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Subject: My First Weekend with Mage Knight rss

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Jonathan Doolin
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Mage Knight Review

I haven't had this game for long. Actually just got it Thursday afternoon. I had this sudden flash of inspiration. Instead of purchasing a game that would be likely to please a large number of people, I was going to buy the game that would please ME.

What I like about this game.
It feels like an adventure. Yes some people will do better than others, and a lot is based on luck. That makes it more like real life. You take the hand that you're given and you deal with it. It makes it fun, too, because the hand that your given, even if you're really unlucky, will eventually get you someplace cool.

I really can't imagine playing the game competitively. Except as soon as I said that, I started changing my mind. The idea of annoying the other players by making things more difficult for them only would seem appealing if I were behind. And even then, only if another player has been consistently getting in my way. Adds a little F-U factor to the game, maybe. I don't think I would encourage people to play the game competitively for their first few games.

There was a game out in the 80's called Magic Realm that has a similar feel to this game, though the mechanics of the game are wildly different. In Magic Realm there was this sense that when you encountered a monster, you could beat it, if only you could figure out how to use your recruited army and your 12 skills properly. To win a combat in Magic Realm, you had to understand the damage rating of each skill, the initiative rating of each skill, under what circumstances to use dodge, parry, and thrust, how to use your followers in combat, how to use your artifacts in combat, how to deal with fatigue, etc. In Magic Realm, every combat felt like its own IQ test. It was a problem that may or may not have a solution. But whether you could win the combat or not, if you could win, your goal was to win without becoming fatigued; if you couldn't win, your goal was to win without becoming too badly injured.

When I bought Mage Knight, I wasn't really expecting too much, but I was happy when I saw two rule books with tiny print. Yes, this was a game that I was going to be able to spend a couple of days sinking my teeth into. When I realized that the first book was a WALKTHROUGH, I was even more excited. It meant I could actually start setting up the game and play AS I WAS READING. Like hailing back to my days of reading Choose-your-own-adventure books, almost.

And yes, this game does capture that feel in solitaire play. It feels like I am an adventurer/leader, knowing tales of rampaging orcs and dark dungeons, and crypts, and keeps, and perhaps, if I ever got to the core tiles, Dragons and Cities!

So I played the walkthrough for unknown amounts of time on Friday and Saturday. I unfortunately have a tiny apartment and have to clear off the table to get any other work done, so I started over Saturday. But this time I had learned how to use the "dummy player," so I was actually playing a proper solitaire game Saturday morning. (The walkthrough doesn't tell you to do it, and weirdly does not describe anything about the 1-player setup, even though, I would imagine most people will play through the walkthrough solitaire for the first time.) Right, so Friday, I had extrapolated the rules, unless I didn't like them. For instance, it said use a number of mana dice equal to 2+number of players for 2, 3, and 4, player game. I felt like that just sucked too much, so I put in 4. When I found the rules for solitaire play, it turned out, later, apparently the game-designer agreed with me.

By the end of Friday, I had made up my first player-aid. I listed all the things that you do at the end of a round on an index card. It made it so I didn't have to think and look up rules, so the end of the round became a thing that took 60 seconds instead of 10 minutes.

Saturday, I actually started over, and played solitaire again. This time, I had some idea what I was doing from the beginning. There were certain skills in the game where I just stared at them the first time I played; and seemed like they were wasting space in my hand, and some of the spaces on the board seemed so uneventful, they weren't worth the effort (movement cost) to enter. I'm ready for action-action-action-action. The game isn't quite set up that way. Sometimes it is much more to your benefit to spend a turn resting and meditating, building up your magical reserves. The second time I played, I realized some of these skills and locations were designed to allow you to prepare for later turns. Even though you might have an uneventful turn, they give you the opportunity to rest up, and meditate for a a power-move on a later turn.

