arts. For better and worse the game is completely stand alone. New players can come in and play from the get go, without ever playing Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle. This is ideal for those whom skipped the original but having no crossover whatsoever is disappointing. Perhaps the way the Century series of games combine to offer other modes has skewed perception. Still, it would be nice for those that own both to at least have some ability to mix – even if it was just a handful of hexes or allies that worked with both.
Art work wise the game features a mixture of stills from the films and illustrations on the cards. The mixture feels natural though, so they don’t look out of place when in hand next to each other. The cardboard chits for health and damage are decent quality but are unnecessary – more so than in the original. These can be instantly determined by moving the house standees on the tracker, so don’t need to be collected. The tracker board is fine for the job, though could have featured a more inspiring design.
The theming comes through as a result of the artwork used. Nevertheless, there are some elements that you shouldn’t think too deeply into. Being practise duels it makes sense that players can be the same house dueling each other. However, it makes less sense when allies such as Draco or Goyle start helping members of any non-Slytherin house, just because they played an item. Ignore this and the allies stop being their iconic characters and merely abilities, somewhat to the detriment of the game.
Be warned Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle – Defence Against the Dark Arts is a direct conflict title. Players are purely aiming to help themselves and hinder their opponent, with no other way to knock an opponent back until they become stunned. Some players will not like this cutthroat approach to a 2 player game, there is no playing your own game. Despite the thrill of the competitiveness, the cooperative big brother (Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle) is easier to get to the table with more people. More in the sense of a larger group of people are happier to play cooperatively and having the option to play with a higher player count. Whilst Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle – Defence Against the Dark Arts might not be for everyone, the series is still work looking into.