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Review by Phil: Mage Knight by WizKids

In brief, the warnings about the time commitment to play this game are all completely true. This was hard to believe prior to playing the game the first time. Everything on the net warns of 4-hour games and there’s even a 3-hour learning curve on top of that while trudging through the first scenario — the one they call short for people not yet familiar with all of the rules. And there are MANY, MANY rules!

That crazy time commitment aside, the game is quite enjoyable once you’ve gotten around the complicated game mechanics and the setup.

Mage Knight photo of components

The Game’s Objective
Mage Knight has several different scenarios that are available, some cooperative, that can be played. The objective is based on the chosen scenario.

The suggestion for the first game – or any game including people unfamiliar with the rules – is First Reconnaissance. For our first game, we played this scenario with 3 players. With the setup, consternation over the 2 20-page rule books and a switch to watch YouTube videos that reviewed the game and discussed combat, etc., we were at this for almost 7 hours.

I kid you not.

However, the good news is that for our second game (a few weeks later) we played Blitz Conquest and we completed the first portion (day) of a 4-portion scenario in under an hour. And the setup was amazingly quick given the first game’s introduction to all of the parts and such.

We stopped playing after ~4.5 hours and were roughly 75% of the way through the scenario.

Setup Comments
The first time we played, setup just seemed to take forever. Part of that, I will admit, is our fault. Their Game Walkthrough book has all of their cards displayed and it gives you the key to determine which of the cards (most with the same card back) is what type of card. They all have the same card backs because they can be acquired as resources for individual decks and should blend in.

The cards themselves are actually pretty packed with information and coded in a way to have all of the mechanics on them. The same is true for the monster and building tokens. The problem is trying to memorize all of the symbols or getting comfortable with quickly looking them up.

The 2nd time we played this game, I had the game setup in under 15 minutes.

Game Play
The game is broken down into rounds (day or night) and individual turns within that round. Depending on the scenario there are a number of rounds that describe the time limit by which some objective must be met.

  1. There are tactics cards that determine turn order in the round and there is a set of tactics cards for both the day and night rounds. Depending on the tactic chosen, an ability is given. Turns progress through all players until someone runs out of cards and declares the last round.
  2. The basic deed cards of each character (the same 16 cards for each player at the start of the game) determine the details of what you can do with your Move and Action. Movement costs are based on the type of terrain and whether it’s day or night.
  3. Actions are determined based on what sort of space you are encountering and/or if you’re choosing to engage another character in PvP combat. During your action, you can encounter Marauding Orcs, Dragons, villages, Mage Towers, a Keep, a Monastery, Ancient Ruins, dungeons, monster dens, etc. At ‘building’ locations, you can perform actions of a commerce-like nature spending influence to recruit follower units or spells. Or you can attack the personnel, suffering a reputation decrease, while also gaining rewards. With Orcs and Dragons, you can only fight them and gain influence when defeating them (as the villagers rejoice).

That brings us to combat. There were some complaints around combat around the table as we were playing. And it is definitely a different set of mechanics combining the opportunity to have ranged attacks occur first (and repeatedly if PvP). Depending on what cards you have and what sort of combat is happening it can be very different.

  • Orcs & Dragons: encountered outside. If you move by them in adjacent hexes they’ll aggro and combat will stop movement and need to occur. When fighting non-players, the target does not get an incoming ranged attack as in PvP.
  • You, however, get a chance to attack the target by range (or siege if it’s fortified). If you can do enough damage to them to kill them, you do not suffer any damage from their melee attack.
  • If you cannot range/siege attack the target to kill it, you then move to the melee phase. You will need to block the damage they can deal.
  • If you block all of the damage, you then move onto your melee attack phase. If you cannot block all of the incoming attack you are going to take at least 1 wound. You can assign wounds to units to avoid taking them into your hand – something that is important to do because holding wound cards decreases the effectiveness of your hand. You take a wound for the incoming damage. You then subtract your armor value. Now repeat until the incoming damage is less than your armor value.

    That is: You’re attacked for 6 damage. You can’t block it all and your armor value is 2. You take 1 wound, subtract your armor (2) from the 6 and there’s 4 damage left over. Repeating that, you take another 2 wounds. Again, if you have enough units you can assign wounds to those units. You’ll have to heal those units before you can use them, however. The moral of the story: block as much damage as you can!

    Note: the above has been corrected on 9/30/12

  • Lastly, you can then melee attack the target. If you do damage >= the target’s armor value, it dies. You gain (or lose) reputation depending on the target and get other rewards based on whatever it says on the card that describes it.

Essentially, that’s it. You do those basic mechanics while trying to accomplish whatever objective is laid out in the scenario.

I think one of the problems with this game is the potential to suffer game fatigue. This game is definitely geared toward a hardcore gamer and even then, if you fail your (personal) fortitude save at any point during the day while playing this game the play time can easily be artificially extended due to failing to pay attention, inserting breaks, playing Gems on an iPhone, etc.

Additional Analysis
I reserve the option of adding something here after playing this a few more times.

Ultimately, my rating for this game is: Very Good

My Rating Scale

  • Awesome: It’s fun, playable, has great art and few, if any, minor issues
  • Very Good: Just like awesome, only it either lacks something or there’s some issue that makes the game just a little less than awesome.
  • Playable (As Is): Fun, playable with decent art/mechanics with minor issues and at most 1 easily remedied major issues.
  • Playable (with Fixes): Potential for fun, but flawed; the game requires fixing before playing again.
  • OK: Not great fun, but it kills time. It might even be playable but most would ask why.
  • Seriously Flawed: The game is so flawed I am beside myself with how it got published at all. It is also nigh impossible to fix (or just requires way too much to fix, including the creation and printing of new cards/mechanics).