- Developer: Sneaky Yak Studio
- Publisher: Sneaky Yak Studio
- Release Date: 24/09/2019 (Early Access)
- Price: $24.99
- Code provided by Sneaky Yak Studio
Introducing: Spellcaster University Review
Greetings Professor! It’s such a pleasure to have you joining the faculty after that unfortunate run in with the Lord of Evil. So here is your desk, your first job will be devising the curriculum for the next decade. Also, the potions department are currently on strike, the Alchemists have been stealing the lead from the roof and oh yes, the Dark Lord of Evil is on his way again. Let’s dust off the books and open up our review of Spellcaster University.
Spellcaster University is a crowdfunded simulation game from Sneaky Yak Studio. With a unique take on some of the mechanics, the goal remains similar to other simulation games. You take on the role of headmaster of <Insert legally distinguished from Hogwarts name here>. Train your proteges, send them out into the real world and call on them again when you are at your most needy. The Lord of Evil will return, but will we be ready?
A World in Turmoil
The story behind Spellcaster University is that you were caught in a war that happened too early. A cyclic battle between good and evil saw the dark Lord play his hand two years earlier, destroying the academic institutions of old. Now as one of the last surviving wizards, it is your job to recruit, retain and reshape the learning of the land.
Your first task will be choosing where to build your school. This immediately drew parallels with games such as Theme Hospital. Each area has its own challenges, but also provides its own unique rewards. There are even some locations that would make you think, “I want to build there because… it’s there!” Definitely helps add to the replay value that’s for sure. You are also able to select the difficulty and, interestingly, the length of your game. I really liked this feature for obvious reasons. But it also means you can make life more difficult for yourself, with the threat of an early arrival from the Lord of Evil!
Its a “Mana-gement” sim
Spellcaster uses a unique set of twists to set it apart from other management simulation games. One of it’s features is a card based resource game. You can select cards from a deck from each of the types of mana or one for the school as a whole. Each magic discipline (Light, Shadow, Arcane, Alchemy and Nature) will only generate cards once you are teaching that discipline. To do so requires gold to purchase cards from the school deck.
The cards themselves poses either rooms themselves, allowing you to begin building, or resources and abilities to allow you to expand and improve the lives and the learning of your charges. Selecting a classroom allows you to place it, with a tile positioning like mechanic where some areas can’t accept a new room. There is also the ability to build up, so anyone fancying recreating the craziness of the Burrow can live their best life!
But with each room comes the need for educators! You can’t simply hire anyone to teach, but at the same time your options are quite limited, don’t forget. So with each room placement you are offered the choice of two members of faculty. Each member of staff has positive and negative traits to help you make your decision. This section gave me the strongest flashback to Theme Hospital though, with some of the negatives being amusing distractions. Other negatives however have an accompanying stat debuff that might mean you have to take a punishment for not choosing the racist alchemist.
Teach us something, please!
Your main source of revenue are your students. Because even wizards have to leave further education in crippling debt. Rich students will donate more gold whereas your entrance fee may prevent those who are magically able from joining, possibly depriving you of vital cannon fodder in the upcoming war! Your students also help the school when they graduate and obviously you want the best and brightest on your side.
Students can be sorted into houses, which again you can name. These houses specialise on specific areas of magic and therefore your choice of house can affect their progress and eventual outcomes. Each classroom also has the ability to add buffs and enhancements to aid those students through their decoration. There is also the ability to add dormitories and to furnish them in a way to aid their rest, or not!
Every now and then a different faction of the outer world will try and interact with you and your school. Whether it’s the local bard who affects your ability to recruit, the local orcs, or even the King himself. Each will provide you with a dilemma for you to select the most opportune response, with consequences for your actions. You can also approach these factions yourself, should you find the time between managing your students, staff and other options.
Reveal your secrets!
The game plays fine. Ultimately it is a management simulation game and there is only so much a developer can do to set itself apart from the competition. The board game mechanics added to Spellcaster certainly help to do that, but this is a game that would benefit from some external support.
The game does a good job of keeping things ticking over. Students move around, go to class, sleep etc all as they should and there were no incidences that I found of students trapped in rooms or unable to move. But lost students aside, it felt a lot of the time like I couldn’t fail. Yes I could do “not as well as i should have” but I didn’t really feel the risk that my choices would mess things up completely.
A great example of this issue was when choosing which staff to employ or which house to place students in. With staff, choosing those with debuffs didn’t show their impact, although perhaps if enough are chained into a combo this might have had a stronger effect? Similarly with students, when sorting them there is usually a clear indicator of the best house, but randomly assigning them didn’t seem to provide much detriment.
My other main complaint is that the tutorial section played out as if someone was hand holding my way through reading the Player’s Handbook of a popular tabletop roleplaying game. Yes players need to be shown how your world works and what certain mechanics do. But could this not have been incorporated into a short level? Allowing players to place the cards you tell them about rather than presenting the dreaded wall of text would have gone down well.
Infuse fame, Brew Glory
On the whole the game plays OK. But I did enounter a few issues. My PC was more than capable of meeting the system requirements but I did encounter a number of frame rate drops once the number of students became larger, or when zooming into the map. This got worse when you tried to focus on specific statistics or metrics or if changing school rules for example. You can almost hear the game thinking through the code.
The other big issue came again when zooming in. Using the controls I was able to zoom into rooms, but this seemed to lock somehow, which was only resolved by leaving the game. I was able to access certain functions, but for some reason I was unable to see the whole picture of the school again. This would have been less of an issue had the frame rate problems not been present alongside it.
Artistically however, the game is very cute. It is reminiscent of Theme / Two Point Hospital in its cartoon style and the animations themselves are fun to watch. Whilst the variety in characters in game are limited, the cards and art assets used elsewhere are hugely varied. The art assets felt perfect in a board game setting and that they’d look fantastic in a game box for example.
This is How the Story Ends?
Ultimately, Spellcaster University is a fun game that tries to run before it can walk. What has been achieved is fantastic when you consider the size of the studio and their experience in game development. This is a title that fans of sim management games will enjoy and fans of a certain wizarding franchise will also get a big kick out of. But with the sheer depth of the game combined with the ability to coast through it (particularly at the easier difficulties), some players may move onto something else quickly.
- Charming and adorable art assets
- Some great mechanics give a novel twist on the genre
- A lot of content to work through
- Some technical issues could be more problematic on minimum settings
- Feels like it tries to include too much at times
- Tutorial creates a more difficult learning experience than is necessary