Review: Mage Knight Board Game

Mage Knight review

The Atlantean Empire is in ruins. It’s been over 30 years since the Breaking, when all the magestone sundered and mana was let lose in the world. Bands of orcs and monsters are roaming wild, rumours of dragons are spoken of in hushed tones throughout the cities. You are a Mage Knight in the service of the Council of the Void. In exchange for your loyalty they have granted you the power to wield terrifying power. Will you be strong enough to bring the Empire under the control of the council?

Created by my favourite game designer Vlaada Chvátil back in 2011, Mage Knight is an award winning game that places you in the role of a powerful Mage Knight. You have to undertake various missions in the Atlantean Empire on behalf of the Council of the Void. You are not allowed to question them, your loyalty is expected. Anything you find is yours for the taking…

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the Box

Specs on the box:

  • Age 14+
  • 1-4 players
  • 150 min (Yes it’s long and it will take longer than that until you come to grips with the rules)

This is a heavy game and it’s got a heavy box. Cracking it open reveals 12 decks of cards, stacks of  cardboard tokens, plastic miniatures, plastic tokens, map tiles a pair of rule books and other odds and ends that I forget.

It’s a lot of stuff. It’s also got a lot of rules. The rule books written in an extremely small font, without many examples and illustrations. There are also reference cards that have even more rules on them that you need to keep handy during the game.

Mage Knight review
That’s not all, there’s still 5 baggies of tokens and counters under the inserts.

Sounds like it’s a mission to get into. It can be. One of the rule books is a walkthrough, meant to be used once or twice to get you used to playing. Then you get to read the actual rule book. Jumping straight in will have most people confused and put them off the game.

However the rules are laid out very well and the they make sense, they even fit the theme very well. There is just a lot rules to get through and you will need multiple plays of the game to get used to all of them.

Sleeves

The cards are standard sized (magic) cards. 64mm x 89mm so KMC Perfect fit, Maday Games Perfect fit (green) sleeves fit 100%. If you sleeves all of the cards then be ready to chuck the insert as they won’t fit back in the box. I plan on making a custom insert soon so I’ll be grabbing a few packs of sleeves myself.

Theme

As I’ve mentioned you play the role of 1 of 4 mage knights, powerful magic wielding fighters. Each represented by a pre painted miniature. You job is to explore the Atlantean Empire while carrying out various missions on behalf of the council of the Void.

You start the game fairly week, by the end you’re a walking engine of destruction.

Gameplay

I’m not going to go into my usual level of detail here because that would result in a review that’s a few thousand words long. So let’s just concentrate on a few key details. The manual has a nice layout of how to setup the playing area, just make sure you have a decent amount of space. There are a fair number of different missions to play. Each has a slightly different setup and each will play out differently every time that you play it.

Mage Knight review
This is the end of a solo game. Each additional player will require their own play mat sized area.

First it’s important to define rounds and turns. The game happens over a series of rounds, each alternating between day and night. During a round players will have multiple turns. This is important because you have abilities and actions that are passive or can be used once a round or once a turn. Also the time of day can impact the game e.g travelling through a dense forest is easier during the day than at night.

One of the key elements of the game is exploration. The game uses a randomized set of tiles to build the board. So the map is different every time you play and when and where to add new tiles is determined by the movement of the players.

Performing an action or a move in the game is done by playing cards from your hand. Some cards will give you points towards a certain action, like 2 move or 2 attack or 2 block. Others will have special effects. Any card, aside from wound cards, can be played side ways to give you 1 point of movement, attack, block or influence.

You use your movement to get to places. Depending on the type of terrain you are trying to cross the amount of movement that you require will vary. Attack and block is used during combat and there are lots of combats. It’s almost like combat is a mini game on its own.

Mage Knight review
The map tiles are beautifully illustrated.

Influence is used when you are interacting with some locations on the map. You can visit villages, monasteries, mage towers, keeps and cities where you can purchase healing or learn new spells or actions. You even recruit units of warriors or creatures to follow you into battle.

As you slay monsters you will level up, gaining new abilities and cards. You will also gain armour helping you to survive attacks from orcs and dragons, your hand size will also increase and you will be able to lead more troops into battle. You start as a lone adventurer but end then game as a force of power that can destroy kingdoms.

Along the way you will encounter random rampaging monsters or adventure into lost dungeons and tombs. Killing monsters to gain rewards that will aid you in your mission.

Mage Knight review
Flying over the rampaging orcs allowed me to assault the city without worrying about them.

Each mission will have its own win condition and duration. The walkthrough mission is an exploration mission. It will end after 3 days and 3 nights or after the first city has been found. When that happens players compare who has the acquired the most fame, there are bonus points for accomplishing certain tasks but the main way to get it is by killing things. The player with the most fame is the winner.

Conclusion

I’m often asked what kind of game is Make Knight. I usually reply that is has a bit of everything in it. That’s not quite right; it’s got almost everything in it. Tile placement, card drafting/deck building, there are resource control elements and area control elements. Hand management is crucial, when a player runs out of cards then the end of round is declared. As you can imagine if you have AP then it will be a long game.

I spent about 4.5 hours teaching the game to a friend a few weeks ago. It was Thursday night, we finished at around 2am. We did play longer than we should have because we were having fun and ignored the end condition. The next night I received a message asking me if I wanted to have another go! It’s that good. It’s actually pretty damn epic.

Mage Knight review
These are 2 units that you can recruit to follow you. Some of them can aid you outside of battle too.

I will label Mage Knight as a cult classic. It’s one of those games that you either love or you just don’t get. Those who do love it; really love it. If you think that you would enjoy the game but it won’t see much table time with your group, don’t stress, it’s an amazing solo game. AFAIR it’s the number 1 rated solo game on BGG. It’s not just a solo game though. You can play co-op, vs, teams or just free for all with PvP or PvE. It’s very versatile and has huge replay value.

One of the main reasons that people don’t like the game is because of the down time. When it’s not your turn you don’t have anything to do. I use that time to play my next turn yes information changes during other player’s turns but I can also factor that in as it comes rather than waiting until my turn and then deciding what to do.

This is one of my all-time favourite games. I love it and if you’re every looking for another player, drop me a line.

Can I play this at a braai?

Tricky question. The short answer is yes, you will have a fair amount of free time if there are more than 2 players. However you might not want to leave the table , you might want to stick around and see what everyone is doing.

Mage Knight review
Rampaging dragons guard the Blue city.
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4 thoughts on “Review: Mage Knight Board Game

  1. Great review! And I learned what a braai is 🙂

    I want to play this solo for sure; the multiplayer downtime doesn’t appeal to me at all.

    1. The solo play is really good. Apparently it gets better with the expansions. There’s a Star Trek game that it’s being released soon, it’s a re-skin of Mage Knight. I’m tempted to get it just because any expansions will be easier to find.

      Braai, hmm, I’m get to hungry now.

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