Main Event Games · Reviews

The Meeple Street’s Review of Kill Merlin!

pic4242237 (2)Game: Kill Merlin!

Designer: Dave Schuman

Published: Schuman Family Games

Players: 2-4

Playtime: 30-90 Minutes

Play Type: Set Collection/ Resource Management/ Take That

Kickstarter Release Date: September 18th

Synopsis:

Merlin is the most powerful wizard in the realms, and the power has gone to his head. He craves control of the magical realms, and does everything in his power to maintain it. He hoards the mana, and slaughters or enslaves various magical races to gain ingredients for his spells.  The wizarding community has had enough of this evil tyrant. The only option? Kill Merlin!

Gameplay:

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The goal of Kill Merlin! is to be the first wizard to be on the necessary spells according to your secret formula and have twenty mana to complete the ultimate spell and Kill Merlin! When setting up the board, players must each be given three spell ingredients, 5 mana, five wizard pawns or chits and a secret formula. Additionally the board must be set out, with the various elemental cards placed in their specific spaces, the merlin cards shuffled and put in the top card space, and the ingredient cards shuffled, and place on the bottom deck space. Then three ingredients will be placed out for players to see.

Players will roll the dice to see who goes first. Place the Merlin reminder between that person and the last player. Each wizard will then be able to take their turns in order. During a wizard’s turn they can do the following actions in this order:

  1. Cast a Beginning Spell-If players have a wizard on a spell that is marked with a B, they may pay the necessary cost marked on the spell and cast it. They complete all effects before moving onto the next phase. Take the hat off your wizard or flip your chit to remind players that you have already used the charge on that chit and it can no longer cast spells. REMEMBER this is before rolling the dice, so players are not getting any new mana before this phase.
  2. Roll the Dice and Collect Mana- Players will roll the dice, and collect mana equal to the number shown
  3. Wizards May Complete the Following Actions in Any Order:
    1. Purchase Up to Three Ingredients- Ingredients are how players are able to place their wizards on spells. Ingredients needed are listed on each of the spell cards. Mimics are wildcards. Players may pay two mana for the three revealed cards, and one mana for a card from the deck. When taking revealed cards they are immediately replaced, making sure there are no duplicates out. If there are duplicates immediately discard and place three new cards out. There is a hand limit of five.
    2. Learn Spell- Pay the two ingredients necessary and three mana to learn a new spell. Place your wizard on that spell. It can now be cast at the beginning or end of your turn. Remember, when learning spells players must start at the innermost corner in each element. Once they have learned that spell, they may then learn spells adjacent to it. Wizards may be removed from other elements to be used in a new section, but that spell will be forgotten once the wizard has moved.
  4. Cast One End of Turn Spell- If players have a wizard on a spell that is marked with a E, they may pay the necessary cost marked on the spell and cast it. They complete all effects before moving onto the next phase. Take the hat off your wizard or flip your chit to remind players that you have already used the charge on that chit and it can no longer cast spells.
  5. Cast Kill Merlin Spell- If a player has the necessary spells on their secret formula card and has 20 mana, they may cast the Kill Merlin spell and win the game.

After all players have gone, Merlin will go by drawing a card from the top of his deck. He will effect game play in a variety of ways from moving wizard chits on the board, moving mana around the table, reversing direction of play, or even making spells cheaper to cast on the next turn. There is plenty of variety to keep players on their toes.

Similarly, the spells that players can learn can also drastically change game play, so using the five that are available to them does require some amount of thinking and preparing. Players  only have five wizards and unless Merlin charges their wizards back up, that means only five spells can be cast. The spells can be beneficial to the casting player, but also may hinder other players. There are definitely strong Take That aspects in the game.

Components:

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I was given a prototype copy of Kill Merlin! for review purposes, all components are subject to change. 

Many of the aspects of components will be changing for the Kickstarter version of Kill Merlin! so I don’t intend to go too into depth here, because so much of it will be different.

What I will say though is that I love the choice to include the wizard pawns with removable hats that can replace the wizard chits. The pawns are something that is both unique and adds a thematic element to the game that the chits were missing. They worked great during game play and were not at all fiddly. They will be made even better for the final copy of the game. The fact that the pawns have this aspect of their hat being removed that is a meaningful mechanic just stood out to me as a reviewer as a unique idea for components.

