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Subject: Mage Knight: Why Can't I Conquer All These Cities? rss

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Oliver Twitt
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I must admit my great admiration for designer Vlaada Chvatil. Some designers work in their comfort zone, creating many similar products with different themes but Vlaada’s style can’t be easily defined. Coming out of the humorous Dungeon Lords I didn’t expect a grand adventure deck-building game like Mage Knight but Vlaada has yet to disappoint me and Mage Knight: Board Game did not fail to please.

First Impression
I must begin by saying I’m not at all familiar with the Mage Knight (MK) franchise. While it started as a miniature war game, the board game is entirely an adventure game with some competitive play. One to four players take control of a powerful magic warrior (a Mage Knight) and is tasked with exploring the world and conquering cities for the mysterious Void. Every aspect of a classic adventure rears its head in the game's design: rampaging monsters, recruiting armies, dealing with towns and monasteries, conquering dungeons, clearing monster lairs, assaulting keeps, and fighting dragons. Vlaada must be a gamer because just like Dungeon Lords conjured memories of playing Dungeon Keeper on my dusty old computer, so too does MK spark my love for Heroes of Might & Magic.


Mage Knights in action! Image by eklp fistronek.

MK packs a lot of content (and pieces) into its big box. The components themselves are large and colorful. The four Mage Knights are detailed color miniatures and the four cities are mounted on sturdy Clix bases. The counters are sturdy, the plastic pieces detailed, and the map components thick and durable. The cards are made from a weird textured material that makes them impossible to read at some angles but information is boldly displayed for easy reading and reference.


Image by cristianf

The First Hurdle
While MK isn’t a complicated game at heart, learning the rules is made unnecessarily difficult with the inclusion of two horrible manuals. One manual acts as a walkthrough which guides you step by step through a tutorial scenario while the other manual literally covers everything not in the walkthrough. It's a terrible setup that essentially splits the rules into two halves that never come together. Typos abound and following the information is made unintuitive by a poor layout and a lack of index. Perhaps the English translator is to blame for these errors as the 1st edition manual itself contains errata for errors made during the translation process before printing.

With no index or contents, referencing the manuals is impossible and more time is spent thumbing through the pages looking for relevant information than time actually spent reading it. To add salt to the wound, rules are kept exclusive between manuals. Some rules, such as how cities draw monster tokens, are explained exclusively on the crib sheets and player aids. The player aids and crib sheets perform a far better job than either of these miserable wastes of paper. When I reached the appropriate section describing how a section of the map worked I immediately picked up the player aid and set the manual down.

The Game in Play
Once you get over the hurdle of actually learning the game you discover how simple it is at heart. The core gameplay revolves around a deck building mechanic where cards provide actions for your hero. Each card can be played for its face value, modified by spending mana, or played to supplement other actions at a weaker value (move, attack, block, or influence). When one player runs out of cards in his deck they can initiate the end of the round which essentially refreshes the board for the next day/night cycle. This mechanic forces players to keep up with their opponents, eliminating turtling. Any cards not played at the end of a round are wasted therefor it’s in every player’s best interest to push forward when they can.


Image by Code21

If there’s any convention you can pin on Vlaada as a designer, it’s offering players a variety of options that are equally viable in any given situation. With the random element of drawing and playing cards, it’s possible you don’t end up with the resources necessary to accomplish your goals. Many times I’ve had to abandon or modify plans after drawing a new hand but the game pushes you to experiment. Wound cards may be taken in battle which either bloat your hand or cycle through your deck and show up in the future. It’s very possible to be completely locked down for several turns, cycling through wound cards and slowly crawling around the map trying to find a place to heal. You must be aggressive and proactive in MK, liberally using your abilities and companions to their fullest, or else you’ll be left behind in the dust even on cooperative scenarios. Wasting resources and pushing ahead without a clear plan will leave you stuck between rampaging enemies or sitting in the middle of a forest at night twiddling your thumbs. It can be frustrating but MK actually allows and encourages do-overs in the middle of a turn (provided no new information is revealed) with the intent of allowing players to see the results of their actions.


Image by Code21

Getting new players into the game is a tough proposition. There will be considerable downtime and a full game can take 4-6 hours but the rules offer methods of reducing play time that are, unfortunately, wasted on new players who will have the most questions to ask about the game. After a few rounds of play MK’s elegance is revealed and a good, competitive 4-player game can get intense. Direct confrontation and the debilitating results of battle can lead to a lot of griefing between players. Spells and abilities can affect the entire map and players cannot move through each other allowing you to strategically block choke points and resources. MK is simple to play but tough to master and no play style is dominant.

