Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Inspiration: Wizards

Here is a game which draws its strength from the reality of the powers beyond, where ritual, art, and music have the ability to change the course of events, and where mystical enchantments become real, not only in the world of WIZARDS, but in our world as well.
– Avalon Hill advertisement

Wizards, Coral J. F. Mosbø © 2015; used with permission

Once upon a time, “our culture [became] more and more ego-centric and materialistic, epitomized by psychologists who encouraged us to become 'self-actualized,' with no responsibility toward the feelings of others.”  Additionally, “The genre of High Fantasy [fell] prey to the 'Gates of Delirium' syndrome” and “fighting and the violence [became] the most important thing, and Good [was] turned to Evil.”  Those dark times were “the Eighties.”  In response to this iniquitous age, “the initial concept for Wizards was born: a game which would once again portray the Good side of things: the Light, the Mystery, the Calling to the Heavenly Realm.”

The quotes above are from an exegesis of the game¹ by Thomas Mosbø, co-designer (along with Coral Mosbø) of Wizards, an Avalon Hill bookcase game published in 1982.  A portion of the above image was used for the box cover.  The full image features three of the titular Wizards; according to the indicia of their staves, they are (L to R):  Aevarex (“fairest of the High Wizards, Healer of Harms”), Ishkatar (“the greatest of all beings that inhabit the Enchanted Isles”), and Tolmitar (“possesses intense mental energies of Light”).  Incidentally, the Wizards “have existed from beyond time.”

Diverse elements combined to influence the creation Wizards; among these are:  Tolkien, cultural anthropology, prog rock (a Yes song is quoted on the second page of the rules), and Zoroastrianism.  Doubtless, the most important influence came from the Wizards and Elflords.  According to the designers' notes for the game:
In Gaming, as in Ritual and Art, players act out truths.  The world of the Game is a real world – the actions which transpire throughout its course are real events, and the personalities encountered have actual existence.  The players enter the world of the Game, experiencing and establishing the truths of that world.  But these truths are not locked only into the world of the Game, for by playing it the players make its truths realities in our world.
Therefore, “...we have hope that in actually playing Wizards, some good will come into our world, increasing the values expressed through the symbols our game.”¹

The game takes place in the Enchanted Islands.  At the beginning of each game, players distribute territory tiles (examples of which are displayed at the conclusion of this post) upon a game board representing water.  Thus, each playing of the game allows for a distinct configuration of areas.  The Enchanted Islands are afflicted by the Evil Spirit.  Only the High Druid Priest Rüktal can permanently defeat the Evil Spirit by casting “the Spell of Spells.”  In order to cast said spell, Rüktal needs a set of Sacred Gems which the High Wizards keep.  This is where the players come in.  Each player must join one of the Magical Orders (Wizard, Sorcerer, or Druid), develop abilities, eventually collect the Sacred Gems and then deliver them to Rüktal.

Sorcerer, Wizard, & Druid, Coral J. F. Mosbø © 2015; used with permission

For much of the game, players complete tasks drawn from a deck of task cards.  Examples of tasks include:
Recover the wandering Dreamer, Solina, from a random COMMON OR ELVEN space.  Return her to Belbidar, Warden of the Crescent Ridge A4 Common Town.

Escort Truvior and Corianna from the Glendale C3 Elven Dwelling to the Star Crest to perform the Star Dance for the Awakening of the Mysteries of Hope.

Release the soul of a Dolphin from its spellbound entrapment in a RANDOM space.  Return the soul to the Sea at least TWO Water spaces from land.
Successfully completing tasks improves one or more attributes (Knowledge, Perception, and Power).  By improving attributes, 'players' can advance to higher ranks of a Magical Order, thereby gaining new or improved spells.  Examples of spells include Boat Summoning, Swiftness, and Demon Dispelling.

Each turn represents a day of game time.  Every fortnight, “the Evil Spirit” attacks.  At first, the attacks are limited to placing demons and transporting the 'players' randomly.  Starting on the third fortnight, the Evil Spirit will “take over” a territory, effectively removing that territory from play.  The only way to prevent this for a given fortnight is for the players to successfully complete ten tasks.  Essentially, the action in Wizards is a 'pick-up and deliver' routine – made progressively more difficult as areas are removed from play.  As Mosbø states,  “Wizards is a race rather than a combat.”²  Since one of the Wizards is a traitor, there is also a mystery/deduction component.

The game is quasi-cooperative.  In his exegesis, Mosbø claims, “a game which must have a winner must be competitive, and so we limited considerably the options for cooperation.”¹  Why must the game have an individual winner?  The 'competition' is against the game mechanism of the Evil Spirit.  Even without 'limited cooperation', a single winner could be determined not by who completes the delivery of Sacred Gems first but instead by a player's total points or number of successfully performed tasks.  There can still be tension as player may, at certain times in the game, decide between 'going for points' or working toward the common good.  With the game's winning condition as it is, there is an effectively infinite supply of each type of Sacred Gem – each player collects his or her own set and (should any be lost or stolen) additional instances are available.  This profusion of Sacred Gems does not seem realistic (as opposed to spell-trapped dolphin souls).

The world of Wizards and its predicament could easily serve as the basis for a role-playing campaign, especially one not focused on violence.  The backstory of the Enchanted Islands is more extensive than what I covered here.  The tasks offer a variety of interesting adventure seeds.

Art by Coral J. F. Mosbø

Art by Coral J. F. Mosbø

¹  “Rivers of Thought.”  Heroes (Vol. 1, No. 5)
²  “Tactics and Strategy in Wizards.”  Heroes (Vol. 1, No. 5) 


  1. The biggest weakness of the game, actually, was that it took forever to play. It was like playing Monopoly without the auction rule: it just kept going. I'm not sure if we ever actually finished a game. Maybe once.

    The task that I remember most is the one about the "mystical Knights in White Satin". Actually, I don't remember the details, only that bit. Prog rock, indeed.

  2. Thank you for your review of our board game, Wizards. It is nice to know that others still take an interest in our fun fantasy creation of long ago. You bring up several good points. The idea of an alternate way to "win" by either getting the gems to Rüktal first, or by the amount of good done for the Enchanted Islands based on the number of tasks completed and points amassed is worth consideration. There is a solitaire version that pits the solo player against the Evil Spirit in a race against time to see whether the Islands will be saved or lost, so this idea is already there in some form. The cooperative play of the game was a new idea at the time (in contrast to the hack and hoard types of fantasy games, where players both hinder and harm one another for personal gain). We liked the change in play from cooperative to competitive as an end game, which added a new element of action, increasing the pace and interest after several hours of advancing up the ranks and performing tasks for the good of the land. Regarding, the Sacred Gems being in infinite supply, admittedly this is not a perfect scenario, but solved the dilemma of how to regain gems which had become lost or stolen. I suppose the idea was that each Wizard protected one specific Sacred Gem, and had the power to generate what was needed from that gem to help avert the realm from disaster. Thanks for your insightful comments and consideration of our Wizards' game. Blessing to you, Coral J. F. Mosbø (Co-Designer & Artist)

  3. Great stuff and great to see the artist roused to comment. Condolences today for all Yes fans, surely heaven has a lot more power on bass now.