[Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle] The Dark Mark variant

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a great deckbuilding game. However, it’s not consistently a good one. You either get absolutely brutalised or you swish away with an easy victory; there is no middle ground. If there is a moment of “Oh my god, this next turn is crucial,” it’s in the first third of the game on whether you end up on the second location or if your deck kicks into gear in time. Once your deck is in gear, if you’re on the first location, you win – after an hour or so of going through the motions. It’s fun! But it’s not doing its job as a game.

This is my proposed variant to fix it. It’s tested once so far at 2 players, and it worked so well – we ended up losing to Voldemort while knocking him down to his last 3 health, and one more turn would have been victory. So I’m posting it here and opening up the floor for this to be improved or modified by everyone else.

Everything here on out is SPOILER HEAVEN. Do not proceed if you wish to preserve the magic of opening boxes.

There are several flaws that this mod targets:

  • There is no trashing mechanic so you’ll still draw dead hands into the late game.
  • The shop gets stale quickly.
  • The initial villain draw can absolutely ruin you.
  • The game goes on a little bit too long with all the villains.
  • The game won’t necessarily ever get to the second location – and it’s too easy if you spend the whole game on the first location! No tension!

Let’s go.

Premise

The core of this variant is that the heroes should have little control over the ‘timer’ and should rarely be able to remove Dark Marks from the location. Once those are more predictable, the baddies can be scaled a little more and made harder – in part by removing the easier ones. The locations are changed to an earlier, shorter location stack. Finally, to compensate for the added difficulty, the heroes get extra control over their decks and the Hogwarts cards and hopefully get a more fulfilling experience.

Set Up

For the sake of simplicity, this is based on the core of game 6. So, if you’ve finished the campaign, go and pull out the Game 7 Dark Arts evets out, and remove the Horcruxes. Reset the heroes to their Game 3 selves, and take away the nastiest Lord Voldemort. Finally, we’ll use a shorter location track, so I suggest using the locations from Game 4.

The Villain Deck is going to get tightened up. Remove the following villains: Barty Crouch Jr., Dolores Umbridge, Crabbe & Goyle, and one Death Eater (not both!). Temporarily set aside the hardest villains; Bellatrix Lestrange, Lucius Malfoy, the Dementor, and the earliest Lord Voldemort. Your mileage may vary; you can try variations of this aspect to increase the difficulty later, but I’d certainly always get Voldemort and Bellatrix out. Shuffle up the remaining villains and draw 3 to start the game with. Then shuffle in the 4 that we just removed – that’s right, even Voldemort will make a mid-game appearance. (His mid-game self can be targeted in the same way that all other villains can be.) Put the second Lord Voldemort face up on the bottom of the deck, per the standard instructions for game 6. This means you’ll see an easier and a harder Voldemort over the course of your game, which is very thematic to how the Harry Potter series actually works.

The Hogwarts Deck is going to need some serious renovation. The aim is to remove most but not all cards that can remove Dark Marks, so that in the early game there will be an inevitable push towards the 2nd location. Some have been left in, but intentionally such that it should be almost impossible to stop the clock and keep the game perpetually on the easy first location. Also, I’ve removed some of the fluff/duplicates so that you’ll see more interesting cards more often. Remove all the following:

  • 2x Finite (important that there are none left in the deck!)
  • 1x Expecto Patronum
  • 1x Confundus
  • Deluminator
  • Dobby (the saddest removal! But unfortunately, he works strongly against the aims of this variant)
  • 2x Chocolate Frog
  • 2x Wingardium Leviosa
  • 1x Felix Felicis (one in a deck is plenty!)
  • 1x Essence of Dittany
  • 1x Butterbeer
  • 1x Quidditch Gear
  • Gilderoy Lockhart
  • 1x Protego

We’ve left 7 cards in the deck that can remove Dark Marks, and they all cost 5+ with the exception of 1 Confundus, which asks that you do damage to all villains and is thus an interesting choice worth leaving in. If your copy is missing Stupefy as some people are, while you’re waiting for USAopoly to replace them you could include the extra copy of Expecto Patronum.

Rules Changes

There are three new rules to learn.

Trashing. Any time a player makes a ‘buy’, they may trash a card either in their hand-just-played or in their discard pile. This is admittedly stronger than most other ‘trash’ options in deckbuilders as you can use an Alohamora and trash it on the same turn. This is by design! There’s not a huge amount of ‘money’ cards in the market, so it’s less of an advantage than you’d expect, and then there’s effects like Peter Pettigrew that punish you for having a low quantity of starting cards. It makes for some really interesting decisions in the mid-game as you try to spot the right time to throw away your income.

Rotating Market. If you do not buy, the market drops off its oldest card. This ensures constant rotation whether you’re buying or not. I suggest sliding all the cards in the following pattern, so that the bottom right is always the oldest.

Note that if you do buy, the cards rotate to fill the gap and the oldest stays on the table. The newest card is always on the bottom left.

No Rewards for defeating villains. Nada. No extra cards or removed Dark Marks to make the game easier; defeating the villain is its own reward. This change is especially important as by the time you’re killing villains regularly, you want the game to be harder not easier.

Extending the variant

Since 2-player is slightly easier than higher player counts, you may need some adjustment. If you are playing with 4, I suggest simply using the Game 5 location stack instead of Game 4. However, perhaps you have a better idea of where to go from here!

How do we make Harry not suck in this variant? I dunno! Perhaps replace his power with an additional ‘Proficiency’.

Also important, is how could we use the Horcruxes? For that climactic, brutal game, I suggest shuffling in both earlier Voldemorts alongside reintroducing the nastiest Dark Arts events from Game 7 and upgrading the player characters to their ‘Expert’ versions. To compensate for the increased difficulty, I propose that you give each player A History of Hogwarts in replacement of a starting card of your choice. Keep the shorter location stack of Game 4 or increase it to that of Game 5. Note that this isn’t yet playtested, so there’s still work to be done here!

In Conclusion

It should be very tough for you to roll back the clock on the Dark Marks, ensuring that you will get to the second location. And once you’re drawing two Dark Arts events each turn without getting the opportunity to take off quite enough marks to give yourself safety, you’ll absolutely have to rush to defeat all the baddies in time.

So far, this variant has provided one perfectly balanced (and exciting) game for us. With some more playtesting and adjustments we can hope to make this a really consistent experience to rise above the standard rules.