“Ponder this, you filthy magician”

In 1983 Tom Jolly condensed the very nature of wizardry into physical form and somehow managed to contain all of its crackling magical energy inside a box. This box was emblazoned with the title Wiz-War, and it is the single greatest wizard-simulator put to cardboard to this day.

Of course there are those who would disagree with this fact. “What about Mage Knight?”, they whine, not realizing that a Mage Knight is obviously a magically-inclined knight and not a true wizard. “What about Magic the Gathering?”, they suggest. Fools! Of course the game features wizards, but it is not about them. You can even play as a horde of goblins and have a chance at victory! Disgusting. No, the One True Wizard Game is Wiz-War. There is a chance that Mystery Wizard could challenge it for its crown at some point, but until that game is released Wiz-War’s reign will continue unabated.

Wiz-War is a game of conflict. Each player takes on the role of a wizard with a simple objective: steal two treasures belonging to your opponents. As you can imagine this is not an easy task, as your opponents are all horrid brutes who will try to take your belongings. The nerve! How very dare they?! No, they must be stopped. Preferably lethally. That would give you all the time you need to take their things! Yes, murder will also do. It’s kill or be killed, steal or be stolen from. Such is life in the labyrinth.

So you take up a hand of cards chock full of the most potent magic spells imaginable and set forth into the labyrinth. The central stack of cards is as gigantic as its range of possibilities, and they are truly varied: from straightforward fireballs and death beams, to summoning creatures from foreign realms that do your bidding, to creating obstacles like tangled thorn bushes or solid rock, to far more wild arcane effects like MIST BODY or the mighty POWERTHRUST. Even just throwing a punch like a common non-wizard is an option if you’re truly desperate! There is no shortage of tricks and traps to inflict on your former friends, and of course to be surprised by in turn.

Yet the actual act of playing Wiz-War is rarely so complex. Move 3 spaces, playing a number card to boost that if you see fit. One attack per turn. Cast however many non-attack spells as you feel like. Spells do what they say on the card: you’re smart, you’ll manage. Draw a couple cards at the end of your turn, meaning you’ll want to be judicious with your casting but not so much that you don’t take advantage of all the cool stuff you could be doing. The closest thing to friction in the game’s teach is understanding which ends of the board loop you back around to which side. They’re all connected, you see, because there’s no escaping the warping doors of the labyrinth. It’s magic, I refuse to elaborate further.

That simple framework is a major contributor to Wiz-War’s longevity. Few games teach so quickly and then offer so much to explore (and explode). It’s impossible to explain everything in advance to a new player; you’d be elaborating on the functions and combo potential of literally hundreds of cards. Unless everyone at the table is a licensed Chronomancer that is a massive waste of time. Chaos reigns here, and it is glorious. New players are to be thrown into the grinder along with everyone else because in the end they aren’t truly disadvantaged in any significant way. It’s fine to know a specific card exists, but tracking who can do what in Wiz-War is an impossible task. Cards are simply played when they’re played and do what they do. Having a clearly defined goal and simple “controls” allows Wiz-War to be as unhinged as possible in play, and that’s what makes it great. 

It also allows for incredible stories. I have heard tales of players cascading spells into increasingly elaborate combos and counters, causing chaos the likes of which they never thought possible. Exploding opponents into heaps of gore through a wall with x-ray powers? Sure! Another opponent smashing said wall down so that their pet troll can beat that first wizard to death? Yes! Firing a double-strength death blast capable of dealing more damage than any wizard has health only to have it countered and returned to sender? Perfect! It is a game of moments, of stories, of memories. 

Sadly, and this is one of the worst things about board games as a whole, Wiz-War is currently out of print. The fact that this game is ever unavailable is a travesty. It should be as available as the likes of Munchkin or Ticket to Ride, and to the former’s credit Steve Jackson Games is currently working on a 9th edition of the venerable game. This is also why I’d lean away from suggesting that anyone hunt down an older copy at present when that could potentially prove expensive. Fantasy Flight Games’ eighth edition is fine and all, but it also overcomplicates the aforementioned beautiful simplicity with some added rules. Fortunately it’s not hard to simply ignore all the added cruft and just play the old way with its pieces. If you do happen to come across a copy of the older Chessex edition certainly give it some thought, but don’t stress on it. Like all the greatest wizards Wiz-War refuses to stay dead. It will come back in due time, and when it does it will (assuming its new edition isn’t somehow horrifically mangled) receive my highest recommendation.

Wiz-War is a perfect board game. You will notice this piece is not titled with the word “review”, nor has that been mentioned until this point. That’s because it isn’t one. I’m not interested in approaching this game critically. This is largely because I love it and everything it does, but also because criticizing a game like Wiz-War makes you the stickiest stick in the muckiest mud. Don’t approach this seriously, that’s for nerds. Approach it like a powerful wizard back for another conflict with 2-6 of their favorite frenemies: with laughter, playful aggression, and unbridled violence.