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While Eclipse gets review after review (and heaps of praise), the review section of Mage Knight is rather empty. I am by no means a good writer (English isn't my native language), but I feel an urge to put my feelings towards the game in words, so that more people might be willing to drop money on it once the reprint hits store shelves in April. Because - and I'll clearly state this upfront - Mage Knight is in my opinion one of the best games to have come out this decade and the best solitaire game I have ever played.


(Following images made by me; I *love* taking photos of this game)

I. Intro - What I wanted

With my final conclusion out of the way, let's briefly talk about where I come from gaming-wise. I was pretty much solely educated by BGG and open-minded about each genre. So I accumulated very different games, from hardcore wargames (ASL Starter Kits) over mid-weight Euros (Power Grid) to the - often erroneously scorned - Ameritrash games (Runewars). I basically browsed the Geek in search for what are considered great games and bought those. I could have not gotten better advise and while my game collection might not rival that of Tom Vasel, I'm pretty happy with every purchase.

One problem that I frequently face is that of gaming partners, or rather: a lack thereof. Without a dedicated gaming group, I often find myself with the urge to play but nobody to play with.
So I have always been interested in solitaire games. I have played and enjoyed solo games such as the Field Commander series or Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations or the recent Friday. Those are good games that hold up even when played repeatedly. But while they are pretty entertaining, they lack the excitement of real people to play against. You often feel like you are simply playing the system; a good system, sure, but a system nonetheless.
This becomes a problem even more with games that support solo play but are intended to be played with multiple players, such as Agricola, Elder Sign, Thunderstone, Gears of War, to name a few. They work well for solitaire gaming, but you quickly realize how much more fun they would be with two, three or four players.

Then came Mage Knight. I bought it right before christmas, but since I had lots of opportunities to play games with my family, I didn't open the box until a few days later. I went through the rulebook/walkthrough, played the introductory scenario and was immediately hooked. I have since played 4 full solitaire games, and the intro scenario plus a full conquest with two players. My main focus in this review will be solitaire play, because I clearly liked it most and will prefer to play it in the future. After a brief rule overview I will tell you why I have come to like the solitaire option best.



II. What it is all about

So, how does Mage Knight work?

It's basically a fantasy adventure game that revolves around exploration and combat. Every player starts with his hero and a deck of 16 cards, of which you draw a few cards each turn. These cards have different functions: they give you movement points, attack and block value or special effects. Each card has a normal effect and then a stronger one that can be powered by mana. Mana exists either in the form of dice on a little community board or as crystals in your hero's inventory.

When it's your turn, you need to use your hand of cards to maximum effect and what you have drawn dictates what you will do. With lots of movement you might decide to travel a long distance to a wortwhile target or to explore new map tiles in order to increase your possibilities. With lots of attack value you will probably take on one of the known enemies near you. Or maybe you also have lots of block points so that you can safely head into a dangerous dungeon where an unknown enemy and powerful treasure await you.

Either way, you will make crucial decisions in each turn, because you will want to make the most of your cards. You can, of course, do just a few things and keep most of your cards for the next turn, but your opponents (or a dummy player in solitaire mode) dictate the pace of each round. Once a player has drawn his entire deck, all other players will get a last turn and then the round will come to an end and night begins (or day after a night round).

By defeating monsters you will earn fame and consequently level up. With each level you either gain another skill (a special effect that can in most cases be triggered once per game round) and an advanced action card (with better effects than your standard cards) or you will increase your army limit and/or your hand limit. Through various adventure locations like villages, monasteries, dungeons, tombs etc. you can also gain followers (troops with additional move/attack/block effects), artifacts or spells. Artifacts are great because they have a normal effect that can be used like every other card, but they can also be destroyed for a powerful one time effect. Spells can be hard to cast as they require a mana for their normal effect and an additional black mana (that is only available at night) for their second effect, but this all-powerful effect can allow you to wreak havoc even amongst multiple enemies.

