In a first for me I have been sent a game for review that is currently on Kickstarter. Ember is the first game from District 31 and I was happy to help out a small studio with a review, having been there myself.
Ember is a game of magical students conjuring fantastical creatures. The core of the game is that as you use the cards in your hand to conjure creatures they leave the game forever, meaning that as the game progresses you have to manage your power effectively to get the most bang for your buck.
|Picture of the creature cards and the deck you use to summon them. Please keep in mind that this design and art is not final.|
The creatures you summon have victory points and powers on them and those abilities can be combined for powerful effects, helping you manipulate your hand to summon more powerful beasts, disabling your opponents and generally being a nuisance to your rivals. Once the draw deck is depleted the game is over and the player with the most victory points is the winner!
The cards you have in your hands are very similar to a standard playing card deck. Their are 4 elements in the game and each of those elements has 13 cards representing wizards in it. There are also 12 archmage cards in the deck that have a few uses, but we will come back to that.
Setting up the game doesn’t take very long and the instructions were nice and clear on what to do. The creatures are displayed so that everyone can see what they are worth and their abilities, of which there are many, providing lots of possibilities for you during the game.
On a player’s turn they draw up to 5 cards if they have less and can also discard 1, if at the max of 5, to get a draw. They can choose to conjure a creature, discarding cards from their hand in the variation combinations on the magical entities still on display. This will be familiar to most poker players the lowest combination being a single pair of cards of the same value the highest being a straight flush of 5 cards.
Abilities on creatures can be used against other players before or after they conjure on a turn allowing for a bit of Gotcha! style mechanics which are fun and can be combo'd up to produce some interesting effects. One of the interesting thing about creatures is that they are pretty much one use only unless you can manipulate them, so you very much have to choose your moment. The archmages I mentioned earlier can be used to defend against these attacks but are also useful to flip creatures back over and as wild cards. So do you keep them to defend or use them to attack and combo? Nice little choice.
That is basically it, a simple filler game of conjuring fantastical creature. I really like the art style and the designer has said he is looking to improve that over the course of the campaign, as some of the creatures use art from other places. We played with 3 players and two of us just went for the ‘buy the best thing you can in front of you’ strategy. This was somewhat defeated by the third player who built a little more and bought bigger creatures winning him the game, but only by a small margin. There are definitely a couple of different paths to victory here which is nice to see in such a simple game.
I've had quite a long chat with the designer about the game and he is very passionate about the project and bringing it to market at Uk Games Expo later in the year. His team seems to have a lot of experience in print publishing and design and he was very patient answering my questions and concerns about the game rules , it's development and their printing plans. Stuart left me feeling confident that any small niggles I had about rules clarity and graphical design would be addressed and I wish them every success with the game.
The game is quick, simple to pick up and has an interesting power spiral mechanic in that you have less and less cards as the game goes on. It gives a great feel of students throwing a mote of magic around, slowly depleting it as they summon creatures to one up each other, which is exactly what it promises.
If you would like to back it, you can find the kickstarter here: