It’s Good to Be a Mage Knight, Day One

Also stars of an upcoming buddy cop program on TBS. TBS: Very Funny.

Goldyx and Tovak: friends, rivals, Mage Knights.

Ever heard of a Mage Knight? No? For shame. It was a pair of Mage Knights that fought against the dragons and orcs and corrupt burro-crats that were running this country into the mud. Only took them three days to do it, too.

Ah yes, looks like you’re remembering now. Only three days and three nights, and they went from Mage Knight rookies to veterans with the powers of the gods themselves—I’m talking about the power to melt walls sixty feet high, to bring an elder dragon crashing out of the sky without dripping a single bead of sweat, to command loyalty that kings could only fantasize about. Settle in and I’ll refresh that fogged-up memory of yours. It’s the least I can do—after all, that pair did me a good turn by bringing the Red City to its knees.

We've had some complaints here at Space-Biff! Apparently, when we tell about games in story format, some folks don't like that we don't talk about game mechanics. So for this game diary, we'll be talking about game mechanics, right here in the alt-text where nobody will notice! And this right here is the starting tile. Ooh, aah.

The portal, and all that the Mage Knights know about this country.

Now, afore we get into the particulars of these, eh, particular two Mage Knights’ quest, I reckon you’ll need a bit of history.

In the old days, about forty summers ago, we were just one corner of an empire that folks called “great.” And let me tell you, if by “great” they meant big, then they was right. It was a big one, an empire with a hundred corners like ours, and the men and swords and magic to protect ’em. On the other hand, if by “great” they meant it was good, then they were blowing smoke outta their collective asses. The entire empire was based on those colored crystals you see wizards walking around with, burning up to do their magic, only in those days the empire had entire caverns full of the stuff. All their eggs in one satchel, so to say. Anyway, one day a pack of adventurers decided to open this big haunted ancient door in this big haunted lost city (it was ancient too, in case you were wondering). Yeah yeah, I know it sounds stupid, but that’s what they decided to do. And when they cracked it open, all the Magestone—that’s what the crystals was called in the day—it exploded. All of it that were in one place, grouped together, anyway.

No, those adventurers weren’t the Mage Knights, dummy. Point is, those idiot adventurers wrecked the empire entire, and suddenly each little city decided they could be their own country, and the orcs and dragons decided to move on in and set up shop. And that’s where the Mage Knights came in—emissaries of the Council of the Void. Now, you must’ve heard that the Council is shadowy and secret, and that’s all true. But as far as I’m concerned, they’re an alright bunch, whoever they are. After all, they sent Goldyx and Tovak.

Consider the bravery they must have had: The only thing those two knew about our country was what they could see through the old Council portal, so they took a big risk coming over to our side. They were told that their mission was to take the Red City afore three days and nights ran out, or the council of barons could assemble and figure a way to save their corrupt behinds.

As you can see, you get to explore the fantasy countryside. Swamps and crags are harder to travel across than gentle hills and prairies, though at night it's hard to move through forests and deserts are easier to cross. Uh... so pretty basic stuff. See, this is why we tell it as a story.

Goldyx and Tovak begin exploring the countryside.

So the Mage Knights stepped through the portal and set to exploring. Goldyx came first, being the faster of the two. A bit inland from the portal, which were right on the cliffs at the coast, he found civilization. To the west was one of those old monasteries where they used to teach all sorts of arts that are now rightfully forbidden. The monastery was being menaced by a pack of orcs riding wolves—don’t laugh, that’s just one of many perversions of nature that the orcs partook of in those days. To the east was a small town, good for finding supplies and maybe a guide or helper, but it were blocked as well, only this one by orcs blessed with twisted summoning powers.

Well, Tovak was known for his hot helmet, so despite only being a rookie—as much a rookie as a Mage Knight can be, anyway—he figured he’d just march into the swamp and challenge the orcs to battle.

Okay, on the monster tiles: The top number is the armor. The number on the left is its strength. On the bottom is the fame (experience) that you gain when you defeat it. And on the right are special abilities—the werewolf, for instance, is swift, which means its attack is harder to block. Instead of an attack, the orc summoners summon a brown unit (the werewolf, in this instance) to fight alongside them.

Orc summoners versus Tovak.

