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Subject: Some Alone Time with Mage Knight rss

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Jason Hauser
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This is the first review I've posted on BGG. I hope you enjoy, and I hope it provides some insight for those that have been on the fence about buying this incredible game, just like I was.

Warning: there are some light curse words (none of big bad four letter variety though), so it may not be for the kiddies to read.

Thanks for reading! And if you enjoy, this is the first for my new Tabletop blog, "One Stop Tabletop", which can be found here: https://onestoptabletop.blogspot.com

*********

Some Alone Time With My Mage Knight


Board games. They're all about social interaction, laughter, beer, sharing memories, beer. That's honestly what got me so hard core into tabletop gaming in recent years. The ability to toss down some spuds with friends while working either together or against each other to claim victory is unparalleled in terms of fun factor. Games also replace inevitable awkward social silences with vicious competitive yelling and shouting. Who wants to listen to Steve's political yammering when you can be metaphorically ripping off your Steve's' head in glorious board game battle?

So, without further ado, I present to you the game that I don't plan on ever playing with anyone. That's right, a game that is so incredibly complex and daunting at first glance that I actually avoided it for years on end. That game is Mage Knight. And it is now easily my favorite board game of all time.


Warning: Contents may include crack. Highly addictive.



But what about social interaction? And beer?! And the more beer? And yelling? And...social stuff?

Yes, this game contradicts everything I said about the glory of gaming. It goes against the reasons I got into gaming in the first place. It goes against beer because the game's too damn complex to concentrate on while drinking beer. But Mage Knight, oh you beautifully complex Mage Knight...you're just...different. Your shiny sense of wonder is alluring. Your questing and adventuring unmatched. Every single time I start a new game I'm excited, and I know I'm in for some punishingly challenging fun.

JUST WHAT IS MAGE KNIGHT?

Mage Knight is not new. Yes, I'm waxing poetic about a game that's a few years old. But I felt compelled to do so because I just got into it. And, I feel that even though it's a few years old, aspiring Knights should know that it is no worse for the wear. This game feels so innovative and fresh. Like California avocado fresh.


Looks daunting, right? But trust me, it works.


Mage Knight is set in a somewhat typical fantasy world. You've got your orcs and dragons and some medusas, and you'll of course be using your knights and...flying-green-lizards to combat them. Okay yeah, some things aren't as typical. But you've got the fantasy-style things you'll encounter on your adventure as well - mage towers, dungeons, keeps, villages, tombs, crystal caves, castles...so much to explore, but still, pretty standard fantasy setting fare.

I know what you're saying. But - I'm tired of dwarves! Well, no dwarves in this one, so boom. But honestly, I'm pretty tired of the fantasy setting, too. Blame it on way too many repeated viewings of LOTR, but that world doesn't intrigue me like it used to.

However, in Mage Knight, the game transcends the setting. In fact, I would argue that it is designed so well, it actually reinvigorates the fantasy realm for me.

GIMME SOME BACKSTORY, WILL YA?

The background story in Mage Knight, as told by someone who definitely was drinking a beer while initially reading the rulebook (I didn't know yet, okay, I just didn't know!), is that you are a hero who sacrificed everything to become such. You're kinda like Jason Bourne. You basically signed up with some company, knowing that you were going to relinquish your old life, be feared by the locals, but gain some kick ass powers in order to help try and save the world. This company sends you out on quests to help do this, which are represented by the different Scenarios in the game.


Some ask "why is he doing the Heisman pose?" I ask why not.



Once you pick one of the numerous scenarios in the game, you dive in with your pre-painted hero. Now, in the beginning, you will set out on a tutorial style scenario. In fact, one of the two rulebooks is completely devoted to that. Yes, I said two rule books, and they're both quite extensive. But amazingly, once you get your feet wet in the tutorial, things just click. It's exhilarating to be a part of, and I'll obviously dive into that aspect in more detail, but despite all the numerous little rules for every damn thing in this game...it just works. And once you get it, oh, you're in, baby. Hook line and sinker.

