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Subject: Mage Wars Review rss

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Scott Douglass
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This is my first review. I'll start by giving a basic overview of the game, but I won't cover the rules in detail. After that I'll have my review. To give you some idea of my level of experience, I've played 39 games of Mage Wars so far.

Basic Overview

The goal of Mage Wars is to kill your opponent's mage.

In Mage Wars you play a mage taking part in an arena battle. You have a spellbook that you setup ahead of time with whatever spells you want. There are a few mage exclusive spells for each mage, each mage has a few special abilities, and each mage has training in one or more schools of magic. Including spells in your spellbook costs the level of the spell if your mage is trained in that school, double the level of the spell if your mage is not trained in that school, and triple the level of the spell if your mage is opposed to that school (like a Warlock taking holy spells). This allows you to build a wide variety of mages with different strategies.

Gameplay is resolved on a board with different zones, which you can move between, and players take turns activating their creatures. Mages have a quickcast marker so that they'll be able to cast an extra quick spell each turn, but other creatures just have a single activation marker.

You generate mana every turn equal to your channeling. Mages have 9-10 base channeling, which is enough to get by, but you can also modify channeling values through certain cards. You start the game with 10 mana, which is enough to allow players to play a big card or 2 early, which allows for fast starts.

At the beginning of the round, you choose 2 spells to be in your hand for the turn. If you haven't cast them, they'll go back in your spellbook. Spells are either one shot effects or permanents that go into play until destroyed. You can summon creatures, equip your mage, enchantment objects, summon conjurations, and cast one shot attack and incantation spells. Choosing spells ahead of time completely eliminates the luck of the draw, but still maintains some uncertainty, since you don't know which cards your opponent chose. Another level of uncertainty is added by enchantments. Enchantments are played face down for 2 mana, and then you can reveal them later. Some enchantments give passive bonuses or penalties, some are revealed when certain conditions are met for a one shot effect, and some deal damage. There is a nice bluffing element you can take advantage of with enchantments.

When you activate a creature, you can typically choose to either take a full action, or move and take a quick action. A quick action can be another move to an adjacent zone, a quick attack, a quick spell, or guarding. If an enemy creature is in the same zone as your creature at the beginning of their activation, your creature is hindered, and it can't move 2 zones. Similarly, if you move a creature into a zone with an enemy creature, your creature is hindered, and can't keep moving. The hindering element of the game combined with position manipulation spells like Teleport lead to some very interesting positioning considerations, and play a huge factor in the game.

If there is one or more enemy guards in a zone, your melee attacks in that zone must target guards until there are no more guards (when a guard gets attacked, the guard marker is removed). A guard gets to make a counterstrike with a fast attack after being attacked.

Attacks are handled with dice. Based on how powerful your attack is, you'll roll a certain number of dice. The dice have 2 blank faces and sides with 1 normal damage, 1 critical damage, 2 normal damage, and 2 critical damage. You roll the dice and total the normal and critical damage, subtract your target's armor from the normal damage, and that's how much damage you deal. Some attacks can also inflict status conditions. If your attack can inflict a status condition, you roll a twelve sided die to see whether you inflict the status condition.

There are many keywords and special abilities that modify these things, but they're fairly intuitive. The codex does an amazing job of organizing information so that you can quickly reference a keyword and get back to the game.

Review

Mage Wars is an incredibly deep game. It takes a major time investment to get into the game, and it really helps to know your spellbook. You're not choosing one card out of 3-7 like in many card games, you're choosing 2 out of ~60. Knowing which cards are relevant to which situation dramatically speeds up gameplay, which doesn't even take into account knowing what the cards do in the first place. Gameplay can be fairly long with new players, but speeds up with experience. Games between experienced players should take 30-75 minutes depending on strategy and whether one player gets quickly overwhelmed. With new players the play time is much more variable, but I'd expect 2-3 hours with all new players, and 1.5-2 hours with an experienced player teaching a new player not including explanation time.

The different mages and spellbook choices create a nice level of asymmetry that I really appreciate. The different mages seem fairly well balanced.

Choosing which spells you want to cast each turn radically opens up the level of tactical and strategic decision making. You have many, many options, and you need to adjust what you're doing based on the game state. Add in positioning, and you have one of the deepest tactical experiences I've ever seen. The game really makes you feel like you're in control of the battle (or your opponent is occasionally). Not knowing which cards your opponent chooses each round, not knowing what face down enchantments your opponent has, and not knowing how well attacks will work gives just the right level of uncertainty to the game.

I know that some people have expressed concern that you'll play the same cards in the same order every game, since you get to choose your cards each turn. That is not the case. You must adapt to what your opponent is doing, and games between the same spellbooks can play out in wildly divergent ways. If you do the same thing every game, your opponent should figure out how to beat that sequence, and then trounce you consistently. Even doing the same basic opening every game can lead to very different mid/late games. This is not to say that you should be completely reactionary. you want to be proactive, it's just that the best way to be proactive is highly dependent on the board state and matchup.

Mage Wars is deeply thematic. Everything in the game makes sense thematically, and each game tells a detailed story. Compared to MtG there's just no comparison. MtG pastes theme on top of an essentially themeless card game. Every action and spell in Mage Wars is integrated into the theme beautifully. The biggest gripe I've heard with the theme is that archers can make ranged attacks even if an enemy creature is in the same zone, which was taken out to streamline the game.

The dice add just the right amount of randomness to the game. I don't like when dice are too high variance in a game. Games with high dice variance tend to feel too random. The variance on the damage dice is relatively low, and armor is a great way to make creatures more resilient without making them completely immune to small attacks. This works great mechanically, and it allows attacks to be resolved quickly, intuitively, and easily. The effect die is much higher variance, but there are ways to deal with status conditions and defenses (another thing that uses the effect die). I virtually never feel like the result of the game was determined by the dice, although the dice can of course decide extremely close games.

