Full disclosure: A review copy of Abracada…What? was provided by Nice Game Shop.
More from Nice Game Shop! This one is Abracada… What?, or Abraca… What?, as it was originally published. I previously covered the Venice Connection set, and there’s even more coming down the pipeline; games about tennis, dragons, medicine, drunk cats, you know, the standard stuff. Let’s find out more about this obviously wizard game; I’m excited!
In Abracada… What?, you play as wizards who have uncovered a legendary tower, where a powerful magical tome is said to rest. Naturally, there’s only one tome, so you have to fight over it. The problem is, your spells aren’t working the way they used to. Maybe it’s the tower? Maybe it’s you? Who knows. The only thing you do know is that you need that tome, and even if you’re not totally sure how your spells are working now, you’re pretty sure you can fight off the other wizards. Will you end up being right? Or does this just spell doom for you?
Setup is surprisingly complicated, because of these bad boys:
The Spellstones are your magic spellcasting tools, and they’re all a mess. Place them face-down and scramble them up! Give each player 5, and have them stand up and face the other players. That’s going to make things weird. Set four of them aside, face-down.
Set the board in the middle of your play area:
Give each player a reference sheet:
Yup. Mine’s in Korean. That’s how it goes, sometimes. Thankfully I looked it up; more on that later. Then give every player their life tokens:
And set their point markers near the board:
If you’re playing with lower player counts, you’ll want to reveal some Spellstones and put them on their spots on the board:
- 2 players: Reveal 12 Spellstones.
- 3 players: Reveal 6 Spellstones.
Finally, place the die somewhere within reach of other players:
Once you do that, you’re ready to start!
Your goal is to eliminate other players’ health so that you alone can ascend the tower and claim that powerful tome. You’ll do this by casting spells!
On your turn, shout a spell!
- If you don’t have it: You lose 1 Health and your turn is over. If you tried to cast a 1, you roll the die and lose that many Health instead. That’s bad.
- If you do have it: The player to your right takes the matching Spellstone and adds it to the board. Resolve the spell’s effect. Then, if you’d like, you may continue to attempt to cast spells, but you may only call out a spell that is the same value or higher. If you try to cast a lower number, another player can call you out and you lose 1 Health and your turn ends.
Let’s talk about the spells:
- Ancient Dragon: Roll the die; all other players lose that many Health.
- Dark Wanderer: All other players lose 1 Health; you gain 1 Health (to a maximum of 6).
- Sweet Dream: Roll the die. You gain that many Health (6 max).
- Night Singer: You may take and look at one of the 4 out-of-play Spellstones. If you have Health left at the end of the round, you gain one extra point for every one of these stones you’ve taken. You cannot use these Spellstones to cast spells; they’re just informative.
- Lightning Tempest: The players to your left and right each lose 1 Health.
- Blizzard: The player to your left loses 1 Health.
- Fireball: The player to your right loses 1 Health.
- Magic Drink: You gain 1 Health (again, max 6).
End of the Turn
If you’ve successfully cast one spell, you can end your turn! Or you can keep going until you bust. That said, if you successfully use all the Spellstones you have, you immediately win the round! Reduce your opponents’ health to 0. Otherwise, refill your hand to 5 Spellstones if possible and the next player takes their turn.
End of a Round
If a player’s health is reduced to 0 or a player uses all of their Spellstones, the round ends! As mentioned, if a player uses all of their Spellstones, all other players’ health is reduced to 0.
If a player won a round, they move up 3 spaces on the score track. If they didn’t lose (they didn’t win, but they have more than 0 Health), they may move up 1 space. If you lost (you have 0 Health), you move up 0 health. It is possible to knock yourself out, in which case all other players survive and move up 1 space. Don’t forget to give yourself extra points if you have any secret Spellstones via the Night Singer spell!
End of the Game
If a player reaches the top floor of the tower, they win!
Player Count Differences
Weirdly, I think I like this game most at two, since there’s not a ton of information. At two players, you can only see 17 Spellstones. At 3, it’s 16. 4 is 15, and 5 is 20. For some reason 17 feels like the right number. It may be that it’s easier to manage the game when only one other person is attacking you? Who knows. I think that there may be something to that, since not only do you have to manage getting attacked, but you may not even be able to attack them back at higher player counts, since the directionality of strikes depends on what Spellstones you’re assigned randomly. That’s not to say it’s not fun at higher player counts; I think I just generally vastly prefer it at two players. That said, it’s a bit disappointing for the stronger attacks that more players don’t get taken out at two players. I’d say my general recommendation is two players, but I’m happy to play it at any player count.
