Here at Board Game Quest, we are no stranger to Harry Potter-themed games from USAopoly, these have resulted in a mixed bag of games across a wide swath of mechanics categories (as seen in our previous reviews of Hogwarts Battle, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Death Eaters Rising.)
Harry Potter: House Cup Competition enters the arena driven by tried-and-tested “wizard” placement mechanics driving the core gameplay experience. While our general interest in the Wizarding World has cooled quite sharply in recent times, we still cannot deny our interest in exploring what this game has to offer. Let’s open up this locked door and see what awaits! Alohomora!
In Harry Potter: House Cup Challenge, you take on the role of one of the four houses at Hogwarts with the goal of earning the most house points at the end of 7 years (rounds) of gameplay. Each player controls three students from their chosen house, each of which can level up their skill in potions, charms, and defense as the game progresses.
During the Classes portion of each year, players send their students out to the various locations and classrooms in Hogwarts, allowing them to level up their skills, learn new spells, collect magic and knowledge tokens, or pick up challenges that can be completed for points. Players may also play a Lesson card, which provides them with a variety of bonus actions, provided their students have a high enough skill level to meet the prerequisites.
After the Classes portion of each year comes the Challenges, which represent the various trials and tribulations a student at Hogwarts can expect to encounter at times during their schooling. Challenges require a certain level of skills to overcome, along with a payment in knowledge or magic tokens. A successful Challenge rewards players with house points, along with a bonus action. The challenges have a range of requirements, with more difficult ones providing greater points and better reward actions.
At the end of the game, players sum up their house points and receive bonuses for any students who have maxed out a skill, or for collecting magic and knowledge tokens. After totaling, the house with the most points is awarded the House Cup (and is declared the winner).
The HP-branded games we have played from USAopoly have always felt very basic in nature, with the game being more of an introduction to the mechanics presented in the box, and House Cup does not veer from this. While players who have never engaged with a worker placement game might find the gameplay exciting or interesting, House Cup presents a very lackluster implementation of this. While there’s some interest in variable locations that change from game to game, most of the sites themselves provide very similar powers, and don’t really have much in the way of interest or uniqueness.
The generic nature of the mechanics is not helped by the repetitiveness of the gameplay. While worker placers can, by their nature, be somewhat repetitive, at least many offerings give you a chance to build towards a culminating goal, or offer more variety of spaces that open up as the game goes on. While House Cup has three locations that become accessible as the game progresses, we found that these locations did not provide that much of a measurable impact on the game that they added any real value or variation.
Sure, this game is ostensibly a “Harry Potter” game… barely. If you, as a designer, have the entirety of a rich mythology and wide canon to draw from, you owe it to both the theme and to your players to make a rewarding and enriching experience. You could peel off the branding, paste on literally any other theme, and not see any change in (lackluster) gameplay. Even though we’re bearish on Harry Potter, we still would appreciate this title if it expressed the theme well, but unfortunately, House Cup misses the mark.
Even after multiple plays, we found that we could not shake the fact that each game seemed to just be a repeat and rehash of the prior one. While the lessons and challenges that popped up were different from game to game, there was no change in the feel of the game or a variation of strategy as we approached a new set of locations or a new slate of challenges. While it may be exciting for a die-hard Potter fan, or for someone new to the set of mechanics, we found multiple plays of House Cup to be stiffer than a Petrificus Totalus curse.
A brief and very minor quibble about scoring: each challenge awards you points in multiples of 10, which you represent by placing gems of your house color into the hourglass display (arguably, the best looking and most rewarding part of playing House Cup.) equal to the number of points divided by 10. So, if you scored 50 points, you’d drop 5 gems into the hourglass. Then, at the end of the game, you count up the gems then re-multiply by 10. While this is not difficult math, it’s tedious math, and for a game designed ostensibly for families, you want to make things as straightforward as possible.
If we were going to give Harry Potter: House Cup Challenge an OWL exam, we’d give it a P. While it does provide a solid entry point for younger or newer entrants to the board game world, there are plenty of other titles that can provide a better experience. It might be worth it for a novelty gift for your friend who still is really into the Wizarding World.
Score: 2 Stars – Good for the Harry Potter fan in your life, but only if they’re more interested in weak branding and less about good gameplay.
• Just an absolute slog of a game, with no excitement or variation
• Theme is so pasted on you can see the seams
• Nothing inviting you back after you play through it once