Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle is a cooperative deck-building game. I received it this past Christmas from Graev, and have had the opportunity to play it three times now. This review contains no spoilers for the game (or its movies/books) but will act as an overall explanation of the game along with my thoughts on its mechanics.
Hogwarts Battle is based on a mix of both the books and the movies. There are elements present from both throughout the game.
USAopoly did a nice job on all of the packaging and inserts. The quality of everything from the box to the board and accompanying cards is excellent.
Basic Rundown of the Game
You'll play as Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville on a quest to defeat the familiar villains before they take control of famous locations. Each character has a base set of cards that represent their unique 'deck' of items, spells, and abilities. For example, Harry has the cloak of invisibility in his deck. I do wish there were more diverse cards per character to create different strategies based on who you choose, or at least more variety beyond the familiar 4 characters.
To do so, you'll need to build up your "deck" of spells, items, and allies. Building your deck will be familiar if you've ever played a deck-building game before. Each turn you'll draw up a hand, use cards worth a coin value to purchase other cards, use whatever you can from your hand, discard the remaining, then draw a new hand for the next turn. As you purchase more Hogwarts cards (the spells, allies, and items), your deck becomes larger. As a result, you gain access to more cards but may have to wait until they cycle back through to your hand.
Each turn, the villains will be able to take action against the players. These actions include forcing you to discord cards, lose health, or add Dark Marks to the location. Once a location receives a certain number of marks, that location is lost. When a player's health drops to zero, the player is 'stunned' and must discards half their hand and add Dark Marks to the location.
As you defeat villains, more come up to take their place until you have defeated them all.
Play Through the Story in 7 "Games"
Hogwarts Battle comes with 7 "games" representing the 7 books. Experienced deck-building game players can start on Game 3, but my wife and I decided to start with Game 1. The first game goes rather quickly due to its basic mechanics. The game really tries to teach you as you go along.
As you progress to the next game (by defeating the villains), more mechanics are introduced. Game 2 introduces more Hogwarts cards and villains, and Game 3 introduces character abilities, a second villain on the board at a time, more Hogwarts cards, etc. So the games compound upon themselves and by the time you're on Game 7 you'll be rolling dice, using abilities, fighting 3 villains at a time. It gets a little crazy.
Included with the instruction manual are excellent instructions and a rundown of what you add and how you play with each new mechanic as you progress. These are perfect for a quick refresher or referring to them during a game.
Hogwarts Battle is designed to get harder as you go, and as in any good cooperative deck-building game, you're probably not going to win every time. Multiple villains out at a time all executing abilities on you combined with Dark Arts cards impacting everyone can lead to an extremely brutal experience -- but what else should you expect when facing off against evil wizards?
Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle is a very fun deck-building game with just the right amount of difficulty, and a load of replay value. As the 'games' go on, more and more complexity is thrown at the players until you start to feel like every turn (not just your own) is a struggle for survival. Perhaps quite fitting to the setting?
Players should encourage each other not to spend too long on deciding what to do during their turn in order to avoid burnout and long games. Remember, the game grows increasingly more complicated, so if you're not thinking between turns about what you'll do then the rounds will take a very, very long time.
I would recommend Hogwarts Battle to Harry Potter fans first and foremost, probably ages 12. Although a good game in its own right, there's a lot more enjoyment to be had when you can pick up on the details of the Hogwarts cards and the setting.