Imagine, if you will, a time that seemed innocent… almost too innocent. Imagine a world full of danger, a world where outside the confines of your village there lurked all manner of beast. And imagine, if you will, a group of heroes, the likes the world had never known. These heroes would slay the vile beasts gaining fame and reputation as they traveled But what if these “heroes” also pillaged your villages and burned your monasteries? Let us examine how such actions could come to play, how what had once been saviors could so easily turn dark. Let us investigate the secrets of… Mage Knight.
Let’s first get things out of the way. Mage Knight is complicated, and by complicated I mean very complicated. This is not a game you pick up on a whim for game night and expect to play out of the box, or even after watching hours of youtube footage. There are really only two sane ways to attempt to learn this game, either playing with someone who already knows the rules or running through the intro scenario listed in one of the rule books. If at this point you have put in the effort, ran through a couple of scenarios, and come out alive, then you may have found a great game that you will now need to teach your friends.
In Mage Knight, you play one of four different Mage Knights that travel the land smiting beasts, hiring hirelings (or burning villages to the ground), purchasing spells (or burning the towers to the ground), advancing in a monastery (or burning it to the ground), and leveling up. The main goal for the knights is based on the scenario you chose when you started the game which can range from revealing a city tile to conquering all dungeons and tombs. Most of the game is spent trying to make your knight as badass as possible so you can take on the harder monsters, which in turn make you more badass so you can defeat even harder monsters.
I enjoyed playing the game, but there are a few negatives that can make the game bog down. The biggest gripe I have is with movement. Most of the game is spent wishing you had just one more movement so you could reach the next monster. you can spend additional cards at a one to one ratio adding movement, attack, influence, or block, but generally you need the cards in your hand to finish your plan. The last player to move at the beginning of four player game is completely screwed. You end up getting blocked by the other three players as they are all attempting to accomplish amazing cool things and you are just stuck in the back hoping they will move soon. Randomization of tiles and monsters can really hurt the game early. If you pull a monsters that have high defense and high attack on the first tiles every player is going to try to skip them if possible, if not, then life sucks.
Now for the things I like. I love the deck building mechanic for playing. Each player starts the game with sixteen cards of which they are only allowed to have five in their hand (some things change this number) and as they use the cards from their hand they get discarded, then the player will draw back up to five. When a player runs out of cards they are forced to pass which causes the end of the round. You can increase your deck size by gaining advancement, spell, or artifact cards which are all generally better than your starting cards.
Leveling up gives you only a minor boost, but for some reason it still feels awesome. You get a new skill and card, your defense goes up, or your hand size goes up. All of the additional cards you can buy or earn really give you a sense of improvement and a greater willingness to attack that next tower.
I enjoy Mage Knight, but alas my group found it both long and arduous. The game has a very epic feel that can really turn off some players. By the time we finished playing everyone in my group understood how to play and the point, but the longer we went the less fun it became. With a few minor tweaks to speed up movement I could see them really enjoying it, but when most turns are spent trying to get somewhere it really starts to wear on you.
Mage Knight is a hard board game to recommend. I imagine most players won’t enjoy it due to the initial difficulty and length of play, but if those aspects don’t bother you, and the sticker shock doesn’t get you, it is well worth playing. Just be sure you run through it solo a few times before you try to get your friends on board.
You can purchase Mage Knight from our Amazon link here.