Wiz-War: Frenetic Mayhem and Cartoonishly Fun Action


“I’m playing Yoink on your wizard.”

“Wait…there’s actually a spell called Yoink? I thought you were kidding.”

Wiz-War, designed and self-published by Tom Jolly in the 1980s and still offered by Fantasy Flight games to this day, is spiritually closer to Tom & Jerry than Gandalf & Saruman.

The concept is simple: Up to four wizards square off in a subterranean maze. Each wizard has a home sector with two of his or her treasures in it. The winner is the first to get two victory points. You get a point if you steal one of your opponent’s treasures and bring it back to the “home square” in the center of your quadrant. You can also score a point by killing another wizard.

What happens en route to the final outcome is a bumptious see-saw of “Up yours!” and “No, up yours!” as you dash madly about the maze shooting each other with lightning bolts, casting gravity spells that make people drop their loot, turning into vicious monsters or blocking hallways with walls of bristling thorns.

You don’t have to tax your mind forming intricate, far-reaching strategies when you’re in the Wiz-War maze. It’s all about looking at the spells in your hand and making the best of them. Some turns you’ll be equipped with spells that make it a nightmare for other wizards to make a run on your quadrant. On others, you’ll turn into an offensive machine that hunts down other wizards with damaging spells. Still others will enable you to trip up enemies who are trying to run home with your loot — or help you dash in to take theirs.

There are spells that let you turn into a werewolf. Spells that let you stretch your arm down an entire hallway to grab a treasure. Spells that fill a hallway with a sandstorm that makes your opponents stagger blindly into walls while you run off the other way. And, as proof that the designer spent a good chunk of his time immersed in Warner Brothers cartoons, a spell that lets you conjure a giant hammer and conk an adjacent wizard on the gourd for massive damage.

And it all gets better when you can pull off devious spell combos. I still remember when a wizard used a combo of Astral Projection and Lightning Bolt to appear in front of an opponent, fry him with a lightning bolt that bounced off a wall to fry his opponent a second time — all while he was safely on the other side of a wall and immune to retribution.

Then there was the time a buddy cast a spell that made a wall and sealed his wizard inside a dead-end passage. “Why the hell would he do that?” I remember thinking. Then he played Swap. His wizard appeared where my wizard was standing — right next to my treasure — and stuck me behind the wall he made. The dirty son of a bitch.

A game of Wiz-War unspools in memory like a hyper-kinetic animation reel, takes about 45 minutes and produces lots of memorable scenes. A couple pieces of advice for the curious:

• This game can be played with 2-4 people, but you really want to play it with four. That’s when it sings, maximizing its potential for chaotic fun.

• There are different “schools” of spells; the rules recommend picking three of them to play a standard game. At one point, we just shuffled all of them into a massive pile, which I highly recommend doing, as it helps you learn all the spells better and creates more opportunity for killer combos.

There are other fun variants in the back of the rulebook you’ll want to check out, as they add a lot more spice that turns what would otherwise be a “just OK” game into a frenzied nail-biter.

So put on your stupid wizard hat, load up with spells and have some fun out there. You, too, may soon discover the joy of turning your wizard into the hulking Big Man and pushing your buddy into a wall of spikes you placed just for his enjoyment. Good times!

Nate Warren is a Colorado Springs-based copywriter who offers both the veteran gamer and the uninitiated a local window into the burgeoning and wildly creative world of hobby and designer board games enjoyed by fanatics and connoisseurs — around the corner and and across the globe.

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