Well, turns out the orc summoners had a trick up their sleeves, only they weren’t sleeves, they were metal bracers. And the trick was summoned werewolves, hungry from months of captivity.

Tovak was hungry too, though for battle. He won the fight, though only just, and he took a few dire wounds in the process. A bad start if he was to conquer the Red City before the third night ended.

Mage Knight is a deck management game at heart. Taking wounds means that wound cards are shuffled into your deck or added to your hand. They'll then sit there and clog up your hand until you waste time resting, or until you heal somehow. Some characters and abilities will let you use wounds to your advantage though.

Tovak gets hurt.

Now, you’ve probably got some questions by now. First, I’ll tell you that there’s a shade of difference between “immortal” and “invincible.” See, a Mage Knight is the former. He can’t be killed, or at least he’s a damn sight close to being unkillable. On the other hand, feel free to chop off their fingers or cut their throat or crush their knees. They’ll feel that, and it won’t be any more pleasant for them than for you or me. You might take them out of action for a day or two, even. But in the end they’ll crawl back up onto their feet, wrack out a few slimy coughs, and get right back to their business. The only thing they can really lose is time.

So why would Tovak risk his precious time fighting those orc summoners? Well, you and I would probably say “arrogance,” for all Mage Knights are known for that. What would Tovak say? Well, probably two things. First, that he needed to hone his skills. Mage Knights learn quick, even sometimes picking up spells or arts that would take normal folk a decade to learn, and doing it in their spare moments. So by fighting those summoners, Tovak wasn’t only getting slashed by werewolf claws and having his larynx torn out—he was learning to ration his magic, to not rely on it overmuch. Second, Tovak would say that he wanted the support of the people, because marching on a fortified city is easier when you’ve got an army at your back—even for a Mage Knight. And you can bet your scrawny rump that Tovak looked every bit the hero when he stumbled bloody into town and showed the summoner’s head to the gentlefolk—and if that didn’t persuade them, a few werewolf pelts helped too.

At about the same time, Goldyx was decimating the wolf-riding orcs, but that was a battle of little note because it went off without much danger. The locals in the monastery were grateful, certainly, but I’m in the business of recounting the epic battles, not the trivial ones.

The map is filled with all sorts of interesting places to visit and monsters to kill. In terms of monsters, green are orcs, grey are boring humans, and purple are mage-stuff. There are also brown monsters and reddish dragons. You can also see a monastery to the left. Goldyx is on a village, and there's another near the bottom-right. Certain units can only be recruited in specific locations. There are also crystal mines that give you extra magic crystals and healing glades that let you heal, and a few other ancient ruins / tombs / monster pits on the map, but we don't need to get into all of that.

Exploring father north.

So Goldyx made his way north, and after resting a few hours in a convenient magical healing glade, Tovak did too. Here they found the first line of defenses of the Red City: two imposing Mage Towers, and a big stone Keep. All were fortified, and Goldyx and Tovak briefly met and agreed that these defenses ought to fall into their hands as soon as were possible. They barely even considered the weak band of orcs that spent its days and nights prowling about the base of the keep, and Tovak wiped them out with a ranged attack before they even realized he was lurking nearby.

Goldyx spent some time in a local village. The day was nearly gone by now, and he managed to threaten a band of foresters into guiding him through the nearby landscape. Now, that may sound awful, but remember that the Mage Knights had little time for wheedling and haggling, and in the end they were doing those foresters a favor by freeing them from the corruption of the barons that lived in the Red City. After enough growling, the foresters were all too happy to chart farther north for Goldyx, reporting that it was a mostly quiet region with some well-armored orcs playing bandit in the middle of nowhere.

Orcs and dragons are "rampaging," so you can't move between hexes that are adjacent to them without incurring their wrath. You also challenge them from an adjacent space rather than moving to where they are. Not all enemies are like that though—this Mage Tower, for instance, must see you moving onto it to besiege it. All Mage Towers, Keeps, and Cities are fortified, making combat harder.

Goldyx goes to the eastern Mage Tower.

As night fell, Goldyx hired a rabble of peasants to assist him, then crept under cover of darkness to the nearby Mage Tower. The foresters and peasants raised objections with besieging a tower that the locals saw as an edifice of protection, and counseled that news of this assault would spread throughout the countryside and undo all the favor he had gained by slaying the wolf-riders, but Goldyx cared nothing for their pathetic and singularly peasant-like logic. They had no choice but to join in the siege.

