I fully admit that a big part of what I enjoy about gaming subscription services is the opportunity to try out things that intrigue me, but that I don’t actually think I’ll like. Rather than keep them on my wishlist forever, I will play them on Game Pass or Utomik, and then move on. But sometimes a game surprises me, and Spellcaster University definitely surprised me.
The reason I thought I wouldn’t like it all that much is that, like every third game released in the past two years, there’s a card mechanic, and I am so over card games. Otherwise, it sounded right up my alley – you manage a magic school, building classrooms and services, hiring staff, and creating houses to focus the studies of certain students. Meanwhile, you need to make nice with various factions, and you’ve got to work quickly, because the Forces of Evil are coming, making it necessary to move on to a new location and start again.
In campaign mode, at the end of each level, you will be awarded a spellbook to use in all future levels, the strength of which depends on how many quests you were able to complete in the previous level. You will also get a new curse, which makes things more difficult. The seventh time you do this, you need to complete a series of quests to defeat the Forces of Evil once and for all. Or at least for 274.5 years.
There are five difficulty levels, five game speeds, and challenge rules that you can mix and match to customize your experience. I played on the standard difficulty (Sorcerer), but I decreased the game speed in order to have more time on each level, and it was still challenging to try to knock out all the necessary quests. I’m just shy of 14 hours in, and have not yet managed to beat the campaign. If you fail the final scenario, however, you are given the option to replay just that level, however, I elected to start over with all the knowledge I’d gained from my previous playthrough to see if I could set myself up for success a little bit better.
It’s a quirky take on your pretty average management game fare. As I suspected, the card mechanic is my least favorite part. When you have adequate funds or mana built up, you can draw three cards from the respective deck, and choose one to keep. On the upside, it’s not actually a deck-building mechanic, rather just a vehicle for some RNG. On the downside, it’s a lot of RNG for a management game. Often, I would need a specific classroom or service, and I just couldn’t seem to draw it (or obtain it through other means). On one level, I couldn’t manage to get my hands on any of the Arcane magic classrooms, so for the majority of the level, I wasn’t producing any Arcane mana. Naturally, it was a level where more than one of my quests required me to use Arcane mana, so it didn’t work out so well for me.
Each of the available decks have an assortment of card types. Early in the level, you’re probably going to want to focus on classrooms, but you can pull decor items & pets that provide unique buffs, as well as items that buff students once they reach a certain proficiency in the related schools of magic, and cards that will improve your teachers. Pets & decor can only be placed in certain places in your available rooms, whereas items are just dropped on the school and then given to students as they earn them. Teacher items are applied to their classrooms rather than on the character sprite. If this was well explained in the tutorial, I missed it.
If that was all Spellcaster University had going on, it would probably be enough. However, there are still a couple more mechanics. During play, you may get a quest that will open up a dungeon. When you travel there, you can take four students, and progress through until all your students die (which isn’t great for your school’s reputation, by the way) or until you decide you’ve gone far enough. Each level you progress adds to the threat level, and makes the encounters more difficult. Initially, I was really bad at dungeons, so I stopped doing them for awhile, but once I got the hang of it, I realized they could really be beneficial. Dungeon encounters can reward just about any card you could get from any deck, as well as gold, mana, prestige, and reputation.
There are items you can receive for your school that will grant you reagent cards at random while you’re working on everything else. Once you have three different reagents, you can combine them in the cauldron to create a potion. There are potions that grant each type of mana, potions that grand gold, potions that grant prestige, and a couple of other utility potions. In most levels, potions probably won’t be your focus, but eventually, you’ll run into factions that pretty much require you to work with potions, so it’s worth learning what combinations do as early as possible in each playthrough. Potion recipes are randomized at the start of each campaign, so it’s not possible to go into a new campaign knowing what combinations make which potions.
Students will eventually graduate, assuming they survive that long, and you will have the opportunity to see what career they pursue after graduation. Every student that graduates has a chance to reward you with resources and prestige, and if you are displeased with the future a student receives, you are given one chance to reroll. On most levels, one of the quests you’ll have is to have a certain number of students graduate into a certain profession. While that quest is active, any student who meets the qualification of that profession will automatically be placed there, which was a welcome change to the many parts of the game play that require a certain amount of luck.
Spellcaster University is a fairly solid management game, with a lot of customization options, but it isn’t without its flaws. I’ve found myself frustrated a few times, but it’s compelling enough to keep bringing me back. I initially played through Utomik, however, it is also one of the games available currently through Prime Gaming.
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