Some people look at a game, and purely based on first glance, chalk it up to a “clone” of something else. Let’s face it, it happens a lot. We have so many games on the market place, good and bad, that there is usually some other game you can point to when playing something and say, “It’s like when you are playing this…” Sometimes fair, sometimes unfair, but the comparisons happen.
Its with that reminder, I’m happy to provide a critical review of Mage Wars, the customizeable strategy game of dueling mages, from the Arcane Wonders team. This team, lead by a father and son team of Bryan and Benjamin Pope, have spent the better part of the last 5 years, yes 5 years, developing this game. Some people may think that is insane, a 5 year development cycle, but I can tell you from first hand experience, both in playing the game and in meeting the team in person, that this is a labor of love and not something that just “dragged” on.
Mage Wars is a customizeable strategy game, primarily using cards, and a small amount of dice, where you take on the roll of a powerful mage, enter the Arena to combat another mage, and in traditional “thunderdome” style, the last mage standing is the winner!
Before you play a game of Mage Wars, you will choose one of the four available Mage types in the starting game, which consist of a Wizard, Warlock, a Beastmaster, or a Priestess. Each has their own abilities and each has a different play style. Its evident by playing only a few games, even with the starting spell books, that each type of mage plays very different and truly makes you feel as though you were a powerful mage of that exact archetype.
Now you’ll notice I said spell book and not deck. This is probably the most unique mechanic of Mage Wars. After you choose which class of mage you want to play, you then get to compile a spell book, not a deck, from the cards in the game. Some mages have easier access to other cards based on a cards school, but the only limitations to your spell book are those of your imagination, and point system as listed on the cards.
Once you have your spell books put together, it’s time to step into the arena, which is a gigantic board made up of 12 Zones. Zones that are horizontal and vertial are adjaent and movement is the same, with no vertial movement. So to attak someone diagonal from you, you'll need a range of two.
Additionally, you will start the game with a mage status board that allows you to keep track of the current level of mana you can channel per turn (or in other words gain), your current mana total, and your current health total. If the damage you take equals your life total, you are dead and you lose the game! A word on health. Health is tracked by two cubes, one for damage taken and one for your health total. When you take damage, you count up. If you heal damage, you move down. And if you can increase your total health, you move the ube on your total health up. When the two meet, bye bye arena, you are out. One very nice thing about the mage status board as well, is that it has a brief synopsis of the round summary, to remind you of the actions to handle in the ready and action stages of the round.
Each mage starts the game on opposite ends of the arena, with a quick cast action marker and a regular action marker. Action markers are a big part of Mage wars, as they easly denote who has acted and who hasn’t, as well as what type of actions are available to the creature. Remember, your mage is considered a creature as well! If an action marker is white side up, the creature has yet to act this turn. If it’s flipped down (olor side up), they have acted this turn.
Whenever a creature (mage or one that was summoned) attacks, special 6 sided dice are used to determine damage. There are blank sides for misses, normal numbers for regular damage, and starburst numbers for critical damage. Additionally, some attacks and spells have bonus effects, which, if rolling the appropriate results on the yellow D12 included, will apply conditions such as poison, sleep, daze, or burn to name a few.
Each round is broken into two stages, the ready stage and the action stage. The ready stage is where upkeep and “bookkeeping” happens. You add your mana that you channel, you apply affects to creatures like Regenerate, and most importantly, you pick your two spells you plan to use this round in the action stage. Pick? Yes, pick. There is no deck, this is a spell book, so there is no drawing of cards, rather, you will have access to every card in your spell book, at all times. If there is a specific two card combo you’ve built and you want to cast it on turn one, presuming you have enough mana, you can take those cards out of your spellbook and use them immediately!
This makes mage wars one of the most strategic games I have ever played and I’ll explain why in my final thoughts. For the moment, know that this means you have full access to your spells, but remember, so does your opponent, so it’s not so much how deadly your combinations are, but how you time them in battle that will speed you on your path to victory.
As an example, one of my favorite combinations is Force Push and the Highland Unicorn creature as shown in the video above. Add in the fact that if you are playing Beast Master, you can make that Highland Unicorn your pet for the bonuses involved, and you can see how simple combinations can add up. And this is only scratching the surface.
