Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review.
- For ages 10 and up
- For 2 to 4 players
- Approximately 30 minutes to complete
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Pattern/Color Matching
- Strategy & Tactics
- Risk vs. Reward
- Hand/Resource Management
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Battle to obtain powerful artifacts to further your magical goals
- Gamer Geek approved!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
Magic, like any other resource, is finite. It has great power but was squandered on petty miracles and destructive wars. A new age is now beginning where the magic in the world has become rare, but its potential is still limitless. You frantically search for powerful artifacts that contain magical reserves that you can tap into. As magic dwindles, the hunger of those who use it grows ever more intense. Now you and others fight for the magical table scraps that remain.
Thalara: The Last Artifacts is designed by Alexander Wrede and to be published by wredespiele. As of this review, it’s unclear how the game will be packaged. We expect that will be made apparent during the game’s Kickstarter campaign and be further determined by unlocked goals and the game’s overall financial success. What we do know is that the provided artwork by illustrator Martin Sobr is outstanding. We also know that the rules, although still being refined, are solid. As for the gameplay? Read on.
Entering the World of Thalara
To set up the game, first have each player select their Character. Each Character is comprised of one Spell Overview card and four Spell cards. To make it easy, the Spell Overview and Spell cards all have the same illustration of the Character being portrayed. Also, the cards are double-sided, with one side in English and the other German. Each of these Characters is unique with the spells listed determining the overall play style. Have players take a moment to review or just randomly distribute.
Second, set aside any Characters not selected back in the game box. Have each player hand to their opponent (if playing a two-player game) their Character’s Spell Overview card. This allows the player’s opponent a quick view of what their Character is capable of, spell-wise. The remaining Spell cards that belong to the player’s Character are placed in a row in front of them for easy reference during play.
Third, take a set of Artifact cards and shuffle. Place this face-down off to one side of the game playing area. This is the Artifact draw deck for the duration of the game.
Fourth, each player takes a set of Remnant cards (each set has the same number and type of Remnant cards). Each of these decks has a different card backing color. This is the player’s Remnant Supply deck for the duration of the game. It does not need to be shuffled.
That’s it for the game set up. Determine who will be the first player and begin.
Thalara is played in rounds and turns with no set number of rounds per game. To set up a new game round, three Artifact cards are drawn from the Artifact draw deck and placed in a row between the players, face-up. These three Artifacts are now considered in “conflict” and are what the players will be attempting to capture. Each round has three Conflicts (or more if playing with three or four players).
After the Artifacts in conflict have been revealed, players take a look at their Remnant hand. For the first round of the game, players will select seven Remnant cards to add to their hand for their Remanant Supply deck. As the game progresses, they’ll have fewer Ramant cards to choose from. Selection of the Remnant cards should be made privately, keeping the cards selected unknown to their opponent. Place any cards in the Remnant Supply deck face-down and off to one side of the owning player. Place any cards in the player’s Remnants hand hidden.
Players now take turns “betting” on the Artifacts in conflict. This is done by playing one Remnant card from the player’s hand to their side of the table, attaching it to an Artifact. Each Remnant card has two crucial icons. These are “Strength” and “Color.” Strength is used when betting on Artifacts, and the color is used to trigger Spells. As the game progresses, players will be replacing their Remnant cards with Artifact cards, but when played in a conflict, they work the same.
This continues with players playing one Remnant (or Artifact) card from their hand, turn by turn, until both players “Pass” or both players run out of cards to play from their hand. If a player passes, any Remant cards still in their hand are returned to their Supply, and they are out for the duration of the round. Their opponent can now play their cards in any order they like until they too pass, or they no longer have any cards to play from their hand.
Capturing Artifacts and Casting Magic
Artifacts will have the same Strength and Color as the Remant cards. The only difference is that Artifacts also have victory points (noted with a one to three “star” icon on the card’s face). When capturing an Artifact, players use their Remnant card’s strength value only. This means different colored Remnant cards can be placed on any Artifact in conflict. You DO NOT need to match colors!
Colors DO COUNT when casting Spells. Note that each Character’s Spell Cards list a series of one or more colors (with matching icons). A player may trigger this Spell if they have the needed Spell card combination attached to that specific Artifact they just played to. Each Spell can be triggered once per round. Only the player’s Remnant cards are used (ignore any Spell cards played by the opponent). Once triggered, the Spell card is resolved (which often results in manipulating Remnant cards in play instantly, but some last longer) and is then tipped to indicate it’s no longer available. It should also be noted that a player can trigger a spell while playing to an Artifact, but the results of that Spell can target any Artifact in conflict.
When the round ends, players determine who wins each of the Artifacts in play. This is done by only counting the strength value of the Remant (or Artifact) cards attached to the Artifact in conflict. The player with the most strength wins that Artifact.
Now here is where it gets really interesting…
The player who wins the Artifact card takes it into their hand (they do not put it into their Supply). Artifact cards, both during the conflict and won during previous rounds ALWAYS return to the player’s hand. They become permanent cards in the total hand size, too. Each player can only have seven cards in their hand at a time. This means that when a player wins an Artifact, they earn the victory points, but they also lose some of their decision-making when it comes to forming their hand for the next round. This makes acquiring Artifacts not only a must to win the game, but also a real brain teaser to determine which of the Artifacts you want to win or avoid to keep a strong hand.
After each of the Artifacts in the conflict has been won (or if there is a tie, the Artifact remains in the conflict), all players take their played Remnant cards and place them in their personal discard pile. Except, again, any previously won Artifact cards that are played in the same way as Remant cards during the round.
