Full disclosure: A preview copy of A Wizard’s Shelf was provided by Concrete Canoe Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.
Yeah, so at some point I said I was taking a break from Kickstarter games to focus on Gen Con titles, and then I have this week where I’m not just publishing four Kickstarter previews but I’m also publishing them remotely from the Orlando airport at some ungodly hour in the morning. What weird places life takes us. I’m here for work, though, and just leaving, so, what can you do. Let’s dive right into those reviews, though, and see what’s going on.
In A Wizard’s Shelf, you’re combining two things I love very much: magic and organizing! But rather than casting a spell to Kondo your house for you, you’re using your very mundane powers of shelf categorization to plan out the locations for your many magical items in the hopes of impressing your friends with your collections! It’s kind of like what board gamers secretly do on the regular once they get at least one shelf. Nothing to be ashamed of; I love a shelfie as much as the next guy; I’m just trying to acknowledge the practice. Anyways, will you be able to build the most impressive collection and attract the esteem of your wizardly peers? Or will you end up all by yourshelf?
Not a ton to do, setup-wise. Shuffle the cards and deal two to each player. One will go item-side up:
The other will go spell-side up:
Using the remaining 16 cards, make three sort-of-equal stacks, spell-side up, and then flip the top card of each stack to reveal the items. Choose a player to go first and you’re ready to go!
In A Wizard’s Shelf, you play as wizards attempting to impress their peers by collecting magical tchotchkes and casting powerful spells with their abilities. For some reason, your peers hate color-coordination, but they generally agree that things of the same type should go next to each other. Every wizard has a background in interior design, I guess? Who knows.
On your turn, you may do any one of the following three actions, in addition to any Free Actions you’d like to take.
- Select a Spell: Take one of the three Spell Cards and place it near your shelf (preferably nearby your other inactive spells). Spells with abilities on the bottom that can be used once per game are immediately able to use that ability, but again, only once.Each Spell shows two items that must be present orthogonally adjacent to each other in your shelf in order to become active. Once they are, you should indicate this by moving the Spell to the other side of your Shelf. If one of those items is ever covered up, the Spell remains active. No stress. Active Spells grant you access to extra scoring conditions for the end of the game.
- Select a Shelf: For shelves, you take the card and place it in your Tableau so that it covers at least 1 and at most 4 other items. Since it’s a shelf, you have to place them right-side up, though I’ve heard some Spells can mess with gravity, a bit.Once you take a card, flip the top card of the corresponding Spell pile and make that the new shelf. If there are no more cards available in that stack, flip a pile’s top card instead.
- Relocate a Shelf: You can, instead of taking a card, move one of your uncovered cards from one spot on your Tableau to another, placing the card as though you took it via a Select a Shelf action.
You may also take one each of the available Free Actions:
- Replace a Card: Put one of the Shelf Cards at the bottom of the stack and reveal a new one from the same pile.
- Flip a Spell: You may flip one of your Spell Cards, adding it to your shelf as a Shelf Card provided that you have not used its ability, yet.
- Cast a Spell: You may cast the Spell Card ability of any one of your Spell Cards. Each may only be used once per game.
The game ends when players have taken all the cards. Then, you score:
- Same Color: Lose 1 point for every item of the same color orthogonally adjacent to another item of the same color.
- Same Type: Gain points for every set of items of the same type that are orthogonally adjacent:
- 2 Items: 3 points
- 3 Items: 6 points
- 4 Items: 10 points
- 5 Items: 15 points
- 6+ Items: 21 points
- Spell Card Bonuses: Every activated Spell Card gives you its bonus points.
Player Count Differences
None! It’s a two-player game.
- Make sure your scoring conditions are in play, first. You really can’t get through the game without doing that, unless you get super lucky with card placements and get a bunch of the same items grouped. I usually go for whichever seems easiest to get quickly, and then build off of that. If you want to play aggressively, you can also try to block your opponent getting their Spell Card activated, but that’s a very particular kind of hate drafting that I don’t think is always going to work out in your favor.
- Watch to see where you can get extra scoring conditions for free. Some cards just have the combo you need to activate a spell card already available. If you see a Spell Card that’s already going to be active if you take it, consider taking it! It might be enough free points that it’s worth it, especially depending on how you organized your shelf.
- The big kicker is groups of the same item type. Like I said, that’s where a lot of your points are going to be coming from. Focus on that, end-to-end, especially if the Spell Cards aren’t coming through for you. At least one 6 is going to be a massive number of points.