Going Solo
While getting new players into the game may be a tough pill, MK contains rather intuitive rules for playing solo games. During a solo or cooperative game, a “dummy” character runs through cards in their deck. This restriction emulates the same time-limiting mechanic from a normal game as this AI controlled character runs down the clock. There’s a lot to accomplish during a single player scenario. Single player is otherwise no different from multiplayer making it an excellent teaching and practice tool. I’ve played the game more times by myself than against other players. Whether that’s a testament of the game’s solid design or the hesitation my friend’s feel when I set the box before them is up for debate.


MK will consume your table space like a hungry hippo and this is only a solo game! Image by Xenophax

Final Say
If board games were animals then MK is a lion. It’s big and intimidating but can be friendly and playful... until it decides to rip your head off. It’s difficult to approach the game no thanks to its bulky, poorly laid out manuals but continuous play reveals an adventure board game that defies tradition. It has all the elements of a heroic adventure and isn’t shy about punishing you for playing too conservatively. Just like the eponymous warriors of the game's title, only players that are cunning, aggressive, and merciless will win. If that turns you off the game then even the cooperative scenarios won’t appeal to you. If those elements entice you then take the plunge: Mage Knight is a unique beast and I haven't played anything quite like it.

Closing Words: If you like grand adventures or have fond memories playing Heroes of Might & Magic 3 on your parents Windows 95 IBM PC then Mage Knight is right for you.



Play this if you like…
-Deck building mechanics with a large variety of cards and abilities.
-Huge adventure games with a lot of scenarios for extended replayability.
-Competition or cooperation but mostly competition.

Avoid this if you hate…
-Competition. This game really punishes you for turtling or not being proactive enough.
-Spending a lot of time. Learning the game is a hurdle and a simple scenario can last several hours.
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Kevin Outlaw
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Good review.

First of all:

"If you like grand adventures or have fond memories playing Heroes of Might & Magic 3 on your parents Windows 95 IBM PC then Mage Knight is right for you."

Ouch. Now I feel really old.

Moving on.

Not really paid this game much attention before, but I am always looking for a good adventure. That 4-6 hour playing time is a killer for me, especially as a parent in full-time employment. Is that because of the poorly laid out rules and this concept of "do-vers"? How do these do-overs work, and if you banned them would it speed up / break the game? Would a proper precis of the rules speed things along too?

Cheers.
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David Debien
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Once you know the rules (a game or 3 under your belt) and arent AP prone, you can play a 2 player blitz conquest scenario in about 2 1/2 hours.
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Kevin
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"If you like grand adventures or have fond memories playing Heroes of Might & Magic 3 on your parents Windows 95 IBM PC then Mage Knight is right for you."

Sounds like this is the greatest game ever!
 
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Jeff Bridgham
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RedMonkeyBoy wrote:
Not really paid this game much attention before, but I am always looking for a good adventure. That 4-6 hour playing time is a killer for me, especially as a parent in full-time employment. Is that because of the poorly laid out rules and this concept of "do-vers"? How do these do-overs work, and if you banned them would it speed up / break the game? Would a proper precis of the rules speed things along too?

Cheers.


Do overs just allow you to take your cards back and start over, as long as no new information has been revealed during your turn. This should actually speed things up since a player doesn't have to calculate everything out prior to playing the cards. Just start putting them down and see if it works, if not, pick them back up and start over. If you can't figure out a way to do what you want then you can do something else.

This reduces AP considerably.

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Paul Grogan
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Do not ban 'reverting'... The game is complex, and working out your turn can be tricky, especially when you are attacking 4 Units in a city. The way the game plays best is if a player plays their cards, declares what they are doing, clearly announces everything with one other player watching. I've played this lots now, and even in competitive games, we all help each other out with suggesting what they can do if they need help.

When they then realise they are 1 point short, or forgot that the keep is fortified and they cant use ranged combat, revert their turn as much as they can and do something else.

The 2 alternatives:
1) Each player sits there for 5 mins working out in his head what he can do. Other players fall asleep. This is bad and there is no real reason for it.

2) Dont allow reverting. Let the player spend their cards, activate their units and then realise they are 1 point short. Dont let them rewind and they are screwed. Enough to put anyone off the game.
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Oliver Twitt
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Jeff and Paul put it better than I could. The game is best played with the players interacting during each others' turn. You should talk your turn through and if something doesn't work out then you pick up the cards, move your piece around, and do something else unless you revealed new information. It's recommended you play competitively only after everyone learns the rules and I agree. That said, competitive play is an absolute blast and you really feel like world shattering juggernauts on a path of destruction.