Another Round of Hocus Pocus
After the round ends and the players take into their hand any Artifacts won or used, a new round now begins. A new round needs new Artifacts, meaning that additional Artifacts are drawn to ensure that three are always three (or more) available in the conflict.
Players now take what cards they have left in their Supply and add to their hand a total of seven cards. If players have won Artifact cards, these stay in the player’s hand and count towards the total cards in the player’s hand size. For example, if the player has won three Artifact cards, they can only add to their hand four Remnant cards from their Supply for a total of seven cards.
The next round now begins with the last player to play a card in the previous round taking the first turn.
Master of Magic
The game continues as summarized here, round after round, until one of two conditions are met:
- When one player captures a total of seven or more Artifacts
- When one player cannot refill their hand to seven cards
If either of the two conditions is met, the game comes to an end. Players now count and add together the victory points from captured Artifacts. The player with the most victory points wins the game.
In addition to a unique game variant provided in the rules, there are several ways you can adjust the game’s playstyle. Each is summarized here.
- Easier Spellcasting: The game provides each player four Spells. While not difficult to manage, it can be a bit overwhelming for new and younger players to keep track of. To reduce stress and make for a more accessible game to teach, consider having each player only select two of their four Spell cards. It’s the player’s choice of which of the two Spell cards they use.
- Advanced Spellcasting: Our copy of the game came with a total of six Characters. Two of them are considered “advanced.” Not because they are heavier hitters, but because their use of the Remnant and Artifact cards during gameplay are more involved. It should be noted that playing with an advanced Character versus a basic character is still balanced. For those players looking for more “game” in their game, then consider using the advanced Characters for additional depth of play.
- Magical Chaos: This game variant allows players to customize which spells are available to them, but at a cost. Players can still only have four Spells, but these can be from any available. If the Spell card selected is not owned by their selected Character, they reduce their total hand size by one. For example, if a player chooses two Spell cards not owned by their Character, their total hand size is five. Once all the cards in the player’s hand have been replaced with an Artifact, they can again draw up to a total of seven cards using their Remnant Supply deck.
The Child Geeks were able to quickly grasp the game’s most basic concepts and dive into the gameplay without issue. It became immediately apparent to all that additional hand management and hand-building was necessary to remain competitive. Some of the Child Geeks took this to heart while others simply didn’t care, chasing points for short term gains and sacrificing long term strategic gameplay. In both cases, the Child Geeks had a blast. According to one Child Geek, “The game is straightforward to understand and fast to play. I liked it a lot and loved it when you can cast your spells.” Another Child Geek said, “I like all the different characters and their spells. I think the game is great for kids because it teaches math and colors, but you also have to think about everything you do.” When the last spell was cast, the Child Geeks gave Thalara their full approval.
The Parent Geeks found Thalara to be casual with enough depth to keep them all involved without feeling overwhelmed. According to one Parent Geek, “The game is deceptively simple when you first start. After you win an Artifact, you start to see the self-imposed strain you now have to manage with hand-building and hand management. I liked this, as the game progressed in its level of difficulty that felt both natural and manageable.” Another Parent Geek said, “An enjoyable game I could play just as easily with two, three, or four players, regardless of their age and skill level. I had a lot of fun with it.” All the Parent Geeks agreed that Thalara was a game that was well-received at their family gaming table, both with their kids and with their friends.
The Gamer Geeks found Thalara to be simple, but not in a negative way. According to one Gamer Geek, “This is a casual game, to be sure, but there is an enjoyable depth of play that requires tactical decisions and strategic planning. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to other players who are looking for a gripping card game that takes enough of your brain to feel fulfilled, but not overstuffed.” Another Gamer Geek said, “Fun little game. I thought it would be simpler and faster due to its size and lack of cards. Once you play it, you realize there is more to the game than what you first perceived. That could be a boon or a bane to a game, but in this case, it served it well. Good stuff.” The Gamer Geeks all agreed to welcome back Thalara to their elitist table.
Thalara is a lot of fun. Reminded me at first of Lost Cities, with the need to manage your hand and make critical decisions based on a good deal of information at the table. After a single game, I realized that my initial thoughts were invalid. Thalara is a unique game in and of itself, requiring hand management and hand-building. Yes, it uses many little elements from other game designs, but Thalara has put them together in a unique way that feels both refreshing and engaging. Important to note, especially to those readers who have a game collection like mine, that is in the thousands. Not bragging…
The game is easy to pick up and even easier to teach, which is frequently an indicator that the game itself is straightforward to play. Lack of rules often predicts a lack of depth, too. Not in this case. The gameplay is simple, but the thought process behind the gameplay is anything but easy. Additionally, as the game progresses, the choices the player needs to make become harder and fewer in number. I liken it to slowly turning a vice that puts more and more pressure on your head. At first, everything feels very comfortable. As the game continues, you start to feel that pinch!
I am most pleased with Thalara and excited to see where it goes. The first Characters in the game and their spells give you a lot to tinker with. I don’t see any reason to believe that the proverbial “glass ceiling” has already been hit, giving the game designers a lot more room to add in new Characters, new Spells, and new game variants. The game has a solid future and is sure to be an enjoyed game for those looking for a casual experience with depth.
Do try Thalara: The Last Artifacts when time allows and see if this game casts a spell on you and yours. As for me, I am totally enchanted.
This is a paid-for review of the game’s final prototype. Although our time and focus were financially compensated, our words are our own. We’d need at least 10 million dollars before we started saying what other people wanted. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek, which cannot be bought except by those who own their private islands and small countries.