SO LET'S PLAY THIS SHIZ ALREADY

Mage Knight is a game with many different mechanics - exploration, light deck building, gaining spells, collecting artifacts, and of course, battling baddies. And every single time it plays differently.

You have a deck of cards specific to one of the four heroes at your disposal. That deck is pretty much the same for every hero, with a couple of cards being different. Or one card maybe? Look, the decks are pretty much the same. You will draw 5 cards for your hand each turn, and use them to move about, or fight, or possibly lure some local villagers to join your cause.

Of course, to lure the villagers, or mages, or whatever, you're going to need some reputation. You start off with a reputation of zero on the tracker. But doing things like killing rampaging orcs in the countryside will earn you more reputation, making it cheaper to lure those to your cause. Of course, you can go the other way with reputation by sacking some mage towers or keeps, making it harder to lure those to your cause. You have to keep an eye on that reputation marker and make sure you aren't losing too much respect from the locals.

The very intelligent thing here with playing cards from your deck is that each card has two abilities. Say I'm using a "move" card. It could be Move 2 (meaning 2 movement points), OR, I have the option of charging it with a crystal from my inventory (which gets collected along the way), or with one of the dice from the pre-rolled dice pool. In this case, it would change the Move 2 to a Move 4. And if I happen to have a crystal matching the color for every card in my hand, I can supercharge every one of them if I want! Also, just to make it more stupid awesome, you can turn ANY card in your hand sideways to add to whatever you're doing. So, if I had Move 2, but I need 3 points of movement, I can use an attack card (or any card for that matter) flipped sideways to give me one more point of movement. This creates a TON of options each and every turn. Yes, it can also cause extreme analysis paralysis, but for me, it makes it so engaging to think through each and every turn in this game.

In addition, there's a tracker for your fame, which is essentially what it used to level up your character. There are different tiers for "leveling up." The first type is getting a new skill (you have 10 skills that you'll draw 2 of, keeping only one) which can greatly impact how your quest. You also get an advanced action card for your deck. And that advanced action goes right on TOP of your deck, unlike many other deck builders that require an instant discard. Then there's the tier on the fame tracker for actually leveling up, which increases your hand limit for cards as well as your defense. Also, in another brilliant design, with each level increased, you gain the ability to lure another poor sucker -- err, wonderful companion for your quest.

As you trek out into the wilderness, you will flip over new tiles from a shuffled pile to attach to your world. Thus, no game is ever the same. You'll usually only be using a certain number of tiles from the many provided, which you draw randomly, and then of course you shuffle the tiles you do use. That puts replayability through the roof.

Each "round" of this game is based on a day cycle. So, the first round is daytime. When you run out of cards (or the dummy deck runs out of cards - more on this later), the round is over. Then, you flip over your "day" tile and turn it to "night." A few other things happen as well, but night rules play differently than day. There is a side of each die that is black, and one that is yellow. You can't use a yellow die (otherwise known as mana) during the night, and can't use night side during the day. Such a lovely system.

A scenario will tell you how many days and nights you have to accomplish your goal. Usually, you feel like you have to get stuff done quickly to accomplish the goal in time. And to up the anxiety, in a solo game, you're playing with a dummy deck that serves as time. Each turn, the dummy deck discards three cards, but if the last one discarded matches one of the crystals in the dummy's inventory...you flip over another one. And if the dummy has 3 blues and you flip over a blue, well yep, that's 3 more you have to discard. And once the deck runs out, the dummy deck declares end of round, no matter how many unused cards are in your own deck. It's an amazing rush that certainly makes you think through every single thing you do in extreme detail.

Along the way, you will of course face many an enemy. And they can be relentless. So you have to make sure your cards are ready for a battle. In other words, going into a skirmish with a hand of Move cards would not be advisable. There are a lot of rules for combat, but once you get the hang of it, they're easy to understand, and make complete sense in terms of game balance. They are also what gain you fame for leveling up, so avoiding battle isn't a good tactic.

