Grimoire Review

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Grimoire

grimoire

Player Count

2-5 players (Best with 5)

Game Length

45 minutes

Designer

Hayato Kisaragi (Lost Legacy)

Publisher

Z-Man Games (Code of Nine, Pandemic Legacy, Fairy Tale)

Mechanics

Simultaneous Action Selection

 

Simultaneous Action Selection is one of my favorite game mechanics. I’ve mentioned at length how much I adore Race for the Galaxy which, in my opinion, perfected the mechanic. I love when I need to consider not only what action I will take but when I am forced to anticipate my opponents as well. A few years ago, I found myself searching for a new game in the mechanic because Race is so difficult to teach; blindly searching through games linked to the mechanic, I somehow stumbled upon Grimoire. Originally from Japan and published by Z-Man, the description really appealed to me and I purchased it despite it’s relatively low BGG ratings.

I’m very happy that I did because now it is seemingly out of print.

Grimoire consists of several rounds of three main phases – the Setup Phase, the Book Phase and the Quest Phase. During the Setup Phase, the board is filled with character cards based on the player count: some face-up, others face-down. Players will then select a spell secretly and simultaneously during the Book Phase; initially, spells one to six are available, although a new spell is unlocked after each turn, for a total of fifteen spells. Players reveal their spells and determine the turn order in an admittedly convoluted process, but the core concept resolves around a) the speed of the spell, b) whether multiple players chose the same spell and c) whether time was reversed (for the purposes of this review, the specifics of the rules are not important but the implications are). Then, after turn order was established, players will use their spell’s ability and take a face-up or face-down card from the board to add to their tableau.

The board indicates how many cards will be revealed based on the player count. There is always one more card than the number of players, but additional cards may be face-down.
The board indicates how many cards will be revealed based on the player count. There is always one more card than the number of players, but additional cards may be face-down.

There are two types of Quest cards: Treasures and Companions. Treasures are worth one to three VP each and are kept face down always. Companions, however, may be worth fixed or variable number of VPs in addition to having useful abilities. Some Companions will incentivize you with VP to be the first player; others will want you to be last, while others will reward you for choosing the same spell as another player, turning what is typically a penalty into a bonus.

Each spell is unique and the spellbook is designed to get “better” over time; the most powerful spells are typically last to fire. The game has several categories of spells that are designed for integration; for example, Defensive spells make a player immune to Illusionary spells and Forbidden spells can be canceled by Silence spells. This makes anticipating your opponents’ selection so crucial – a low level Silence spell can completely nullify someone’s powerful Forbidden spell, but provides no benefit if you guessed incorrectly. In addition, time reversal can cause your Silence to occur after the Forbidden spell, so you must account for what every opponent will do, not just your current target. Several Illusionary spells target the winning player, so you must either defend against the spells or account for them in other ways if you are winning.

I find this aspect of Grimoire fascinating, as you are playing the person just as much as the game.

Victory Point tokens, which also count as VP, can be acquired through spells or Companions and act as a form of currency. Some spells will consume VP tokens for great effects, forcing the player to consider the best use of all their resources. Will you take the guaranteed Victory Point or return it in an attempt for greater gain? Some Companions will reward you for obtaining a significant number of VP tokens (King) while others (Rogue) lose value with each VP token.

The Creation spell is the only spell in the game that generates Item cards, which is a self-contained deck of cards with varied effects, though they are always hidden until revealed (usually during scoring). Some might be worthless while some might be quite powerful – one card even lets you redo the Book phase entirely if you don’t like the result. Since you obtain Quest cards in addition to these Item cards when you play Creation, it is possible to win by spamming this strategy, although this makes you quite predictable and players will choose spells lower than you as a counter.

There are several companions in Grimoire, each with a unique ability. Knowing which Companions to use for your engine is crucial to winning.
There are several companions in Grimoire, each with a unique ability. Knowing which Companions to use for your engine is crucial to winning.

Due to the breadth of spells and Companion abilities, Grimoire offers a lot of replayability and choices each turn – and these choices can be agonizing. Since all players see what Companions or Treasures will be face-up before the Book Phase, several players may be encouraged to play a low number spell and go first. In doing so, however, if they choose the same number, they will go at the end (assuming time wasn’t reversed), so you may want to consider risking a higher number and hoping that the others collide. In this situation, you would get a powerful spell and the ability to choose first, or you could be completely wrong and be left with the worst card on the board. With more players, the chance of a conflict increases, particularly early in the game.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to choose wisely each turn. Nothing is more satisfying then successfully casting a Level 15 Wish spell, except for possibly canceling everyone else’s Wish with your Silence spell.

I’ve always believed that a great game should have several viable strategies to win and Grimoire is no exception. Several of the spells target the current winner in a particular category, so players using a different strategy will be unaffected. Some strategies, such as focusing on Item cards and Treasures, have lower ceilings but cannot be affected by other players. Companions and VPs can be stolen, but Treasures and Item cards cannot. You can win by completely diversifying or you can win by zeroing in on powerful Companions and playing your spells perfectly. Some spells such as Cure or Wish will allow you to gain multiple cards per turn, which is important because the game ends when a player has ten Companions, ten Treasures or the board cannot be refilled. The Companions are varied in ability and will often help drive your strategy, making your selection during the Quest phase even more critical.

I have not seen any single strategy be overly powerful and games will often be close. Yet, improper play can cause you to lose spectacularly, as it should be.

Spells must be chosen carefully. Silence will completely negate Wish if successful, but Wish may be too tempting
Spells must be chosen carefully. Silence will completely negate Wish if successful, but Wish may be too tempting

Grimoire does have a few flaws however, some of which may have contributed to its lack of adoption. As a Japanese game, the translation could have been much clearer. For example, the Cure spell (Level 4) is missing a “to” in its description; the intent is that a VP must be returned to obtain another card even if the card implies otherwise. As a card-text driven game, the wording is extremely important and I’ve had to consult the BGG forums on many occasions to get proper rulings.

Determining turn order and final scoring can be difficult to explain, so much so that I created a computer program to do it for people when I am unavailable.

I wish the box were slightly bigger. I hate to nitpick, but it’s hard to get all the components back in the box and normally I love small box games, but an extra inch would have gone a very long way. For some reason, I can’t bring myself to toss the admittedly useful insert. Call me a purist.

Finally, this game absolutely needs an expansion with the ability to change spells. There really should be a higher-level Silence spell to cancel higher level Forbidden spells when time is reversed. In fact, time reversal is my only real major complaint about the game because, while strategically advantageous at times, it can also be a chaotic nuisance at other times. Consider a three-player game for example: Player A plays Silence, Player B plays Wish and Player C plays a time reversal. Instead of A canceling B, C has enabled B to avoid A’s perceived attack. If this was intentional, great choice on C’s part – however, if B is winning and C just thwarted A’s chance of slowing them down, such a scenario would understandably lead to frustration. More often than not, this reality adds to the risk of playing the Silence or Defensive spells, but it can backfire for reasons beyond your control. Having spells of all categories on both sides of the time reversal would help mitigate this.

Grimoire is a great game that uses Simultaneous Action Selection heavily in creative ways. Whether I am hoping to avoid other players or cancel their abilities, I find myself trying to decipher everyone’s moves while remaining unpredictable myself and this creates a lot of enjoyment in a streamlined game. If you have a chance to try this game and like the idea of getting inside the mind of your opponents, Grimoire definitely deserves your attention

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