So on Saturday evenings there is a game night here at the Student Union in town. Unfortunately it goes only from 7:00 to 10:40. (You have to be out the door by 11:00 PM). So I have hesitated to bring my favorite games to this place because there is no way to play any of my favorite games in that amount of time. But one of the reasons I bought this game was because I had an epiphany. I would rather play one of my favorite games and NOT finish it, than play some random decent game that can be played reliably in three hours or less. I go to the game night, bringing this big duffel bag full of really top-rated great games, but I've played them all before; I have no preference of what to play, so I walk in there, and we end up playing something else, because I don't care what we play.

I make up a couple more custom player aids before I go. An index card listing all of the map features, along with their method of entry, their reputation cost, fortified or not, and the reward you get for defeating it. I tried to make a summary card explaining mana tokens and crystals, and another summary card explaining wounds, healing, and resting, but I ran out of time. Then I put a bunch of labels on snack bags and separated out tokens that would come into play as the game progressed.

So I go in at around 6:30 and start setting up my game, placing the three starting tiles, and monsters, and I had the four figures set up with little labeled snack-bags containing all the players starting pieces, (16 starting action cards, 10 skill tokens, all their shield tokens, their player inventory card, the 6 level token hexagons, and the skill description card).

I even go help this other guy set up Arkham Horror; he's got 3 or four expansions for it; pretty cool. Well, by 7:15 or so, Arkham Horror is back in the box, and I have four other players who are interested in playing Mage Knight. Uh-oh, five players for a four player game; what do we do?

Actually, that's perfect. I knew I would be explaining rules all through the evening, because of the steep learning curve. I also know from past experience that I always feel guilty for introducing a rule that I forgot to explain, right as I'm about to take advantage of it. If I am just explaining the rules, and not playing, I don't feel so guilty for my oversight, when I introduce a rules clarification that everybody should have been taking advantage of the whole game. Also, I could focus on explaining what was going on, and not be in the midst of trying to figure out what in the world to do with my cards.)

I had them stack their tokens and character sheet properly, then the first rule I explained before anything else was the "reversion" rule. I told them that they could play through their entire turn, get their butts kicked in a battle with orcs, and then take it all back, back to the point where any new information was revealed.

I then handed out the day strategy cards, and had them pick their strategies. (In solo-play I forgot to do this the first round.) Now their turns started. One big difference in the single-player and four player version. By the time the fourth player came out of the portal, he really had nothing useful he could do. All the cool places within reach were occupied by the other three players. That became somewhat less of a problem as the game progressed, and they were more spread out.

I just took on the role of "Combat manager." Which means I assured that the phases of battle were done properly and nobody used ranged combat against fortified enemies, etc. I also followed the walkthrough as the game progressed. When new tiles were revealed, I described their features, the buildings and sites, what kinds of monsters protected them, etc.

The game proceeded, and at the end of the first round, one of the players asked if they needed to continue playing with all their cards revealed. It seemed like everybody was getting the hang of it, so they all started playing with their cards in their hand. This seemed like a good idea, but there was a turn when one of the players took about fifteen to twenty minutes trying to figure out what he was doing on his turn. He finally just crystallized a mana and more-or-less passed his turn. It turned out, he had a good option that turn, and an opportunity wasted. It would have been much faster if he'd had his cards laid out and I could have helped him. But I guess it is also good
to let him puzzle it out on his own.

The first round was really short; one of the players blew threw all of his cards in 3 turns, then ended the round. That was followed by an extremely long night, probably about 6 turns. That was kind of unfortunate, because new players would really benefit from knowing what they're up against in the towers.

At the end of the evening all four people said they thought it was a great game, and they'd like to play it again. I started reminding people of the victory points, but really nobody cared. I don't think this is a game for people who want to win. If your enjoyment of a game is based on a test of your skill vs. another players skill, you should probably play something else. You will get unlucky sometimes in the draw, and really have nothing you can do, though I haven't seen it happen very often. Your choices are not unlimited, but to a certain extent dictated by the hand you draw.

