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Wiz-War

Wiz-War is a board game created by Tom Jolly and first published in 1985 through Jolly’s company, Jolly Games. It is described as a "beer and pretzels game." Although it is a "board game," Wiz-War has a very different design from more familiar board games such as Monopoly, both physically and in game mechanics. The board is in segments and is different each time the game is played. It can also be modified by players during gameplay. Wiz-War uses cards to represent (among other things) spells cast by players. Some concepts, like magical combat and hit points, should be familiar to players of Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games.

History

The first edition of the game had an extremely low production value and consisted of photocopied typewritten rules, simply designed two-by-three-inch cards, silkscreened cardboard boards, and photocopied chits, all contained in a clear plastic Ziploc bag. Jolly silkscreened the game boards by hand.

Later editions featured slightly more sophisticated game materials (such as a box), but the essential simplicity of the game has been preserved. Several expansion sets have also been published, including additional cards and board segments, allowing for more players. The last published edition was the Seventh Edition. An Eighth Edition has been mentioned at Tom Jolly's website for some time, and has also been announced on the Chessex web site since at least 2002 , but as of 2008, it has not yet been published.

Actual copies of the game can be very hard to find, but are sometimes available on eBay. Dedicated players frequently make their own equipment, ranging from the simple to the elaborate. The cards and board designs are available on the Internet. Wiz-War has a small but very dedicated following, and the game's creator seems to encourage creativity and innovation within the Wiz-War community.

Wiz-War Gameplay

Wiz-War is a turn-based board game that takes place in a stone dungeon. Each player is a wizard, represented on the board by a cardboard wizard token, and starts the game on a particular segment of the board. The center of this segment is the player's home base. Each player has two treasures, also represented by tokens, located in that player's segment.

Cards are dealt to each player to represent spells that may be cast, objects (both magical and mundane) that may be used, and other actions that may be taken by that player. These cards are generally discarded when used and can be replenished throughout the game. Each player begins the game with fifteen life points that can be lost in a wide variety of ways.

A player wins by (1) placing two treasures belonging to other players on his or her home base, or (2) eliminating all other players.

The full text of the rules, included with the original game and each of the expansion sets, may be found at this website The description of the rules provided here is intended to synthesize these rules and game concepts in a clear and readily-accessible way for the novice player.

The relative simplicity of the game is deceiving; turns can be structured in a highly complex and sophisticated way to take maximum advantage of the cards in a player's hand and avoid interference by other players. Many players regard this as an essential part of the game's charm.

Basic Game Concepts in Wiz-War

There are certain basic concepts that are helpful in understanding the mechanics of Wiz-War.

Victory Conditions

The game is over and a player has won when that player has either:

  1. placed two treasures belonging to other players on his or her home square, or
  2. killed the last remaining other player.

The treasures of players who have been eliminated can be used to satisfy (1). Note that in very unusual conditions, it is possible for the remaining two players to kill each other, causing the game to end in a draw.

Elimination

Each player begins with two treasures and 15 "hit points". A player is eliminated when either:

  1. both of that player's treasures rest on the home base of another living player or players, or
  2. that player has sustained damage equal or greater to his or her remaining hit points.

Note that if both treasures are on the same living opponent's home base, that opponent has satisfied one of the victory conditions and the game is over. Also, note that it is sometimes possible to gain hit points as a result of certain magical actions.

Once eliminated, a player is out of the game permanently.

An important aspect of eliminating another player is that, if Player A is killed as a direct result of damage caused by an attack initiated by Player B, Player B receives all of the cards that were in Player A's hand. Player B must then discard enough cards (choosing freely between the ones he just received from Player A and the ones he already had) to arrive at the applicable hand limit (usually seven), but this can still be a significant benefit to Player B, especially if he used most of the cards in his hand in order to accomplish the kill. Some groups allow Player B to use excess cards rather than discard them as long as he is at or under the hand limit by the end of his turn. However, if Player A is eliminated in any other manner, his cards are simply discarded. A player who places Player A's second treasure on a home square does not receive Player A's cards, and neither does a player who causes damage with a neutral spell (such as by destroying a wall adjacent to Player A) or with a controlled monster. This fringe benefit of killing another player sometimes has a strategic impact on game play once one or more players have lost enough hit points to make killing them plausible.

