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Beyond the numerous encounters in the base game, we’ve seen the addition of a Lost Legion and the arrival of Krang. But now, the players must contend with the Shades of Tezla. Shades adds two factions to the game, along with a new playable mage knight. But does it enhance the game or merely bloat it?

The Basics
. First, Shades includes the new mage knight, Braevalar. Braevalar was once a master of nature magic before pledging his service to the Counsel of the Void. Like the other knights, his basic deck comes with two unique cards. They perhaps pack less raw power, but only because they are incredibly flexible. One, for example, allows him to get move, attack, or block.

Shades also introduces two factions – the Elementalists and the Dark Crusaders. Both have representatives among the green, brown, and red tokens. Depending on the scenario, you might use one or both factions. And they can be simply shuffled in and added for variety in other scenarios. Each time you kill a faction member, you get a magic item. These are small tokens that can be redeemed for single use effects.

Each faction also includes a faction leader. This is an exceptionally strong unit represented by a big disc. And it cannot be killed outright. Instead, you must deal damage equal to its armor merely to reduce it by one level. Only when its last level is killed do you finally defeat it.

Finally, Shades provides four new scenarios. Unlike prior offerings, though, each scenario can be played competitively, cooperatively, or solo and the book provides separate rules for each. This way, the expansion caters to all types of players.

The Feel. Shades is a great expansion. It adds to the base game and makes it feel remarkably different than what came before. The faction leaders are new and interesting. Better yet, they represent a departure from Cities and Volkare. Both of them, after all, were mostly about fighting numerous tokens. The Faction Leaders represent completely new challenges.

In fact, the faction leaders require new tactics to defeat. With Volkare or the Cities, it was easy to whittle them down. Take down one or two enemies, do that a few more times. Bam! Victory is achieved. But with the faction leader, if you don’t knock him down substantially, he’s going to stick around while you shed your good attack cards. But if you don’t address the enemies that fight with him, you’ll take substantial wounds. And, if the Faction Leaders get too low, their abilities can actually improve as they make one last ditch effort to stay alive. It’s a fun and refreshing end game for Mage Knight.

The new mage knight, Braevalar, is really fun. He seems to focus on movement and can really race around the board. His skills give him a lot of flexibility. In the early game especially, move cards can be the best to draw. Nothing hurts worse than a hand full of attack cards you have to play sideways to get within range of an orc khan.

And it isn’t just his starting cards. His Secret Ways skill is fabulous. Not only does it grant an additional move point, but lets him scale mountains or, with mana, traverse lakes. In competitive games, he can race ahead to the keeps or mage towers quickly, and in cooperative games, he can always make it to the cooperative assault.

But it isn’t just about move, his skills also display strong versatility. My personal favorite is Shapeshift. It allows him to use a single block, attack, or move card as one of the other two. So, if you have a move card in your hand, suddenly it becomes that attack or block that you needed. While he may lack some of the raw power that Arythea or Tovak wield, Braevalar more than makes up for it by being useful on every turn.

Meanwhile, the faction items are a great addition to the game. Any time you kill one of the new faction enemies, you get a small magic item. The effects are situationally useful, but can be lifesavers in the right circumstances. As an example, the Elementalists can reward an item that adds the cold element to one of your attacks or blocks. Fantastic when an unexpectedly resistant enemy shows itself.

To make up for the cool items, each faction enemy is worth one less fame than it otherwise would be. At higher levels, it’s not such a big deal. But in the early levels, turning in an item or two for fame so that you can level is very much worth it. As with all things Mage Knight, playing aggressively tends to be rewarded.

When you put all these elements together, Shades provides a fantastic new experience for Mage Knight. And, when you add the fact that every one of the four new scenarios can be played competitive, cooperative, or solo, it ends up being a great expansion for every play style. I’ve played so much conquest and co-op that I often forget how scenario driven the game can be. The new scenarios provide a wonderful and welcome change to the base game formula.

So, with all these awesome additions and fun twists on an already fantastic game, are there any negatives. Sadly yes. Two main ones: Components and Rules. In the components category, Braevalar’s cards feel different than the other mage knight cards. Since I sleeve this game, it isn’t something that concerns me. Also, the new enemy tokens are a few millimeters smaller than the other enemy tokens. Why? Who knows? But it is certainly annoying. Also, the Braevelar figure is thin and lanky while his art depicts him as stocky and bear-like. So, it’s a little bit of a disconnect there.

Now, does this completely ruin the game or make it unplayable? Not at all. And, even though the difference in token size is noticeable when compared closely, it is not at all noticeable when the tokens are stacked at the far end of the table. So, while highly annoying, it doesn’t materially mar gameplay. It’s just disappointing to see this great game again suffer from substandard or mismatched components.

The rulebook is fantastic … until you start playing the game. Then you start to realize there are lots of little rules that aren’t explained. This is a departure for Mage Knight which, until this point, had fairly comprehensive (if densely packed) rulesets. As just one example, the faction leaders bring tokens with them when they fight. But, are those tokens revealed in advance like Volkare’s army? If so, are they randomly distributed? The rules only say that they use “the same rules as attacking a city.” Does that mean the enemy tokens are face down at night and face up during the day? Are the tokens permanently fixed, or does he draw new ones every combat after being knocked down a few levels?

