Grim magic

A bad game made fun

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I decided that during 2024, I'd reinvent one game every month. This month, I sat down with a game I've regretted buying to see whether I could make it fun.

Years ago, I asked an employee at a big game store about some games for 2 players. One game is quite well known, with lots of awards and positive reviews (7.2 on Board Game Geek). The other was Grimslingers: Duels, a small game in size and reputation, themed around the Weird West, with some exciting promises ("every player's turn happens at once!").

For me, both games were duds. I guess that just goes to show that you have to play a game before purchasing.

The old way

As it turns out, Grimslingers: Duels is only half a game. While it contains 60 cards, a full 26 of those cards aren't intended for that game, but for (apparently) a larger game to which this one can be appended. 10 of the cards are just standard playing cards with a "wild West" theme (as if standard playing cards aren't already wild West themed). That's 36 cards out of 60 that you either can't use or probably don't need. And there's no indication of this on the box, and it's only a footnote in the rule book.

Worse yet, the game in the box is essentially just Rock-Paper-Scissors. Players shout "Draw!" and sling a spell card down on the table. The spells are themed around the elements, with Fire beating Ice, Earth beating Water, and so on. In the event of a tie, a stack of 10 standard playing cards are used to decide who wins in a kind of Blackjack gambit to see which player can amass the highest total card value.


Unfortunately, the 26 cards designed not for this game are double-sided, so there's no way to conceal what's on the card during play. The only way I can think to use them is as token cards, or currency, or generic scorekeeping devices.

Useful assets include:

  • Spell cards
  • 10 playing cards (Ace to 5 black, Ace to 5 red, and so on)

These are double-sided and cannot be reasonably concealed during game play:

  • 4 character cards
  • 4 companion cards
  • Status cards for characters and companions (life trackers)

The game box claims it's a game in which "everyone's turn happens at once", which sounds like a mostly impossible mechanic, but one worth striving toward. The only way I could think to get the turns to happen simultaneously was to use deck building and draft mechanics. By forcing much of the game into a preparatory stage, the actual "turns" feel like they happen all at once.

This could be useful, because when a simulation is prepared and then triggered, there's the feeling that players have lost all agency. They're on a rollercoaster, and have no control over how the rest of the game goes. Now, that's usually a bad thing, but spells are meant to break rules, and that's one of the most empowering game mechanics of all.

My version of this game uses the 12 spell cards (2 Wind, 2 Ice, 2 Fire, 2 Lightning, 2 Water, 2 Earth) and the 10 playing cards (values 1 to 5).

If you don't own Grimslingers: Duels, then the game can be played with a standard deck of playing cards. Alternately, you can use playing cards and spell cards from some other game. The cards don't have to be the same size as the playing cards, because the decks are kept separate from one another.

The power schema of spells:

  • Fire: beats Ice
  • Wind: beats Fire
  • Ice: beats Wind
  • Water: beats Earth
  • Lightning: beats Water
  • Earth: beats Lightning

If you don't have cards to represent that theme, invent your own hierarchy. For example:

  • King: beats Jack
  • Queen: beats King
  • Jack: beats Queen
  • Joker: beats Ace
  • 9: beats Joker
  • Ace: beats 9


This game requires 2 players.

To set up for the game, shuffle the 5 red playing cards into one currency deck, and shuffle the 5 black playing cards into a second currency deck.

Each player takes one currency deck.

The goal is to acquire as much of your opponent's currency as possible.


Shuffle all spell cards into a draft deck.

To draft, look through the deck and select 1 spell, and then pass the rest of the deck to the other player. This continues until the deck is depleted, leaving you with 5 spell cards.

This is your hand.


Place 3 spell cards, face down, on the table.

Once the cards are in place:

  1. Reveal the first pair of opposing cards
  2. You may play any additional spell from your hand in an attempt to win the contest.
  3. If your spell cards defeat the opposing card, you may draw one card from your opponent's currency deck. Place that currency card face down on top of your winning spell cards. You no longer have access to that spell. Move on to the next spell.
    • The loser places their spell back in their hand, and may cast it again as needed.
    • In the event of a tie (neither spell defeats the other), then both players win the contest. Draw currency cards and move to the next spell.

Repeat this process for each spell card on the table.

End game

Once all three spell pairs have been revealed and resolved, reveal and tally the currency cards you've earned. All cards are worth face value. The player with the most currency wins.


I think there's still room for improvement. For example, each spell says it deals damage, and while my version uses spell availability as a kind of health monitor, it could be interesting to integrate a health mechanic for the character cards, and an energy mechanic for the robotic sidekick cards.

Having an avatar on the battlefield has a lot of potential, both as a storytelling device and as a game mechanic. The potential disadvantage is added complexity, and possibly without benefit. But health and energy trackers could be used to trigger effects, or they could serve as currency to spend on special abilities.

When it comes to spells, more spells is most exciting. Having only 6 spells to work with (and functionally only 1 result: success or failure) is a serious limitation to player creativity.

It's nice to use the assets that came in the box, but it's not a particularly popular game so it's really nice that it can be played with a standard deck of cards instead. The spell hierarchy is tough to remember with standard playing cards, but to be fair it's hard to remember with the game's assets and so it's written on each spell card under the assumption that the hierarchy isn't intuitive, and the lack of expressive artwork doesn't help you remember it.

All in all, this modification makes the game playable, and I could see myself expanding this game idea into an actual game all its own (I mean as published game assets, outside of a blog post).

Header photo by Amanda Jones on Unsplash.

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