Instead, this game for people who like a good story. The fact that your choices are limited mean that you cannot play exactly the same way from one game to the next. You will see an entirely different story unfold. People on Boardgame Geek have complained that there is too much randomness in the game. It's a style question. If you play games so that you can prove your skill over other players, then this is probably not the game for you. If you play games to have a good time, make meaningful choices, and watch an epic story unfold, and do your best with what you have, then this game is awesome.
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Jonathan Davison
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Nice review. Acting as a referee for your own game was magnanimous of you. If I lived nearby I'd stop in!

JonDoolin wrote:
Yes some people will do better than others, and a lot is based on luck. That makes it more like real life.


In real life are you a wizard?
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David desJardins
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JonDoolin wrote:
I don't think this is a game for people who want to win. If your enjoyment of a game is based on a test of your skill vs. another players skill, you should probably play something else.


Not very many people want to play a game where the better player always wins. If they did, we'd all be playing Chess. I think you've set up a false dichotomy here---there are a pretty large number of people who enjoy games where there is a lot of skill involved and yet there's also a lot of random luck that can't necessarily be overcome.
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Volker Hirscher
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Good review!

Quote:
Instead, this game for people who like a good story.


Here, I disagree. Personally, while I like Mage Knight TBG quite a lot, I don't think it really succeeds in delivering a story feel. It is rather the puzzle aspect and trying new cards that make me come back. I would like a deeper story-feeling, though...
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Paul Grogan
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mavo wrote:
Here, I disagree. Personally, while I like Mage Knight TBG quite a lot, I don't think it really succeeds in delivering a story feel. It is rather the puzzle aspect and trying new cards that make me come back. I would like a deeper story-feeling, though...


Without the players to add the story, you are right. There is no flavour text on the cards for people to read out like some other games, but to be honest, I get a bit fed up of them after a while

However, if you check out the PBF games, I think some people have really gone to town on flavour and it works really well. I now incorporate this into my games where I can and it makes them more enjoyable for me.

You can play the game like
a) I play this card, and that card, then use this skill to gain 7MP and move across the plains and into the desert.
or
b) With endless stamina, Goldyx marches for hours, first through the plains and then through the desert, despite the sweltering heat. The mage tower is off in the distance, he must reach it before Norowas, and find the secrets it holds!

Note: I'm rubbish at writing, but you get the idea.
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Chris Berry
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nice review; it does pay to take risks in this game though; I have yet to see a time where 'rolling the dice' didn't work out for someone even if they lost the initial assault.
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David desJardins
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delewobmesid wrote:
nice review; it does pay to take risks in this game though; I have yet to see a time where 'rolling the dice' didn't work out for someone even if they lost the initial assault.


If you attack a Mage Tower or Keep and you draw the one enemy that you can't even defeat, you're setting yourself way back. It's a long game, yet not really long enough to recover from that sort of thing. But it doesn't bother me.
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Warren Smith
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DaviddesJ wrote:
If you attack a Mage Tower or Keep and you draw the one enemy that you can't even defeat, you're setting yourself way back. It's a long game, yet not really long enough to recover from that sort of thing. But it doesn't bother me.
Agreed. It doesn't bother me either. I think this is what the OP was trying to get across when he talked about the difference between playing to test your skill versus playing for the "adventure". While it's not like mage knight doesn't require skill - it actually requires loads of it - he makes a good point about the type of attitude one needs in order to enjoy this game.
 
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David desJardins
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h00sha wrote:
While it's not like mage knight doesn't require skill - it actually requires loads of it - he makes a good point about the type of attitude one needs in order to enjoy this game.


Yet I have no interest in the story yet I enjoy the game.

I think it's a lot like Backgammon. There's a lot of luck in the game, skill doesn't always prevail, yet it doesn't follow that the only people who can enjoy backgammon are those who tell themselves a story about the movement of the pieces, and their motivations and travails.
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Jonathan Doolin
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Luscious Willard wrote:
Nice review. Acting as a referee for your own game was magnanimous of you. If I lived nearby I'd stop in!

JonDoolin wrote:
Yes some people will do better than others, and a lot is based on luck. That makes it more like real life.