Mages will take turns casting spells, summoning creatures, placing enchantments and traps, and of course attacking. Attaking is as simple as rolling die, and then heking the type of damage (regular or critial) and then first seeing if the defender an use a defense, and if not, or they fail, applying damage and reduing damage with armor. Defense and armor are two different things in Mage Wars, and are both well done. Defense allows creatures to potentially completely avoid an attack while armor absorbs damage.
This is all great, but it's barely the tip of the wand as they say in mage school. There are a lot of options available to you, and with over 300+ cards in the base set alone, and nothing to chase, because remember, this isn’t a collectible card game, everything you need is in that box, the only limitations are you own imagination, cunning, and strategy!
So what do I think of Mage Wars? This is game gets the biggest Crit I could give one! Not only does this game combine the very fun feel of a minis game, by moving your creatures around the arena, but it also provides several mechanics that are simple, elegant, and uniquely combined to provide a total gameplay experience! I said at the beginning some people look at a game and chalk it up to a clone of something else. For anyone who has read or heard the comparisons of this game to a mash up of Magic the Gathering and Summoner Wars, I am her to tell you, no, it’s not that.
This is a truly unique style of dueling mages. Sure the comparisons can be made, but when you sit down and play Mage Wars, it is the first of it’s kind that leaves me feeling like I really was that mage, I really was adapting to the battle with everything at my disposal, and if I won, it was due to strategic thinking and not just a lucky draw or something random. Sure there are dice in Mage Wars, but the way they are designed, and the way defense and armor is designed, I at least, haven’t seen a “lucky roll” that wasn’t able to be overcome by just choosing the right spell in my spell book for the next round.
The spell book is the best mechanic of this game, bar none! The fact that you can have access to anything, everything you can build into that book, is amazing. Someone has you surrounded by animals, like a Beast master? Pull out your Zone attack and blast them all! Someone have a powerful wand with a deadly spell bound to it? Dissolve it as easily as picking out one card from your book! Not only does the building of the spellbook become as fun as playing the game, but knowing you wont be in a position of needing one card and never having access to it is priceless. Let’s face it, how many games have we all played as “mages” where we know we know how to heal ourselves, but just because the card is sitting on the bottom of our deck, we lose. This will never happen in Mage Wars.
The tactical combat of each turn, combined with the strategic building of your spell book, and the timing of when you bring those spells outs makes Mage Wars a beautifully designed game. You can tell, whether you meet them or not, that the Arcane Wonders team has spent years ensuring this would be a great experience, and mage wars delivers on every level! If you like Minis games, you’ll enjoy moving the creatures around the board and using their abilities. If you like mage battling games, you’ll love the new mechanics and unparalleled access to your spells! If you like warfare games, you’ll like the strategic combat system, the deep defense options, and the multitude of battle traps you can lay for your opponent.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of mage wars, but it is, without a doubt, a Crit, and in my opinion, one of the top 5 games I’ve played all year! Finally, at a retail MSRP of $59.99 for EVERYTHING, it’s a steal of a game to get into! I’ve bought many a bad xbox game for the same price, and I can guarantee you, there is an amazing amount of value in this game, whether you pick it up for friendly fun, or organized play! And yes, OP I a big part of what Mage Wars brings to the table, so if you like competitive gameplay, check with your local game shop, and if they aren’t connected, send them to the Mage Wars team today so they can get the details!
One final note I’d like to say, most everything that happens in mage wars is actually pretty logical. If you could imagine that magic was real, and you cast a Chain Lightning, it does what you would think it would do. This is one of the best parts of Mage Wars. While it seems like a LOT to learn and keep track of at first, it’s actually quite an easy game to pick up and get into.
While you won't sit down and jump RIGHT into the arena knowing everything, Mage Wars is a truly beautiful game that if you invest a bit into, you'll get a lot out of! Providing strategic depth and rewarding gameplay experience together in an amazing value and beautiful artwork that leaves you wanting more and you can’t get any result other than a Crit of a game!
Critical Review Score: