Spell Smashers, from Renegade Game Studios, is one of the most unique and fascinating games I’ve played in a VERY long time, in fact, I don’t remember having ever played something quite like this.
Take your typical sword and sorcery setup. You’re an adventurer off you defeat monsters. You have armour, you have weapons, you have a monster in your sights. Now is your time to shine as you defeat your opponent with WORDS! Literally. The word WORDS would deal a base damage value of 6 damage before any modifiers are added. At this point, you are likely confused. That’s ok because as I mentioned, this isn’t quite like anything else.
How you do battle in Spell Smashers is by creating words from the letter cards in your hand. A player starts with a hand of 4 cards from the consonant deck and 3 cards from the vowel deck; as play goes on they may draw from either deck when refilling their hand. Every letter has a damage value, with most letters dealing 1 damage, some (like W) do 2 damage, and really hard ones (like Y) doing 3 damage. Each card also deals a specific type of damage, like Fire or Water, that may increase or decrease damage depending on various modifiers like weapons.
Even if you kill a monster in a single literary attack, they still deal damage to you. Wounds are taken in the form cards that contain common, but not easily integrated, letter combinations. These combinations can, and should, be used to create words in later rounds.
After battling the monsters, players all head back to the town, where they can gain quests (like creating words that meet specific criteria), have a nice frost ale (that’s worth extra points at the end), get healed, or purchase items (weapons, elixirs, the usual).
At the end of the round, players refill their hands up to 7 cards (including any wound cards), and head out on another round of adventure. After seven rounds, the game ends and Victory Points are calculated.
Before I go on to my thought on the game, I want to get something out of the way. I don’t like word games. There is a special place in Hell for the creator of Scrabble, and as cool as Wibbell++ is, it will never be a personal favourite of mine. I mention this because those are great games, and Spell Smashers is a great game. Just not great for ME, and that may colour my observations. My players all loved playing and that’s important to remember.
The components for Spell Smashers are all very well made with nice, thick, punchboard tokens, and above average cardstock. The art isn’t plentiful, but what is there is great. The concept and the mechanics of the game are nothing less than brilliant.
There is a lot of “stuff” for the game. Different decks of cards, discard piles, tokens, player boards, etc. That’s not a specifically bad thing but does mean it takes up more table space than you might expect at first glance. “Stuff” can also cause storage nightmares, so I was pleased to see a few bags included, and even though I added a few more bags to keep things sorted better I think it was way better than trying to have a plastic insert that rarely works well if you ever do more than store your game flat and take it directly to your own table.
At the end of the day, this was a game that played towards a lot of my weaknesses, which made it a bit frustrating and less fun. But for my players who think the way this game plays, it was great. It comes with a 12+ suggested age, which is reasonable given how complex some elements are, but I’d love to see some of the mechanics in this reimplemented in a game aimed at a younger audience as a spelling and math focused educational game.
If you like word games, definitely give this a look.