In real life are you a wizard?


Yes, but unfortunately I can't seem to find a properly written spell, and I seem to be having trouble locating a decent source of mana.

I think I might not be so magnanimous next time. It would be rather boring to sit and watch people who already new how to play. But with four new players, I found that for the entire 3 and-a-half hour time we were playing, I was still explaining the occasional newly encountered rules, and answering questions, all the way to the end of the evening.

If I'd been looking at my cards the whole time trying to figure out what to do with my next turn, I'll bet it wouldn't have been quite as fun.

Although, it is a guilty pleasure to run circles around the competition just because you're the only one who fully understands the rules.
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Jonathan Doolin
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h00sha wrote:
DaviddesJ wrote:
If you attack a Mage Tower or Keep and you draw the one enemy that you can't even defeat, you're setting yourself way back. It's a long game, yet not really long enough to recover from that sort of thing. But it doesn't bother me.
Agreed. It doesn't bother me either. I think this is what the OP was trying to get across when he talked about the difference between playing to test your skill versus playing for the "adventure". While it's not like mage knight doesn't require skill - it actually requires loads of it - he makes a good point about the type of attitude one needs in order to enjoy this game.


Yeah, I had just read the first few pages of another thread where someone had made a very good argument that Mage-Knight was, indeed a luck-based game. Perhaps just as luck-based as Talisman. (which is also a game where you can make good decisions and win the game, although it has been many years since I have been around players who were competitive enough to make it happen.)

I think that reading through that thread immediately before writing the review had an effect on what I said. I think Mage Knight has a perfect level of luck for a game of this genre. It's nice not being able to predict what's going to happen next.
 
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Jonathan Doolin
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josef_k wrote:
JonDoolin wrote:

I felt like that just sucked too much, so I put in 4. When I found the rules for solitaire play, it turned out, later, apparently the game-designer agreed with me.


The dummy player doesn't actually count as a "real" player, so for solo play you should only use 3 dice. See the official rule FAQ, question 3: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/704520/official-rules-faq-th....

Anyway, this was a great review. I am also reminded of the days when I read choose-your-own-adventure books when I play the game. Not in terms of mechanics, but in the feeling of exploring a fun adventure.

On the subject of luck, I wouldn't agree that there is too much of it in the game. Insofar as the outcome of battles is deterministic, the game gives you a lot of control. It also gives you ways to discover unknown enemies (being able to see the defenders of keeps and mage towers during the day), so you could choose not to take a risk and wait until you are able to gain more information. That leaves dungeons, ruins and dens, of course, but even then, you can look at the back of the walkthrough to see what kinds of enemies are possible, and make a calculated risk. I like that the game allows you to take risks, but also to play conservatively if you want.


Hmmmm, sometimes I dream of reading rules in my sleep. I could swear that under solitaire play I read "Set up the game as you would a two player game." The text seems to have disappeared from the rules on solitaire play on page 12 of the rulebook, and the rules on solitaire play on page 17 of the rulebook.

What probably happened was that I saw the words "whenever you play a cooperative or solo mission, there is one automated Dummy player." and when I saw that, I thought to myself, "Aha! this is why there are no rules about set-up for one player. Because there is always one automated Dummy player."
 
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Aaron Bedard
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That was pretty great of you to take all that time learning and organizing the game for the game night, setting it up and then being absolutely fine with just standing aside so that everyone else could pay while you helped with the rules.

Good review of a game I've been enjoying this year. Although I too am finding that the theme (which I usually strive to grasp onto) is pretty transparent and in the end it's just this great, big moving puzzle. But that this puzzle is so fascinating, so magnificently designed, that it's enough to keep me fully engaged and coming back for more.

I'm getting real excited for the Mage Knight Board Game: The Lost Legion expansion, coming soon.
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Jonathan Doolin
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JonDoolin wrote:

Hmmmm, sometimes I dream of reading rules in my sleep. I could swear that under solitaire play I read "Set up the game as you would a two player game." The text seems to have disappeared from the rules on solitaire play on page 12 of the rulebook, and the rules on solitaire play on page 17 of the rulebook.


