Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de

- the Boardgame -


Vlaada Chvátil


No. of Players:
1 - 4



Gamebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

When I first heard about the English version of Mage Knight - the Boardgame (by WIZKIDS) and learnt that it was designed by the great Vlaada Chvátil, the game at once aroused a great deal of my interest. Some time later PEGASUS announced a German version of the game, and when this version finally was released there was no holding back for me - I simply had to playtest the game! From what I had read I was prepared that the game would be complex, but when I held the box in my hands for the first time, I was slightly shocked. While other games sometimes make you wonder why the hell the producer did chose such an oversized box for very few game material, Mage Knight - the Boardgame completely uses every inch of the available box space. Indeed, it is difficult to put everything back into the box after your first game, so that many players use the space under the plastic insets, too. And then the rules: two rule books, one for the beginner and one to fully explain the game. The font size makes you think of a phone book, but at least this narrowed the extent of the rule books down to 20 pages each. Great! What the heck made me tell Frank that I would love to do a review of this game? Indeed it took me more than one read to understand the rules and finally to begin a game. As there are so many rules there is no chance to go into details in this review, but I will give you a rough overview to give you an idea about the gameplay.


In the game each player takes the role of a mighty warrior with a passion for magic, the Mage Knights. As I did not play with the old WizKids collectible figures, I had some problems to understand what the Mage Knights stand for, as the rules only tell us very little about the background story. As far as I could deduce, these Mage Knights are armed with great powers and are sent from an old authority to an embattled land where Orcs and Drakonum chrysalis raid the farmhouses so that the human inhabitants asked old allies for help. The Mage Knights are neutral, and they can be played to take a positive or negative alignment for the game. It is the player's choice. The way you play alters your reputation in the population, making it more or less difficult to hire allies for your journey and fights. As it is, for most games a balanced strategy seems to be a good choice.

Mage Knight - the Boardgame fuses elements of three different game types. First of all it uses elements of role playing games as our Mage Knights can level up by gaining experience from the fights, and so they will become stronger and stronger during the course of the game. As a result the knights get new skills, advanced action cards, have a stronger armour, can control more allies and their players can hold more cards in their hand . As in a role playing game, the knights gain more experience with increasing strength of their enemies and the amount of experience points for levelling up increases with each level. For role-players all this should sound quite familiar.

The second game type we can find in Mage Knight - the Boardgame are elements of deck-building games. Each player starts with a deck of 16 standard actions. From this deck we take five cards (this number increases with our level) to our hand for our next turn. Played cards are placed on a discard pile and after our turn we fill up our hand to our limit again. During the game - by different actions - we can build up our deck and improve it with advanced, more powerful action cards, spells and artefacts.

And finally Mage Knight - the Boardgame is a board game, because we move our Mage Knight on a growing board of hexagonal spaces with different terrains. Here we can find the challenges we have to encounter. Next to loafing enemies like Orcs and Drakonum, we can find villages, fortified places like a keep, a mage tower and a monastery where we can get special action cards like spells, can be healed and can hire allies who accompany us and help us in our fights. Additionally there are monster dens, dungeons, and revealing ruins, where we find more monsters which sometimes even guard treasures. And then there are the cities, our aim in most of the different scenarios of the game. These cities are fortified with a lot of strong enemies, that's why there is no chance to enter a city before the last third of a game, when our Mage Knights are strong enough.

[IMAGE]A regular turn has two parts: first we can move our Mage Knight on the board and afterwards we can do an action. The latter can be a fight or a peaceful interaction with the locals. For all this we need our hand cards. Each of the cards has a normal and a strong effect. The normal effect usually can be used for free, so we only have to play the card. For example, this could be a movement of 2 spaces. For the stronger effect (for example a movement of 4 spaces) we always have to spend additional Mana from a specific colour. Mana is available from a Mana source where we find several Mana dice. Whenever we use one of these dice, we have to reroll it afterwards, showing the Mana colour which will next be available from this source. With some cards or actions we also can collect Mana crystals which we can put into our inventory for later use. This is quite useful, especially if you want to use more than one of the strong effects in a turn, because without special abilities or cards we are only allowed to use one of the Mana dice each turn.

