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Manaforge is a fun game with high-quality components and quite a bit of strategic thinking required. It clearly draws aesthetic inspiration from Magic: The Gathering, but instead of being a suicidal battle-wizard, you can step into the shoes of an arch-mage enchanter, crafting the potent artifacts which shape the world.
How to Play
I just want to cover this in brief. For full details, watch the HTP video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjF5px1TSrQ
Every player starts with four dice: one Air, one Fire, one Earth, and one Water. Then everyone picks two Talents. Each Talent gives you one additional die (themed to that card), plus a unique special power.
The dice are the core of the game. Each elemental die can produce two of its own mana, one non-opposed mana (e.g., an Air die could produce one Water or one Fire, but not Earth), a mana gem (physical mana that you can save for later turns), or a special ability. The special abilities vary by element; e.g., a Water die has the Copy Gem ability, which lets you turn one existing mana gem into two! Finally, there's a fifth "element": the Arcane die. It can't produce gems and never gives more than one mana, but it always gives you a choice (e.g., "Fire/Earth"), which equates to versatility.
Every round starts with everyone rolling their dice, and then flipping over six artifact cards. Each artifact has a cost (e.g., "2 Air, 1 Earth, 1 any") and you can spend up to four dice at most to pay that cost. Fortunately, the early artifacts aren't very expensive. Artifacts are labeled either Workshop or Store. Store cards have a one-time effect (usually giving you Prestige) and then get archived off to the side. Workshop cards are key to the game; they stay on your player card as tools to generate more mana (or, later in the game, Prestige), and can usually be upgraded by spending mana gems. You can only have four Workshop cards, though; if you want a new one past that, you have to discard an old one.
The Dawn artifacts focus on engine-building, with ways to get more mana. The Noon artifacts include that, but also some ways to turn mana into Prestige or into gems for those crucial upgrades. The Dusk artifacts assume that your engine is built; they're almost entirely Store cards that grant immediate Prestige. By the endgame, you're focused less on building artifacts and more on maximizing your dice and the four workshop artifacts that you have to generate as much Prestige as possible.
What It Does Right
Manaforge has just enough randomness (from the dice and card deck) to keep things surprising, but not so much that it devalues skill. Because you'll always throw more dice than you can use (usually six vs. four, but it's possible to get to double digits via special artifacts), it's less about the specific results you get and more about which results you choose to use.
The dual use of mana gems, both as mana to spend and fodder for upgrades, requires careful resource management. It's very tempting to max out every artifact you get, but when you only have room for four in your workshop, you don't want to waste gems on something you may get rid of next turn.
The aesthetics are a big draw for me. Some people have criticized the heavily MTG-influenced style of this game, but I think it fits the theme perfectly. It's easy to imagine that the artifacts you're creating will find their way into the hands of suicidal battle-wizards everywhere.
And the engine-building is more varied than any other game I know in th same vein. This building starts at the very beginning, when you pick Talents, and then continues as you draft both cards (artifacts) and dice (possible via special artifacts), and then choose what resources to use to upgrade each part of your engine. Each type of die is more than just a mana flavor; the special abilities are potent and are often the main reason to choose that element. Do you want to be able to recharge an artifact to use it twice? Or would you rather have access to double the mana?
What It Does Wrong
There is very little player interaction in this game. Basically, sometimes someone will build the artifact that you wanted before you can. And there are a few artifacts that give the other players a chance to "buy in" on their effect when you build them. But that's about it. This is a game of outbuilding and outplanning each other, not a game of Take That.
And while that's not a bad thing, I do feel that this game needs a little bit of PVP to avoid feeling like multiplayer solitaire. The designer has mentioned that the first expansion will likely involve "cursed" artifacts which will affect other players, so I'm looking forward to that.
If you like the "enchanters" theme, custom dice, and unique player powers -- and are looking for a well-crafted game full of engine-building and card-and-dice-drafting -- definitely give Manaforge a look. I'm glad I backed it and really enjoy it.