I’m trying to set up more game nights at my place. As part of that effort, I’ve described some of the games in my collection: Munchausen, Fluxx, Arkham Horror. I’ve recently added more games to my collection, and I plan to post about them to pique folks’ interest.
Today’s game: Mage Knight.
This is the board game version of a collectible miniatures game that was popular a few years back. That earlier game has waned, but this new version was on the top of many gamers’ list of best board games of 2011.
The story: You are a mighty force, skilled in both magic and weaponry. The people call you a mage knight. You’ve been granted your powers by the Council of the Void. You and your fellow mage knights are sent on missions to conquer the Atlantean Empire, a realm beset by monsters and dotted with ancient ruins filled with magical treasures. You can earn fame, treasure, power, spells as you explore the world; you can work with the other mage knights or conspire again them. The Council only cares that you conquer the Atlantean cities in their name.
The game of Mage Knight is the union of several gaming elements:
– Exploration. The game map is composed of tiles which, apart from an introductory scenario, are randomly shuffled and placed in each game. You know that the Atlantean cities and the other richest (and most dangerous) sites are located on the tiles near the bottom of the tile deck, but that’s about it.
– Resource management. As one might expect in a magic-based game, the magic system uses mana as a game mechanic. At the beginning of the game, mana is hard to come by. Gradually, as you pick up more advanced cards and skills, you learn how to acquire mana more rapidly. You never seem to have enough of the right kind to do everything, so you have to plan in advance.
– Deck-building. Each mage knight has their own deck of action cards. As the game progresses, there are opportunities to add more powerful cards to the deck: advanced actions, spells, artifacts. When you’re wounded in combat, “wound cards” are added to your hand; they serve no function, and therefore tend to clog your deck unless you can arrange for healing to get rid of them. It’s an interesting game mechanic: you can’t die, but you can become so wounded that you have few actions you can play.
– Character advancement. As in many games based on fantasy role-playing concepts, your mage knight can go up in level. In Mage Knight, the term “Fame” is used instead of “experience points.” As you go up in level, you gain more advanced actions and additional skills; you also gain the ability to command units that serve you. You gain Fame by defeating monsters, so you have an incentive to go after the rampaging monsters on the surface or delve into dungeons for more challenging fights.
There’s more: Influence, reputation, tactics, the difference between Day and Night movement and mana. You can play the game cooperatively with the other Mage Knights, or compete with them to see who can earn the most fame. There are even a couple of solo adventures.
Sound complicated? It is. Mage Knight is not as complicated as Arkham Horror, but it still took me a couple of solo games to get the hang of the rules. The game comes with a walkthrough of its first scenario, a relatively simple reconnaissance mission; everyone is encouraged to play that once before going on to the more complete scenarios. Like Arkham Horror, Mage Knight requires a lot of table space; the ever-expanding map grows quickly, and each player needs an end table of their own for their cards and counters.
With all the complexities and challenges, I found Mage Knight to be a really fun game to play. The game encourages planning and careful thinking; the turn sequence is designed so you have plenty of time to make decisions while someone else is executing their turn.
The game is also beautiful. It comes with four colorfully-painted miniature figures to represent the mage knights, four cities with rotating bases to represent the cities, and hundreds of full-color cards and counters and maps. There’s even a bit of game balance in the artwork; everyone will want to play “Green” since the miniature figure is a cool-looking dragon, but that mage knight turns out to be not quite as powerful as some of the others. (Next time I play, I’m going to pick Black.)
Mage Knight is well worth the time it takes to learn and play. I hope I’m not stuck playing the solo version indefinitely!