As for the rules, I learned them by myself one evening and played a solo game so in total it was about 5 hours followed by two games before I no longer needed to reference anything. I taught my friends how to play in 30 minutes and didn't even use the "tutorial" scenario to teach them. I admit I'm being really harsh on the rulebook but there are so many glaring flaws like "crystalcrystal" being used several times in the same paragraph! I don't own any FFG games but this must be what it feels like when people complain about their rulebooks. This manual wasn't even proofread and it's a really big game!
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Drake Coker
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Huh, I didn't find the rules bad at all.

The Walkthrough is very good for what it does (e.g. teach the game). The Rulebook seems to be complete. I never have any reason to reference to Walkthrough anymore.

The only oddity is that some rules are found on the "crib sheets". While unusual, this is intentional as it makes it easier to expand the game later. Mostly, this is just the details for each type of terrain. Once you get this, then rule clarity/completeness is a snap.

That being said, the game does have a lot of detail rules.
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Paul Grogan
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jaybeethree wrote:
This manual wasn't even proofread and it's a really big game!


Actually, it was proofread. A lot. But, the small team working on it pulled 20 hour days to get it done, and we had a very tight deadline to meet. At a certain point, I think it was about 5am and some of hadnt slept for 36 hours, a decision was made.

If the decision had gone the other way, the game would not have been at Essen. We were asked "Are there any actual rules mistakes in there, or is it just typos?" We were 99% sure the rules themselves were correct. So, the decision was to go with it as it was. Because of this, a couple of sections in the rulebook were missed on the final proofread, and an unfortunate error crept in between versions 5&6 (crystalcrystal).

This is why at Essen, the rulebooks were being given out seperately, because they were printed at a different place, literally just in time to arrive on the day before Essen started.


But...... Go to Wizkids website. The current rulebook on there is the best one available. All typos fixed and a couple of rules are clarified.

Yes, they wont be the nice glossy ones you have, but they will be better rules.

However, be warned - this new rulebook is for the reprint, which had the 3 cards which needed errata fixed. Therefore, there is no mention of these cards needing errata in that rulebook - so you need to either play with cards in sleeves and 'fix' the old card, or remember that those 3 cards are wrong.

Look at the new rulebook on WK website, that was proofread by the same team who did the first one, just with more time available. I really hope it is ok
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Scott Lewis
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PaulGrogan wrote:
and an unfortunate error crept in between versions 5&6 (crystalcrystal).

I LIKE crystalcrystals! They are like "crystal++"! SuperCrystal, if you will!
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Oliver Twitt
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The best rules I've read so far have been in Starfarers of Catan. It's basically a double-sided poster that teaches you everything about the game. If you have any need for clarification, there's a giant manual you can reference.

While Mage Knight has a lot of details, it really isn't a complicated game. Everything is plainly written on the cards so all you have to teach players is the order of actions. The walkthrough could have been 4 pages max and the main rules should have included everything for reference sakes. Having to essentially read the same information twice (once in the walkthrough and again on the player aids) was unnecessary

To give an example of how ridiculous the rulebooks are, let's take a look at how a newbie player (like myself) learns the game playing solo.

-The first book you pickup is the Rulebook. It tells you to reference the Walkthrough to learn the game.
-You read the "First Reconnaissance" scenario in the Walkthrough. It assumes you're playing two player. To play a solo game, "See the 'Solo Games' statement at the Scenario Book at the end of the Rulebook."
-Pick up the Rulebook. There's literally no "Solo Games" heading so naturally I'm flipping through the back of the rulebook looking for solo rules.
-Find "First Reconnaissance" in the scenario list. Cool, will this teach me how to play solo? Well, it says Solo Variant "play with the setup for 2 players, and in addition, use a Dummy player and extra rules described in the Solo Conquest scenarios."
-Flip to Solo Conquest. Now I know what the extra rules are so I have to find "Dummy Player." No page numbers are referenced or anything.
-Flip through the book to find "Dummy Player." It goes on to list things that I haven't even begun to learn yet.

At this point, I said "F' it" and read the entire Walkthrough book ear to ear. Then I setup the actual game and read the book again. This should not be how rules are written!

If I wrote the walkthrough then I would eliminate all the useless detailed sections and tell players to reference the aids because they do a perfect job explaining what everything does. I would then devote the book to telling players how to setup and play their first game, multiplayer or single player. The Rulebook tells you to setup a Dummy player for all cooperative games but First Reconnaissance doesn't tell you not to so that's another point of contention. The rulebook was unnecessarily detrimental to my learning experience.

e: Edit as I was typing.

