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

Alt-text explanations engage! Let's talk about leveling up. There are a whole bunch of ways to become more powerful in Mage Knight, and one of its best strengths is that something empowering will happen pretty much every turn. You can buy advanced action cards from Monasteries, spells from captured Mage Towers, armies from basically anywhere, or loot Artifacts from dungeons. Also, every time you kill anything, you gain fame. After gaining enough fame, you level up. Every other level, you go through a slightly-convoluted process that will leave you with a new skill tile (each of the four Mage Knights has ten of these) and a new advanced action card. The other levels let you flip that little octagonal tile over, which allows you to command another army and will level up either your armor value or your hand size.

Goldyx and Tovak on the third day.

Okay, so we’ve talked about how on the first day, the Mage Knights popped out of that portal of theirs and started putting on all sorts of magic shows, and on the second they figured out where the Red City was hiding, and began laying plans to take it by force. You know this story ends with the corrupt City falling, but I’ll reckon you couldn’t guess how. Even if you could, you couldn’t stop me from telling it.

Astute readers will have noted that there are more defending armies in this picture than there were at the end of Day Two. Well, cities have different levels of resistance, from pathetic to ridiculous, to let you customize the experience. After Day Two, my wife and I realized that we were playing on a far too easy difficulty, so we added a couple clicks (the cities use HeroClix bases, so you can rotate them to reveal different stats) and presto.

The Red City’s proud defenders.

Although the Mage Knights had managed to surround the Red City (apart from a pesky Swamp Dragon that Tovak had called dibs on, and Goldyx had therefore ignored), the Mage Knights were wary of the defenders that patrolled the walls above it and passages beneath. See, those city councilors may have been corrupt, but they weren’t dummies. They’d contracted with elite Freezers, troops that could freeze you solid before you’d even opened your mouth to whisper an anti-frost incantation; hired both Fire and Ice Mages, just in case someone had planned for one or the other; and tamed the most hideous pack of Crypt Worms in the entire continent. These mercenaries — well, the worms weren’t mercenaries, but you get the idea — had turned out so effective that the City’s regular watch, normal folks armed with normal tools like crossbows and spears, had been dismissed, and the City was enforced by fire, ice, and slime. It was a harsh time for cityfolk, and in short, it was locked up tighter than a monastery wine cabinet. Which reminds me of my choirboy days…

Right, Mage Knights. Well, Goldyx and Tovak weren’t going to just run on up to the gates and ask to be let in, and although their greatest fear was bringing down the wrath of the Council of the Void, they also had a healthy respect for the effect of Crypt Worm teeth on Mage Knight shins, not to mention the prospect of being frozen solid for a few years. So even though they only had a single day and night left, they figured it was early yet, and they could afford to spend that day securing the countryside and formulating a course of action. Goldyx woke his soldiers early and left to the east, where he hoped to raise a few more troops. Tovak stayed put and ordered his men to find that Swamp Dragon that had been sighted loitering.

Cities are the most common game objective, which is why they're designed to conform to different difficulties. I need to reiterate that we're playing an absurdly easy scenario for narrative purposes — normally the scenario would order us to capture at least a number of cities equal to how many Mage Knights are playing. We probably would not have accomplished that objective.

Tovak hunts the Dragon while Goldyx goes east.

While Tovak was hunting dragons, Goldyx was sacking another Mage Tower, the last independent one in the land, and threatening them into letting him take a band of Fire Mages along on the adventure, figuring they’d be useful information for getting rid of the mages in the Red City. Tovak put the Herbalists that had been following him for most of the last two days out on their rumps, and hired a clutch of engineers in possession of a couple catapults instead. After all, what use would herbs be against the walls of the great City?

 One of the reasons Mage Knight appears so immensely difficult is because you've got a whole bunch of STUFF. There are action cards for each character, advanced action cards, wound cards, spell cards, artifact cards (and all of these with the same back, since the game is fundamentally a large and complex deck-builder), and two different classes of unit cards. You can see the difference between the basic and elite units above — the elite cards have a gold background rather than silver.

Tovak’s and Goldyx’s armies (marked by their crest above).

The Catapults were in place none too soon, for the Swamp Dragon decided to come out of hiding at that very moment. It would have undoubtedly been a very epic moment, all flame and venom and talons, had it not been blasted out of the sky by a combination of launched stones and sprayed acid, the latter courtesy of Tovak’s Savage Monks. The city-dwellers nearest the walls heard the commotion and watched as one of the most powerful relics of the old world was struck down with hardly any effort at all, and they spread the joyous news that surely there was no way that the tyrannical garrison could stand against such a force, let alone two of them!

All that was left for Tovak to do was to bide his time until Goldyx returned from the east. It was a few hours yet — Goldyx was caught up raiding an ancient dungeon and battling the entombed Altem Mages within. This would have been a great saga worthy of many ballads and nights crowded around a fire and princesses and honors, but only if it had been performed by a dull and ordinary man. For a Mage Knight, these acts of unprecedented heroism were becoming mundane in their precedent, and so they bear little remark in contrast to the works and wonders that took place that night. Suffice it to say, Tovak explored the altar in the desert north of the Red City while Goldyx faced off against some very old (and powerful) mages, and by midnight both had returned to their positions around the City, and were ready to begin the assault.

