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Subject: Cheaty Mages Over(re)view rss

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Josh Jenkins
United States
Bowling Green
Kentucky
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Hunky-dory.
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(This review was originally posted, with images, at my blog Game Over(re)view.)



Originally released in Japan in 2008 and recently brought to America by AEG, Cheaty Mages is a betting card game from Seiji Kanai, the designer of the smash hit Love Letter.

Each player starts the game with a hand of eight spell cards, five betting cards, and 2 coins. The game takes place over three rounds, and at the start of each round five monsters are dealt out randomly into the center of the table from a deck of ten. A Judge card is also dealt to the table from the top of the Judge deck. The five monsters represent the five fighters participating in the current round. Each monster has a power and a payout value, and some monsters have other special effects. Fighters with a higher base power have a lower payout, whereas fighters with low base powers have high payouts. The goal of Cheaty Mages is to successfully bet on the fighter who has the most power at the end of each round.

At this point each player bets on one, two, or three fighters whom they believe may win the round. Betting tickets are placed face-down in front of players. If a player bets on the one fighter that wins, they’ll get double that fighter’s payout. If one of two fighters that a player bet on wins, they get the payout for that fighter. If one of three fighters that a player bet on wins, they get half of the payout for that fighter, rounded up.

After bets have been placed players will go around the table playing one spell card per turn, until everyone passes. At this point the Judge card becomes very important. Judge cards place restrictions on the type and number of spells that can be played. Some Judges outright disallow Forbidden spells, and nearly every Judge has a mana limit. The mana limit is important because each spell has a mana cost. Depending on the Judge in play, when spells are all revealed at the end of a round, any fighter that meets or exceeds this mana limit will incur a penalty of either losing all of it’s spells, or outright being rejected from the round entirely.

There are three types of spell cards: Enchant, Direct and Support. Enchant cards are played face-down onto fighters, Direct cards are played face-up, and Support cards have some other effect and do not need to be placed next to a fighter. Some spells are also Forbidden and are not allowed to be played with certain Judges. Most spells either increase or decrease the power of a monster, but there are many other effects as well. Some cards can double the effects of spells, remove spells, protect spells, double the payout of a fighter, etc.

Once all players have passed, all spell cards are turned face-up and the Judge checks the total mana cost on each fighter and either Dispells or Ejects any fighters who have too much mana on them. Players then add up the power totals and any other effects for each fighter, and the one with the most power wins. Any players that bet on this fighter will get a payout, depending on how many fighters they initially bet on. This entire process is completed for three rounds, and then the player with the most coins wins.

I purchased Cheaty Mages without doing any research beyond the fact that it was designed by Seiji Kanai, and I couldn’t be more pleased. The game provides just the right amount of take-that, bluffing, and wagering all through clever card-play. Battle lines are drawn quickly the first few times around the table as players begin to champion one of their wagered fighters by playing face-down Enchant cards onto it. But you could just be trying to throw everyone else off of your scent, as you tack hidden negative power cards onto their fighters. Cards can be comboed together cleverly for some really impressive plays. At the end of most every round I find myself trying to stall everyone else out so that I can slip my most powerful card into the mix at the last possible moment.

The cardplay reminds me of Munchkin, and before you run in fear, I mean that in the absolute best possible way! Munchkin wishes it was even half as fun as Cheaty Mages. It’s true, players take turns playing cards to directly alter the power of each fighter much like in Munchkin. But in Cheaty Mages most cards are played secretly, and you can sow distrust through the Direct and Support spells that you play face-up. There is always some manner of control, unlike Munchkin’s out-of-control pile-on-the-leader situations, where the dominant player gets smacked down ad nauseam. You also aren’t directly targeting other players with your spells, so the game feels far less confrontational than Munchkin. I’ve also heard this game be compared to Colossal Arena, a title I have not played.

Cheaty Mages would be a fun game without anything else, but the Judge cards add a whole other layer to the gameplay. Card-play is tricky when a Judge with a low mana tolerance is in play, and some of the judges do wacky things. Orlair for example doesn’t allow players to cast Direct spells, and Ferine’s mana limit is determined by a random cardflip at the end of a round.

Cheaty Mages will definitely be making it’s way to the table very often in the future. As far as card games are concerned it is quickly becoming my favorite. It’s also fairly easy to teach to new players, and anyone who has ever played Magic: The Gathering or any other similar card game will immediately be able to pick up on the rules without much preamble. Cheaty Mages is also an amazing value, and can be had for as cheap as $7 through online retailers.

Rating: 8.5/10.
Played: Three times, with three and four players.
Actual Play Time: ~10 minutes per player.
Review Copy?: No.


(This review was originally posted, with images, at my blog Game Over(re)view.)
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Sky Zero
United States
Illinois
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This one's on my Christmas list for the wife. It better be in the stocking!

And great review!
 
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Martin Gallo
United States
O'Fallon
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As a big fan of Monster Derby (yes I KickStarted the reprint) and Colossal Arena I bought a copy of the AEG version. I look forward to playing!
 
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