In addition to their standard or stronger effect, all cards also can be used as a Joker, too. So, for example if you want to move your Mage Knight, but you have only cards with a fighting effect left in hand, you can use every card as a movement +1 instead of their regular function. Again, this may sometimes come quite handy, especially if you are in a fight and you are running out of fight cards. Cards can be combined, so it is allowed to use a Movement +2 standard effect card with a card that is used as a Joker to get a total movement of +3.

Combat also deserves a closer look. Each fight consists of four phases. First, the Mage Knight - together with his allies - has a chance to eliminate the enemy by a ranged attack. For this we have to play cards with a total ranged combat strength of the enemy's armour. There is no partial damage for the enemy, so we have to be successful, or we can save our cards for later use. As the ranged combat cards are very limited, a lot of enemies will survive this phase. Then it is time for the enemies to strike back and we have to try to block their attacks. We can do so with the help of blocking cards and activate the help of our allies if they have the ability to block. Again, it is only useful to spend cards and allies if we can fully block the attack, otherwise the enemies hit us with their full force. Some enemies also have special abilities, and in these cases it is extremely important to block their attack, because otherwise they can poison or petrify our Mage Knight or our allies. If we are unable to block the attack, we have to divide damage between our knight and our allies (if we have any). Each ally as well as our Mage Knight has an armour value. If we decide to give damage to one of our allies, he is injured and cannot be used again until he has been healed. Damage we cannot or don't want to give to our allies must be assigned to our Mage Knight. He can take several wounds, and every time we assign damage to him, the total damage is reduced by his armour class and we have to take a wound card in our hand. This must be repeated until all damage has been assigned. Those damage cards are a real annoyance, because they clog our hand as they count for the hand limit and can only be discarded by special actions. But, of course the exception proves the rule, so there are some special abilities that use the damage cards as a bonus. I think this simple but effective mechanism is quite interesting, because it is a clever and well implemented way to deal with the damage and its paralysing effect.

The result of a combat as well as the rest of our actions is nearly fully predictable. Especially in combat this needs getting used to, because the result of a combat is totally calculable as soon as you know the enemy (some enemies come faced-down into the play and are not revealed until you set to fighting). The only time luck plays a role in the game is when you draw new cards to fill your hand and to add new advanced action cards, allies and spells to the outlay.

Based on this standard mechanism, the rules offer different scenarios which differ in terms of game length, the structure and dimensions of the board, the goals and the scoring. So, you can finetune the game to your wishes. All scenarios work well with different player numbers. The multiplayer scenarios even can be divided into cooperative and competitive ones, so that the first variant allows the players to fight together to reach the aim of the scenario, whereas the latter variant sees every player pursuing his own goal so that combat between the Mage Knights becomes possible and allowed. However, this may sound strange but victory probably is not the primary incentive for playing Mage Knight - the Boardgame. I made the experience that after a 3 to 5 hour game most players were not really interested in who was the winner. It is more the feeling of a role playing game that appeals with most players. Seeing your Mage Knight levelling up, gaining more and more experience, improving his abilities and his deck and so finally being able to fight against the most terrifying enemies is the real fun of the game!

In my opinion, the rules, though complex, are well written and understandable. Until now I did not miss an explanation, and for a game of this complexity this certainly is a feat. For every special situation there seems to be a solution! But of course, because of the complexity you have to reread a lot of details in the first - let's say - 4 to 5 games.

If you find enough allies who are willing to spend one evening learning the game, Mage Knight - the Boardgame can be played by up to 4 players. Because of the complexity of the game, it is advisable that at least one player knows the rules well and has played the game before. Here it comes quite handy that the game includes some solo variants which can be used to get familiar with the game and its mechanics, and they are even fun to play through! So, you can prepare yourself perfectly for introducing the game to other players. Still, it is advisable to begin with the beginner rules as soon as there is a new player who does not know the game. The beginner rules are no light variant of the game, but they introduce the different elements of the game step by step, so you can explain and add rules as the game progresses.

Mage Knight - the Boardgame is really an extraordinary game. Fusing elements of diverse game categories, it creates a unique gaming atmosphere. However, it is definitely no game for everybody, and above all not a game that can serve you as a light filler for an hour or two. All players must be willing to spend some hours just for learning the rules and getting into the gameplay. To really enjoy the complete game, it may need a few try-outs, but then Mage Knight - the Boardgame becomes a real pleasure to play. And, for those who cannot have enough: the English expansion is already available, the German variant is expected for the middle of 2013.

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Copyright © 2013 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany