Quidditch: The Board Game Review
As a set-piece for action sequences in the Harry Potter stories, Quidditch as a fictional sport serves its purpose admirably. Taken out of that universe, its one of the most ill-conceived sports of all-time due to the mash-up of two completely unrelated activities and a scoring imbalance so insane that it renders 95% of the action useless in regards to determining the final outcome. Many years after the fact, I still scoff at how the characters in that world would accept Quidditch as is without any sort of scrutiny.
Released in 2000, Quidditch: The Board Game lets you experience this fundamentally-broken sport without the appeal of actually flying on a magical broomstick. If this were a perfect translation, it would still be a bad game based on its flaky foundation. However, this shoddy adaptation actually makes things considerably worse.
Quidditch is a 7-on-7 sport that is essentially 95% handball and 5% capture the flag. Flying on broomsticks, most of the players on the field are concerned with throwing a ball through one of three hoops on the opposing end of the field. Each goal scored in this fashion is worth 10 points. The other 5% involves one player from each team trying to snag the Golden Snitch. Catching the Snitch is worth 150 points and ends the game. Whichever team has the most points after the Snitch is caught wins the game.
If it isn’t abundantly clear, I’ll point out the fact that the point differential between scoring a goal and catching the Snitch is lunacy. Unless someone is able to build a 15-goal advantage prior to the opposing team capturing the Snitch, then none of goals scored by either team matter. Even within the context of the Harry Potter universe, it’s hard to envision an outcome that isn’t decided solely by the Snitch.
Now let’s shift over to the board game. As one would expect, the same rules around scoring still apply here. It’s a shame that a set of variant rules don’t come with the game to better balance the experience, but I get why they’d want to keep the integrity of the sport. This in itself is a deal-breaker for me, though there are many other flaws with this package that should be addressed.
The game is played on a board featuring a hex grid over the field. Three goals are locked in place on opposing ends, with each team’s player standees arranged by their goals. To the game’s credit, the overall look of the game and its components are great, as the art closely resembles the original cover art for the franchise.
On your turn, you will roll a die to see how many spaces each of your seven characters can move. Then, you’ll move them all along the board. After that, the Seeker and one Chaser can flip over a tile to see what they get. Some tiles grant players with bonuses or penalties, while others give player access to the Quaffle (known in the real world as a ball). If you’re unlucky, you’ll flip over a tile that does nothing. Best case scenario, you’ll find the one Snitch tile, essentially sealing your fate as the victor.
One of the game’s fatal flaws comes from these tiles. Before the start of the game, all 100 tiles must be randomly shuffled and placed on the board. It is a lot of work to get a good shuffle and nigh impossible to get an even distribution of tiles on a board with more than 100 spaces. Also, these square tiles make no sense on their hexagonal spaces, as they don’t fit right and frequently slide out of place during play.
Since there are multiple Quaffle tiles and technically only one Quaffle in play at any given time, the game gives you three stickers that are placed on the first ball carrier to denote that they have the ball. The sticker is then removed after they take a shot. Of course, since they are stickers, they will wear out quickly and you’ll have to come up with your own solution for tracking who has possession.
Speaking of the Quaffle, shooting the ball is a huge pain. As a conceit specific to the game, it comes with a catapult to launch the ball through a hoop. While it’s great that the catapult can muster a shot that can travel the full length of the board, the rules dictate that players must position the catapult off to the side of the board before shooting. This is so you don’t disrupt the tiles as you move the catapult around. As if making a shot in the first place was hard enough, having to shoot off to the side actually forces you to shoot from awkward angles at all times. Even being right next to the net and taking a shot is difficult, as what would be an easy head-on shot is now a near-impossible side shot. In the games that Steff and I played, no goals were ever scored.
Back to the tiles. Having the boosts, slow potion and penalty tiles adds an extra layer of bookkeeping that the game doesn’t give you the resources to manage. Not only do you have to track which characters have or haven’t moved, but you also need to manage players going in and out of penalty states, as well as rolling the dice separately for characters with speed boosts. Furthermore, having a speed boost is largely useless, as its only meaningful use is for chasing down a known Snitch that hasn’t been snagged by a Seeker.
Even worse with the bookkeeping are the Bludgers. Earned by rolling a 1, these metal balls can be thrown at your opponents. Getting hit by one is devastating, as it forces that character out for two turns. To counter, a character playing the Beater position can gain control of the Bludger by standing adjacent to it. But what happens when two or more opposing Beaters are adjacent to a Bludger? With no rules clarification provided, we simply danced around the Bludger, passing around ownership of the Bludger like a hot potato.
On top of all of that, there’s still the issue with the Snitch. Since it’s extremely difficult to score goals and essentially impossible to build a 15-goal lead, the game boils down to finding the Snitch. In our first game, Steff found the Snitch on the first turn, immediately ending the game and essentially scrapping 20 minutes of board game setup time. The second time around, it took well over an hour for the Snitch to finally be flipped over. During that time, it only amplified how poor the other aspects of the game were. By the end of it, I was just begging for anyone to get the Snitch and end it.
With the original rules intact, the perfect adaptation of Quidditch as a board game would still suck. Even if you make up house rules to better balance the Snitch, Quidditch: The Board Game is still a bad game with a host of design problems that make the experience overly random, less fun that it could be, unnecessarily bloated, and in certain cases, undermine the original lore. This is easily one of the worst, if not the worst board game I’ve ever played. Just don’t.