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The Mage Knight Boardgame review

Sections: Board, Reviews, Role-Playing, Strategy, Tabletop

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Title: The Mage Knight Board Game
Price: $80
Release Date: November 2011
Publisher:
Wizkids games
Recommended Age:
14 and older.
Pros:
Deep, variety, several ways to play.
Cons:
Complicated. Lots of small print.
Overall Score:
Two thumbs up; 94/100; A; ***** out of 5.

Mage Knight is a great miniatures game, noted for its very cool looking figures and “pick up and play” rules that had it dominate the gaming world almost as soon as it came out. The Mage Knight Boardgame isn’t as cool looking (but still looks good) and the rules aren’t for the faint of heart but there’s an awesome game here, worthy of any serious gamer’s collection.

Although Mage Knight miniatures has a deep back story, you won’t need to know any of that. The boardgame is built randomly with each play. Each player picks a character and an associated deck of cards. Each character’s 16-card deck is nearly identical except for one special card. While three characters get special combat cards, the elf lord character probably has a bit of an advantage: His card grants influence, victory points and fame. Influence is great for hiring troops for combat.

While presented as an exploration and combat game, The Mage Knight Boardgame has much in common with dungeon crawl games such as Descent. Players can play competitively (if they don’t mind adding the complexity of such combat) or as a race to earn the most victory points in a game that can easily end in under four hours.

A Learning Cliff

The rulebook and cards are loaded with tiny print along with examples in even tinier print. To get over the big rules hump, the game comes with a walkthrough of the first half dozen or so turns in a special, non-random game. Each player generally starts his turn with cards and cards can serve a variety of functions, even a special function if powered by magic. For example, a movement card might grant two movement points (or four if powered). Any card can also be “turned” and count for one point of anything (so, if you need another movement point, you can turn a combat card for one point of movement).

Characters start with five cards, usually enough to move and maybe fight a pack of orcs or something. The power level grows quickly: A character with eight cards and even basic followers can take on an entire city without too much risk to himself.

Combat is easily the most complicated part of this complex game. Monsters are rated for defense (being fortified, or resistant to physical, fire or ice damage), deliver offense (which can be fire, cold, physical, coldfire or summon a monster), have special abilities (double damage, hard to block, poisonous, paralyzing) and all that stuff can combine on a token. Each individual ability isn’t tough to follow but, when you’re battling a coldfire breathing double damaging dragon with fire and cold resistance, it can get sticky.

Attacking a city (a main part of the game) means fighting three or more such creatures, in turn or simultaneously, and the city grants extra abilities on top of those. Your character will also gain abilities as he levels, granting other abilities. There may only be four such battles in a game but, after half a dozen (very fun) games, I don’t think I’ve had one yet where a game-changing rule was ignored, usually in combat.

Not Just a Knight, Also a Mage

Magic is a big part of the game. Each turn a player can get one free magic point to power a card but a prudent player will stockpile crystals, allowing him to magnify his power when it’s time for a climactic battle. In addition, a player can conquer (or trade at) a mage tower, getting access to really awesome spells. The spells can be game-bending, although you’ll need at least two mana to get the most out of them (hence the need for a crystal). At night–why, yes, there are extra rules for play during night, and day–you can use black mana, increasing spell power from awesome to freakin’ dominating.

There’s no gold in the game. Instead, trade is handled by “influence.” A player usually spends cards for influence but, as his reputation increases, he’ll get free influence just for being cool. In addition to buying spells (for seven influence and the right color of magic point and there are four basic colors), players can spend influence to learn special skills at monasteries, purchase healing, or, most often, recruit various units available at various locations (for example, peasants might be available at a village, while golems might be at mage towers). As the game progresses and more dangerous locations are revealed, better units become available.

Lots of Rules. Lots of variety.

When a player kills bad guys, he gets Fame (i.e., experience and victory) points, gaining levels. A level can mean gaining a semi-random skill and a semi-random ability or just improved armor cards and the ability to lead another unit. The skills and abilities keep the game very fresh, characters can progress extremely differently from game to game.

A game generally lasts three days and three nights, more than enough time for a character to go from “barely able to beat orcs” to a “dragon-slaughtering conqueror of worlds.” At the end, players get bonus fame for achievements in half a dozen categories, from city-conquering and dungeon-exploring to most spells and artifacts (I know, I haven’t mentioned artifacts before, there’s a lot going on in this game).

This is a great game but the intensely complicated rules can be a turn off. Another issue is the reliance upon cards for most everything.  Each character has a stack of cards, discards as well as a stack of skill and level tiles. There are other stacks for basic units, advanced units, a row for available units, a stack for advanced skills, skills offered, spells, spells offered, artifacts, wounds, a stack for unrevealed map tiles, cards removed from the game, seven different stacks for monsters and that’s not all of them. If a single card is mangled, the game is affected, seriously affected if it’s a card for one of the characters. I do wish a few blanks were included “just in case” something happens. Cards also wear out faster than dice, especially in a great game that’s played often.

For careful gamers heroic enough to defeat the rulebooks, however, this is the kind of game that’s worth every penny.

Product Page [WizKidsGames]

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