Reading Time: 10 minutes
The wizards of Zoor shape-shift and clash, each hoping to be the successor to Zafirah, the last of the Zoordar. Use your spellstones and magic items wisely to outsmart your rivals in Wizardz Bluff!
What Is Wizardz Bluff?
Wizardz Bluff is a bidding/bluffing game by Ron and Jayson Smith for 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 45–60 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $30 for a copy of the game. I’ve played with both kids and adults, and the game can work well with a mixed group, though players who are good at reading other players will have the most success.
Wizardz Bluff Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. The prototype did include a very fancy box, though, that is pretty similar to what Crooked Tower Games has planned: it looks like a hardcover book, with a magnetic lid, and the inside has a plastic insert that holds all the components nicely.
Here’s what’s included:
- 5 Wizard decks, each including:
- 1 Wizard scoring card
- 2 plastic sliders
- 1 Alchemist card
- 11 Animal Transformation cards
- Headmaster token
- 36 Spellstones (9 each in four colors)
- 24 Magic Item cards
- 40 Elemental cards (10 each in four types)
- Cloth bag
The wizard decks are identical except for the illustration color on the faces of the cards, and the scoring cards, which show an illustration of the wizard in the center. The animal illustrations are stylized and look a bit like creatures you’d see on a coat of arms—though this may change depending on funding levels. The illustrations are by Travis Hanson (who also creates the Life of the Party comics you may have seen here on GeekDad), and the magic items and elemental cards will also have his illustrations in the final version.
The spellstones are large plastic crystals, a standard shape that I’ve seen in some games, and the four colors are intended to match the four elements: red for fire, blue for water, colorless/white for air, and green for earth. In the prototype, the “green” spellstones looked more like yellow to most players, so I hope the final version will look a bit more green.
The headmaster token is quite nice: a red glass sphere mounted on a wooden base. It’s nice and weighty and looks impressive.
Overall, the components were quite nice—it’s primarily a card game with some plastic gemstones, but the presentation is well done.
How to Play Wizardz Bluff
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to score the most points after three rounds by winning spellstones and collecting elemental cards.
Give each player a wizard deck—the animal cards and alchemist card form their hand. The clips are placed on the scoring card to show zero points. Each player will draw a number of spellstones from the bag at random and one or two magic item cards—the number of spellstones and magic items depends on the number of players. Choose a player to be headmaster and give them the headmaster token.
Shuffle the magic item cards and place three face-down next to the deck as the market.
The game takes three rounds, and each round will last a number of matches until there are no longer at least two wizards who can continue.
For each match, each player chooses a card from their hand and places it face-down, and then chooses a spellstone from their supply and puts it on top of their card, which serves as their wager and forms the pot. (Note: if you have a card and a spellstone, you must play them—there is no opting out!)
After every player has a card and a spellstone chosen, the headmaster declares “Flip!” and all players flip over their cards. Generally, the highest card wins the match, though there’s an exception with the rat. First, if the winning animal has a crystal icon on it (values 2, 10, 11, and 12), then any player who spent a spellstone matching that animal’s crystal may take an elemental card of that color. For instance, the Unicorn (11) has a green crystal printed on the card. If the Unicorn wins a match (or ties for the win), then any player who spent a green spellstone may take a green (earth) elemental card, even if they didn’t win the match. Then, the winning player takes all of the spellstones from the pot and puts them into their own supply, and becomes the next headmaster.
The rat is a special mystical animal—it is the lowest valued animal, but it has a blue crystal on it. If any other mystical animal (Griffin, Unicorn, or Dragon) is played in the match, the rat’s plague infects all the other animals and the rat wins. But if no other mystical animals are played, the rat is just counted as a 2 and will likely lose the match.
If there’s a tie for the win, the tied players will declare a truce or duel, going clockwise from the headmaster. If any player choose duel, then all players must duel. In a truce, players will take spellstones from the pot one at a time (clockwise from the headmaster) until everyone has taken the same amount, and then any remainder is left for the next match. A duel is resolved much like the regular match, except only the tied players take part. Elemental cards may be awarded as the result of a duel, and in the case of a tie, players again decide whether to truce or duel. Once all tied players agree on a truce or there’s one winner from a duel, the match concludes and all players proceed to the next match.
If any players play their alchemist card, those players will automatically lose the match but get an opportunity to buy a magic item. Going clockwise from the headmaster, each player who played the alchemist card may secretly look at the cards in the market, choose one to keep, and place the rest back. The market is only refilled after all players have gone shopping, so if more than three players play alchemist cards in the same match, some players will not get any items at all.
All cards played during a match (including those in duels) are discarded face-down.
Elemental cards are worth points if you get a complete set: either a set of all four different colors, or three cards of the same element. Magic item cards also have colored backgrounds matching the elemental cards, and may be used either for their effect or spent as elemental cards. Each set of elemental cards is worth 5 points, marked on your scoring card.