The Board

Wiz-War takes place in a stone dungeon represented by square board segments. The total field of play is made up of one square board segment per player, so the larger the number of players, the larger the total field of play.

Each board segment is composed of a five-by-five grid of squares each of which is a space. The layout of each board segment is a unique labyrinth of walls and doors and the boards are randomly selected by the players and randomly rotated and placed at the start of each game. The result is that the board is different every time the game is played.

The home base of each player is at the center of that player's segment, and the treasures are placed on indicated squares diagonal to the home base.

Each of the edges of the board "warps" to the edge of another board, as if the board were a projection of a very small world; the field of play therefore is finite, but has no boundaries. When the number of players is such that the board is both horizontally and vertically symmetrical, opposite edges of the board are deemed contiguous. Board layout is therefore simple for games of 2, 4, 6, 8 or 9 players. (Note that any number of players greater than 6 would require the use of multiple sets or homemade board segments.)

With three players, arrange the boards in an ell; the inside edges of the ell are deemed contiguous, and in the original (four player) edition, an "auto warp" board segment was included.

The Hand

Each player starts with a hand of seven cards. Except for magical enhancements, a player may not have more than seven cards in his or her hand at any time, and must immediately discard excess cards.

Cards are generally either 'spells', the effects of which are described on the card, number cards, discussed below, or represent objects or actions that can be used for a variety of purposes. Any number of unwanted cards can be discarded, which can make room for new cards to be drawn up to the seven card limit. The maximum number of cards that can be held is (usually) seven, and a player may replenish two cards from the undrawn pile at the end of its turn.

Number Cards

There are numerous number cards throughout the deck, from two to six. These are used to enhance movement or the action of point- or turn-based spells. Generally only one number card may be applied to a particular action, but multiple number cards may be used in a single turn. For example, you may use one number card to enhance your movement, and one card for each spell that you cast that requires (or allows) a number card.

Any spell that requires a number card may be cast without a number card, in which case it is as if the card was cast with a number card of one.

Movement

Movement is horizontal and vertical only, not diagonal. Each player can ordinarily move up to three squares per turn, but can use a number card and other magical enhancements (as described on the relevant card) to increase movement.

Lines of Sight & Calculating Distance

Many spells can only be cast against targets within line of sight of the caster. This is generally indicated by "LOS" printed on the upper right corner of the relevant card. To evaluate lines of sight, the caster and target are assumed to be at the center of each square. At the center of each square in most editions of the game is a dot, to aid evaluation. The line between the center of each square must be unobstructed, if it nicks any part of a wall or door there is no line of sight. Obviously, one cannot ordinarily see through a door or wall.

Distances are generally calculated as a player could move.

Cards & Rules

One rule states that all rules are "unless a card says otherwise". Every other rule can be modified or nullified by a spell, whether or not they explicitly say so (which it would be tedious to do constantly). For example, the "Brain Stone" card allows a player to hold up to nine cards, instead of the usual limit of seven.

Starting the Game

Deal out cards, boards, place wizard and treasure tokens on start positions, etc.

Play begins with the player who rolled the highest.

Playing the Game

Play begins with the player who rolled the highest, as described above, and passes clockwise. During a turn there are many things a player can do.

Each player takes a turn during which they may move, cast spells, control monsters, pick up certain objects, and take other actions. Each player starts the turn with three movement points, which they can supplement with a number card. At any point during their movement, a player may cast spells from their cards. A player may only "attack" once per turn and the act of picking up an object ends a players turn.

Ending the Game

The game ends when a player has satisfied one of the two victory conditions. In theory, it is possible for the game to end in a draw; this can happen if only two players remain, and an attack by one is partially reflected or otherwise does damage to both sufficient to kill both wizards. This is exceedingly rare.

Homemade Equipment

Because of the scarcity of original games, it is common for players to make equipment, or indeed whole sets, for their own use. Tom Jolly seems to be aware of this, and does not appear to have raised any copyright or other objections to the making of homemade sets for personal use.

Perhaps the most common pieces of homemade equipment, apart from complete sets, are new spell cards and additional board sectors allowing for more players. While the expansion sets contained additional boards, allowing for six-player games, players have made sets allowing up to eight players.