The standard scenario (of which there are a handful different ones) has you playing over 3 days and nights in order to conquer cities and gain the most fame.



III. What you should know

Make no mistake, Mage Knight is not a simple or short game. The rules aren't difficult, but there are many of them (and many exceptions to them), so it will take you two or three games to gain a full understanding of them without having to constantly peek at the rulebook. Oh, the rulebook... It's not half as bad as everyone makes it, but the separation between the game walkthrough (for the introductory learning scenario) and the complete rulebook is... strange, to say the least. The walkthrough works well, but it doesn't contain everything you need to know and the rulebook follows a completely different structure, so you'll have constant problems finding what you're looking for. But as I said, after a while you won't need both of them.

The game's length is a different matter. It will take time, because with the amount of open information you can often plan your entire turn before you play it out. This is a huge part of the fun, but even with not-AP-prone players, turns can drag, especially later on when you have 8 or 9 cards in your hand and multiple worthy options to pursue.
For me, Mage Knight does not become better with more players. I wouldn't want to play it with 3 or 4, two is okay with someone who thinks reasonably fast, but where Mage Knight shines is solitaire play. Analysis paralysis is no problem there, it's even encouraged and half the fun. Pondering over your turn, acting out different paths and deciding what to finally do is so enthralling that even my four hour introductory session felt only like a 60 or 90 minute play (in fact I was surprised to discover that it had gotten dark in the meanwhile, so captured was I by the game).

Another problem of the multiplayer game is also mitigated in solitaire play: the runaway leader. Having a good start can be crucial with more than one human player and drawing a bad starting hand can severely hurt you in the early game. In solo mode, you will not encounter that problem because you have enough time to deal with a bad hand. The dummy player only prohibits overlong rounds, but doesn't interfere with you on the map.

Other reviews complained about too much luck and while I respect those people's opinion, I don't find the amount of luck annoying. I'd call it "randomness for replayability's sake", because it constantly gives you new constellations to figure out and - runaway leaders aside - it doesn't affect your game in a negative way.



IV. Why I like it so much

Mage Knight seems odd at first glance. You have many different elements that look like unnecessary chrome. Why have both artifacts and spells? Why the day/night cycle? Why different types of followers?

But after a few turns, things become clear and you'll start to be amazed at how well everything intertwines. There is nothing there for just the sake of making it bigger (like it is the case with some of FFGs big-box games), everything serves a purposes. Mage Knight features one of the best implementations of the deckbuilding mechanic, as it perfectly fits to represent your slow increase in power and options. The modular board gives you new situations right from the start so that the same scenario is always different enough to warrant another play.

Amazingly enough, all the mechanics in Mage Knight make complete sense theme-wise. You will not simply play a game system, you will write your hero's story in your mind while playing. You'll gain the trust of the population by defeating roaming orcs that plague the farmers, you'll lose that trust by burning down monasteries and pillaging villages, but you are powerful enough to not care, as you have learned a powerful spell from an ancient scroll that you found when you viciously attacked the mage guild.
In every game a story will unfold before you and it will be different every time, but always compelling enough to make it one of the best thematic games I have played. It helps that the components are top notch, with nice, pre-painted miniatures and lush artwork on the tiles and cards.

But where the game truly shines is in the brain-burning planning of your turn. There are sooooo many options and figuring out what you can do and what you can't is amazingly fun.
"Let's see, I can move here with these two cards, block the orc's attack with my follower, power this card with a blue mana to get four attack, use those two cards for another four attack... Darn, I still need another attack. So I don't block and take a wound instead, that gives me enough attack points for the orc. But wait, I could also attack the Mage Tower, but I'd take two wounds there, well, not if I use my skill to negate the fortification effect of the Tower..."
Finishing a game of Mage Knight gives me a sense of accomplishment like only a few other games do. Not only have I become a powerful hero that started having problems with lowly orcs and finished taking on whole cities with multiple strong enemies, but I also felt like figuring out a huge, complex puzzle. And that is the game's strength, because I normally don't like it when a game becomes too puzzly (like many co-op games). In Mage Knight, there is not one single viable path, but multiple ones, and a healthy dose of randomness keeps things from getting boringly clear and eversything fits so well together thematically that I feel like adventuring and not like puzzling.