Here we get to see some card play. You can play a card to use its basic effect, or pay some mana (from dice or crystals or temporary other ways) to use a more powerful effect. You can also play any card sideways to count as 1 of a basic action (attack, block, influence, move). In this case, the Rage and Swiftness cards should actually be reversed, but we flubbed it when we took the picture. So here, I used Mana Draw to use 2 dice instead of 1 (of the mana dice that anyone can use), then used Magic Talent to use a Spell card in the Spell offer (which is three face-up Spells you can buy), and I had to use red magic to use it. Then I used blue magic to empower Determination to block the enemy attack, and Rage + sideways Swiftness + my Peasant unit to kill the Ice Golems. Sounds hard, eh? It *is* hard. But not so bad once you've had one or two battles.

Goldyx battles the Ice Golems protecting the Mage Tower.

I’ll spoil the outcome for you before I tell it, as you won’t believe it anyway: Goldyx brought down the Ice Golems protecting the tower without suffering a scratch.

First he drew mana from the earth—all Mage Knights can do this, but Goldyx did it double. Then he used his natural magic talents and scrying powers to temporarily learn one of the mages’ most powerful spells: the power to demolish fortifications. To their surprise, he turned their own power against them, shattering the battlements that protected the sentinel golems, and damaging them in the process. He blocked their chilly assault, and threw down the tower doors. The armed rabble flooded into the tower, capturing the mages willing to cooperate and putting to the sword (or, rather, the pitchfork) any who suffered illusions of resistance. The tower belonged to Goldyx.

Right away he set to administrative tasks. First on the list was to sack the peasant rabble and send them packing into the night, and replace them with the tower’s own illusionists, who Goldyx forced (as they were recalcitrant) to process white crystals until daybreak, and to help him learn the Demolition magic he had used against them. Then he set off with his foresters into the nearby woods, where an ancient ruin filled with old knowledge was just sitting, waiting for someone powerful enough to come and unlock its secrets. Goldyx spent the rest of the night there, growing more powerful with every passing minute.

These are units. How many you can command depends on your level. Their influence cost is on the top-left, with their hiring location beneath that (Savage Monks in monastery only, Herbalists in either monastery or village). They have an armor value that they can use to take wounds for you, and you can choose one of their abilities per day or night before they are exhausted. Note that the Herbalists can "ready" units to un-exhaust them. Units are the aspect of this game that I always forget about when I'm trying to figure out battles, so I don't use them as often as I could. I did fine in this game though.

Tovak’s allies.

A bit earlier, Tovak was plotting the downfall of the Keep. He could see that it was filled with crossbowmen, and he was in no mood to add to the wounds he had already suffered that day. So he went back south to the monastery and hired both its best warriors and its best healers. Then he headed back north.

Turns out this was some good preparation. With his added power, the monks who had joined up with him (who were known to be quite savage) shaped their powerful earth magic into boulders that crushed the crossbowmen from afar. All Tovak had to do was walk right in and take a little nap in the former commander’s bedchamber.

Mage Knight is an incredible game, but it's really brought down by its horrific documentation. It isn't *that* hard to learn, but it comes with two 20-page manuals, with 3 columns per page. And no index. What on earth. I mean: even Space-Biff! has indexes.

The end of the first night.

And that was that. In a single day and night, Tovak and Goldyx had exterminated three bands of orcs and captured a Mage Tower and a Keep, and were hardly worse for the wear. Their exhausted troops spent the remainder of the night resting, or trying to. I imagine it would be hard to sleep after besieging a keep in under ten minutes, or after transmuting piles of white crystals after being captured by a nonthreatening rabble. Such are the ways of Mage Knights.

As for what happened on the second day… well, I’ll get to that bit some other time.

Posted on September 10, 2012, in Board Game, Game Diary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. The taste of Tovak blood is too good to ignore and those werewolves plagued me the rest of the adventure.

  2. I’m now eagerly awaiting parts 2 and 3!

  3. Haha, I love the ‘Savage Monks’. -Monk picks up a bible and points at it, exclaiming to the congregation, “The Preeeeecccciouuussssss!”

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