1-5 players, Cooperative/Competitive, Deck Building Hybrid
Designer: Vlaada Chvatil
Artwork: J. Lonnee
Overview of Gameplay
In Mage Knight you are a….wait for it…..MAGE KNIGHT! Yes, that is you and you are wandering the lands in search of adventure and cities to overthrow. This game is all about the journey and gathering up as much fame as you possibly can before the end. So the game in a nutshell is you play cards from your hand to dictate what you can do on your turn such as movement or attack. You will start out by moving along the tiles, opening up new tiles exploring around in search of your ultimate goal depending on whatever scenario you are playing. A pretty typical scenario is to overthrow a city so you will want to move ever onward through the lands in search of a tile with a city on it and then attack it until it is defeated. Then you do have some end game scoring based on your fame and a few other stats, mostly depending on what all you did to get to the point you are now. Usually that has to do with people you influenced, monsters defeated and different sites that you explored.
The game is much deeper than that and has a ton of other things you can and need to do but for the sake of not unleashing a novel of information on you I’m going to leave it at that. I will explain a few of the finer details in the following sections.
Win Condition /Length
The win condition differs with each scenario you play and with the Ultimate Edition you get a BUNCH of scenarios to try out. They range from co-op to competitive to solo scenarios so there is something for everyone. To win you just need to complete your objective for that particular scenario. However even after that if you choose you can go through and add up all the points you attained from Fame as you adventured around and then tally your final score. I think this is amazing personally as the game not only has a standard victory condition but also a way to test yourself to try again and do even better.
The Length, ohhhh the Length. This is a very long game. Prepare to invest quite a few hours into this one even playing solo. The funny thing is, I can lose an entire day playing this and it doesn’t feel like I played that long. That goes to show that the game has a deep fun factor. Now don’t expect the game to take an entire DAY…unless you play with 5 players /shudder. I would say a typical solo game of this will take about 2 to 2 and a half hours if you are going for the overthrowing cities scenario. Expect that time to increase with each added player.
The setup is pretty deep as well as there are basically three zones of play for this game. There is the tiled board section where you will move your mini around exploring. Then you have the section where you keep you deck of cards and your unit cards as well as where you play your hand and discards. Then you have the section with the Fame board and the night and day board. This is also where you will have the other decks of cards such as spells, advanced actions and artifacts.
So there is a bunch of stuff to setup and takedown and you would THINK it would not be all that bad considering the game does come included with a nice insert. Unfortunately that insert is more a hindrance than a help. First of all the quality of the thing is so thin that mine came cracked and broken out of the box and had holes in it, not a good start. However it DOES hold everything, unless you sleeve your cards then there isn’t enough space for all the cards. But the way it holds everything just doesn’t make any sense. I mean it makes sense in the storage aspect I suppose considering it holds all the tokens of the same shape all in the same spots combined. BUT the instruction manual itself says to store all the player stuff together in bags to make it easier……BUT you cannot do that with the insert so you end up having to make a choice. Either continue with the insert as is or take it out and bag up everything. I’ve done both ways and I can say it is faster to just bag up everything. You end up digging around and trying to separate all the tokens when using the insert so might as well separate them once and bag them up to make setup MUCH easier going forward.
The components are great! There are a number of minis that come painted and honestly the paint jobs are not all that bad. I mean they are not like professional looking intricate jobs but they look great on the board. I particularly love the little the tiles for the board are of a decent thickness and feel sturdy and the card quality has a nice linen finish and feel good in the hands. There are some little plastic crystal tokens of varying colors as well. Some of these are super dark and hard to tell the color difference, such as the blue and green. Basically all the components are pretty great except for the dice. These die are smaller than average size, which I’m fine with, but the problem lies with their weight. They are just too light and feel cheap. Unfortunately there isn’t a good way to replace them as they are specific for this game with particular symbols and colors on all their edges.
First of all the box is pretty huge. Much bigger than it needs to be even with the included insert. With the insert there is a massive gap of at least an inch between it and the box lid. Now I don’t normally go wild about to much space in a box but for this game it creates a problem. Storing the game on its side with this much of a gap will cause all your tokens and cards to spill everywhere. They tried to solve this little issue by doing a couple things: First they made the insert in such a way that the tokens fit TIGHT so they won’t easily fall out (of course this is an annoyance when trying to get them out without jumbling them everywhere as well) and secondly, there is a plastic overlay that sits atop the insert to hold everything in place. Unfortunately the gap is still big enough and the overlay doesn’t fit snug enough that when stored on its side the cards and tokens that are not tight will spill out. I even tried to fix this by using the punched out cardboard boards that you usually toss in the trash. I placed those under the insert to eliminate some of that space. Unfortunately I still ran into the same problems.
