Hades has recruited minions of evil in an attempt to obtain Merlin’s magic crystal, which would allow him to take over the Magic Kingdom as his own personal summer home. Merlin can’t fight them off alone, so that’s where you come in. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to intercept these baddies via magic portals and use your spells to thwart them.
This is the narrative behind Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, an interactive experience that can be found in the Disney theme park in question, first introduced in 2012. Sorcerers is a curious variation on a collectible card game, in that there is no actual purchase to play other than entry into the park itself. Those interested in playing simply need to visit the firehouse in Main Street USA (or the outpost behind one of the shops in Liberty Square) and talk to one of the cast members there.
Players receive a map with the locations of about twenty magic portals scattered throughout the park (except Tomorrowland) and a key card that will unlock them. They also receive a pack of five cards (three commons, one uncommon and one rare) and a brief tutorial on how to use them with the portals. The short version is that each portal is flanked by cameras that recognize the unique symbols on each card. All you have to do is hold up a card when prompted, and the game interprets that into a spell.
There are three levels of difficulty to the game. On level one, you can use any spell you want and some portals will actually ask for the back of a card instead so it doesn’t matter which one you use. Once you defeat all nine villains at this level, you can receive a new pack of cards and start a new quest, either at the same level (ideal for younger kids) or at a higher difficulty.
At level two the types of spell you employ become relevant. Different villains are vulnerable to different types and even resist a few. At this level the experience becomes much more of a game, as you will need some trial and error to figure out the best plan of attack each time. During each run-through at level two villains always have the same strengths and weaknesses, but at level three those become randomized to truly test your skill.
Of course, getting to level three is no easy task. Oh, the game isn’t difficult and you can’t actually lose, but the real factor here is time. It took my wife and me about five hours to complete level one from start to finish, and that was literally all we were doing in the park that (half) day. In theory you could probably come in fresh and ultimately finish level two by the time the park closes, if you really wanted to. But where Sorcerers really takes root is if you can visit the parks more frequently.
I realize that this isn’t an option for most people, and on some level Disney does as well. That’s one of the reasons why they offer a home version for $14 that features one of four random maps and their own packs of cards — containing some cards that can only be obtained via this version, naturally. I confess that I have no idea how this actually works, but the fact that it exists justifies me talking about it in this space, so I thought it worth mentioning.
It should also be noted that families can play Sorcerers together. The cameras can recognize up to four cards at once, and some cards even make other ones stronger when they are used together. In reality this can be a little tricky to pull off, as the positioning of the cards has to be precise, but my wife and I took on enemies together at about a 70% rate when we attempted it. Holding up more than two cards would probably cause that to drop, but with enough practice I’m sure it wouldn’t be a huge issue.
Playing together is the ideal method logistically, as it will prevent splitting the group when everyone gets directed to different portals. Alternately, Sorcerers can be played independently by some family members (teenage children, for instance) while the others tend to their younger members’ interests without forcing the teens to suffer through, say, “It’s a Small World.” Consider it just one more of the many ways in which the Disney parks allow you to customize your own experience to suit your needs.
While the over-the-top spell animations and the animated story (featuring almost all of the original voice actors for the characters involved) are amusing, my favorite part of Sorcerers is the secrecy. If you didn’t know the game existed, you would never recognize the portals that are squirreled away all over the park. Sure, you might occasionally notice the odd keyhole that serves as the key card scanner, but they don’t look that out of place. Or you might see one of the “Sorcerer’s Crests” that players are supposed to stand on (to put them at an appropriate distance from the cameras) but write them off as odd floor decorations. If you’re especially observant you might even notice that the crests and the keyholes are always next to each other.
But then someone walks up to the fireplace in Tortuga Tavern, waves a card in front of the lock and stands back. Suddenly, the fireplace starts playing an animated message on a cleverly-hidden LCD screen! The people hold up one or more cards to the screen, more animations happen, and then they receive the location of the next portal. They go off on their way, leaving behind the same blank wall that was just there a second ago and often more than one curious little (and sometimes even adult!) face staring at it, wondering what the heck just happened.
That, my friends, is “Disney magic” at is finest. Playing Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is almost like joining a club. Only you and the other players know that these portals exist all over the park, and only you can activate them. Any card-trading and collecting you do outside of that just adds to the “secret society” feel. It’s an experience worth having at least once the next time you have the opportunity, if you can spare the time.