I happened upon the rule today, while looking for something else.

On page 15, under First Reconnaissance, "Solo Variant" it says "If you want to try your First Mission Solo, play with the setup for 2 players, and in addition, use a Dummy player and extra rules described in Solo Conquest Scenario."

There's also an advanced skill "mana storm" that seems to assume there are at least four dice in the mana pool.
 
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Jonathan Doolin
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RawDealDemo wrote:
That was pretty great of you to take all that time learning and organizing the game for the game night, setting it up and then being absolutely fine with just standing aside so that everyone else could pay while you helped with the rules.

Good review of a game I've been enjoying this year. Although I too am finding that the theme (which I usually strive to grasp onto) is pretty transparent and in the end it's just this great, big moving puzzle. But that this puzzle is so fascinating, so magnificently designed, that it's enough to keep me fully engaged and coming back for more.

I'm getting real excited for the Mage Knight Board Game: The Lost Legion expansion, coming soon.


I have been enjoying the solitaire game quite a bit. I don't know about the theme; I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons at age 6 or 7, so I'm quite comfortable with the "theme" of beating up monsters with mathematics and numbers.

I think what makes this game different from most is the reversion rule. In a lot of games, you make a mistake, you live with it. In this game, you can play out the turn, and then take it back, puzzle it out, and re-think what resources you have and how to apply them to the situation, and maybe make an entirely different choice of what to do. (Edit: My point was that this ability to take back the move makes things seem less thematic; you're not striking with the roll of the dice and hoping you hit, but puzzling it out, usually with perfect assurance that if your calculations are correct, you will win, and if your calculations are incorrect, you will modify your plans.)

In my solitaire games, so far, I think this has led to quite a bit of what would be "analysis paralysis" in a multi-player game. If I were sitting there thinking about what I wanted to do for 15 or 20 minutes in a group scenario, I would be a really annoying player.

Of course some elements inherent in a solitaire game would be much faster in a multi-player game. For instance, if I attack a cold-fire defense with a cold-fire attack in a multi-player game, someone would say--"Hey, that won't work, and then I could revise my strategy right then." In a solitaire game, I play through the battle and only at the last moment, I realize, "Hey that won't work. I need to revise my entire strategy."

I've found as I've been playing it solitaire, it was helpful to start logging my turns; otherwise I would forget to take the dummy-players turn, or increase/decrease my reputation for every battle.

I am definitely seeing a progression of skill, though... or accumulated knowledge, but just knowing what pace you need to set; what sorts of skills you want to collect, where you need to go to get the best fame and resources, and quickly identifying great card combinations, so that you have the strength to defeat the cities by the end of round 6.

After playing solitaire, 6 times, I found that I consistently did better in each game... In games 1, 2, 3, I didn't quite finish, but cleared off the table because they seemed like they were going nowhere. Then in the fourth game, I successfully beat my first city near the end of round 6. In the fifth game I defeated my first city in round 5 and very nearly defeated the second city in round 6. And in the 6th game I accumulated enough good cards, skills, and troops to defeat both cities in round 6.

Perhaps next time I play, I'll actually think to start keeping score!
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Klaude Thomas
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DaviddesJ wrote:
h00sha wrote:
While it's not like mage knight doesn't require skill - it actually requires loads of it - he makes a good point about the type of attitude one needs in order to enjoy this game.


Yet I have no interest in the story yet I enjoy the game.

I think it's a lot like Backgammon. There's a lot of luck in the game, skill doesn't always prevail, yet it doesn't follow that the only people who can enjoy backgammon are those who tell themselves a story about the movement of the pieces, and their motivations and travails.

Very much agree with you.. The systemic elements are of paramount importance to me. If I'm honest I also enjoy fluff - so long as the crunch is solid.
 
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Daniel Lin
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Nice review, I just got Mage knight this week. I really like this game because the game mechanics is amazing!
 
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