The Harry Potter Trading Card Game is a card game based on the Harry Potter book series, authored by J. K. Rowling. It is published by Wizards of the Coast and debuted in September of 2001. It has many features in common with the collectible trading card game genre of games, including the idea that each player constructs his or her own deck of cards to play with, and then players compete against each other using their own card decks. What is quite notable about this game, besides the license, is that the game itself is very enjoyable and inexpensive, something quite rare in the world of collectible card games.
You win the game in only one fashion: making your opponent's deck run out of cards. Basically, each player starts the game with a deck of exactly sixty cards that he/she constructed themselves.
Each player must also have a Wizard/Witch card (which pictures one of the major characters from the books, such as Hermoine Granger or Harry Potter or Severus Snape). At the start of the game, each player plays their Wizard card in the middle of the table; it stays there for the whole game. Each one of them has a different ability that the player can use in the game; for instance, the Draco Malfoy card lets you peek at your opponent's hand and make him/her discard a card one time during the game. Some are definitely more powerful than others.
Both players start off by drawing seven cards from their deck. After this, the players alternate turns. Each turn consists of three parts.
- Draw a card. Take a card from the top of the deck and add it to your hand.
- Damage your opponent with the creatures already on the table. Rather than having life totals, damage is done by making your opponent discard a certain number of cards, as stated on the creature card.
- Take two actions. An action consists of playing a card or drawing a card, so essentially the rule is "draw two cards, play two cards, or draw a card and play a card."
There are six different types of cards, each highly distinguishable from each other. Here are the card types and what they do.
- Lesson cards. Lesson cards are analogous to lands in the game Magic: the Gathering. You play them on the table and there they stay. There are four types: potions, charms, care of magical creatures, and transfiguration; these are roughly analogous to the types of lands in Magic: the Gathering.
- Creature cards. Like lessons, you play them on the table and there they stay until they are killed off. Creature cards have three features of note:
- Casting cost. Each creature requires that there be a certain number of lessons in play in order to play the card. In addition, one of the lessons must be of the specific lesson type required; each lesson type is marked by a specific symbol.
- Damage each turn. During the second phase of each turn, this ability is used. It specifys a number; you take that number of cards from the top of your opponent's library and put them into your opponent's discard pile. Quite useful, especially considering the goal of the game is to empty your opponent's library.
- Health. Although creatures cannot fight each other in combat (this is a largely non-violent game), there are ways to render damage to creatures using other cards (which I'll cover in a moment). When damage is dealt to a creature, place an appropriate number of counter tokens onto the card; when that number matches the health, the creature is discarded.
- Spell cards. Spell cards are one-time effects. They have a casting cost like a creature card, except when you play them, you just do what the card says and then the spell card goes to the graveyard.
- Adventure cards. Adventure cards come into play and stay there indefinitely, much like lessons and creatures. Each adventure card has an effect (it prevents your opponent from doing something, usually), a challenge (something that your opponent must do), and a reward. The effect takes place immediately and keeps happening until the challenge is met (your opponent does what the challenge states). Once that happens, the adventure is discarded (meaning the effect is gone) and the opponent gets a reward.
- Item cards. These have a casting cost, and when they come into play, they stay on the table indefinitely. They create some sort of effect, either hindering the opponent or helping you.
- Character cards. Much like your starting character (see above), you can play more character cards by just using both actions in a given turn. They, like item cards, come into play and stay there, simply generating whatever effect they provide (stated on the card).
A player's deck consists of sixty of these cards and one starting wizard or witch (a specific character card) which each player starts the game with already in play. The players alternate turns until the other player runs out of cards, and that's all there is to the game.
The game is available at most better hobby shops. It is available in a two-player starter set for $9.99 (enough cards for two players to play), as well as 15 card booster packs for $2.99. When the game first came out, the cards were somewhat scarce, but there is now a pretty good supply of them, so you shouldn't have trouble getting cards.
The art. The art is hugely reminiscent of the style of the book covers in the United States. I would almost describe it as a neo-Beatrix Potter style, myself. If you like the style of art, you will like the art in the game; if you don't, you'll probably not like the art. Personally, I think it matches the style and subject of the game very well.
Could I teach it to children? Yes, it's quite simple. I learned the game from a six year old riding on the bus one day. The rules are really simple, and there are no timing rules like in Magic: the Gathring, so no confusion there. It is roughly as complex as the Pokémon trading card game.
Are the cards balanced? For the most part, yes. This is an important consideration, because some games will include one card that is insanely powerful and make it quite rare, making players buy many packs to get it. The only card that is highly powerful in this game is Severus Snape, and given the small size of the set, he's not very hard to acquire by buying a few booster packs.
Final thoughts It's a very good, if simple, game, and a nice way to bond with pre-teen children, much like Pokémon was a couple of years ago. I'm quite big into following children's fads (I find it a great way to keep the kid in me alive, and appear to be the "cool" uncle to my army of nieces and nephews), and this one is growing quite popular, for good reason. It's a very enjoyable little game.