Game at a Glance
- Weird Giraffe Games
- Players: 1-4
- Length: 45-60
- Age: 10+
- Designers: Chris Glein, Carla Kopp
- Mechanics: Contracts, Hand Management, Push Your Luck, Drafting
- Availability: Retail & online (https://weird-giraffe-games.square.site/studies-in-sorcery)
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher; however, my opinions are my own
Do you have what it takes to make it to the top of your class at the Academy of the Dark Arts? In Studies in Sorcery you will have a chance to prove just that. Compete with your classmates to test your mettle in Alchemy, Reanimation, Sorcery, and more to claim the title of Valedictorian!
Studies in Sorcery is a card engine building and drafting game that focuses on contract completion with an element of press your luck. In this game, you are working towards completing projects and your thesis statement during your final semester at school. To do that, you must pay tuition and find the materials needed to complete projects. You are not from a wealthy wizarding family, so you’ll have to scavenge materials at the graveyard to fund your education.
The semester consists of four months, with four moon phases each. Each moon phase grants players a turn to dig for materials, commit the materials to their projects, purchase stock materials or enroll in new classes. Projects require materials such as earthworms, fungi, and bones for completion. These unsavory ingredients are found in the graveyard (piles of face-down multiuse ingredient cards). If your first dig attempt doesn’t yield what you want, you may choose to push your luck by forgoing that plunder and checking a new grave. Materials can be used as currency to purchase new projects and stock materials, so sometimes taking a large pile of ingredients is worthwhile, even when it doesn’t contain what you want.
Once a project is complete it often grants an action or bonus along with credits. Credits act as end-game victory points and project completion is the primary way to make it to the top of your class. In some cases you can earn extra credit on projects, but it is also possible to earn demerits.
At the end of the fourth month, the game ends. Projects and Thesis cards are reviewed, and a Valedictorian is declared.
Completing contracts gives you opportunities to take additional actions. It is crucial to sign up for classes that you think you can complete and that will benefit your strategy. Completing the right projects early on is the key to building a solid foundation that will help you complete bigger projects later in the game. As the game progresses, the coursework becomes more difficult. If you studied hard in your 100- and 200-level classes, the 300-levels should be a breeze (in theory). Building a smart engine that pays off later in the game can feel incredibly rewarding.
There are three major fields of study in the game: Alchemy, Sorcery, and Reanimation. There are additional class types in the game, as well. Classes add variability and allow players to craft different strategies. There are many ways to combine coursework to make each semester at the Academy feel unique.
There is a bit of randomness in the gravedigging. It is possible to spend a few rounds trying to find the ingredients you need only to come up with a few measly earthworms. Fortunately, pushing your luck will never end in a complete bust here. Nobody goes home empty-handed. Material cards have a monetary value and may contribute to end-game victory points, so it doesn’t feel terrible to have a disappointing dig. Of course, some digs will be quite lucrative. The possibility of finding good loot in the graves adds excitement to the game.
Although there is a component of luck, to play well you will need to hone in on a strategy early. The hidden objective on your chosen thesis card can nudge you in a strategic direction. In addition, the available mini-expansion, Staff of the Sorcerer, can help you craft a more intricate plan.
Studies in Sorcery is a light- to mid-weight strategy game that is easy to learn and teach with a simple turn structure. There aren’t confusing rule exceptions, nor rules that feel difficult to explain. I was able to introduce it to my nine-year-old son and he picked it up quickly and has asked to play it again.
Despite having fewer moving parts than deeper strategic games, players should have no issues staying engaged. There are plenty of important decisions to be made each round. The grave-digging element, in particular, adds a lot of interest without adding unnecessary complications. And it moves quickly! My husband and I have been able to get it played in under 45 minutes, making it perfect for weeknight gaming.
Before the game begins, players choose a unique thesis card from two options. These cards act as hidden objectives that reward credits if completed. Thesis cards help players form their strategy and guide them in different directions from game to game. A mini-expansion called Staff of the Sorcerer offers a bit more asymmetry and boosts replayability, too.
