I am an unapologetic Vlaada Chvátil fanboy. Even before I had played a single game by him, I was fascinated by his designs, particularly the quirkiness and chaotic nature of what’s going on. Galaxy Trucker is #2 on my favorite games list (behind cribbage). Space Alert, Dungeon Lords, and Through the Ages all have the chance to be high on my list if I could ever get them played. So you can imaging how excited I am that there are, not one, but FOUR Vlaada Chvátil products coming out at Essen this year. The first one with rules up online is:
The Mage Knight Board Game is being released by WizKids. It’s for 1-4 players aged 14 and up, and takes around 150 minutes to play (depending on the scenario you use, it could be 1-4 hours). For the unitiated (of which I am one), the name Mage Knight comes from a miniatures wargame originally produced by WizKids in 2000. It was one of the first collectible miniatures games, and used a combat dial system that would later get used by HeroClix. From what I gather, Vlaada’s game doesn’t have much to do with the original, it really just uses the license as a jumping off point. Rather than being a miniatures game, this one is a sort of deck-builder. I’ve been really excited to see what Vlaada does with the genre.
The rulebook for this game is laid out much in the same way as other Vlaada designs – it walks you through your first play. A separate rulebook that details each rules will be included in the game, but has not been released yet. So, I’ll be using this first game walkthrough as my basis for the post. There are 11 scenarios that will be included in the second ruleset, but this one generally focuses on the learning scenario, First Reconnaissance, so the setup may vary.
In the game, you get 20 map tiles, including one starting tile, eleven countryside tiles, and eight core tiles. These map tiles are each made of 7 hexagons showing various terrains and symbols. The start tile shows a coastline which will acts as a border for your expanding board. You get seven types of tokens – Marauding Orcs, Draconum, Monsters, Units in Keeps, Units in Mage Towers, Units in Cities, and Hidden in Ruins. As a DBG, there are cards for your deck, referred to as deed cards: a starting deck of 16 basic action cards for each player, 28 advanced action cards, spell cards, artifact cards, and wound cards. In addition, there are regular and elite unit cards, day and night tactic cards, site description cards, city cards, and an achievement scoring card. These are differentiated from the deed cards by their backs. Each player gets a set of components: a hero card, a pre-painted figure, a round order token, six level tokens, ten skill tokens, your 16 card starting deck, and a pile of shield tokens. Finally, there’s a fame and reputation board, a day/night board, mana tokens, and seven mana dice.
Mage Knight is played over a series of rounds. First Reconnaissance takes place over three rounds – day, night, then day again. At the start of a round, each player will choose a tactic card, which will determine player order. Players will take turns until one player declares the round over.
On your turn, you move first, then take one action. Actions generally involve interacting with locals or combat, but it really depends on where you are. Movement can be accomplished in two ways – by playing cards with movement points, or by playing other cards and rotating them sideways (you start with a hand of five). Cards that grant movement points can be stacked together for easy reference. Movement cards have two levels, and you can access the second (more powerful) level by using one of the mana dice. These are rolled at the beginning of a round, and you’ll need to use one that matches your card (you can only use one per turn). If you don’t have enough movement for what you want to do, you can play any card (except a wound card) sideways on your movement stack for one bonus movement point. It costs different amount of movement points to go through certain terrain hexes. If you end in a space containing another player, there will be a fight. Exploring new map tiles costs 2 move points, then the tile is revealed, and symbols matched up (each tile has either a third of a circle or a third of a star at points around its edge). You can continue to move after exploring a new tile. In the First Reconnaissance scenario, exploration earns you one Fame point.
There are seven site description cards, and each one give rules for how you can interact there. Different sites will pop up through the game. If you’re in a village, you can collect influence (turning cards sideways as with movement cards for one influence point if you need it) and adjust it depending on your reputation (higher for positive reputation, lower for negative). Influence can be spent on recruiting units or buying healing points. If you end your turn in a village, you may plunder it at a cost of -1 reputation, but you get to draw two extra deed cards. This is not an action, it can be done while someone else is taking their turn.
As you go through the game, you may have to fight enemies (and, in advanced variants, other players). Combat follows a sequence: first, make ranged or siege attacks using action cards or units; next, attempt to block attacks from enemies who survived your initial attack by playing block cards (sideways cards give you block +1); take damage from that attack by adding a wound card to units; then attack by playing cards, remembering to collect fame if you win.
Another thing you might want to do on a turn is heal. Spend healing points to remove a wound from your hand and place it back in the wound deck. You could also rest, which means you can’t move or take an action to interact or fight. To rest, you discard (not remove) any number of wounds from your hand, as well as one non-wound card. If you only have wound cards, you’re exhausted and can do nothing but discard one wound.
At the end of your turn, you discard all cards you played and return any used or unused mana tokens to the bank. You’ll then draw back up to your hand limit. Before you draw, you can discard any number of non-wound cards – wounds have to stay in your hand until you heal or rest.
The round ends when someone says it’s over. Basically, you say it’s over at the beginning of your turn if you have no cards in your deck and no cards in your hand that you want to play. All other players get one more turn, and the round is over. The game ends when the scenario conditions are met. For the First Reconnaissance scenario, it’s over when a city is revealed. Each player gets one more turn, and then players get extra fame based on some special rewards for different achievements, much like in Dungeon Lords – greatest knowledge (2 points per spell, 1 point per advanced action), greatest loot (2 points per artifact, 1 point per two mana crystals), greatest leader (fame equal to the total level of your units), greatest conqueror (2 fame per shield on a keep, mage tower, or monastery), greatest adventurer (2 fame per shield on an adventure site), and greatest beating (lose 2 points per wound in your deck). For each category, you’ll gain 3 additional points for scoring the most in the category (lose three for greatest beating), and only 1 if you’re tied (-1 for the beating). The player with the most fame wins.
The question always ask about Vlaada Chvátil games is, how does this game fit into his canon? It is missing a lot of the simultaneous play and chaos he’s known for. At the same time, it includes a unique look at some familiar mechanics, particularly the deck-building aspect. Really, decks are only cycled through once per round, and it’s not the focus of the game. What you have in your hand will largely affect what you’re planning to do for the turn, and cards will get added throughout. The game also takes the fantasy-adventure game in a new direction by adding a modular board and the deck-building aspect. My mind keeps going back to Talisman and Runebound since those are the two big fantasy adventure games I’ve played. This game seems a lot more in depth than either of those, and that makes me happy.
The rulebook is laid out in two parts, as I mentioned earlier. This follows the format of Space Alert, though the walkthrough is significantly more serious than Space Alert. Not that this is a bad thing – I think it’s fine for the type of gaming experience you’re getting (I fully expect the rules for Dungeon Petz to go back to the humorous style I love). The walkthrough is specifically laid out so you can learn the game while you play, but I don’t think I’ll suggest that. Speaking from experience, it’s really tedious to learn a game while you’re playing your first game. I think the walkthrough is especially helpful in laying out how to teach the game.
I’m very excited to play this game. I look forward to seeing how the cards work with the game, and finding out more about how the various board sites will affect how you approach the game. It’s going to be expensive due to the amount of stuff in there – $85 retail is what I’m seeing at Thoughthammer. That stops me from pre-ordering right now (well, that and it probably won’t see enough play time to justify the purchase at this time of my life), but I definitely want to play it at some point. Thanks for reading!