PaulGrogan wrote:
jaybeethree wrote:
This manual wasn't even proofread and it's a really big game!


Actually, it was proofread. A lot. But, the small team working on it pulled 20 hour days to get it done, and we had a very tight deadline to meet. At a certain point, I think it was about 5am and some of hadnt slept for 36 hours, a decision was made.

If the decision had gone the other way, the game would not have been at Essen. We were asked "Are there any actual rules mistakes in there, or is it just typos?" We were 99% sure the rules themselves were correct. So, the decision was to go with it as it was. Because of this, a couple of sections in the rulebook were missed on the final proofread, and an unfortunate error crept in between versions 5&6 (crystalcrystal).

This is why at Essen, the rulebooks were being given out seperately, because they were printed at a different place, literally just in time to arrive on the day before Essen started.


But...... Go to Wizkids website. The current rulebook on there is the best one available. All typos fixed and a couple of rules are clarified.

Yes, they wont be the nice glossy ones you have, but they will be better rules.

However, be warned - this new rulebook is for the reprint, which had the 3 cards which needed errata fixed. Therefore, there is no mention of these cards needing errata in that rulebook - so you need to either play with cards in sleeves and 'fix' the old card, or remember that those 3 cards are wrong.

Look at the new rulebook on WK website, that was proofread by the same team who did the first one, just with more time available. I really hope it is ok


I didn't mean any disrespect but for such a large detailed game the rulebook almost turned me off. I don't know much about the board game industry and all the conventions and stuff but I'm no stranger to strict deadlines. I'm still new to all this (only been playing games about 2 years now) so Mage Knight is one of the larger, more detailed games I've played but learning it was troubling.

Good news to everyone getting the second printing. This is my #2 favorite Vlaada game topped only by Galaxy Trucker and you guys have no idea how much I love god damn Galaxy Trucker. If board games could be married, I would marry GT.
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Oliver
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So am I to understand that the reprint will include a much better version of the rulebook?
 
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Alejandro Rascon
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sigmazero13 wrote:
PaulGrogan wrote:
and an unfortunate error crept in between versions 5&6 (crystalcrystal).

I LIKE crystalcrystals! They are like "crystal++"! SuperCrystal, if you will!

crystalcrystal was an instant classic for me and my family / gaming group. Whenever someone fumbles with words or speaks too hastily, invariably some one yells out: "crystalcrystals!"

Laughter ensues, of course.

XD
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Mike Urban
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PaulGrogan wrote:


But...... Go to Wizkids website. The current rulebook on there is the best one available. All typos fixed and a couple of rules are clarified.

Yes, they wont be the nice glossy ones you have, but they will be better rules.


Is it (or will it be) possible to order a Nice Glossy Rulebook if we want one? Or, for that matter, the corrected cards?
 
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Paul Beakley
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sigmazero13 wrote:
PaulGrogan wrote:
and an unfortunate error crept in between versions 5&6 (crystalcrystal).

I LIKE crystalcrystals! They are like "crystal++"! SuperCrystal, if you will!


I'm an even bigger fan of Ccrystalcrystals.
 
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Paul Beakley
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Also, the whole "the rules are split between two books omg you can't look anything up" thing is so overblown.

There are been, what, two or three things found at this point? And they're all minor edge case things. If you're reading closely enough to have discovered them, I'll bet you've already mastered the game.
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Oliver Twitt
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PBeakley wrote:
Also, the whole "the rules are split between two books omg you can't look anything up" thing is so overblown.

There are been, what, two or three things found at this point? And they're all minor edge case things. If you're reading closely enough to have discovered them, I'll bet you've already mastered the game.


I wouldn't call setting up a game a "minor" thing. I described how troublesome it was for me to setup a single player game because on the very first page the walkthrough tells you to thumb through that other book you shouldn't even be looking at yet. Sure, none of this is necessary once you master the rules but that's 40 pages of reading material to play a game where 90% of the information is printed clearly on the cards.
 
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Tim Royal
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Quote:
"If you like grand adventures or have fond memories playing Heroes of Might & Magic 3 on your parents Windows 95 IBM PC then Mage Knight is right for you."


Just one step away from:

"If you like grand adventures or have fond memories playing Heroes of Might & Magic 3 on your grandparents Windows 95 IBM PC then Mage Knight IV is right for you."
 
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