One of the biggest mistakes I made in this game early on was avoiding battles if I thought I'd take wounds, which are represented by wound cards that go into your deck. The thing is, many of the characters have skills that you can gain which utilize wound cards in a positive way. Or, maybe it will allow you to discard a wound. Also, there are spaces on the board where you can heal yourself, or even take a turn to "rest" and discard the wounds from your hand. Again, a masterful design choice. And the bottom line is, you're gonna take some wounds. Embrace them. Relish in the rigors of war!

SO JUST WHO IS THIS GAME MADE FOR?

Well I'm glad I asked myself that. For those that want the best solo experience in board gaming (and I've played quite a few), get this game. Like, right now. For those that want the traditional board game experience - you know, with the laughing and the beer and the actual other people, I'd hesitate a bit more. This is a thinking game with the bonus of extreme wonder built in. But in my opinion, a party game this is not. Anything over two people and the analysis paralysis might drive one crazy. Even solo, the game will take quite some time to finish. I've never felt like it took long though because it's just that damn good. But I've played numerous solo games that took me 3+ hours. I've just loved it so much that it didn't matter. But with multiple people, add in the internal turn debating, and you've got quite a long day ahead of you.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As one might infer, I freakin adore this game. It's a gem. All of the tons of rules and aspects to the game gel together in a way that I've never felt before. Every session is exciting, every move thrilling, every crushing defeat completely satisfying in that you usually know exactly where you went wrong. This is tabletop gaming at it's absolute finest.

Having said that, I've never played a game other than solo. I have one friend that I keep thinking I might try to get into it, but I get scared of overwhelming him. So I just keep playing solo and loving every minute of it. In fact, just writing this review makes me itch for some Mage. It's just that good.

As for longevity, I got this game maybe two months ago. For the first 9 days that I got it, I played at LEAST one game. Yes, this was insane. But I couldn't get enough. I played the tutorial scenario at least three times to make sure I was ready for the other scenarios. So in I went, onto the "Solo Conquest" scenario. And man, it whipped my ass several times. I honestly started to wonder what I was doing wrong. Could this game be this hard? I saw no chance of beating it.

Then, I realized I was indeed doing something wrong. I was playing 4 rounds (2 days, 2 nights). The scenario specifically says 6 rounds (3 days, 3 nights). So I was handicapping myself by missing 2 full rounds of gameplay. Funny thing is, I actually did win a game in 2 days and 2 nights, and it was on my last hand of cards. The sense of accomplishment I felt was unparalleled in any board game. I was king...or, Knight of the world! I didn't do too well in scoring, but I won. It was only after that when I realized I was shorting myself 2 full rounds. And man did 3 rounds make that scenario easier.

So, read the scenarios carefully. And just enjoy this game of wonder. It takes you back to when you were a kid, the world in front of you to explore. This game gives the giddy feels like no other. I can't recommend Mage Knight enough.

FINAL SCORE

I have to deduct one point because I don't think this game makes the best 3 or 4 player game. But that's my minor quibble. Hey, nothing's perfect, but man/woman, it's so damn close!



19 out of a possible 20!
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Jo Bartok
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Interaction leads to Immersion.
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It may be a great solo game but
I deduct 19 of 20 for being low interaction abstract deck building with up to 60min downtime PER TURN in 4p games.

Be honest about it. It's crap.
 
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Luc VC
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I agree that 2 player is the max for me. 3/4 player games just takes too freaking long. Still, solo this is a beast!
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George I.
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Wolfshade wrote:
I agree that 2 player is the max for me. 3/4 player games just takes too freaking long. Still, solo this is a beast!
3 player games would kinda work, as long as there is only a single inexperienced player there. I would only play a 4-player game if I was playing against myself... thrice.

For those who are missing the interaction: just play a competitive scenario. Try out "Conquer & Hold" or "One to Return". Warning: not for the faint of the heart...
 
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Guillaume Pages
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breathofj wrote:
SO JUST WHO IS THIS GAME MADE FOR?

Well I'm glad I asked myself that. For those that want the best solo experience in board gaming (and I've played quite a few), get this game. Like, right now. For those that want the traditional board game experience - you know, with the laughing and the beer and the actual other people, I'd hesitate a bit more.