Many people have compared Mage Wars to Summoner Wars. While the themes are similar, they are very different games. Given how similar the themes are and how many mechanics the games share, they are about as different as they could possibly be. Summoner Wars is much more about hand management, and doing your best with what you have. The positioning in Summoner Wars is also handled very differently, with cards creating a logjam to prevent enemy creatures from getting through. I like Summoner Wars, but I much prefer Mage Wars. On the other hand, Summoner Wars is much easier to get into, and is probably a better choice for someone without the time to explore Mage Wars.

I've been wanting to come up with a system to handle tactically and strategically interesting combat for a long time, since I was disappointed with the combat systems I saw in RPGs. If you're a fighter in D&D, what do you do? You attack. Are there interesting choices to be made about that attack? Not really. Mage Wars is the first game that really scratches that itch for me. I've played plenty of other board games with combat, and I've liked a number of them, but this is the first game that captures the tactical choices I wanted in a combat system to scratch that particular itch.

Mage Wars simultaneously scratches several itches for me. It scratches the CCG/LCG deck construction itch (but with a better resource system than most of them), it scratches the miniatures/tactical movement itch, and it scratches the head to head strategy game itch. It is mechanically brilliant, beautifully thematic, and tactically deep, and it quickly became my favorite game. Highly recommended for anyone that likes deep card/miniatures games, and has some time to devote to it.
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Russ Rivet
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Well "la de" freck'n Da!
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GReat Review!, Awesome game!.
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A Brave New Geek
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Great review. 39 games! You lucky man.
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Scott Douglass
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I've also commented my plays, so if you'd like to read a bit about my games and how my strategic thinking has changed over the course of those games, you can read it here: http://boardgamegeek.com/plays/thing/101721?userid=410832
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Ed Bradley
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sdougla2 wrote:
I've also commented my plays, so if you'd like to read a bit about my games and how my strategic thinking has changed over the course of those games, you can read it here: http://boardgamegeek.com/plays/thing/101721?userid=410832


A very interesting read, thanks!

However in your thoughts about adding Iron Golem to your FM build beware the IG can't be moved using Force Push due to its Immovable trait.
It's also not a valid target for any of the nature school stat boosting enchants like Bear Strength.
Can you load a Thoughtspore up with Charge, though?
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Scott Douglass
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I could do that. I wasn't planning on using Force Pull/Force Push on the Golem, I was going to use those to force my opponent into the zone with the Iron Golem so that they'd have to fight it. I don't run extra buffs for my non-mage creatures in my Forcemaster build anyway, so I wasn't planning on using nature buffs on it.
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Ed Bradley
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sdougla2 wrote:
I could do that. I wasn't planning on using Force Pull/Force Push on the Golem, I was going to use those to force my opponent into the zone with the Iron Golem so that they'd have to fight it. I don't run extra buffs for my non-mage creatures in my Forcemaster build anyway, so I wasn't planning on using nature buffs on it.


I've found my pesky opponents tend to get wise to the push/pull tricks. I tend get get better mileage just teleporting the Golem onto them.
My sample size is small though. I do love that Golem.
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Scott Douglass
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Yeah, Teleport is better for Iron Golems and especially Earth Elementals, but that's what Thoughtspore with Teleport is for. Between that and Force Pull they should have trouble getting away from my Iron Golem and I.
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Ed Bradley
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sdougla2 wrote:
Yeah, Teleport is better for Iron Golems and especially Earth Elementals, but that's what Thoughtspore with Teleport is for. Between that and Force Pull they should have trouble getting away from my Iron Golem and I.


I'm coming from the Earth Wizard angle so I have fewer options. And serious Thoughtspore envy
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Scott Douglass
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My Earth Wizard uses Huginn to fulfill a similar role. And since Teleport is so much cheaper for a Wizard, I run 4. With my Earth Wizard I try to setup a particular zone as a kill zone and lock my opponent in it. If they're fighting 3 Iron Golems/Earth Elementals in a Poison Gas Cloud with Force Hold keeping them in place while I Hurl Boulders at them, they probably won't last long, especially if Huginn is standing by to Teleport them back into the zone if they manage to escape.

Staying in the same zone is less important for my Forcemaster since I only have one slow creature to support. It's just as efficient to Teleport my Iron Golem to my opponent as it is to Teleport my opponent to my Iron Golem, so I can base that decision on the board state.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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Summoner Wars WISHES it were Mage Wars . Mage Wars is Summoner Wars in big boy pants.
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Scott Douglass
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jschlickbernd wrote:
Summoner Wars WISHES it were Mage Wars . Mage Wars is Summoner Wars in big boy pants.


While I agree, I think that Summoner Wars can fill a niche that Mage Wars would struggle filling for people that don't want to invest the upfront time to get into Mage Wars. Besides, I enjoy Summoner Wars, I'd just always rather play Mage Wars...
 
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Purple Paladin

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Same. I like MW way more than SW, but, I have friends that would never put the time investment into MW. But they will gladly sit down for a quick game of SW.
 
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That's what happened to me. I was ready to buy MW because I like SW. MW does look really fun but then I realized nobody would play it with me. I don't have a group I play with although I have introduced some friends that aren't gamers to SW. I don't think I could introduce them to MW easily.
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Tom Cannon
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Hey Bryan. Where do you live?

I'm always looking for Mage Wars opponents in the Annapolis, MD area.

Tom
 
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wtcannonjr wrote:
Hey Bryan. Where do you live?

I'm always looking for Mage Wars opponents in the Annapolis, MD area.

Tom


Sadly 18 hours and 32 minutes away. Thanks for the heads up though.
 
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