- This isn’t a bluffing game, until it is. I mean, you shouldn’t try to guess what you have without some reasoning behind it, but there is some strength to the idea that you should try to occasionally guess something you’re pretty sure you don’t have so that you can trick an opponent into thinking they have more of that spell. It costs you a health and your turn, though, so maybe don’t use that all the time? It’s really only useful if your opponent is already at a disadvantage, and even then it may not work.
- Generally strongly recommend against guessing 1. It can literally kill you if you’re not careful, though it’s pretty badass if you manage to guess it correctly. It’s a powerful move.
- Night Dreamer (4) is a pretty powerful spell. Not only does it give you additional out-of-game information, but it also lets you gain extra points if you don’t lose the round! That’s particularly useful, but it also kind of puts a target on your back. If I can, I’ll go after the person who stands to gain the most points if the round ends; can’t just let you win.
- Use deduction, but also don’t forget probability. It won’t always work. Unless you have convincing information to the contrary, you should usually guess the token you think is most likely to be in your Spellstone hand. Just, don’t forget about the ordering rules; if you want to guess a lower number first, you should guess that first so you can move up. Note that if you can see all the stones and there are more empty slots on the board than stones remaining to see, then the remainder must be in your hand, so that’s useful information.
- Heal if you need to. Only 2, 3, and 8 can be used to heal; use them wisely.
- If you’ve only got one stone left, might as well go for it, right? Sometimes it’s an 8 or whatever and then you immediately win the round, which is awesome. A lot of times it’s not, but, sacrificing one Health isn’t always the worst possible thing you can do.
- Categorize. If you lose a Health, you know that all the Spellstones you currently have don’t have that number among them. You can use that to gather a lot of information, especially towards the end of the game. Just, don’t forget, your opponent might be able to as well!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the art.Marie Cardouat‘s style is pretty easy to recognize, and it’s pretty much always a welcome addition to a game. Especially a game that’s about whimsical greedy wizards.
- I do like the Spellstones. They have a great table presence, a good weight to them, and they’re fun to move around during the game.
- Plays pretty quickly. It’s really only a like, 30-minute game, even at the higher end of player counts. I appreciate that.
- It’s fun to shout the spell names. I feel like that gets players more invested in the idea of being aggressively greedy wizards who can’t cast any spells right, but your mileage may vary on that. I particularly enjoy just giving them the Korean version of the rules and telling them the spells are called whatever they think they’re called and Seeing What Happens,.
- I like this style of game. In general I’m a big fan of press-your-luck, but in this particular game I really like that you have no idea if you’re right or not and you need to lean a bit on the deduction angle. It can lead to hilarious results and, honestly, it’s just funny.
- I mean, it was a little funny that all of the text in my copy of the game is in Korean. Another point to publishers that post their rulebooks online, I guess? We had to look everything up.
- Your chances of success in a given round can depend a lot on luck. I’ve had rounds where I’ve only drawn extremely low-probability stones. Needless to say, I died pretty quickly. Or rounds where you only draw Blizzard, meaning the player on your other side can’t get attacked. Neither option is particularly great, from a gameplay perspective.
- The game incentivizes some bad behaviors. One particularly bad one is that if an opponent is about to kill you on their next turn, it makes much more sense to guess 1, roll the die, get killed by the game, and then give them 1 point instead of 3. That’s kind of a crappy way to play, though, in my opinion, but it’s totally rewarded by the game. We just strongly encourage players to consider not playing that way, when we play.
- The Spellstones are a major impediment to setup. Practically, there’s no reason they can’t be cards on a Scrabble-esque display line, provided players are gentle. I’m sure that would keep costs down, be easier to see, and be much easier to shuffle. As it stands now, the Spellstones are a pain to shuffle. You almost always flip one over by mistake and that’s … bad.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, while I’m sick of typing Abracada… What?, I think the game is awesome! I mean, it’s not the newest game in the world, but I hadn’t heard of it before it arrived and I’ve been having a blast playing it. I think, similar to other deduction games, I like the idea of having to use some probability, some information, and some luck to figure things out (The Shipwreck Arcana remains one of my favorite games, and I’m sure I’d love Cryptid if I had ever gotten a chance to play it). The thing I appreciate about this one is that it really encapsulates that deduction tension inside of a whimsical game of spellcasting and mostly having those spells blow up in your face. It’s also likely a great game for families, since even if you’re playing randomly or don’t want to bother with deduction, you can still have a good time, which is nice. I could see an updated second edition with cards instead of Spellstones likely being a good move, though, in terms of making the game easier to set up and cheaper. I just wish there were something that could be done about incentivizing players to blow themselves up. Alas. Well, if you’re looking for a fun and quick deduction and press-your-luck game, or if you’re just looking to be a silly wizard who can’t cast spells great, I’d definitely recommend checking out Abracada… What? I’ve really enjoyed it.