Game Length: 90 minutes
Best enjoyed: With 2 players who are willing to invest in a deep and complex wargame
Have you ever played a game of Magic: The Gathering, drawn five land cards in a row and thought to yourself, “This would be much better if I could just take whatever card I wanted from my deck instead of having to draw the top card. What kind of wizard doesn’t have access to dozens of spells anyway?” If so, Mage Wars is for you!
Mage Wars is a tactical war game played on a 3 x 4 grid where each player is a mage with access to a dizzying array of abilities. Before the game starts, each player will need to build their deck of cards – except in contrast to other card games, a player may use any of these cards at any time during the game! These are represented by actual books (or rather, binders with card sleeves and art on the covers), which is a nice touch.
At the start of each turn, players will be able to draw any two cards from their spell book to play that turn, but they’ll need to make sure they can pay the necessary costs. There are creatures, enchantments, curses, equipment and attack spells. While it seems like you’ll never get through your complement of spells at the beginning, your options will dwindle as the game proceeds, and the mage who has made the best use of his spells over the course of the game will likely succeed.
Turn by turn, you’ll need to make tough choices – do you get quick-casting spells in hand to respond to your opponent and allow yourself to move, or do you want to summon additional creatures to do battle? Which creatures do you want to activate first? What do you think your opponent has, and what are their priorities? Turns can and will stretch out when you get into the thick of mage warfare, but that’s to be expected for a game with as many options available to its players as this one.
The rulebook is excellent, and has a glossary covering every keyword used in the game to head off rules questions quickly and easily. It includes a tutorial, and it is highly recommended that aspiring mages look through it, or at least watch the video tutorial (in four parts, linked below) before they sit down to their first game. Playing your first game is only the beginning, however – the real game comes when players start compiling their own spellbooks and trying to find ways to negate their opponent’s choices. Unfortunately, the barrier to entry to the game is quite high, and it may be difficult to find gaming partners willing to take the plunge.
If you can find an opponent (or a group of them) who are willing to invest mentally in a tactical wargame with a lot of depth, Mage Wars comes highly recommended. It works best if each player is willing to purchase their own copy of the game, but has an advantage over collectible card games