Spell Smashers by Renegade Game Studios
Players: 1 to 5
Playtime: 45 to 120 minutes
Perfect for: Players who enjoy wordplay in a Euro-style game format and fantasy-magic themes
Spell Smashers is a game of using lexicon (and a bit of magic!) to battle monsters and score victory points. Before we get into how the game is played here’s how the publisher, Renegade Game Studios, quickly summarizes the theme for context:
Harness the power of your vocabulary in this exciting, monster-battling, loot-collecting word game. In Spell Smashers, you combine your letter cards to spell words, smashing fearsome monsters and their even more fearsome adjectives!
In Spell Smashers, players assume control of a wizard/witch with the ability to cast spells in the form of magical words they can form using the letters on cards from their hand. On a turn, each player reveals a word and the monster they wish to combat. The cards also include an element (fire, water, earth, etc.) which may influence, positively or negatively, the amount of damage dealt. When fighting a beast, the amount of damage inflicted rewards the player with a corresponding amount of coins, the total amount of which represents the monster’s health. If all the coins are removed from a monster through a battle, the monster is vanquished and their card (which has a letter on it) is permanently added to players’ hand for future word constructions.
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Several other factors are at play when fighting monsters in Spell Smashers. First, battling is not without consequence as players might receive wounds in the form of particular cards that contain letter combinations or unusual letters that make those cards trickier to play, not to mention take up space in the seven-card maximum hand limit. But adventurers can also enter into town between battles and spend their money on equipment to enhance fighting abilities, “healing” to remove wound cards, obtaining victory points through the purchase of ale, and take on side quests which also bestow victory points if completed. At the end of seven rounds, the player with the most victory points wins.
What works in Spell Smashers is the clever game mechanic and the theme. For vocabulary lovers, Spell Smashers is a delight. Crafting longer, more complicated words doesn’t necessarily guarantee victory over other players, but it does come with fringe benefits (such as quest completion) that reward the effort. It should be noted that play order starts with the person with the longest word which may sound like an advantage, but because players obtain the monster trophy for the final blow it could be wiser to play a shorter word and thus wait patiently for a later a turn to attack when the beasts have been weakened. In that regard, Spell Smashers is very well-balanced for people of various ages (i.e. younger players who only know smaller words).
Thematically, Spell Smashers is gleeful and leans heavily into both the wordplay and magic. Creator Christopher Chung clearly put a lot of thought into the mechanics and components as the equipment, quests, and locations all fit well within the fantastical world. Furthermore, the illustrations by Mihajlo Dimitrievski are colorful, cartoonish, and creative—the monster designs which are especially worth taking a careful look at to appreciate and enjoy. His integration of letters into each card is particularly fun.
While Spell Smashers has novel gameplay in a well-designed setting, there are some elements players should be aware of. First, Spell Smashers is definitely a Euro-style game meaning that the majority of strategy employed is personal rather than against other players. This is in no way a criticism, and in fact, Spell Smashers has a reversible board designed specifically for solo play. This comment is only to make players aware that the game isn’t highly collaborative compared to others. Other observations are relatively minor: game orientation is a little difficult because of the multiple components (i.e. you need a relatively large space to spread everything out and still allow players to see the board easily), and end of game scoring could be made easier with a pre-printed pad for each of the victory point categories. Finally, remembering all of the influencers that modify an attack can get a little cumbersome as they include: 1) the base value of the cards, 2) the element type the card represents, 3) the resistance or weaknesses of the monster, 4) any equipment that might affect the damage value, and 5) the quests that might be affected. Keeping track of this mix of variables gets easier with each playthrough, but at first, it might feel a little daunting.
Spell Smashers is great for players who have a love of lexicon and also enjoy the whimsy of wizardry and witchcraft. And while the suggested age range is 12+ Spell Smashers is an excellent way to teach reading and new words to younger players who will likely be captivated by the theme.
Recommended if you like: Scrabble, Decrypto, Balderdash