Mage Knight: Don’t Worry; both Mages & Knights are Present
I’ll be frank: I wanted to play Mage Knight for a long time. C.D. first purchased Mage Knight in 2013 and bragged about the game so much. However, he always prefaced that to truly play the game, you need to play the long tutorial level first. I audibly guffawed at this time and time again, considering the collective hours we’d spent playing Civ V, Game of Thrones Risk, Game of Thrones the Board Game, and countless other games. Further yet, he had played it with other friends before me (a fact which only hurt a little; I promise). It wasn’t until 2018 that the time came to play. A long weekend away to Columbus was set and, as soon as I arrived, all I wanted to do was jump into the game and forget about the asinine ticket I had received while cutting through small town Ohio to avoid construction.
I was taken from the moment C.D. dove into the backstory of the game, the origin of the “Mage Knights”, and the quests we were to undertake. After quickly learning the style of play (using cards to attack, march, gather mana crystals, etc.) and our initial task to arrive at the city with a certain number of turns, we took our respective characters (Arythea & Tovak) and decks and started at the southern tip of the map. Each movement uncovered areas, locations of interest, and (best of all) challenging monsters. C.D., having played the intro a few times, helped to guide me through the best decisions, navigating the map quickly toward our goal.
There are two aspects of the game that really impressed me: the ambiguous nature of competition v. cooperation and the monsters. It is written in the rules that some round goals are accomplished if either player completes them, yet players may choose to target each other on the way to the goal. The first time through, C.D. noted that competing against each other wasn’t the best way to win and we had an agreement in principle to not engage with each other. The best intentions are just that in a world plagued by the Atlantean Empire and I’d be lying if I ignored the instances where attacking C.D. seemed the most logical play. And, in subsequent play-throughs with ourselves and Kim, such actions were undertaken. But having the agency to make these choices while situated within turn-based goals did make the game more enjoyable.
Second, let’s talk about the monsters. Orcs dominate the early game, but the safest pathway to beating these orcs were different each time. Sometimes ranged attacks were the best choice while others needed that good-good taste of steel in their teeth. Further, each tile opened the door for more sinister beings to spring up around the board. I particularly found Mage Towers the most difficult, considering the need for siege-style damage and losing needed influence by attacking them. There are some games where monster-fighting is of minimal difficulty; not here. It added another layer to the game that I enjoyed immensely.
However, this last point does illustrate why this game may be too much for some gamers. While sitting at a higher rating of 8.1 on BGG, it’s weight score sits at 4.26/5. Even before the first game started, I gasped at the number of pieces within the box. There were multiple instances where I had to return to the rulebook or change course due to an obscure rule I had overlooked or forgotten. By the third time I had played the game, I felt as if I had my bearings on the game. This isn’t a knock on the game itself; I understand the selection process in choosing which games to play and who is more likely to play “heavier” v. “lighter” games. But I would be remiss to ignore the fact that certain parts of the game were still difficult to keep in the forefront of my decision-making on the third game.
Spoiler: We did lose the first game. And the second. But we won the third once Kim joined in. I’d like to personally thank her for helping me go 1-for-3 in my first few outings of Mage Knight. I can only hope that more times come up to play so I can raise that winning percentage.
Game Mechanics: 8.0/10
Replay ability: 9/10
Final Score: 8.4/10