Agreed, it is a solo gamer's dream, but I played multiplayer a few times with advanced gamers, who knew the game and loved it solo, and the so called interactions fell flat.
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Sam Wineinger
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breathofj wrote:
The ability to toss down some spuds with friends


Sooooo, vodka? Sorry, couldn't help myself.
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Jason Hauser
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Hah, yes, I saw the "spuds" instead of "suds" yesterday. It's an easter egg typo. Plus, you're right...vodka works, too.

Thanks for the feedback, everyone! My blog is going to focus a lot on solo play, while also mixing in some thoughts about how some games transition from solo to co-op or competitive - like whether they were really built with that in mind, etc. I also want to begin working on some op-ed style columns about gaming in general, and the bridge between video gaming and tabletop.

Basically, I'm going to try to provide a fun place for opinions on all sides. Get some conversations started. So I hope you guys will come along for the ride.

And while I understand the criticism about Mage Knight being not a great 4 player experience, and thinking I should penalize the game more score-wise, I just can't. And that's because I have more fun with Mage Knight solo than I do MOST games with many people. It's just that good. So, for me, I stand by a 19/20 score whole heartedly. No regrets!
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Peter Latshaw
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Only game I own that I will only play solo.

It's that good.
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Jason Hauser
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Agreed. It's that good.

Also, side note, but is Goldyx doing the Heisman pose intentionally? I mean, it's a spot on Heisman pose. For those that don't know what I'm talking about, here's the Heisman trophy presented to the best (lots of debate on this word) player in college football:



I mean, right?

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Ali Cali
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ionas wrote:
It may be a great solo game but
I deduct 19 of 20 for being low interaction abstract deck building with up to 60min downtime PER TURN in 4p games.

Be honest about it. It's crap.

Sixty minutes per turn? Find different people to play this game with! I play with three or four players regularly, and we go rather quickly. It usually takes me about one to two minutes to plan my next turn. When I play with experienced players, that's usually all the time it takes to get back to my turn. Only the big battles take longer, and not a lot longer.

When I play with some inexperienced players, it does take longer, but 60 minutes of downtime means 20 minutes per player, which is so far out of the realm. Are they not planning at all? Is their AP that bad? Are you just exaggerating to make a point?
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Miguel Batista
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aliallison wrote:
ionas wrote:
It may be a great solo game but
I deduct 19 of 20 for being low interaction abstract deck building with up to 60min downtime PER TURN in 4p games.

Be honest about it. It's crap.

Sixty minutes per turn? Find different people to play this game with! I play with three or four players regularly, and we go rather quickly. It usually takes me about one to two minutes to plan my next turn. When I play with experienced players, that's usually all the time it takes to get back to my turn. Only the big battles take longer, and not a lot longer.

When I play with some inexperienced players, it does take longer, but 60 minutes of downtime means 20 minutes per player, which is so far out of the realm. Are they not planning at all? Is their AP that bad? Are you just exaggerating to make a point?


It is a troll post from an Anti Mage Knight fanboy. Just ignore.
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Jason Hauser
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Look, everyone is entitled to an opinion. Obviously lonas disagrees with my assessment, and that's fine. My review is my review.

And for me, Mage Knight unequivocally earns a 19/20. That's me "being honest about it."
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Sam Wineinger
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breathofj wrote:
Agreed. It's that good.

Also, side note, but is Goldyx doing the Heisman pose intentionally? I mean, it's a spot on Heisman pose. For those that don't know what I'm talking about, here's the Heisman trophy presented to the best (lots of debate on this word) player in college football:



I mean, right?



Y'know I've always thought that it looked like the Heisman trophy, but always assumed it to be a coincidence. I never took the time to actually compare the two, and wow, that can't be a coincidence. That's hilarious.
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Jason Hauser
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Right? Has to be intentional.
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Sam Wineinger
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You made it personal. All it did was buy you a little more pain than most.
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Maybe it's their secret opinion on which Mage Knight is the best.
 
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ionas wrote:
It may be a great solo game but
I deduct 19 of 20 for being low interaction abstract deck building with up to 60min downtime PER TURN in 4p games.

Be honest about it. It's crap.

19 of 20 parts of this post are entirely wrong.
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