The Banishing - Board Game Review
- Game Type – Co-op, abstract card game
- Number of Players – 3 - 5
- Mechanics – Cooperative play, variable player powers
- Difficulty – Easy
- Release – 2017
- MSRP - $19.99
The Banishing is a cooperative fantasy card game where the players are heroes banding together to banish undead from the land and seal up the void from which they come. At least that's what it says on the back of the box. In actuality, it's less of a game of fantasy heroes and more of a clever abstract. Let's take a closer look.
In The Banishing players start the game by selecting a character and then laying out a 3x3 grid of cards, referred to as “the void”, in the middle of the table. There are three types of cards in the void, symbol cards which come in three different colors, item cards that give you some sort of bonus, and undead cards that have a value of 1 – 5 (1 – 3 the first round of the game). Players then do two things on each of their turns. First, they take a row or column of cards, replacing them from the deck. Any symbols and items go into their hands and undead go next to their character sheet representing wounds equal to the cards value. If a player ever has more wounds then their stamina they are limited in what they can do until healed and if they ever have more wounds then their health they die and everyone loses. After taking cards off the board player then take an action. All players have access to three basic actions, swap two cards in the void, trade a card with another player, or discard your lowest wound. In addition to this, players also have six special actions, two for each color of card, based on their characters. These actions require players to either discard three cards of the same color or both the same color and symbol to use. While all characters have different special actions they all have one ability that lets them banish cards, removing them from the game. During the game you go through the deck three times, each time adding more powerful undead. If you banish ten cards by the end of the third round everyone wins. If you don't banish ten cards or a player takes more wounds then health, you all lose.
The rules are laid out in a pretty easy to follow manner with lots of examples that stand out from the rest of the rule book. They also included a nice quick rules box on the back that acts as both a FAQ and quick start guide.
I hate to say it, but this is where the game falls a little flat. In the intro I mentioned that this game is more of an abstract and that is true to the point where I think I might have preferred the game if it were theme less. The fantasy theme feels very tacked on and is really pretty laughable. Now it is worth noting that the theme is also not important to the game play and it does give something to players who are really into it. If GO had a pasted on theme it would still be a great game, so it's by no means a deal breaker here.
Separate some cards, shuffle some decks, and it's go time! The most time consuming thing about set up is just the players choosing what characters they want to play.
Now while I did knock the game on theme, I have to give some points back for the components. As is the norm with Wizkids small box games, the box itself is very sturdy, which I feel is worth noting since I'm always annoyed the the flimsy boxes a lot of small box games come in. There's also a wonderfully minimalist art style to the game. The color scheme, shading, and art on the symbol and undead cards really work together to the game really pop when the cards are set up on the table. Even the font they use on the cards and the player boards adds to the overall style of the game. While the game may lack in theme, it certainly looks fantastic.
WizKids again has another great entry in their small box line of games. This one is clever, thoughtful, and challenging. With eight different characters, all of which play differently, there is a ton of replay-ability, and the game is difficult enough that you will certainly want to play again. My group immediately wanted to run it back as soon as we lost our first game (we lost that one too). I have two rules for co-ops to be good. The first is that it absolutely has to be challenging or else I'd rather play against a real person, this one has that. The second is that the game has to have something to mitigate the best player just playing the game for everyone else. With each player having six unique abilities, it's too much for one player to direct everything on their own. You have to trust the team in this game. While the Banishing may lose points for theme (or lack thereof), it's still a fantastic co-op abstract (a genre combination you don't see too often), and I would recommend it for any fan of either genre.