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Subject: Mage Wars - a quick review rss

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Matt
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Mage Wars

Sometimes a game seems to find that magic ingredient which makes its formula work. Mage Wars is one of those, a hybrid of card-based deck customization game and arena combat board-game that manages to be more than the sum of its parts.

The gameplay basics then: It’s a two player game. Each player has a deck of cards, representing their spells, which they keep in a protective binder (their spellbook). They put a card representing their wizard onto the board – an arena divided up into 12 zones – set their mana (magical energy) channelling (mana regeneration each turn) and health. Each turn players pick two spells from their spellbook and then alternate back and forth using their actions to move, attack and cast their spells.

Spells come in six flavours and are, clearly, at the heart of the game. You have attacks, conjurations, creatures, enchantments, equipment and incantations. As creatures get summoned into play they will be added to the board, getting their own action tokens and abilities to move and fight. Mages will gather equipment, enchant their creatures, blast away with attacks and lay down conjurations to alter the battlefield.

All of which could be pretty daunting. However, Arcane Wonders have done an extremely good job in making individual cards distinct with very high quality art, while also making card types stand out through excellent use of colour and background design. So as you riff through the 60 or 70 cards in your deck pondering which two might be of use this turn you can tell instantly the difference between the silver-grey equipment and crimson attacks.

Similarly, as you look at the board worrying about the peril your mage is facing the difference between the pale green conjurations, tan-coloured creatures and yellow-orange enchantments on those creatures is clear.

The importance of which can’t be stressed enough. The biggest barrier to playing Mage Wars is the sheer number of options, combinations and strategies available when you open your spellbook at the beginning of the first turn. That learning curve is eased by using the apprentice rules (on the Magewars website) but can’t be avoided entirely.

However, once you’ve played that apprentice game to learn the turn sequence and action economy (both very clearly summarized on the back of the rulebook) the multitude of terms (listed in a codex in the rulebook with cross-references back to the rules themselves) and seen a few spells in action the feeling of being overwhelmed recedes and a huge landscape of possible play opens up.

Again, it has to be said that the graphic design and iconography is very helpful. The rules are colourful, friendly and well-written with plenty of illustrated examples. The cards have clear casting information, the statistics of creatures are obvious and the ‘attack bar’ – a list of icons showing you what an attack does – is intuitive.

Despite that you will run into questions which are not immediately obvious. Does a daze affect a counterstrike? It may take a bit of reading and cross-referencing to work out the answer. What is great is that the obvious answer is ‘yes’ and the answer I got from working through the relevant rules is ‘yes’. It seems to be the case with Mage Wars that the intuitive answer to a question is also the right answer.

There’s something about the common-sense rules and user-friendliness of the components which encourages play. As you look through your cards you don’t even need to know the precise definition of ‘Regeneration 2’. It’s a Hydra. It regenerates. It probably means I get health back or something. Probably two health. Exactly.

All of which allows you to focus your attention on what the game is really about – long-term strategizing, poker-style bluffing and fiendish tactical combos offered by all those crazy spells.

Now, I’ve not played anywhere near enough to know if there are optimal cards. Nor am I the kind of gamer who gains much enjoyment from looking for such things.

What I will say is that the suggested starter decks (the updated versions on the MW website) offer clearly differentiated gameplay for each of the four mages (Beastmaster, Priestess, Wizard and Warlock) while throwing up a rollercoaster of tense situations requiring sudden changes of plan.

One minute you’ll be convinced your enchanted Angel is going to make mincemeat of that Gorgon Archer. The next you’ll be desperately trying to save it from a poison gas cloud it’s been teleported into.

It’s true that certain characters can play a defensive game. But once things hot up it feels like do-or-die unrelenting action until the end. Play the Beastmaster against the Warlock and the sparks will start to fly pretty much from the off. The wizard vs priestess matchup may start slower, but it can still explode into a knife-fight at any time. And it will.

Here on BGG I’ve rated Mage Wars a 9. The components are excellent, the presentation is welcoming, the art and design is user-friendly and the gameplay offers fresh surprises, ominous threats and sweet victories turn by turn.

I’m very glad I bought it. My friends are equally glad.
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Darrell Goodridge
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Currently at 1:2 ratio, getting better every week
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I don't want it, I don't need it, but I can't stop myself. - Stabbing Westward
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Unless your enchanted Angel is restrained somehow, it will easily escape the Poison Gas Cloud, even if it was walled off. Flying is sweet that way. But I get your overall point though.

I liked the review because it didn't get into all the rules specifics like many others, and just gave an opinion on the game. If I wanted to keep rereading the rules, I would.

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Dustin
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man I must have the only play group that did not like this game.
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Matt
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Cardboardjunkie wrote:
Unless your enchanted Angel is restrained somehow, it will easily escape the Poison Gas Cloud, even if it was walled off. Flying is sweet that way. But I get your overall point though.


My Grey Angel took 9 damage and a stun and was then teleported into the poison gas - ouch. He survived, though. For a while.

Cardboardjunkie wrote:
I liked the review because it didn't get into all the rules specifics like many others, and just gave an opinion on the game. If I wanted to keep rereading the rules, I would.


Thanks. I think I'm just too lazy to repeat the rules and list the components.

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rock lobster
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Quote:
but it can still explode into a knife-fight at any time. And it will.


haha. so true.

[turn 1] Warlock sprints to NearCenter, Q/C: (Cheetah Speed) facedown.

[turn 2] Reveal (Cheetah Speed), Q/C: Lash of Hellfire, sprint to Wizard/Priestess (provided they moved 1 space either direction), Roll 5-dice plus Burn.

if they turtled in place, sprint adjacent and 2x Fireball.
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G B
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NO! I'M SPARTACUS!
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SeerMagic wrote:
man I must have the only play group that did not like this game.


Nah, what's left of mine doesn't either. They like it enough to play out of pity once in a while, but for the most part it is about 5th on their list at best.
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Chad Shamrowicz
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I taught my 10, and 12 year old daughters and they love it!
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