- Same-color item groupings, while unfortunate, are difficult to fully avoid. Yeah, this one’s just tough. I’ve tried to minimize the number, but honestly if you can outpace it by just scoring a ton of points that’s often even better. I end up losing about 7 points when I play due to this and it hasn’t cost me the game yet, so I’m assuming that’s fine.
- I wouldn’t invest too much time into moving your shelves around. It costs your entire turn and allows your opponent to get a shelf that you can’t respond to. It potentially gives them another three items or helps them along towards activating one of their Spell Cards. Naturally, if there’s an emergency, do it, but I would definitely recommend against it even once per game; strongly recommend against more than once.
- Don’t forget about your free actions. These are a thing a lot of players overlook. If you think you have bad options, you can swap them around! You can get rid of Spell Cards that aren’t working for you! Both things might end up being pretty useful by end of game.
- It’s critical to mark when you’ve achieved your scoring conditions. This one matters a bunch since you can’t necessarily walk it back and see which cards you covered when to get your Spell Card activated. You definitely want to make sure you don’t forget about activating it, as well!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cute theme. I like organization, and organizing magic items is definitely a fun addition to the game. Part of why I liked Ex Libris so much was that it was a magical library. And the puns. I think the only reason I never got around to reviewing it was that it would just require a TON of photos to get everything sorted. But yeah, shelf games! Into them.
- Reminds me favorably of Point Salad. I think Point Salad wins points for simplicity and clarity, but this makes some moves in the spatial reasoning part of town that I like, as well.
- Surprisingly robust for a small game. I think a bit more polish and some quality-of-life improvements and you’d have yourself quite the little game, here. Something about the graphic design of the Spell Cards doesn’t 100% do it for me, either, but I’m having difficulty articulating it. Not sure. I say this less as a criticism and more as an optimistic critique; I’m excited to see what the final product will end up looking like.
- Very easy to set up. You give each player two cards, set up a few piles, and you’re ready to roll.
- Super easy to transport. I love wallet games for this. You can fit a few dozen in a small bag and you’re just off to the races with them.
- Cute art, also. It’s whimsical, as any good wizard game should be. It has the same energy (not the same art style) as Abracada… What?, another fantastic entry in the Wizard Games genre.
- The shelf cards don’t always line up 100%. This will hopefully be fixed in production, but it definitely makes me a bit upset. I’m a perfectionist; what can I say?
- Definitely going to be some cards that neither player wants. I think that happens with any game, but it’s a bit of a bummer when it happens in an 18-card game.
- Some parts of the game aren’t super clear. One card allows you to look at the back of two cards. It doesn’t seem that useful, since you can’t convert Shelf Cards to Spells, and there’s no rule about checking the backs of Spells, so it seems like it would make sense if these cards had to be in the Market. Being more specific about where those cards need to be will alleviate some confusion. Similarly, the card that allows you to ignore card stacking rules is a tiny bit unclear; it seems possible that you’re allowed to flip it upside down or tuck it / place it adjacent rather than stacking (since all of those actions would violate card stacking rules), but the game doesn’t make it especially clear.
- The different types of scoring should be written somewhere that isn’t just the game tuckbox. Players need to have a visual aid to see what their game outcomes will look like. There’s a lot going on in the game already, and add in a few different types of scoring conditions as well and you’ve got a game that will likely confuse your players on the first play, but it will eventually click. A lot of players miss the same item bonus or confuse it with the same color penalty and then end up really messing up.
- Since you can relocate cards on your turn, if there’s a card that neither player wants, the game can stalemate. This would really only happen if the last card was the card that nobody wanted, but it has happened in at least one of my games. I ended up having to take it after I acknowledged that we could just do this all day. Not the best.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I’m actually pretty excited about A Wizard’s Shelf! Like I said, I’d be interested to see how the final product turns out, but currently I think it’s a nice little spatial game with some clever elements, especially around scoring. It feels very similar to Point Salad, as I mentioned elsewhere, but this one is focused less on aggressive hate drafting and more on the spatial reasoning skills required to organize your shelves. What you gain in theme you lose in simplicity, though, and that hurts this just a smidge. That’s not the worst thing in the world, though; wallet games shouldn’t be afraid to be robust or a bit more complicated; that’s why games like Antimony or Hierarchy are so cool, in my opinion; they can push the genre in new directions or show that you don’t have to have a ton of components to be a solid game. And, to be fair, I think this is a solid game. I think a bit more streamlining and a player aid might be able to push it even farther, but I’m interested in what they have already, so that’s positive. All in all, I think this is another solid entry in the wallet game line, and if you’re looking for a title that will challenge you a bit spatially and you’re into a bit of magic, you might want to check out A Wizard’s Shelf! I’ve had fun with it.