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Board Game Preview: Kill Merlin! (the New Kickstarter Release from Schuman Family Games)

About a month ago, I spotted an attractive board game in my Instagram feed and followed the breadcrumb trail back to the publisher and designer to learn more about it. The more I read about Kill Merlin!, the more I was sure my kids would enjoy it and it looked fun for adults as well. A few days later a review copy showed up on my doorstep and after unboxing it for my IG audience I set it up on our family gaming table and called the kids (Helenipa 13, and our twin boys Max and Locke who are 9) over to take a look. They were quite impressed with the artwork (as was I; this is a well-illustrated game with beautiful colors). There were some ooohs and ahhhs immediately followed by demands to PLAY RIGHT NOW PLEASE.

Everyone wanted in on the first game so one of our sons partnered with my husband, allowing us to all play within the constraints of the 4-player maximum. Right away my husband relocated the wizard tokens from the side of the board where I’d set them up (following the instructions in the rulebook) to its center, arranging them in a cute little circle. The board was made perfectly for this.

Let’s talk about those tokens. Each player is given five at the start of the game. The design team at Schuman Family Games has come up with this clever system wherein the state of the wizard tokens is represented by the presence of their hats. If the hat is on the wizard, the token is charged. If the hat is off, the token is spent (note: the wizard tokens with removable hats are a stretch goal for the game; the base game comes standard with small chits that represent the charged token on one side and the spent token on the other. I really adore the wizards and their little hats so I’m going to need all of you to back this game to ensure the stretch goal is reached). Charged tokens allow the player controlling the token to cast the spell where the wizard token is stationed. The spells, in turn, allow the player to gain advantages over the other players by either improving the casting player’s position in the game or diminishing the position of one or more opponents. It’s very much a “take that” game. Players station their wizard tokens on a spell by paying the cost to “learn” the spell and turning in the two required ingredients (or one of the ingredients and the wild card Mimic).

The ability to place wizard tokens and cast spells begins with a draw from the treasury and the purchasing of ingredients. There are special rules governing the placement of wizard tokens on the board and the purchasing of ingredients and the rulebook covers them in an easy to understand format.

The ultimate objective across all the rounds is to position your wizard tokens on the board in a pattern matching the one dealt to you on your Secret Formula card at the start of the game. Once you match the pattern, you’ve learned the formula required to destroy Merlin and victory is yours; your last act is to shout out that you’ve killed him (my kids especially loved that part and shouted with great exuberance when they did him in).

The patterns on the Secret Formula cards always consist of a token in each of the four quadrants, and the total distance as measured by orthogonal spaces away from the center of the board for the four tokens combined is always 12.

Win Condition: Place wizard tokens on all of the spells indicated on your Secret Formula card before the other players can do the same for their SF cards.

Inputs: $$ value accumulated, ingredients amassed, token positioning shifts resulting from casting spells.

Strategy tip:  Because the win condition is always represented by a pattern 12 steps away from the center of the board, you can keep a running tally of the score by comparing the step count of each players pattern. Focus your destructive spell casting each turn against the players with the highest step count.

In addition to combating fellow players on your quest to get wizard tokens in position, you must also fend off Merlin directly who is trying to destroy all the wizards before they can take him out with their secret formulas. Each round, Merlin gets a turn to incite discord as cards are revealed from the Merlin deck that interrupt the balance of the game in quick and often dramatically punishing ways. This outside party attempting to jack everyone up whenever he can (and in such random fashion) helps to balance out the resentment traditionally elicited by take that games. It feels a little less frustrating to have an opponent take all your money when you know they might be Merlin’s next victim and lose it all themselves the next turn. It reinforces the theme that Merlin is the bigger enemy, and nothing should be taken personally as we step on each other trying to get to him first.   

My son Max won the first game. My son Locke challenged him almost immediately to a rematch and we scheduled it for a few days later. This time just the two boys and I played, and Locke won. Let me tell you, it takes a strong ego as an adult to lose to not just one, but two 9-year olds in one week.
Kill Merlin! plays well under both three and four player games (we haven’t played with any other player counts yet). The game play moves quickly and is not subject to analysis paralysis. It’s enjoyable for adults as a lightweight game, but I’d especially recommend this game for kids and teens. Replay variability is possible through the random distribution of cards in the Merlin and ingredient decks as well as the placement of spells in each quadrant. Having said that, I’d really like to see additional spell cards provided for the game (perhaps in an expansion?) to significantly increase variability over a series of replays and keep things continually interesting.

There are only 2 days left in the Kill Merlin! Kickstarter and as the publisher is small and independent, no guarantees of a reprint down the road can be made. To ensure a copy will be coming your way, you’ll want to make sure you get your name on the backer’s list while you still can.

Publisher: Schuman Family Games
Players: 2-4 (We played with 3 and 4)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 60-90 minutes
Game type: set collection, take that

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.


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