After having previewed the final art for the Kickstarter, I will say that there has been vast improvements in the art style of the final game. The only thing I wish, was that the Merlin on the board and the Merlin Cards looked a little meaner (like he does on the cover art). I almost feel bad killing something that looks so happy and jovial.

However, in all other cases for card art, I think that there have been some major improvements since the prototype of the game. The art draws players in but is still able to be distinguished easily on both the spell ingredient cards and the spell cards themselves.

Overview:

Positives:

  • Easy to Teach
  • Unique Game Play and Mechanics
  • Family Friendly
  • High Player Interaction
  • Unique Thematic Components
  • Plenty of Thinkiness

Negatives:

  • Can Feel a Little Long
  • A Lot of Text to Read
  • Some Randomness in Dice/Merlin Cards

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Kill Merlin! plays like no other game in my collection. It combines a variety of different mechanics including light area control, resource management, dice rolling, take that, and set collection. Despite the variety of mechanics it still feels easy to teach, though I would love to see a player aid in the future to make this even easier. I would say that this game could easily be taught to older children, and would make for a fun family game because of the simplicity of the rules.  In fact, Kill Merlin! was designed in part by Dave Schuman’s sons so the family friendly element is built into the design itself.

Even though Kill Merlin! is family friendly, the game play is still very thinky. Players must manage how they choose to place and use their wizards very wisely. The pawns themselves become a resource that must be managed to be successful. Players will only have five wizards accessible to them, so choosing which elements to go for when will be crucial in the success of the player. Additionally, well used spells can make or break game play for players.

The spells bring in a great level of player interaction too. They can be as take that as players would like to play. Meaning that most spells will allow players to only effect themselves, or they will allow players to effect the wizards around them as well potentially setting them back in their plans. Merlin also encourages player interaction, often having mana redistributed to players with the least or sometimes even with the most mana…Merlin is a tyrant after all.

That being said, Merlin does add aspects of randomness to game play, and so does the dice rolling. While this actually is one of the engaging parts of game play, players who do not enjoy the addition of randomness to game play may not enjoy these elements of game play. As with all games with a luck element, there can be frustration involved when luck is not on your side. There were turns after a bad Merlin card, and terrible dice rolls that I was unable to really do anything with my turn which can be frustrating..This is especially true if it is happening multiple turns in a row.

It is also important to note that if players are unable to get the ingredients they need it can be very frustrating. There are some spells that allow players to gain ingredients in a variety of ways. I would have liked to see a mechanic though that allowed players to pay a higher amount of mana to discard and draw new cards. Mana being a resource that must be managed for winning the game play, players would really have to decide if having the ingredients would be worth it. This might make game play go somewhat quicker.

In the first few games especially, Kill Merlin! can feel a little long. Our first game hovered near two hours, but games after that become significantly quicker. I think this is partially because players have not yet learned how to use all the spells to their benefit. There are a lot of options to take in and a lot of text to read so many players did not bother reading every single card. Then another player would cast a spell and players would be instantly interested in using that spell. That learning period would be alleviated with multiple plays and makes game play much quicker. I still have not had it be under 45 minutes, but it is definitely under two hours now.

That being said, everyone I have played the game with has really enjoyed it and was impressed by the new take on mechanics. The game combines a unique set of mechanics and player interaction to create a superb game play experience, that keeps players focused on the game at hand.  Each turn has a feeling of suspense attached to it, because players really don’t know who will cast a spell that could hurt their strategy or what Merlin has up his sleeve. That tension is present throughout the game and keeps players easily engaged and wanting to play more. Each time I play it gets better and it will definitely be one that stays in my collection because it does not feel like another game I own.

If you enjoy games with high player interaction, or games that mix area control with set collection, I would take a closer look at Kill Merlin! The game will be coming to Kickstarter on September 18th, and will be able to see the updated art in the campaign. Thematically it has a similar feel to games like Potion Explosion or Ex Libris, but I really enjoy the addition of Merlin being the evil tyrant. It is an engaging twist, and honestly its just fun yelling that you killed Merlin, and seeing the looks of defeat on the other wizards faces…especially after many turns of being very angry at Merlin for his interrupting your plans.

It is important to keep in mind that the game I received was a prototype, and while it played very well there still may be some minor changes to game play made before the final production copy is available. This was not a paid promotion.

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