Once again, do any of these omissions make the game unplayable? Certainly not. And I have a feeling that an errata or FAQ will be released quite soon to deal with most of the above. In fact, there is at least one error when it the rulebook discusses how to start at higher levels. Still, even with a FAQ, it is a little frustrating when there is clearly an awesome game here and the rulebook writers don’t quite capture how to play it. Instructions like “it’s just like attacking a city” sound more like your friend giving you an overview of how they work than a rules writer clearly communicating the new feature.

Components: 2 of 5. The bits are, unfortunately, not up to snuff. Quality-wise, I think they are fine. You get everything you need to bring the expansion to the table. But lots of little errors are certainly annoying. Different card feel, smaller tokens, rulebook errors or ambiguities. The temptation might be there to inspect the token pile before deciding whether to invade that tomb. Of course, Lost Legion had a similar problem and I still love that game. So this is more of an annoyance and disappointment than a huge drag on the experience.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. The faction rewards do inject a little bit more of a luck element into the game. Since they are all situationally useful, you have to hope you encounter the right situation to use them. Of course, you can always turn them in for the one fame. So you never get stuck with anything bad.

Mechanics: 4 of 5. I love what this brings to Mage Knight. New scenarios, new mechanics, new faction leaders. Heck, even the new enemy abilities (vampiric and defender) provide new considerations for who gets blocked and who gets attacked. The only negative is that the rulebook could be clearer.

Replayability: 5 of 5. This adds a tremendous amount of replay value. Not only are the faction leaders a significantly new experience, but the scenarios are wonderful! Each one is playable in your preferred style. Three out of four make use of the new factions. And the final one is a single day and single night scenario – perfect for nights when you’re itching for Mage Knight but don’t have the three or so hours it would otherwise take.

Spite: 0.5 of 5. With the exception of Braevalar’s competitive ability (which is downright mean), there is no additional spite added to the game here. All of the faction rewards are helpful and none harm other players.

Overall: 4.5 of 5. Shades of Tezla is a fantastic expansion to Mage Knight. It’s just what the game needs right now. Lost Legion effectively completed the experience. Shades solidly expands the game by providing variety in the scenarios. Not just new abilities and units, but new goals and strategies to achieve them. Sure there are annoying and imperfect pieces. But they do not significantly detract from the overall experience which, if I haven’t yet been clear, is completely worth adding to the game.

(A special thanks to WizKids games for providing a review copy of Shades of Tezla)

(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot. Check out and subscribe to my Geeklist of reviews, updated weekly)
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Christian van Someren
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Thanks for this, it's nice to read something a bit more level-headed about "component issues", and I'm glad to hear that the expansion adds some interesting new challenges. Can't wait to get my copy!
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Brad Keusch
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Christianv wrote:
Thanks for this, it's nice to read something a bit more level-headed about "component issues", and I'm glad to hear that the expansion adds some interesting new challenges. Can't wait to get my copy!

Seconded, good to see some positivity regarding what was obviously a well thought out expansion. The component issue isn't that big of a deal to me, though obviously I'd prefer everything matched.
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Paul Grogan
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Thankyou so much for your comments. I'll make sure Phil Pettifer sees them too, as a lot of the content of the expansion is his design. Apologies for the rules though, that was mainly me and Phil too. I'll try and make sure any questions get answered though.
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Mike Oehler
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How well does the expansion work without Lost Legion?
 
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Nathan Eggers
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VictimEN wrote:
How well does the expansion work without Lost Legion?

A more pressing question is, "Why don't you have Lost Legion yet?"
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Stephen
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MyParadox wrote:
The rules only say that they use “the same rules as attacking a city.” Does that mean the enemy tokens are face down at night and face up during the day?

Actually, city tokens are always revealed when someone is next to a city, day or night. They aren't automatically revealed during the day like ruins, though.
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StephenV wrote:
MyParadox wrote:
The rules only say that they use “the same rules as attacking a city.” Does that mean the enemy tokens are face down at night and face up during the day?

Actually, city tokens are always revealed when someone is next to a city, day or night. They aren't automatically revealed during the day like ruins, though.

Doh! That's only a dozen plays or so with that rule wrong.
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Ingart Ingart
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Durend wrote:
VictimEN wrote:
How well does the expansion work without Lost Legion?

A more pressing question is, "Why don't you have Lost Legion yet?"

I have the same question as VictimEN how it work without LL, and answering on second question, because LL is not available in my country while Shades is.
 
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J
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What creatures do the faction leaders represent? I cannot see any image on the dial. Are they humanoid sorcerers?
 
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Paul Grogan
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They are far from human
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J
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What a sibylline answer.

Pray tell, what race are they?
 
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Jeff Pratt
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Presumably, wood elves for the Elementalists and dark elves (who are basically vampires) for the Dark Crusaders. At least if they have come over from the old miniatures game with their lore intact.
 
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