In that sense, Mage Knight is the best solitaire game I have ever played and even with two players it is among my top 10 games. I highly recommend it and rated it a 10 without hesitation.
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Mike Uppdal
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Great review, I am now completely sure that this game must be included in my collection - thank you!
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Vance Frankiewicz
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts on solitaire...it will most likely be my primary way to play MK (might be much for my 5 year old )!

Looking forward to opening it up for the first time tonight!!
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Matt
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Fantastic review and definitely spot-on with how I feel too.

I also play a lot of games solo, because of just not having the opportunity to really get out to a game group often. I'd love to hear what other solo games you've found to really work like this one.

Another game I love is Gears of War. I think that is a pretty fun game because of the unpredictableness of the AI deck along with the additional options you get with all of those cards you get in your hand. It did start to feel the same after several plays, whereas Mage Knight has SO much more replayability (that's an understatement!).

I am excited to see some interesting variants come out for us solo players

Matt
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Jason Rupp
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Thanks for the review. I might have to try a solo game this weekend. I enjoy the game with 3 players (the downtime is a bit high but I enjoy watching others expanding the board or stealing something I was hoping to accomplish myself... the glory race was also fun).
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Clayton Helme
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Awesome review. I will admit that the solitaire play aspect is one of the reasons I bought this game and after showing it to my friends last night it will probably the main way I play the game. But that is OKAY, because the solitaire game is amazing!!

Thanks for the great review - I hope it helps more gamers decide to get this amazing game!!
 
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Travis Larsen

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Awesome review!! If I was ever to write a review on this game, this would be it...almost exactly. This is a GREAT solo game!
 
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Garth Boucher
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Wonderful review. The effort is much appreciated especially considering that English is not your first language. Thanks Markus.

Garth
 
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Doug Adams
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Marvellous review that (cricket season in Oz).

I've played four solo games and a two player game last night, and just love this one. Score keeps increasing as you get better at the game, but just the sheer variety of game play elements will keep this fresh for a long, long time.

Took out my first Ruins last night, found a Horn of ... err Horning in the plunder which gave me Siege Attack 6 which took out a nearby Mage Tower. Just love the story it tells.
 
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Robert Gardunia
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Nice review! Been having so much fun playing it multiplayer it never even occurred to me to try solo.

I just bumped my rating of MK from a 7-8 based on thinking about it so much afterwards (sign of a good game). It may jump up more after we get more plays in and play time goes does. At 5-6 hours for 4 players, this would be a hard game to top (right now we're way higher for the standard conquest game). Perhaps we should try an alternate scenario.
 
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Tim Buckley
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Thanks for the review! I've been looking for some great solo games...just picked up LOTR Card Game because I heard it was fun to solo. This one just got added to my "next purchase" list.
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michael dorazio
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Not sure what Runebound you've played, but 'three reasonable options' is bananas. The board's cities, available challenges, and personal quests are numerous. Wide open. If you mean one given roll of the movement dice only offers a few options, well that's just blindness to step-taking and not representative of overarching strategic planning at all. Might not be your cup of tea, but calling Runebound a crappy game is silly. Neil Young doesn't do it for me, but I would never call him a crappy artist (although he is fairly terrible most of the time). Just saying.
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Mark Kwasny
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I have found that there is rarely a choice that is the "best one" in our games. There seem to us an almost endless number of choices for how to use the cards you have, and where to go and what to do with them on the board. Thinking through as many as we can before making the choice is challenging and quite enjoyable for us. Since every card can be used in numerous ways, the combinations are limitless. For us, having all of those choices clear to us, but since what's coming next (new tiles, monster counters, next hand, etc.) is unclear, that's where the excitement and mental challenge comes from.
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Shaun
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I enjoy this solo as well. I don't feel like I'm taking too long on my turn

Some of the brain-burning comes from trying to maximize what you do on each turn. In solo play, sometimes you have to keep up with the dummy player. The one time I played multiplayer, I tried to push the pace of the game by using all of my cards first. I ended up winning, so maybe there's something to that strategy.
 