If you run out of cards or spellstones, you may no longer participate in matches, and other players will continue the round without you. The round ends when there are not two players who can still participate. Each player scores 1 point per spellstone in their supply, and then all spellstones are placed back into the bag, everyone picks up all of their own cards from the discard piles, and then players draw new spellstones (but not magic items) for the next round.
The game ends after three rounds, and the highest score wins. Ties go to the player with the most elemental cards and magic items remaining. If it’s still a tied, players may have a final duel.
You can simplify the game by removing the alchemist and magic item cards, or simplify even further by also removing the elemental cards from the game.
Why You Should Play Wizardz Bluff
Wizardz Bluff might seem very simple at first glance: everyone picks a card, highest card wins… it’s sort of a simultaneous-selection trick-taking game. But underneath that simple surface, there’s some really fascinating stuff going on.
First: everyone has the same set of cards at the start of each round, so you are on fairly even footing. The only differences are that you have a different mix of spellstones and at least one magic item. How do you choose which card to play first? Well, it may seem obvious to start with your dragon, the highest value in the deck—but remember, the dragon (and the other high numbers) can be defeated by the plague-infested rat. So perhaps you play a 9, the highest number that wouldn’t give victory to the rat… but if anyone else plays a mystical animal, you’ll lose whether a rat is in play or not. Hmmm.
You might think that there’s no way to tell what anyone is playing, but the spellstones can give hints (or be used to bluff). The goal isn’t just to win matches (though, of course, that’s always nice when you can do it)—you also want to win elemental cards. So if you can predict who’s going to win a match, you can score extra points. See a lot of players betting red gems? Chances are high that at least one of them is playing the dragon—so you can bet with them, or maybe take a chance with your plague rat. See a lot of green gems (matching the unicorn)? Maybe you could take the pot with your dragon.
Since you’re always required to play a spellstone with every card, the spellstones are not always conveying useful information. Sometimes a player is just buying time, and they know their spellstone is probably going to be lost. Being able to read the other players will definitely give you an edge. It’s also tricky knowing when to go to the alchemist’s shop to buy a magic item—you just don’t want to be fourth in line, because you won’t get anything at all!
The magic items can be quite powerful in the right circumstances, but you have to decide whether it’s worth using them for their power or if you’re better off trading them in as elemental cards for points. That can be a tough decision, and sometimes it depends on the particular mix of spellstones that are in play during a particular match or round. If you don’t have any white spellstones, you’re not going to be able to claim any air elemental cards unless you can win a match when somebody else plays a white spellstone.
I like the way Wizardz Bluff handles ties, too. Generally, a truce isn’t terrible—the tied players will get their own bets back, and maybe earn one more (depending on the number of players). But if you want to take a risk, you might be able to claim the whole pot for yourself. That can be particularly valuable after several ties and duels. I had one instance in which two players were tied four times in a row. If you can run the other player out of either spellstones or cards during duels, then you can continue to duel and they have to drop out, leaving you the pot! (However, as I discovered, if you don’t pay attention and you call a truce when they’ve run out of spellstones, you’ve just forfeited half the pot!)
The game doesn’t have any automatic catch-up sorts of mechanics, so if you never win a match and also never manage to claim elemental cards, then you’re going to get eliminated from a round and will find it hard to score points. I do like the fact that you can win elemental cards even when you lose a match, but you do have to guess the right winner—and if there weren’t any mystical animals involved in a match, then nobody gets any elemental cards anyway. But getting a few sets of cards can give you enough points to stay in the competition even if you aren’t scoring as much in matches.
I also liked the fact that you’re out of a round if you run out of cards or spellstones. Well, if you run out of spellstones, you’ve just lost and are scoring no points except for elemental sets. But if you run out of cards, then you’ll get to score for any spellstones you’ve collected, and nobody else can win them from you. That’s one advantage to dueling often, because you’ll spend your cards more quickly—it’s a great feeling if you can manage to get a big haul of spellstones and then run out of cards.
The game does feel a bit different based on the number of players, in part because there are so many more cards to keep track of. With fewer players, it’s a little easier to remember how many rats have turned up and whether your other mystical animals are safe from the plague—but once you’ve got five players, it’s harder to keep track. Plus, with more players, there are also a lot more spellstones in play, a lot more magic items to consider, and a lot more mystical animals to watch for.
Wizardz Bluff isn’t a heavy game, but I do think it adds a good amount of depth to a fairly simple core concept. I like simultaneous-selection games where you really have to think about what other players might be playing, and Wizardz Bluff provides some entertaining consequences for those choices. If you like bluffing games, magical themes, and lots of extra Zs, take a look at Wizardz BluffI!
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Wizardz Bluff Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.