Maricel Edwards: Lock & Spell solo review

I’ve realized that I prefer sound bite reviews over narrative ones, which is ironic since I’m a writer. Then again, if one wants to spend less time reading and more time playing, this makes perfect sense. I’m also a sucker for lists and I hope you are too.

Lock & Spell

  • Designer: Sam Kennedy
  • Publisher: Jupiter Valley Studios
  • Players: 1
  • Age: 12+
  • Time: 30 minutes

*I received this game gratis in exchange for an honest review.

Firstly, I’m not one for gameplay explanations, so I shall just include pictures of the six pages of rules here because you know what they say is worth a thousand words, right?

Visceral reactions after a first play:

  • Low complexity as evinced by my being able to hold an in-depth conversation with my daughter whilst playing BUT…
  • This would probably be much easier and much faster with people familiar with poker hands. I constantly had to either chant in my head “flush is suits; straights are numbers” or reference the rulebook – which was brilliant, by the way because
  • The rulebook is compact in size and scope but super clear and concise. Setup instructions were literally contained in a single page of the 4.5” x 2.5” book and gameplay instructions took up six. The rest of the book consists of “fortunes” but more on that later.
  • Love the components! The spell deck – which you’ll be shuffling A LOT – is linen and wonderfully riffle shufflable. The other cards (treasure and keys) are linen as well, but those don’t really require much handling. The chest cards are your standard tarot sized semi-gloss (i don’t think there’s a core because, held up to the light, one can see the backs which really isn’t a problem since the color palette – black – is very forgivable in instances like these) which is fine since they don’t need to be shuffled beyond setup.
  • Box is compact – no air.
  • Font is pleasing – I’m a font snob so I know from fonts and this one is legible but not boring.
  • The color correspondence of spells to keys are genius, and makes it very easy to reference if one was inclined to use the rulebook (like I was). 
  • The art is vaguely steampunk-ish which I’m grateful for since most games that include “spells” tend to the fantasy genre. By opting for this Victorian aesthetic, the creator succeeds in elevating this game from a generic derivative to something memorable and special, even if 
  • I was wary about the spell cards being a normal deck of cards, but again, the font is large and clean, and when you’re “making spells” it needs clarity over art, methinks, so the creator made another wise decision here.
  • The addition of a fortune along with a scoring metric adds that extra sumpin sumpin to an already charming game, and I was actually more invested in finding my fortune than in tallying up my scores in the end.
  • The creator, Sam Kennedy, is super responsive, very kind, and open to critique.
  • My only gripe is that the score sheets do not fit in the box, so storage of it is problematic. I’ll probably end up not using it, which is a shame because, like the rest of the components, the score sheets are aesthetically pleasing.
Oh, score pad! Why you so much wider?

And for the narrative fans out there:

As you probably realized, a solid knowledge of poker hands would make entry into this game infinitely easier, but even without this, the rulebook does a phenomenal job in explaining them clearly and concisely. The footprint of the game is small – this would be a total travel game for me – and really, it could even be played cooperatively without breaking the game simply by having someone to consult when it comes to determining hands/spells. 

The box says 30 minutes of play, and I agree – barring my befuddlement with the hands/spells, of course – so it’s perfect for a before-bedtime session. BGG lists the weight as a 3 (medium heavy) but even to a light gamer like me, I’d bump this down to a 2.5. It’s not complex, but I suppose if you’re a serious poker player, play the odds, or count cards, then it could get analysis paralysis-inducing. According to creator Sam Kennedy, “I’d say repeated playthroughs help you become more familiar with some tactical choices to make with your spell cards, along with which keys to go for and when. You also find yourself coming across pretty exciting moments when you get just the right card you needed. (Or exactly the wrong card!).” I, however, played haphazardly, throwing caution to the wind and going balls out by utilizing fate tokens and discarding cards back to back, and I ended up with a score of 31 (rulebook says a perfect score is 50), but as I said, this didn’t matter so much since I did manage to open three chests and got a killer fortune for my efforts.

This game feels like John Burton’s The Brambles for me. That is to say, as a solo gamer, I don’t want to burn my brain with complicated rules or fiddly components and both these games are tailor made to my needs. Lock & Spell is a true gem, and I strongly recommend this game to solo gamers who are jonesing for a breezy but thinky mini game to add to their repertoire.

About mtsedwards

I'm not as interesting as you think I am.
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