Mage Wars: Core Set
In Mage Wars players enter the arena and take on the role of powerful mages in an epic duel. Each mage has a spellbook that is fully customizable and each round mages will have access to their entire spellbook. The arena adds a higher level of tactics and strategy as players must also consider range and movement. All of these elements combine to make each duel a true battle of wits.
Each player chooses a mage and builds a deck of spells, placing them in a spellbook which is a small book (see image lower in the review) containing sleeves for your spell cards. The rulebook includes a list of pre-built spellbooks which we highly recommend you use to get started quickly. Your spells are made up of equipment, conjurations, creatures, enchantments, incantations and attacks.
The Game Round
A game round involves gaining mana, choosing two spells from your spellbook that you can cast during the round, and then taking actions with your mage and the creatures that you have on the board.
You start the game with only the mages in the arena, placed in opposite corners. From there it’s a battle of wits; casting spells, moving, attacking and defending until one mage is destroyed.
There are two main elements that set Mage Wars apart from other battling card games: the arena board and spellbook.
The Arena Board
Rather than players laying cards across from each other in the style of a front line battle, cards are played on the arena board. It consists of 12 large spaces (4×3 grid). The mage and creatures you control can all move around the arena, which adds an entirely new level of strategy. The game almost feels like a tactical miniatures game, but with a much simpler system of movement, range and line-of-site mechanics.
A game cannot simply be won by casting the right combination of spells at the right time. You must consider strategic movement like a game of chess, and this is a very welcome and fun part of Mage Wars! For example, your opponent might move her mage off of your trap, but if you’ve anticipated that movement, you might teleport her back into the trap. (happened to me and was quite painful)
The spellbook is genius. Your typical customizable card game involves creating your deck and then drawing cards hoping you get what you want. This inevitably means you’ll be filling your deck with multiple copies of a card to ensure that your chances of drawing it are higher. Many times those games can be won or lost simply by what cards the players draw, no matter how strategic or smart they play.
The Mage Wars spellbook eliminates this. When you are choosing your spells for the round you’ll have access to ALL of your spells. There is no luck of the draw! Choosing your spells for the round from a book of spells can be a bit daunting the first few times you play, but once you get a few plays under your belt you’ll love the fact that you have everything at your fingertips.
You absolutely get your money’s worth when you buy this game! They call this a “core set” but it’s much more than that. Many games you buy these days cost $30-40 and contain just enough to peek your interest, then bombard you with expansions. Sometimes games don’t even come with enough components to compete in tournaments, forcing you to buy more product. While I’m not against that model, I welcome Arcane Wonders’ approach to give you everything you need and more right at the start!
The game comes with four mages, each with their own play style. There are enough cards to create a set of spells for all four mages and still have extra cards. There are two spellbooks with clear card sleeve pages (4 sleeves per page). They can hold from 72 – 144 cards (depending on if you put one or two cards in each sleeve). This is enough space to put the spell cards for two mages in one book if you wanted.
The card illustrations are superb. When you look at an illustration on a card and wish you could have a full size poster of it, you know they’ve gone above and beyond!
The action markers are a welcome addition, rather than the traditional method of tilting your card to show it has taken an action. There are also plenty of tokens to easily mark effects on creatures.
This game has a lot of depth, and a lot of intricacies. The good thing is that the rules and terms are intuitive and make sense. The rulebook has a quick walkthrough which is a great way to learn the game. Arcane Wonders has also made a video version of this walkthrough. We recommend laying the game out and following along, even if you’re watching the video.
The game is highly customizable, but to help get you right into the game the rulebook has suggested pre-built spellbooks for each mage. You can also visit the Mage Wars website for revised and improved spell lists which have optional “Apprentice Spellbooks” that use fewer cards. When you play the game the first few times and/or are teaching someone else how to play, using less cards will speed up the game and make it feel less overwhelming. We would recommend that you take a bit of time before starting the game to look at what your cards can do, and try to get somewhat familiar with the terms.
Click here to view the official pre-built spellbooks >
The rulebook is very easy to refer back to, and has a codex in the back that describes what the terms on the cards mean. The more you play, the less you’ll need to refer to the rules.
Who would enjoy this game?
We thoroughly enjoyed our time playing Mage Wars. When you take on the roll of a mage, doesn’t it make more sense that you know all of the spells you can cast, and it is more a choice of when to cast them? You don’t see Gandalf hoping to draw the right spell so he can protect the group from the Balrog… He knows his spells, and casts them as long as he has the strength.
Mage Wars is a big game. Be prepared to dedicate a good amount of time to the game as the rulebook is 44 pages long, and deck customization takes things to an entirely new level. It is time well rewarded though, because Mage Wars is FUN! This is definitely not a game that will gather dust on our shelves.
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