Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle Defense Against the Dark Arts
Teaching Time: 10 mins
Playing Time: 45 mins
Setup Time: 5 mins
Value For Money: Mid
Having been busy designing and (successfully) kickstarting my own Deck Builder I’ve been playing a few for research purposes (at least that’s the excuse). One of them was Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle: Defense Against the Dark Arts, a neat little package, ironically burdened with one of the longest and most unwieldy names in gaming.
HP:HB:DATDA (even the acronym is a bit of a beast, I’m going with DADA from now on) borrows heavily from the very fine standard Hogwarts Battle except that its two player versus as opposed to two to four player co-op. Players deck build cards in the standard fashion, from a small weak generic deck, picking up cards each turn and using them to generate attacks to blast their opponent with. Damage is represented in a sweetly visual style as players are represented on a small board reminiscent of the dueling stage from the Harry Potter movies with little standees that get knocked back and step forward depending on the damage or healing dealt, reach the end of the stage and you lose, with the overall game being decided on a best two out of three format. Decks are kept between rounds, which is a nice touch both for speed of between round resets but also to allow players to actually build a deck. Unlike the standard Hogwarts battle DADA also has tableaux cards in the form of allies who give advantages turn to turn.
The game is quick and jolly and presented to an extremely high degree of product, much as one might expect from playing its predecessor. These games have been built to be gateway deckbuilding games, and they do that excellently, with simple and clean concepts. It can mean that there is not a massive amount to get your teeth into on repeat plays though. For example, on starting there are only two choices, your pet which represents an early ally and your house. Houses mean that certain cards unlock additional abilities, but these are unlocked if you are of that house or if any of your in-play allies are, and there is no penalty or control on hiring outside of your house. This means that there is a certain theme disjoint available as unlikely characters from the books and films team up with their mortal enemies to blast their closest friends and family to shreds, which can lead to a very nicely handled theme otherwise becoming something you end up striving to overlook. It also means that there is very little pressure to sculpt your deck, its often best to catch as catch can with a pretty vague direction. The significant break from this is actually the game’s nastiest element, the curses.
Curses seem to be a follow on from the Detention cards of Hogwarts Battle. For those who haven’t played, Detentions were deck clogging blanks that certain negative events could dump into your stack. In DADA these are now curses, not blanks, but negative cards which clog your deck. The issue is that a deck built to employ these is not only powerful, but genuinely unpleasant to play against, its really no fun pulling a hand of curses over and over. Certainly, if playing with the younger or more inexperienced gamers that the box seems aimed at, I’d consider either pulling these cards out totally or just having the stronger player choose not to use them.
As with standard Hogwarts Battle, the market is probably a little over-supplied and diluted, its pulled randomly from the full supply of cards and there are enough that a single game will be unlikely to cycle through them all. The upshot is that there are entire tactics that might never present themselves at all. Its not a huge concern if playing in a quite casual and relaxed fashion, but could frustrate the more hardcore deck builder.
In short, this is an immaculately presented package with, if anything, higher production values overall than its predecessor. Its simple to learn and quick to play, so long as you don’t get too serious it’s a perfectly fine little two-person deck builder.