From: Arcane Wonders
Reviewed by: Tony McRee
Mage Wars is a new Card Game from Arcane Wonders.
Demoed at Origins in 2012 and then sold at Gen Con in 2012, a new type of card game was introduced to the masses, Mage Wars. People were not sure what to make of this game at first. It was a card game, it was a board game, but overall it was a great game. Mage Wars was unique as far as card games go for you play with an open deck, meaning you don’t draw cards. This was a refreshing change in the card game market.
The Arena Calls…
Mage Wars is generally played as a two-player game where the winner is the one with the last mage standing. However, the board that you play on is large enough to support up to four players. Players play their cards on a board known as the arena. The arena is divided into twelve zones and players enter on opposite corners of the board. Players take turns by going through two stages, the Ready Stage and the Action Stage. In the Ready Stage, both players play at the same time and are essentially doing upkeep of cards, adjusting mana, and preparing to play two cards or spells. This is where the open deck concept comes in. Players look through their spell books at this time. They don’t have to worry about drawing the right card or being card starved in their hand and not being able to play a card. As long as they meet the necessary requirements of the spell to cast it, they can use it. We will talk more about spellbooks later, but now it is time for the Action Stage which is where the true battle begins.
In the Action Stage, players can take turns performing actions and quick actions with their mage and creatures until all actions have been exhausted. This is pretty much like most standard card games where you are doing the event on the card or placing a card into play, but with the board, actions include moving the cards around just like a miniature game. As stated, the action phase isn’t complete until all actions are taking. Creatures and mages have actions, but mages also have the ability to do Quickcast actions. This allows the mages to cast a spell before any creatures take their actions, but they are not required to perform this Quickcast at this time; it can be held. That is the general idea behind Mage Wars – your creatures and mage take actions and quick actions in order to defeat the other side. The beauty of this game is in the spellbooks that contain your cards.
The spellbook is the one thing about this game that I really like. The fact that you don’t have to worry about getting the right card in your hand really helps a player concentrate on strategy. Now it isn’t as if the game is just “whoever has the best spellbook will win.” Players still must manage their mana to play cards as well as figure out a good offense and defense based on how your opponent is playing. Spellbooks are all about finding the best balance between spells, both active and reactive, and playing them at the right time as you develop your offense and defense as the game progresses.
The cards are all included and therefore there are no booster packs to buy to help enhance your base game. Now there are expansions to the game, but you never have to worry about chasing the rare. This is a great innovation to the card game scene and is being developed by other companies as well. As an example, you can begin designing your own spellbook and the game instructions help you along. But with over 500 cards in the base set, plus the expansions, there are countless strategies to try and develop with the game.
“But in the back of your mind, the doubt is there: do you have the power and the wits to defeat the foe before you?”
I must admit the game is not without its minor flaws, the learning curve is steep for this game. However, Arcane Wonders has put together many teaching aids and as they often say, the best way to learn is just to play. As with any new card game, there is also the learning of new terms, symbols and so on, but the cards are very well laid out, easy to read and after the first few games, players will be ready to dive into creating their first spellbooks.
Another issue players may be turned off by is the carrying of the board around in order to play; it isn’t the lightest thing to lug around. The activation tokens, the status tokens, and the dice can easily go in a decent size Plano box, but the board is a challenge. However, don’t let that keep you from taking just your cards and tokens with you and then a roll of masking tape to lay out a grid on a table. There are other suggestions in the BoardGameGeek forum that also help with this issue.
But I guess my biggest issue is in the attack – you are rolling dice. Some will like this, some will not. You can have the perfect strategy, but if the dice gods are being unkind, then victory will be tough to obtain. Now it can be argued there are ways to offset this and there are, so the use of dice will really just come down to a matter of preference. They are growing on me, but I still have my reservations.
In conclusion, Mage Wars is a great game for anyone who wants to expand their card game library with a very strong tactical game. Arcane Wonders had a hit on their hands last year and continue to have a strong community a year later.
For more details on Arcane Wonders and their new Card Game “Mage Wars” check them out at their website http://www.magewars.com/, and at all of your local game stores.
Codex Rating: 18
Mage Wars From: Arcane Wonders
Type of Game: Card Game
Game Design by: Bryan Pope and Benjamin Pope
Developed by: Arcane Wonders
Additional Art by: Drew Baker, Tiziano Baracchi, Claire Beard, Dleoblack, Jason Engle, Mariusz Gandzel, John Guytan, Diego Gisbert Llorens, Raven Mimura, Jim Pavelec, Roberto Pitturru, R. K. Post, Maichol Quinto, Chris Seaman, Craig J. Spearing, Ron Spencer, John Stanko, Christophe Swal, Peter Tikos, Darek Zabrocki
Game Components Included: Arena Gameboard, 2 Spellbooks, 322 Spell Cards, 4 Mage Cards, 4 Mage Ability Cards, 2 Mage Status Boards, 8 Status Cubes, 20 Action Markers, 2 Quickcast Markers, 9 Attack Dice, 1 Effect Die (d12), 24 Damage Counters, 8 Mana Counters, 7 Guard Markers, 6 Ready Markers, 20 Condition Markers, 3 Ability Markers, 1 Initiative Marker, Rulebook
Retail Price: $59.99
Number of Players: 2
Player Ages: 13 and up
Play Time: 90 minutes
Reviewed by: Tony McRee