Deckbuilders have always been a great building block for co-operative board games, and they're a good option for family and friends who are pretty new to board games in general.
Unfortunately, there aren't a great deal of entry-level deckbuilders to help people get started. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is an exception: not only is it a fun little deckbuilder that's easy to learn, it's also an incredibly well crafted game that's a perfect love letter for Hogwarts fans.
Tegan and I picked up Hogwarts Battle recently for $70, partly because it looked like it would fill some holes in our collection. Not only is it a co-operative game for 2-4 players, it's also a pretty authentic Harry Potter game.
The general principle is simple. Each player takes control of Harry, Ron, Hermoine or Neville Longbottom and helps defend Hogwarts and its surroundings by defeating a series of enemies. The enemies are made up of classic Harry Potter villains - the first game pits you against Draco Malfoy, Crabbe & Goyle and Quirinus Quirrell for instance - while also forcing you to deal with a series of random encounters that spawn every turn from the Dark Arts deck.
Each turn carries out as thus: the active player flips a card from the Dark Arts deck and resolves the event that follows. These could be as simple as adding a Dark Mark to the current location (which is how enemies "take over" Hogwarts, essentially), forcing players to discard cards, or doing damage to all players.
Enemies' abilities resolve after that, if they activate. After that, players get to play their cards, assign damage to enemies and buy cards from a common marketplace, which they can do in any order.
A look at the basic player board. The marketplace is on the right hand side, with a mix of cards and their cost in the bottom right. Better cards will basically do more damage, give you more card drawing, or let you cycle through your deck faster.
Unless a card says otherwise, cards bought from the marketplace go straight to your discard pile. Each character only starts out with 10 cards, so you cycle through the deck pretty quickly. You discard all damage tokens, cards and coins after every turn, so the best strategy is usually to focus on as much card drawing as possible.
Each player can take up to 10 hitpoints of damage, which results in them being "stunned". Every time you get stunned, another Dark Mark is added to the current location, and you discard all of your tokens, coins, and half of your cards (rounded down). It's a neat way to make the game harder without completely shafting the player, which is helpful especially for people who are new to deckbuilders and still wrapping their head around resolving abilities, general strategy, and so on.
The neat part about Hogwarts Battle is that it's split into seven games, one for each of the books. Each one follows the general plot of the books too: the Triwizard Tournament gets added in Game 4, meaning allies like Victor Krum and enemies like Barty Crouch Jr. will start popping up.
When you first open the box, you'll see a series of boxes with each game number listed on them. Once you've finished Game 1, you open the second packet (if you're going to carry on playing) and setup the game according to the new rules. Some cards, like the marketplace for spells/items/allies, enemies and Dark Arts deck, will carry over. Your personal deck always resets to the 10 basic cards, however, and each game has its own set of locations that have to be defended.
Ron, Hermoine and co. get stronger over the course of the seven games too. From the third game onwards, every hero gets an ability that can trigger on their turn. Hermoine can give any player (herself included) an extra coin whenever she plays four or more spells, while Neville ends up being a crucial player for his ability to heal the team.
Hogwarts Battle ends up being a great intro to deckbuilding because it's not the most punishing of games, although with a bit of bad luck it can be surprisingly difficult. In later games, you'll face off against multiple enemies at once. Some enemy abilities will combo with others, and the Dark Arts deck, which can result in a cascading effect that sees Death Eaters knocking off locations in a heartbeat.
How much that happens, however, depends on the amount of players you have. But in general, advanced players shouldn't have too much trouble. The early games will only take ten or so minutes with two or three players, while the last couple could set you back around 45 minutes to an hour depending on the amount of players.
An expansion to Hogwarts Battle was released this year for around $45, called The Monster Box of Monsters. Apart from adding Luna Lovegood as a playable character, it also ramps up the difficulty by adding more punishing enemies and monsters. It's only meant to be played after finishing the final game, however.
But as a game for Harry Potter fans and people who enjoy co-op board games, Hogwarts Battle was surprisingly fun. It's definitely not the most challenging game I've played of late, but it's an authentic Hogwarts experience and it's a great entry level offering for family and friends who are just getting accustomed to modern board games, and deckbuilders in general.