“Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.” -Meriadoc Brandybuck
It is often said about the classic 1959 board game DIPLOMACY that it’s a great way to destroy friendships, or at least a great way to temporarily turn your friends into bitter enemies. I believe the same can be said about 1983’s WIZ-WAR, except in the latter case, you’ll be laughing the entire time.
First produced independently and later printed and distributed by Chessex, Wiz-War was printed in at least seven editions over the years – probably more, I can’t keep track. Creator Tom Jolly has gone on to design such notable games as CAVE TROLL and DRAKON, as well as the innovative DISK WARS, arguably Fantasy Flight Games’ first gigantic success. WIZ-WAR, meanwhile, despite being a cult classic, and having been successful enough for two expansions, has languished out of print for some time. Published sporadically by Chessex over the years, most editions were simple little cardboard and paper affairs, with only the most recent iterations even being in color. For whatever reason, Chessex has allowed the game to stay unavailable, despite frequent rumblings that a new edition was on the way.
Yet the influence of this tiny little game is widespread. DUNGEON TWISTER is obviously a cousin of WIZ-WAR. Celebrated RPG writer John Wick (LEGEND OF THE FIVE RINGS; HOUSES OF THE BLOODED) wrote an essay on WIZ-WAR for Green Ronin’s Hobby Games: The 100 Best book and it puts this little rant of mine to shame. (Every self respecting gamer should own that book, by the way) No less than Richard Garfield has said that WIZ-WAR was an influence on the design of MAGIC: THE GATHERING.
It’s easy to see how that happened. WIZ-WAR is a game of dueling wizards, played on a maze-like board of dungeon corridors. The more players, the bigger the dungeon. Every player has two treasures in their home corner of the board. The goal of the game is to capture any two treasures (other than your own) and return them to your home base. You can also achieve victory by simply killing all of your opponents. A simple hit point system is used and every player has a hand of cards that represent spells that can do a wide variety of things – such as throwing fireballs or summoning monsters to attack your rivals. Finding the right combination of cards for any given attack can sometimes be devastating to an opponent. There are also counter-attack cards that can be played as interrupts. And counter-counter-attack cards. Any of this sounding familiar? Some of the spells that result in the most fun are the ones that can change the very nature of the maze by creating pits, destroying walls, or rotating entire sections of the board. When all else fails, one can simply punch an adjacent wizard. And let me tell you, there’s something sickly satisfying about a game of dueling wizards that can end with one well timed punch to the face.
And talk of face-punching leads me to the real joy of this game. It’s not so much about strategy and planning as it is about trash talk and scheming. How close any player is to winning is right there in front of you at all times. I think I have yet to play a session of Wiz-War without something like this occurring:
Mike: “Dude! Why are you attacking me? Joe is like two turns away from winning?”
Phil: “Yeah, but you locked me behind that door.”
Mike: “That was twenty minutes ago! You’re gonna hand the game to Joe!”
Phil: “Yeah, maybe you’re right. OK, I hit Joe with the fireball instead.”
Joe: “Idiot! Don’t you see what he’s doing to you? Who do you think Mike’s Wraith is gonna attack next turn if you kill me now?”
Yeah, it’s a great game. I imagine certain MAGIC: THE GATHERING COMMANDER players might really get into this.
Wiz-War was one of the first games I bought at a convention (Origins 1991, right here in Baltimore) and it proved to be so much more than just Con Trash. (Con Trash, for the uninitiated, is any of a number of low-budget, dumb-fun little games that specifically appeal to the gamer demographic. You play it at a convention and have a ball with it, mainly because you’re all hopped up on nerdy con goodness. Then you buy it and it goes home with you to sit on your shelf where it will never be played again. But I digress.) Wiz-War hit the table again and again and again. And years later, when I saw a new edition, I bought it all over again, as my original copy was so worn by that point. Not that that stopped a buyer in Sweden from paying $90 plus shipping for my old copy just a few years ago. Clearly, this is a game that is well loved by many.
So why am I talking about a 27 year old game that’s been out of print since the nineties? A forum post by Tom Jolly in August of 2008 states the following:
“Hi, all. The good news is, with some negotiation, in a few weeks I should have a contract in hand canceling the Chessex contract and replacing it with one from a much prompter company which shall, for the moment, remain nameless. But, WW will be out in less than 2 years once the contract is signed, and it’ll look *nice*.”
Over a year later (Nov. ’09) he posted this:
“Well, the contract with The Company Who Shall Not Be Named is all signed as of a few months ago (I’m slow in the “delivering news” department). So now it’s just “wait for publication” in 2011. As for expansions, I have no idea how much of anything they’re going to incorporate from the basic game and the 3 expansion sets (one never published). They’ve got an awful lot of material to choose from, but publication is far enough off that they haven’t started pinging me yet for comments and suggestions.”
And now (June ’11) Jolly is soliciting gamers’ opinions on cards for the new edition (http://wizwar.com/wizboard/viewtopic.php?t=1857). Also, after months of speculation, it is now commonly believed that the publisher will be Fantasy Flight Games, although it has not been officially announced.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is worthy of a naked happy dance.
Additional information seems to indicate that the “mystery publisher” required exclusive computer rights, and that the organization is also one known for making very well produced and good looking games. Additionally, Jolly suggested that it’s possible that instead of typical expansions, the company might look into releasing new cards in a staggered CCG type format, though he’s admitted that he’s gotten no direct intel from the company on this, but it’s merely conjecture on his part. All of this has the internet abuzz with guesses about WIZ-WAR’s future publisher. Although again, current scuttlebutt is that the mystery publisher is in fact Fantasy Flight. Ooh.. does this mean we’ll see some sort of weird board game/LCG hybrid thingie?
At any rate, according to my calendar, we are now just about halfway through 2011. Is a new Wiz-War on the horizon?
Paul Alexander Butler is the Store Manager of Games and Stuff and organizes the shop’s Board Game Night every Tuesday Night at 6pm. [Card.Board.Box.] is his montly gaming column. At last count, he had over 200 board game titles crammed into the tiny bedroom of his tiny apartment. Nothing says “Den of Love” like a floor-to-ceiling wall of board games, eh?