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Cheaty Mages

20 out of 20 gamers thought this was helpful

Review Specification

Games I review are played by 3 people.
We have a social/adventure game persuasion.


We purchased Cheaty Mages as a follow up to our countless Munchkin adventures. As far as games come they are very different, but maintained enough similarities for me to get my housemates interested.

Upon receiving Cheaty Mages I was pleasantly surprised at the subtlety of the box, it comes very well packaged and take up little space in our already burgeoning games cabinet.

Opening the box

Inside the box there were 2 shrink wrapped decks and a glossy rule book. Of course the usual pop-out tokens were waiting undisturbed in their sheets. The rules were laid out well and outlined the game, the information translated well into demonstrations to my girlfriend and housemate.

The Game/The Concept

Cheaty Mages is set in the stands of an arena where creatures do battle till the death. You and your “friends” are Mages, gambling Mages. You are looking to make a quick buck by betting on the outcome of the duels in the arena. But of course being Mages means that you can influence the outcome of the fight even from the comfort of your seat.

At the start of the game, 5 creatures are laid out, each with an individual power number and gold amount (The higher the monsters initial power, the lower the gold amount for them successfully winning and vice-versa). They are now considered the active ‘fighters’ in the arena. Then a judge, who oversees the fight is drawn, he/she will have certain restrictions and their personality will range from being extremely strict to passive and lenient.

Each player receives eight cards that can be used to alter the combat taking place in the arena. Displayed on the player’s cards is a mana cost, this relates to the aforementioned judges, each judge, depending on personality will have a Mana Limit. Should players exceed this limit by playing spells, the judge wades in with some nasty effects which either remove one fighter from combat or start dispelling the player’s spells.

The Mages(players) then proceed to place bets on who they think will win the duel, knowing full well they have the ability to manipulate the events that unfold. Bets are laid face down and you can bet on up to three monsters. (Place just one bet and you receive double the prize of the winner, place two bets and you get the printed total prize of the winner and finally place three bets and you receive 1/2 of the prize of the winner)

There are three types of cards in the game, direct spells, enchantments and support spells. Direct spells must be played face up alongside the monster the player has targeted, enchantments are placed face down and support cards generally aid the player by being able to remove spells or draw additional cards.

Direct and Enchantment spells will give various bonuses to monsters, one example would be Fireball which is a direct spell, so it’s played face up, costs 1 mana but gives a -4 penalty to the creature’s attack power.

As you can see, the basis for the strategy has now been laid.

The game ends when all players have passed, you can pass at any stage but are unable to rejoin the round’s action once you’ve done so. At the end of the round the enchantment cards are turned face up and each monsters total power is calculated. Of course then you have to take into consideration the judge’s mana limit. If a monster has had a spell total of 12 mana played on him but the judge only allows 10 then that monster will either be discarded completely or have spells removed. The successful bettor/s collect their winnings and the game proceeds to the next round, players draw up to 4 spell cards and play continues.

After three rounds whoever has the largest gold stash leaves the arena as a winner and no doubt heads off to blow his newly found wealth at a bar.

The Results/Summary.TL;DR

The game plays very well and provides room for strategy development. We enjoyed the first game and laughed throughout as we announced who we thought each other’s bets were on. The second game drew an eerie silence as each of us bunkered in to our seats visibly showing the cogs turning in our heads.

After the 5th game we’d already seen the games limited 10 fighters multiple times and wished for some variance, but the true beauty of the game lies in the large spell pool. With a wide range of direct/enchantment/support spells the game plays out differently each time, especially with the changing judges and their own restrictions. (Some judges ban the use of support cards too for example)

In my opening paragraph I declared some similarities to Munchkin, this relates to the way in which you can backstab other players, deploy sneaky mana boosting cards and generally make a mess of their well thought out plan. One element of game enjoyment for us has always been the ability to, for want of a better phrase, completely screw over another player. Cheaty Mages offers players a thought provoking game full of twists and turns. It’s one of those games where I can guarantee you will get a sulky player.


It’s been coming and I’ve largely stayed positive about the game because that most fairly reflects our feelings whilst playing, but.

The largest drawback – if you are unsuccessful in a round and lose your bets it can be very difficult to make up the difference. With some simple betting patterns a leading player can consolidate a winning position quite easily.


Cheaty Mages provides a fun thirty minute game in which players get a fix of some good old fashioned spell casting and tactical card playing. With a solid spell deck offering a multitude of combinations it provides decent longevity.

As mentioned before, try not to play this game with anyone prone to sulking, it can be very demotivating to face what feels like an insurmountable catchup to the leading player. If you have a good group of competitive players Cheaty Mages works very well, providing lots of laughs and evil glares.

Recommended if –

You want a quick easy to set up card game (under 30 mins)
You have happy, competitive friends who will battle for 2nd place just to not finish last.
You want to be able to be challenged in card placement
You enjoy tactically outplaying people

Not Recommended if –

You have sulky friends
You want a game to last 30 minutes or more
You plan on playing this every night

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