I've already mentioned one of Mage Knight's flaws (it's awful documentation). Now I want to talk about the other thing that bothers me. Although the map and enemies and cards are randomized, there's very little threat to combat. You can see your enemy's strength and gauge it against your own, and as a result you should never (unless you make a dire error in accounting and your friends don't let you take back your move) attack an enemy that will, say, knock you unconscious and cause you to lose a couple turns. Or paralyze you, or deal you a dozen poison damage and thus fill up your deck with wound cards and royally screw up your game for the rest of the night. This isn't *bad*, but if you're thinking of getting Mage Knight, you need to know this: it's first and foremost a puzzle game. There are no die rolls, none of the thrill that comes from chance, and very little risk. It's still great fun, but I believe it could have benefitted from a little more danger.

Tovak and Goldyx stand poised to invade the Red City.

The plan was simple enough: Tovak would attack from the west and Goldyx would attack from the north, and they would battle whatever happened to resist them.

I realize it may have been too simple, and many have mistaken it for arrogance. I think differently. Rumors of Mage Knights’ prescient abilities aside, how could a City’s guards, no matter who they were or what their powers, keep out a Mage Knight that had decided to get in?

Still, it's a mighty *good* puzzle game. Exploring the map and picking your targets and racing opposing Mage Knights to get more fame and seeing how far you can maximize the effects of your cards is thrilling. Just not thrilling in the way you might expect. And there is a sort of beauty to the fact that you can't ever blame the dice.

Goldyx versus Freezers and Crypt Worms; Tovak versus Fire and Ice Mages.

It turned out that the City defenders were still plotting. They figured Tovak for the more powerful mage, so they sent both the Fire and Ice Mages at him, hoping to negate his abilities; and they pegged Goldyx as the greater military commander with the larger force, so they put their Freezers on the walls and tunneled about him with Crypt Worms.

And here’s the punchline, sonny: The Mage Knights won in all of ten minutes. All that planning, all those years of propping up a regime of tyrant councilmen and hiring mercenary mages, and for what? For ten horrific minutes of bloodshed.

Can you spot the eyelash in this picture?

Tovak on the west side.

Let me tell you first how Tovak went about it. He had a quandary, that’s for sure — two types of mages, of opposing elements, and working together despite their natural differences, and still he went about it calm-like, almost offhand. He motivated his troops, who were starting to panic in the face of the storm of magic coming their way, and then cast a terrible spell, powered by wind and the blackness of the night. It exposed his enemies’ weaknesses, and robbed them of their resistances. See, a fire mage is hard to hurt with fire, and the same with an ice mage, but with ice. But whatever dark magic Tovak worked stripped all that away from them, stole their talents as easily as you might rob a man locked in the stocks. And then he hit the Fire Mages, already confused up on their walls, with icy chunks from the Catapults, so cold that they were fizzing and foaming with it. And then he blasted the Ice Mages with the residue magic from the exposure spell, and finished them off by burning up one of his fire crystals and casting a massive fire bolt in their direction. All that was left to do was to walk his soldiers up the hill and into the city through the nice new entrance they’d just carved.

So that's Mage Knight. I recommend it. 9/10 or something.

Goldyx on the north side.

To the north, Goldyx was moving just as fast. He was calm about it, drawing power from the earth as calm as you please, not bothered in the least by the ice-bolts coming down from above and the worm-fangs pushing up from below.

Turns out it was his enemies who should have worried. There had been rumors about his powers to demolish walls, and that was one of the reasons the City Council had chosen to attack with the worms. Nobody had heard about what the same spell could do under cover of darkness though. All he did was channel some of the dark energy out of the sky and let one of his fire gems bubble away into the air, and the Crypt Worms — every single last one of them — bubbled away with it. The ground sagged as they disappeared, pockets of gas farted out of the ground, and the Freezers were left alone.

Now, Freezers are tricky. They don’t block ice, the way you’d expect. They block fire. So Goldyx had his Fire Mage friends fight against the Freezers for a while as he prepared his next spell. This time, he reached out and touched the last of the city’s defenders — Ice Golems, protecting the Council itself. Not only were those greedy do-no-good councilors torn to pieces in an instant, by their own guardians nonetheless, but within a minute the Golems had climbed up behind the Freezers and begun attacking them while they were already preoccupied with Goldyx’s mages. I think it goes without saying that they didn’t last much beyond twenty seconds.

Anyway, Goldyx and Tovak walked into the center of the Red City and liberated it. The crowds were cheering so loud they couldn’t hear the words the Mage Knights spoke to one another, but I reckon I know what was said. I’ve always been able to read a man’s mouth and tell what he’s saying, and it turns out a dragon’s mouth isn’t too much different from a man’s. Tovak was gloating, as he had gotten there just a little bit earlier, but Goldyx pointed out that his Ice Golems had “occupied” the center of the city a full two minutes before Tovak had shown up. Not that it matters any, since the City was freer than it had been for years, but the rest, their later years of feuding and competing and trying to kill each other without attracting the rage of the Void Council, are, as they say, history.

Posted on October 23, 2012, in Board Game, Game Diary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. digitalpariah76

    You can ALWAYS blame the dice.

    • The game even has dice, for mana, so blame can be laid. Still, combat is one hundred percent un-random, with the one exception that certain units “summon” another unit to help them in combat, which makes them the game’s most exciting and nerve-wracking enemy, simply because you cannot plan 100% what’s going to happen.

  2. Good conclusion. 🙂

  3. This is one of my favorite games, best played by only two people at a time since with more people the turns can get unbearably long, but such good adventures and affection gained for your character and all the skills he gains along the way.

  1. Pingback: It’s Good to Be a Mage Knight, Day Two « SPACE-BIFF!

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