Posted by: markfender | June 19, 2012

Mage Knight

I got a cool new boardgame.

Mage Knight is a new board game by Vlaada Chvatil and WizKids. It doesn’t have anything to do with the old clicky game, except for reusing some sculpts and having some names similar. Instead, it’s a exploration-type board game. You control a Mage Knight, who travels around a world made up of hexagonal pieces, attempting to defeat bad guys and leveling up in order to siege the cities of the land. It’s similar in theme to something like Magic Realm, but, you know, made this century.

The mechanics are where the game really shines. It’s essentially a deck-building game. You start with a deck of cards that allow you to do different things – Move, Attack, Block, or Influence in various amounts. As you explore the land, defeat bad guys, and level up, you gain new cards into your deck that’ll show up in later turns to allow you to do those things better. However, it’s not quite like something like Dominion where you’re trying to create a perfect deck that allows you to cycle cards faster. The card draw is a lot slower in this and there’s not a lot of abilities that let you cycle through your deck in the same uber-efficient manner that Dominion allows. Instead, the challenge comes in using all your cards as efficiently as possible. Since every card has two effects, one standard and one that can be super-charged with mana, you’re looking to get the most out of all your cards.

There’s a lot more than that going on in this game, though. I already mentioned the mana crystals. These are cute little dice that you roll to give the correct type of mana you’ll need. But, you can only spend one of these a turn. So, you’re looking for ways to store them in your inventory so that you can then use at any time. The type of mana you gain is also based on whether it’s Day or Night, which has its own vagaries (forests are harder to move through at Night, but deserts are easier). But you also need to recruit Units from the various settlements around the board. You can only control so many of these, based on your level. And there’s Spells, Artifacts….

But that’s not what’s coolest about the game. What’s coolest is that you can play it in a bunch of different modes. You can play it solo, cooperative, or competitive. There’s also a bunch of different scenarios that you can use to vary up the win conditions. I’ve never actually played it with anyone else, but it’s still a good time. Each turn is an agonizing exploration of your various options and working out what’s best. Since the game explicitly allows you to take back moves, it’s not like other solo affairs where you have to practice extreme self-discipline to not “cheat.”

But, there are some negatives. From the picture there, you can see there’s a lot of bits. Now, these bits are all used intelligently and nothing’s really going to waste, but it’s a little much for a solo game. After set-up (which honestly doesn’t take that long) and I’ve covered the entire table, I wonder how it would look with more players. It’s also not necessarily a fast game. As every turn requires extreme resource management, it can stretch out pretty long as you ponder all your options. It’s also extremely hard. I’ve played four times solo and only won once. Conquering a city is a difficult affair that will require building up some extreme resources. With a variable ending time limit, the only time I managed to win was on the my last turn of the last round (and even that required some clever hand management tricks). It’s also pretty rules-intensive. Every hex has its own specific rules that can be a bit tricky to remember. There are rule summary cards included in the game to make it a bit easier, but chances are you’ll screw up some rules in your first couple playthroughs.

I’m also not sure I’d recommend it for large groups. This game pretty much defines “analysis paralysis” so if you’ve got one of those players, a long game becomes even longer. The game is structured so that the next person can begin their turn before the last person is done, but I still think it could become a long drawn-out affair with some hesitant players.

But, if you’re into resource management puzzles, this game is for you. If you’ve ever agonized over a turn of Warmachine knowing that if you just activated everything in the right order you’d win, then you’d like this game. Every turn ends up feeling like that. But you didn’t have to assemble and paint any miniatures.



  1. Ohh, shiny! Sounds like a great game to play with the missus. Especially keen on the comparison to Warmachine but without minies(and yes, I know you didn’t compare it directly). Also really like the option for multiple game modes. Means we can do coop to learn or just have fun or play against each other of we fancy that challenge. I’ll have to give this a serious look.
    On the other hand we are in the middle of moving and I don’t know if we need more boxes!

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