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Review: Mage Knight: The Lost Legion expansion

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Title: Mage Knight The Lost Legion Expansion 
Price: $45
Release Date: December 2012 
Publisher: Wizkids games
Recommended Age: 14 and older
Pros: More stuff for a great game, some rules fixes
Cons: A little pricey, still too much fine print

Easily, the best board game I played in 2012 was Mage Knight, no doubt about it. I played it long after I was done reviewing it, only putting it away when I really needed the space for a Christmas tree. It was also the most complicated board game I’ve played in years (and I’ve played hard core games like Squad Leader), meaning I could only play it with serious gamer friends, “pick and play” gamers took one look at the many cards with the teensy print and asked if we could just play Smallworld instead.

The Mage Knight: The Lost Legion expansion, based around a mysterious general and his huge army terrorizing the countryside, doesn’t make the game any more complicated, at least, but only simplifies things by clarifying a few rules in ways I and my gaming group had already established. On the other hand, the expansion adds some fairly challenging solitaire scenarios, as the player must play very well (and be a bit lucky) if he can hope build up his strength quickly enough to stop the new horde from escaping (or destroying everything, the rules are deliberately vague as to what the new army is hoping to accomplish).

Who’s the new guy?

The general of the army, Volkare, gets his own figure (on a WizKids’ trademark clicky-dial), board, and special map piece. For the most part, he plays like city, in that the player must deal with a huge number of defending pieces, modified by the general; if all the defenders are killed, the general is defeated (much like with a city’s defenders). It’s a brutal battle, and naturally extensive rules are provided so that players can team up to defeat the mighty horde.

There is also a new hero, another female named Wolfhawk. The original Mage Knight had three male characters and one female, at least if you counted the Draconum character as male, so she’s a welcome addition. She seems to be a bit more capable of operating on her own, though, like the other heroes, she can recruit armies as well. She also gets two unique cards for her deck. Of course, The Lost Legion expansion also changes each of the older heroes’ decks to provide each of them two unique cards.

While there are rules for player against player combat, Mage Knight is really best as at least a semi-cooperative game. To that end, the expansion grants each hero new cooperative skills, to replace the nasty interactive skills that players could use to mess with each other. It definitely makes for a more friendly game.

A few new map places are on the board, such as deep mines, which provide additional magic crystals to players that mine there. The extra magic is particularly useful, as the new armies/companions that can be hired include magical familiars, powered and paid for with magic. The new rules just seem to use more magic (in the original game, a hero would cast one or two spells at best), so the extra crystals definitely come in handy.

 

Always a balancing act

Mage Knight games generally don’t play the same way twice–random boards, random monsters, random spells, random treasures and the static hero decks getting shuffled all the time see to that. While this is a recipe for a robust game, it also makes it very hard to know when something is unbalanced. Still, it was clear to me that one artifact, the Horn of Wrath, was just too good.   Any hero that got it instantly went on a rampage, smashing down castles with abandon and pimp-slapping dragons with little risk to himself. It has been toned down a bit, and given a new card. Similarly, a dozen or so other cards have been changed ever so slightly in their replacements, and the new cards…it sure beats having to remember all the little errata.

Another issue in the game was a small tendency for one player to just dominate the game (even if he didn’t find the Horn of Wrath). There is a significant power gain as a hero gets levels, and it was possible for a player that gets an early jump to end up winning with massive advantage over the other players, with victory never in doubt. The expansion presents a host of optional rules to make for a more even game; the most elegant is little “speed bumps,” penalties that the first player to reach a level must pay in order to gain the level. It’s simple, and does just enough to slow down an early successful player so that the others can still catch up.

But is it worth it?

The Mage Knight: The Lost Legion expansion has perhaps 20% of the components of the original game, but has a MSRP of $45, making it about half the price. That’s a bit steep in terms of cost, but for play value, the expansion adds a lot of life to an already hearty game. Gamers that liked the original Mage Knight board game, and that would be just about anyone that’s played it twice, will find the expansion worth the investment, but folks that found the original a bit much won’t appreciate the added challenges of the expansion.

Product Page [wizkidsgames]

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