Dale Yu: Review of Spellbook


  • Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
  • Publisher: Space Cowboys
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 12+
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Asmodee North America

Says the publisher: Become the greatest wizard of the Annual Grand Rite by collecting and managing your Materia to feed your familiar and learn your spells. Act quickly to use your powers early…or wait to unleash them at full strength. Your path to victory is full of choices and combined tactics!  In SpellBook, each player, accompanied by a familiar, possesses a grimoire and collects Materia to master spells and feed their familiar. The game provides pre-drawn spell sets for use in the early rounds, but soon players start drawing spells randomly or create their own spell combinations that are common to all players. Each spell combination gives an effect that lasts the rest of the game, and the more ingenious the combination, the more powerful the effect. As the rounds progress, the game becomes a different experience every time, with more than 2,100 spell combinations being possible. The game ends as soon as a magician’s grimoire is complete or a familiar is fully fed, then the player with the most points wins.

To start, each player takes a Familiar board and the deck of cards that goes with it.  The Materia tokens are placed in the pouch, and five are dealt to the Altar board in the center, and each player also draws two to start with.  There are 7 different colors of Materia (15 total, 5 each of the three different runes).  The Spell cards are in the 7 different colors, in three distinct sets as noted by the number of diamonds on them.  For beginning games, you are recommended to use all the 1-diamond cards, but in later games, you’re supposed to randomly draw them, and all players will mirror the drawn set – making sure to have 1 of each color.

Starting with the randomly decided Start Player, turns will be taken around the board.  Each turn represents a day, and the active player may perform an action in each: Morning, Midday, Evening.  This continues until the end of a round when at least one player has either learned all 7 of their spells OR one player has filled all 16 spaces on their Familiar board. In any phase, the action is always optional, and at the start of the game, the options in each phase are limited – however, you will get more options as you learn different spells.  The starting action options are:

Morning – Initially, you can either take 1 face-up Materia from the Altar board or draw 2 unknown Materia from the bag.  Players should always remember that they have an absolute limit of 9 Materia at any time.

Midday – Store Materia – place one Materia from your pool onto the lowest numbered space on your Familiar board

Evening – Learn a Spell – spend Materia from your pool to learn a spell.  Each Spell has three different levels (costing 3, 4 or 5 matching color Materia).  You can also use any 3 Materia with a matching rune to serve as a single Materia of any color.  Once you have chosen your spell level, mark it with a token of the spell color that you used, and discard the rest.  You will be locked into this level for this color spell for the rest of the game.  The token will remind you which ability you are able to use.  Each spell is different, some are instant effects that happen only as you learn it, while others provide ongoing abilities.  For the rest, there is an icon in the upper left of the spell which gives you an easy reminder as to which of the three phases this spell can be used in.  In addition to having different actions, the different levels of spells have a victory point value associated with them.  It is important to remember that you can use any level of spell below what you have learned as well!

After the player has finished all three phases, there is a bit of Altar management to be done, depending on the number of Materia found on it.  If there are less than 5 Materia, draw and fill until 5 spaces are occupied.  If there are between 5 and 9 on the Altar, draw a single Materia and add it to the board.  If there are 10 or more on the Altar, discard all of them and then draw a new 5 to place on it.  At any point, if the bag is empty, pour the Discards back into the bag to replenish it.

Once the Altar is set up, the next player takes his turn, going through all three phases.  Again, the game continues until the end of a round when either a player has learned all 7 Spells or a Familiar board is filled.

Scoring is simple – each player tallies up the points for each of their learned spells (value found on the right of the box of each spell level) as well as the highest visible number on their Familiar board.  The player with the most points wins. Ties broken in favor of the player who learned the most spells.

My thoughts on the game

Spellbook was a game that I didn’t expect to see at GenCon 2023 for sale; but yet, when I arrived, there it was.  A couple of my friends were able to snag copies from the limited supply, and their initial impressions from playing was quite positive.  I was super thrilled to see my copy at home the next week, and we rushed it to the table.

Spellbook gives players the opportunity to have a different layout each game – there are 3 spells in each of the 7 colors, and you can mix and match them as you like.  Our first game was played with all of the 1 star cards (as recommended) and it provided a great introduction to the game – all of the spells are simple to understand, and there were a number of different synergistic pathways that you could work on.

At first, it felt like the player who was able to get the red spell going first (Sacrifice) was in the driver’s seat – as he was able to discard one Materia with a specific rune to get 4 each turn; things leveled out.  One player was able to use the Green spell (Purification) to swap with the Altar; quickly gaining matching sets leading to more Spells.  Another player used the Black spell (Offering) to try to quickly fill out his Familiar board.   Obviously, people didn’t use only a single spell – as oftentimes your play is determined by the types of Materia you have on hand – but it was really good to see that players could concentrate in different directions to fight for the win.

When the first game ended, we all wanted to play again (and this is always a great sign for a game), and we went full random.  If you oo this, I’d recommend flipping the cards over so you can see the spell color on the back – while most of the spells have the spellcolor as the background, there are a few that are close, especially blue and black – and using the backs of the cards is easiest.

We ended up with a nice mix of spells, and while the new ones were a bit more complicated, none of them were too hard to figure out.  Additionally, the rules have explanations for all of the spells near the back, and it’s easy enough to read out the rules for each of the seven spells prior to starting.

There is definitely a bit of a Turn Zero planning session needed here as players look at the combination of the seven spells to try to figure out their initial gameplan.  Or try to figure out different spells that will work well together; as your starting path might be determined from the colors of the Materia you get in your first few rounds.

The first few rounds can have a big effect on your overall game.  Most players choose to draw a random 2 Materia from the bag, but it can be useful to pick the colors you want from the Altar if they are available.  While you only get one stone a turn this way, you might be able to cast a Spell earlier than your opponents – and it is more likely a Spell you want to cast early rather than whatever spell you were lucky enough to collect the Materia for…   

Of course, there is also the pressure of learning a spell at the right level; which may cause you to wait a turn or two.  With the exception of one white spell – which may not even be in your game – once you learn  a spell, you’re locked in at that level.  So, depending on what effects you want to have access to, you may want to shoot for a level 4 or 5 spell.  As you can also use the levels below, it can be very beneficial to wait for a higher spell level.

Once the game starts, keep an eye on everyone’s Familiar – we have found that it is not uncommon for someone to try to rush the end of the game by filling up the Familiar board as quickly as possible; generally using the Black spell to assist in that.  Getting 18 points for a fully filled Familiar board is a nice start, and if you can end the game before other players can cast a lot of Spells, you might be able to score more in the final reckoning.

The artwork on the Spell cards is great, and the icons are clear and easy to understand.  The Materia are made of a nice material that feels good in your hand, and I like the discard cup that you get to build in your first game.  The box doesn’t quite fit if you leave the discard cup together, but I don’t mind a slight offset in the cover as it means I don’t have to reconstruct the cup each time.

SpellBook has been great so far, and each game has felt a little different as the Spells have never been the same.  For a 30-40 minute game, it is right in my sweetspot, and Spellbook might end up dethroning Cacao as my favorite PWH game.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Dale Y
  • I like it. John P
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2023, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Spellbook

  1. rpmyers1 says:

    Did you try the solo variant? If so, how was it?

Leave a Reply