Reviewed by Eric Brosius
ABRACA…..what?? (Korea Boardgames Co., Ltd./Z-Man Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, 20-30 minutes; $34.99)
In Abraca…what? (or, in some editions, “Abracada…what?”,) players are apprentice magicians who engage in magical battles with each other. As fantasy fiction fans know, the lure of such battles is irresistible to young mages, despite their teachers’ warnings. And there are risks! The apprentices aren’t sure which spells they know and which they don’t—and trying to cast a spell you don’t know damages yourself. To succeed, you must cast spells you know and avoid spells you don’t know, and this involves deduction. Deduction is critical in Abraca…what?, though the goal is not deduction, but to win magical battles.
To start a round, you randomly draw 5 spellstones, representing spells you know. You face them out toward the center of the table, so you cannot see them but your opponents can. The spells are numbered 1 through 8, with the lower-numbered being more powerful but rarer. For example, there is one copy of spell number 1, the powerful Ancient Dragon, but eight of spell number 8, the Magic Drink. You can’t see your own spells, but you can see those of your opponents, and this gives you information about what your own spells might be. If no opponent has spell number 7, the Fireball, it is more likely that one or more of your own spells is a Fireball, since there are seven in the game.
On your turn, you say out loud the number of the spell you wish to cast. Your opponents can see whether you know this spell, and the player to your right tells you whether you succeeded (and if so, puts the spellstone on the game board so everyone can see what spells have been cast.) Many deduction games fall apart if players give wrong answers, but in Abraca…what?, your opponents double-check each other. If you fail, you lose one or more life tokens and end your turn, but if you succeed, you may opt to cast another spell. If you do, the new spell must have a number that is at least as high as the previous spell you cast (so you can only cast Ancient Dragon as your first spell!) Once you stop, whether because you fail or by choice, you re-fill to five spellstones (again, without looking at them.)
In addition to deduction, bluffing can be a tactic in Abraca…what? You can cast, or refrain from casting, a spell to confuse opponents about the spells they have. For example, if all three of your opponents have spell number 3, you are sure to fail if you try to cast it. But if you do cast it, each of them may deduce that they do not have spell number 3. This costs you a turn and a life token, but maybe it’s worth it.
A round ends in one of three ways: (1) a player succeeds in casting all his or her spells in a turn, (2) a player causes an opponent to lose his or her last life token, or (3) a player loses his or her own last life token by failing to cast a spell. In each case, players receive points for various accomplishments. When at least one player has eight points at the end of the round, the game is over and the high scorer wins.
This game is accessible to a wide range of players. It plays quickly and the spellstones give tangible evidence of the available information. Many people find deduction games difficult but here deduction is not the goal; it is only a means to the goal of winning a magical battle. There’s certainly room for thinking and bluffing, but it is not a brain-breaker. I’ve played with a variety of groups and we’ve enjoyed it every time. – – – – Eric Brosius
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