Homemade versions are often simply printed on card stock on home printers or at local copy shops. However, some players have prepared very elaborate Wiz-War sets made from Lego or wood.

House Rules

The creation of house rules is expressly contemplated in the published rules. Many groups do not like certain spells, and remove them from the game. Many groups also have created their own spells. For example, if a certain spell is believed to be too powerful and to unbalance gameplay (such as "Permawarp"), it can be removed from the deck, or modified to reduce its power. It is also common to modify or eliminate certain rules to suit a particular style of gameplay.

Rules Questions

Rules questions abound in Wiz-War. Many of the rules and spells are drafted ambiguously. Also, because of the huge number of possible combinations and interactions between spells, and the perversity of the sort of player who is attracted to Wiz-War, it is often unclear what should happen. Some issues are addressed in the rules, and some are the subject of heated debate within Wiz-War groups. Most groups appear to resolve the more common questions by consensus, and develop a common law of Wiz-War for use in the group.

Tom Jolly has offered his views on some rules questions, either in the rules or through his website, but groups are of course at liberty to decide whether this interpretation is dispositive. Some examples of ambiguity are below.

  • Counteractions and "Illusionary Attack"

Player A uses "Illusionary Attack" on Player B. Illusionary Attack, which mimics the effect of any other attack, but with only a 50% chance of the victim "believing" the attack. Player B has "Full Shield", which shields the player from the effects of any attack. Player B is vulnerable and must shield whatever attack Player A launches. Does Player A get to roll the die to see whether Illusionary Attack "works" and then, if it works, play Full Shield (Player B's theory); or must Player B either immediately play Full Shield, or accept the 50% chance of a successful attack (Player A's theory)?

One argument Player A might advance is that the relevant attack that is being shielded is the Illusionary Attack itself, rather than the (possibly unsuccessful) attack it is pretending to be. Therefore if Player B wished to shield anything, it has to be the Illusionary Attack at the moment it is cast. Player A might point out that gameplay is improved by not allowing Player A two chances to disrupt the attack.

Player B could reply that Illusionary Attack only mimics the effects of another attack, for example, a "Fireball". From Player B's perspective, a Fireball is hurtling down the corridor, Player B sees it and is either convinced by it or not (hence the 50% chance of being affected). If Player B disbelieves the Fireball, Player B simply ignores it. If, on the other hand Player B believes it is a real Fireball, Player B can counteract it as any other Fireball. Player B might also argue that Illusionary Attack is an intentionally weak spell, and it would disrupt gameplay to allow it to always require a player to use a counteraction.

  • "Swarthmore's Enchantment" cast on a player's fists

"Swarthmore's Enchantment" is a spell widely thought to be of limited utility and often discarded to make room for more powerful spells. It can be cast on any "object" and causes that object to do one more point of damage than it ordinarily would. One player creatively decided to cast Swarthmore's Enchantment on his fists (which can normally be used to punch a player or object for one point of damage), rather than discard the card, raising the question of whether a player's fist is an "object" within the meaning of the Swarthmore's Enchantment card.

On one hand, a player's fist is clearly an "object" in the game context in the sense that it occupies space, has mass, is not a magical force and does physical damage. Other spells that affect "objects" can unequivocally be used to affect players (unequivocal because those cards or the rules are more specific in these other spells' application), implying that the player as a whole is, at the very least, an object. This interpretation also makes useful a card that is otherwise of very limited utility, and shows a great deal of creativity. On the other hand, the set of examples enumerated on the card itself is evidence that its original intent was to apply to a limited subset of damage-causing in-game weapons; for example, the Large Rock and the Dagger. A proponent of this view could argue that the alternative view makes unreasonable use of a spell intended to be weak and of limited utility, and that it could not have been in the contemplation of the author of the rule that it would be used in such a way.

An analysis similar to that discussed above applies to casting Swarthmore's Enchantment on monsters capable of doing physical damage, like the Skeleton.

  • Calculating distance for "Thumb Of God"

"Thumb of God" allows the caster to "flip the die from a distance of no less than six inches onto the board so as to hit playing tokens." Does the six inches include vertical distance?

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