This is what eventually led me to throw out the insert and just bag up everything. Now at least the setup is quicker as all the pieces are bagged with the appropriate characters. Doing this though just increases the amount of box space on the inside haha. Bottom line, I’m on the lookout for a nice insert for this game from one of the many insert specialty websites. Even still the box size itself is so big you probably won’t be able to get it on your shelf with your other games. On the top of the shelf it goes with the likes of Too Many Bones and Mechs vs Minions.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Excellent, excellent theme and appeal here. The backstory they give you in the game is interesting and really creates an intriguing and dynamic world to explore. The artwork on the cards is fantastic and the locations on the board tiles look great. It really creates a world that lures you in with story and art and before you know it you have lost yourself.
Game complexity is really high however they did a really good job explaining how to play with the rule books. There is a “Walkthrough” book that goes through how to setup and play your first game to orient yourself with the basic rules and mechanics. This was surprisingly simple to go through and I was very impressed coming out of that first playthrough having a good grasp on everything. Considering I had heard horror stories about how complex this game was before I bought it, I was going in thinking this was going to be an epic undertaking to learn. But honestly it wasn’t nearly the beast that I had imagined.
Now that said, I still have to reference the regular “Rulebook” with all the intricacies listed all the time. This is not because of the way the books are written or that they missed something, but because there are just SO MANY things to remember in this game. That is where the complexity comes from for this one. Once you get the basic understanding down of how to play, well then you have all the different possible locations on the tiles that each do something completely different. Luckily there are a whole fat batch of cards that each explain what each location does perfectly. So as you play and flip a tile and see these new places, you can find the corresponding card and lay it out to easily reference.
Also this being the Ultimate Edition there is a rulebook for the expansions as well. These list out the components that they each come with and the few rule additions and gameplay tweaks they provide. Also a list of all the new scenarios the expansions bring which adds even more replayability to an already replayable game.
Table Talk/Fun Factor
The fun factor in the game lies with the fact that it is very thinky. I spent a great deal of time plotting and strategizing how I was going to use my current hand of cards to do what I needed to do on my turn. For example I was attacking a city and had to figure out the best way to attack a beast inside the city and try to block it from hitting me just using the random cards in my hand at that moment. It’s fun and exciting to strategize in this way but also takes quite a bit of time which is why the game takes so long to play. You will lose yourself in this time and before you know it, it’s been a couple hours.
As such the table talk is limited. Since each player is playing their own Mage Knight exploring the world at their own volition, you will often find yourself slipping into your own play not worrying too much about others other than overall strategy. Of course mileage may vary on this depending on how much interaction you are wanting in your games. That is one thing I really love about this game, it gives you so many options on play style whether it’s co-op or competitive or solo.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
Personally I say solo all the way on this one. Playing solo uses another characters deck of cards that basically just cycles through to keep the flow of the game going. It doesn’t do anything on the board so it really is a solo adventure. But also this game just feel like it was made to be played solo. From the length of overall game time to the length of each players turns. I know I wouldn’t recommend playing this with more than two at most. It turns into a slog with any more players than that.
Replayability is very high as you have quite a number of tiles and layouts that could possibly be created as you explore. Not only that but the sheer number of advanced action cards that can be added to your personal deck of cards will change every time you play. Each different character that you choose has a few specific cards in their deck to start with that are unique to that character as well. Add to that the different scenarios you can choose to play really opens up the possibilities in this game.
This is a very deep game make no mistake. There are so many moving parts to keep track of and a plethora of places you can visit, each with its own rule set. That said if you have the patience to learn, this is also an extremely rewarding game with countless hours to be had adventuring throughout the land!
This is the Ultimate Edition version which includes a ton of stuff from all the released expansions, three to be exact. So expect to have a bunch of stuff to sort through when you first open the game. Luckily most of the stuff is marked with a tiny symbol to dictate which expansion it belongs to if you are wanting to play a purely vanilla game.
All that said, I HIGHLY recommend this game from a pure solo standpoint. It is deep and rewarding and a thrill to play and explore. The only real downsides to this version is the lackluster insert and oversized box. But as far as gameplay goes, this is one of the top deep (solo preferred) games you can buy.