2018 saw a number of really amazing board games. One of my favorites has been SPELL SMASHERS! It’s a word game with a fantasy theme and surprising strategic depth. It also contains clever balancing mechanics that prevent word game aficionados (like me) from running away with things.
As many of you know, I’m committed to forcing my young kids to play board games. Sometimes, I have to tweak the rules. Here is my alternative rule set for Spell Smashers that makes it a perfect experience for an emerging reader:
MONSTER DECK SETUP - Take all five of the vowel monsters (AEIOU) and add five random consonant monsters. Shuffle to create your 10 card monster deck. Put the Insatiable Vulture boss monster on the bottom of this stack.
BOARD SETUP - Keep a pile of money handy. The only cards in the game are Vowels and Consonants. No wounds, gear, quests. No Alchemist tokens. You don't even need the town board.
PLAYER SETUP - No money, seven cards (3 vowels, 4 consonants), the Starting Stick (to encourage them to make longer words). Give them 10 ale tokens that represent their HP. When they run out of tokens, they are dead.
THE TURN - Flip the top monster of the deck. Make an appropriate roaring sound and add money to it to represent its life. Have kid identify how much damage it will deal each turn. Note that there will only ever be one monster.
Kid creates a word and deals damage to the monster -- and the monster does damage in return (depleting their HP). Note that you ignore damage types in this version.
As with the regular version of the game, letters used in a battle word are discarded. Kid re-draws up to 7 (picking vowels and consonants as they like).
When a monster is defeated, it goes face-down in a stack next to the kid. They do not get access to these letters (yet).
HINTS and HEALS - On their turn, they may also pay the "Sage" (you) for hints: For $1, the Sage shows them two letters that will fit into a good word. For another $1, the Sage will give them a hint about what that word is (ex: "It's a word that means silly"). After each attack, the kid may spend $ to regain one HP token. Each token costs $5.
THE BOSS FIGHT - Once all ten monsters are dead, the final boss appears! For this fight, the kid loses ALL their cards. "Oh no, you lost your hand! But wait ... what's that sound?" Monsters to the rescue! The 10 monsters they defeated over the course of the game have come back to help them take on the Vulture. These are the letters they have must use to fight the Vulture.
Fight proceeds just as in the regular game, with one change: every time the Vulture does damage, it also kills one of your monsters (shuffle and randomly discard one of the monsters used in their last word) ... this ensures that your kid won't try to use the same word more than once.
THE END - When the Vulture is dead, they Win! Final scoring is determined by the number of HP tokens they have left (they may use remaining $ to buy tokens before counting up).
That's it. We had a super fun time, and I would definitely recommend trying it!
For the curious, my other favorite games of the year include: Keyforge, Western Legends, Teotihuacan: City of Gods, Wildlands, Gloomhaven, and (once again) Star Wars Destiny.