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Ryan
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Schaulustiger wrote:

I am by no means a good writer (English isn't my native language), but I feel an urge to put my feelings towards the game in words,


Your writing style was a pleasure to read. Your thoughts were easy to understand and flowed well together.

Good work! I look forward to reading any future reviews of yours as well. Your review on LOTR: LCG was enjoyable as well.
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Kelly N.
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Great write up. I enjoyed reading the review and found it helpful in deciding whether or not to buy this beast.
 
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Chris Heffernan
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Thanks for the review. Your praise of the solo game has gotten this back on my radar.
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Markus Unger
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Thank you all for the kind comments!

someotherguy wrote:
Just played and was underwhelmed. So you have three reasonable options (though you often don't) you pick the best one and off you go. Reminded me a lot of Runebound, which IMO is a pretty crappy game. Just another adventure game that is needlessly complex. Can't understand why so many say this is a brain burner.


Picking the best option might not be that difficult during the first day round, but if you want to tell me that it's easy to find the best possible move later on when you have four or five viable targets and numerous action cards, spells, artifacts, follower abilities and skills to consider, I really want to see you play this game.
I once dismissed an attack on two rampaging draconums as impossible only to find out - after minutes of playing through different other turns - that I *could* take on the draconums and even block the attack of one. It was just a matter of finding out how to best use the different instruments that were available to me, which strong card effect to power with the few mana I had, etc.
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Christian
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Ditto.
I considered one hand last night during minutes and many combinations, it never added to enough attack, and then suddenly it popped out, I got my tenth attack point to dispose of that annoying monk, if I played my cards and skill well!
It a real pleasure to discover that kind of solution and new clever ways to play. The experience you gain as a player is tangible.

Great review Markus.
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Pelein de Cratia
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For a better soloplay try Runebound whistle
 
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Kvothe Arliden
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Hallo Markus

Danke für den tollen und informativen Bericht. was mich noch interessieren würde: Kann man jedes Szenario solo spielen oder nur ganz bestimmte?

Ein tolles Spiel, das ich mir wohl zulegen werde.
 
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Travis R. Chance
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cradleofmilk wrote:
Not sure what Runebound you've played, but 'three reasonable options' is bananas. The board's cities, available challenges, and personal quests are numerous. Wide open. If you mean one given roll of the movement dice only offers a few options, well that's just blindness to step-taking and not representative of overarching strategic planning at all. Might not be your cup of tea, but calling Runebound a crappy game is silly. Neil Young doesn't do it for me, but I would never call him a crappy artist (although he is fairly terrible most of the time). Just saying.



Runebound is pretty meh - move and roll is too much a part of the game. I won't cross swords on this, but a friend brought it once to a game night and an hour into it even the person who owned and loved it started to feel it was pretty lacking in lieu of what we were playing prior.
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michael dorazio
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I'm sure RB isn't for everyone, or even most people, but circumstance plays a large part in its success too. It's not a 'game night get-together' type of thing at all. It's about two or three players who love Ameritrash adventure games planning to play it for three or four hours and then doing it up. It's not a complicated game, but it takes patience and a desire to make it happen. Plus, you really want several sets of movement dice and a player who knows the game well. I hope I enjoy Mage Knight as much I enjoy RB.
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Conor Hickey
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This review convinced me to go out and buy this game, thanks!
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Christian
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JonJacob wrote:
... and absolutely no flavour text.

You hit the nail on the head.
I commented on Tric Trac that your tactical and strategic choices drive the story, but, I'll go and elaborate with this flavour text thing or lack thereof: Mage Knight doesn't need flavour text, because the gameplay is the flavour.
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