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Subject: MW Academy - view from an Arena veteran rss

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Ken Savage
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Coming from being a massive Mage Wars Arena fan, I did expect to really love this game. The idea of the game seemed great - a smaller, shorter version of Mage Wars. AND the cards can all be used in Arena too. What could I possibly not like about this???

Starting with the positives.
1.The box is nice quality and the art is fantastic.
2. Card art is superb and in keeping with Arena.
3. The game is much quicker to setup and play than Arena.
4. The beginning spellbooks have good variety, but are also small enough to allow even a beginner to get their head around the options (as opposed to the infinite decisions for beginners in Arena).
5. There looks to be enough cards to explore some deckbuilding in the initial set. There are still a few rules to be read, but it is quite comparable to how much needs to be read in other games (got a few new games this Christmas).
6. Turns are a lot simpler than Arena, so a lot of the complexity is removed.
7. Like Arena, spells work like a layperson would imagine them to. Attack spells attack opponents, creature cards summon physical creatures etc...
8. For an Arena player - I can also see lots of positives as far as bringing cards in this expansion into the Arena and enhancing my experience there!

However, I see a few negatives.
1. The box is too small. Seriously, when I put the trackers together and bag tokens - it is a struggle to close the box completely. When expansions come to the game, there is zero chance that extra items will fit into this box. I do appreciate that original Mage Wars had a box that was way too big, but this is going too far in the other direction.
2. The dials go the intuitively wrong way. Minor quibble, but is annoying.
3. One of the starting Mages (the Wizard) has a heavy focus on mana denial. Seriously, this is horrible. I know in the main game that mana denial is a valid strategy, but this is not something that should be in the starting game if you're aiming at new players. I was able to keep my opponent at little to no mana at all times, which limits what they can do and frustrates them. Since Mana Worms, Minor Essence Drain, Rod of Arcanum are some of your main tools in the starter book - it wasn't even much of a choice to do so.
4. The Asp and Basilisk. If there is one condition I HATE in the main game - it is "Weak". It is incredible debilitating and renders some of the most powerful monsters worthless. It is incredibly annoying to get rid of for everyone except Priestesses. Options in Arena are fairly limited to remove it. On the back page of the rules, it explains that Weak has a removal cost of 2. Yet there is NO WAY IN ACADEMY TO REMOVE IT. My opponent saved up mana and summoned that incredibly tough Hydra - I used DoubleStrike and put 2 Weak tokens on him so he is now rolling single dice attacks for the rest of the game, I could basically just ignore it for the rest of the game. This, I feel, was incredibly bad design.
5. Creatures with defense. The Beastmaster has way too many of them. In Arena, defense is quite powerful and relatively rare and we also have ways of getting around defense (unavoidable attacks/enchantments). There's not much of that in this Academy set. It's quite annoying to swing at a creature and have less than a 50% chance of hitting them. A great thing about Mage Wars, for me, is that attacks hit - damage is mitigated by bad rolls or armour. But constantly rolling a D12 and getting "misses" is not a great experience for new players.

I think the starting Mages should have been BeastMaster v Warlock. Two great archtypes with simple mechanics that would be easily understood. The BeastMaster would focus on summoning a legion of animals, the Warlock would focus on direct damage.

So overall, I'm conflicted.
Will I play the game again and will my cards see play? - Absolutely!
But I'm not the best target audience for this set - I'd have got it anyway. The target should have been newer players and mages with less infuriating tactics/abilities. I really wanted to be able to bring this along to my local gaming group and get people to try this out, so they can have a possible introduction later into playing Arena. While I will be doing this, I'm not sure that the experience will be as good as it could have been.

So I don't think I can give this the "10" that I expected to be giving it. It really could have been so much more with just a little more thought put into it and I can really see some new players not enjoying this game at all As an expansion to Arena - I consider it a 9/10. As a standalone game, by BGG's ranking (Very good - enjoy playing and would suggest it.), I give it an 8/10

*Note - I do know that there are Academy expansions out now that can help mitigate some of my concerns, but I did my review based on this set individually as an intro. New players will not buy expansions if they do not enjoy the base experience, which I think is a possibility here.
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Jeff Dunford
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I agree on all points.

It seems that they originally planned for Priestess vs Warlock to be a starting core set as well, and then they decided to go with just one double-Mage starter and two single-Mage expansions. I think it would have been a much better choice to have kept the Priestess vs Warlock as the double-Mage core set and had the Beastmaster and the Wizard as single-Mage expansions. When teaching new players, I always start with Warlock and Priestess. Much more straightforward to play, better balanced against each other, fewer Weak/Stagger conditions (although they still exist), no mana denial (!).
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Ken Savage
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iNano78 wrote:
It seems that they originally planned for Priestess vs Warlock to be a starting core set as well, and then they decided to go with just one double-Mage starter and two single-Mage expansions.

I didn't know that one!

That's a real shame, I think "Warlock v Priestess" as a core set would have made for a much better first experience for new players. As I mention, I'm sad to say that I think there's just enough of an annoying experience here that some new players, that randomly buy it off the shelf, will just be put off playing and trying the expansion mages
 
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Jeff Dunford
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Agreed. Also to one of your points, Academy Priestess includes the spell "Cure," which can remove a condition (like Weak) for its "removal cost" - which as you mentioned, is not possible in the core set. They could have included Cure in the core set, and I think this might have been overlooked when they canceled the Priestess vs Warlock alternate core set. I think it's a missed opportunity, and agree that the mana denial theme of the Wizard in the core set might be off-putting to new players who otherwise might have had a better first experience with Academy.

*edit* That reminds me... the first time I played Academy against an friend of mine who plays Mage Wars Arena, he spent a lot of actions Enchanting his "Tarraki, Thousand Bites" ... and then I used "Exile" to remove it from the game for several turns, crippling him and then winning easily. He's usually a pretty calm guy (and huge boardgamegeek who likes long, deep Euro games, etc), and he was on the verge of flipping the table at that moment.
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