In addition, there is a lot of variety in projects. The early-game classes do have some repeat project cards, but as you progress into the 200- and 300-level courses, there are more unique options to pursue.
Studies in Sorcery does a good job integrating the theme and mechanics cleverly. The Semester Track acts as the game timer and adds a sense of urgency to project completion, particularly late in the game. At this point that players tend to use the Cram action to assign as many materials to projects as possible in a frenzy to finish their thesis, which emulates the student experience perfectly. The addition of extra credits and demerits is also a nice touch.
Although there is gravedigging in the game, the tone remains light due to the whimsical artwork that keeps things cute, not gruesome. I appreciate that the game leans into the Dark Arts theme unapologetically. This school is certainly not Hogwarts, nor is it trying to be.
Studies in Sorcery takes a minimal approach to the components. Rather than focus on unnecessary premium bits, the game designers have kept things very simple with cards, a few tokens, and a small footprint. There are no boards nor playmats to help with organization, but the game isn’t complicated to set up so I don’t feel they are necessary.
The illustrations in this game depict skeletons, earthworms, and fungi, but they are done in a cute, cartoonish way and are likely to elicit smiles rather than turned stomachs. The unique style is charming in its simplicity. The only visual nitpick I had concerned the Project cards – the completed side and uncompleted side look similar enough that we often have them mixed up. This has no impact on gameplay and is only a minor inconvenience.
Some engines take longer to get going than others, and it is easy to assume that a player is running away with the lead early in the game when others seem to be struggling to commit materials to their projects. Some successful strategies can take a while to get off the ground, and early leads can stall. Hidden objectives and materials can boost end game credits significantly, as well, so it’s best not to count yourself out until the semester ends.
Players affect each other indirectly in this game. Generally, you won’t have to pay close attention to your competitors’ coursework (there are a few exceptions). It can feel a bit like multiplayer solitaire. The most interaction happens in the graveyard as players try to time their dig actions. Should you look at that big pile of cards in the graveyard before somebody else takes it? If so, you might have to wait to purchase a project crucial to your strategy, which opens the possibility of losing the project. It’s tough decisions like these that make the game interesting.
Studies in Sorcery moves fast with quick, snappy turns. We have not experienced the dreaded “analysis paralysis” and the game moves along at a speedy clip for us. There is always something to do on your turn, even if it’s not a very efficient action. For example, if I push my luck too far when digging, I know I have the option to take something useful rather than turning the endeavor into a complete bust. This takes a bit of the sting out of poor decisions and adds to my enjoyment of the game.
However, efficient actions are crucial to playing well as there are only 16 rounds per game. The Semester Track timer makes each turn feel meaningful and adds a sense of urgency. Building a good card engine to make the most of every action is very rewarding.
I have been having a great time with Studies in Sorcery. It hits a sweet spot for a strategy game by giving me fun decisions and the opportunity to build something in a very short playtime. This has been hitting the table a lot during weeknights when we don’t want to stay up too late. I have also been able to play it with my son and he not only played pretty well, but he has also asked to play it again. This kid is extremely picky about the games he will play with us so that is a huge win for me.
The theme integration is really well-done here. Despite the wizard school genre being popular in literature, this feels fresh. Cramming for projects, trying to finish my thesis, and always feeling low on cash – that was my college experience. Fortunately, gravedigging was not a part of my curriculum.
One of the biggest highlights for me is the implementation of push-your-luck into the card draft. This simple mechanic adds a lot of tension and interest to the game and sets it apart from others in the category.
Studies in Sorcery is not a game with a ton of interaction so if games that lean towards “multiplayer solitaire” are not your thing, you might want to think twice. There is some interaction, although most of it is indirect. I have been enjoying highly interactive games lately but am finding this one very enjoyable, for what it’s worth.
I think this game will appeal to people who enjoy quick efficiency puzzles and don’t mind low interaction in games. I recommend it to people who are looking for a fast strategy game and to families with older children. If that sounds good to you (and maybe if you identify as a Slytherin) Studies in Sorcery is worth checking out!