One of the criticisms of the Mage Wars is the steep (and long) learning curve (and consequently, the difficulty to find opponents). I’m dealing with that by playing the game via Skype with my best gaming friend who lives a time zone away. We’ve played 3 games now – none of them coming down to a kill. Rather, one of us has realized we are no longer in a position to be competitive and give up. That was a little over 3.5 hours in to play for us last night.
That 3.5 hours, even mediated through a less than clear internet connection, was very fun. I’ve been thinking about the game since we finished and trying to break down why I’m so eager to play it again.
The game consists of building a spellbook and then playing out a series of rounds where your goal is to cast the right spells at the right times to defeat your opponent mage. Unlike a Magic duel you select a small number of spells to cast each round rather than being limited to the subset of cards in your hand. Additionally, there is a small arena board that adds more strategic complexity around positioning and movement of creatures, conjurations, etc. In short, it’s deck building (or card drafting) crossed with tabletop combat. Board Game Geek lists Simultaneous Action Selection as one of mechanics — and this is true. However you take turns when acting. It’s this dynamic that creates a lot of the tension, strategy, and fun of the game.
This optionality (selecting any spells from your spellbook — and the meta game of creating them in the first place) paired with the game constraints (mana limitations, turn-based actions, and maneuver) are the heart of what makes it fun. The issue? As newbies, it still takes us a long time to plan. Further, we unknowingly misinterpret or fail to apply the host of complex rules.
Last night I played Beastmaster and M played Warlock. After he used his two Explodes (we were using the starter decks — Explode destroys an opponent’s equipment) my Mage Wand was safe to equip. I bound Knockdown and illegally Incapacitated the Warlock every round. It didn’t take long for this overpowered illegal play to end the game.
Despite the complexity (or maybe because of it) I’m thinking about the creative potential of building spellbooks and executing strategies. Last night’s game made me eager to construct our own books and fight again. There’s a long steep learning curve, but that curve makes it rewarding if you can keep progressing. That’s the challenge. I hope M and I can keep playing, learning, and mastering the basics.