Mage Knight is an amazing game, here are my top 5 reasons why.
The exploration in Mage Knight is interesting and satisfying because of the way the terrain and locations on the tiles are designed. The tiles have a variety of features on them that will be familiar to anyone who has played the game a few times but are located in a variety of different patterns across different tiles. The tiles are generic, but also slightly specific.If they were to feature things that were outrageously unique and identifiable, then the exploration aspect would be lost after a few plays.
For example, let’s say your first play of Mage Knight you explore tiles that have a pub where half dragon half men go to tell rumors and drink beer on one and a armory that features a goblin selling only ranged weaponry with flaming and chemical ammunition on another. If this were the case, the first time you encountered these tiles you would never forget them because of how memorable and awesome they are and that would ruin the exploration aspect as you would not be excited to see what was next but rather just going through the motions to determine what your parameters are so you can start the efficiency calculations. Sound boring?
Instead, when you flip over a Mage Knight tile you find a mage tower, grassland, desert, a few rampaging orcs, and maybe a dragon or two for example. The only differences between tiles are the types of buildings, amount of enemies, locations of all these structures and terrain but when multiple tiles are revealed they player starts to discover a winding, treacherous path through all these obstacles and often times has multiple choices about where to go and how to effectively get to the places he needs to recruit units and get more powerful cards.
2. A Deep, Deep Burn of the Brain Variety
You know the first day of calculus class, when you are sitting in the third row looking at the teacher cockeyed mouthing “huh?” every 30 seconds as you listen to him lecture about derivatives and functions and blah (I dropped out of calculus so I don’t actually know what you learn)—THAT is how mage Knight makes your feel, but in a good way. The way the combat system works, the way the city sieges work, the fact that you have to block and take damage before you get to attack back, creates this. Especially during City Sieges, you will have multiple enemies, all with different attacks values, different defense values, special abilities, and you have 5-8 cards or maybe more and you need some block, some ice block, attack totaling an insanely high amount, and also need a tiny bit of movement to even start the siege(can’t have a hand of pure combat because of this). The variables, the number crunching, it sounds dull but in reality it wields a beautiful tapestry of complexity that engages the player and makes you want to leave the combat, make a cup of coffee, and take a walk to have time to ponder the best way to make your resources work for you.
Maybe this is why there is claims of downtime in multiplayer? Haha.
But if playing solitaire then who cares! Your brain never critics your for thinking to much.
Despite having a mix of Euro and Ameritrash elements and mechanics the theme oozes out of the box. The fire and icy attacks are utilized by enemies you would thematically expect to have those, your units have abilities that match what they are such as herbalists having magic or healing and ballista having siege attacks. The theme can break down a bit in parts such as why can I turn my 5 movement cards sideways and defeat a rampaging orc and save the country side gaining reputation in the process? What does that represent? I am not sure, and I dont bother to imagine most of the time because I am to engrossed in the game.
Your Mage Knight starts out as a lowly weakling at the start of the game and towards the end of the game you embody and feel like a mage knight should. You are able to fly across the land, defeat gigantic armies in battle with easy, and have a mass of troops at your beck and call. Unlike certain games(cough, pathfinder, cough) when you attack a mage tower, you find an enemy that could logically be in that mage tower. You will not find a giant sewer rat or a flying unicorn in the said mage tower. That is theme, to me–when mechanics match the theme and it makes sense and could be real if dragons and magic were real(sadly they are not).
4. The Lost Legion(Mage Knight Expansion)
The first big box expansion takes the solitaire game to a whole new level. Having your enemy be a bad-ass dude(Volkare) leading an army around the map is so much cooler than a cumbersome dummy player who is a glorified sundial and annoying tells you when to hurry up and when to slow down. Volkare’s AI works in such a smooth elegant fashion with minimal rules overheard. The expansion gives you a handy reference card that explains what Volkare does based on what card you draw. You can adjust his deck to make him more aggressive, more passive, move fast, move different directions, or intimidate more units. I haven’t seen many fan scenarios using Volkare but the potential is there to use Volkare in custom scenarios and make slight modifications to his AI and deck if needed. New spells and cards of all types don’t hurt either. It is a shame that Wolfhawk is a letdown hero wise, but the expansion is still awesome.
Mage Knight is a complicated game, there is no getting around that. I have heard some people complain that the rulebooks in Mage Knight are frustrating but I personally think they are set up and function great. The walk-through takes you step by step through the different locations, combat system, enemy types, card types, spells, etc. This is also a great scenario to walk through multiple times because if you haven’t played Mage Knight in over a year or so it can be hard to get back into rules-wise. The main rulebook is divided up into segments such as Player Turn, Movement, Combat, and then finished off with a ton of scenarios.
This format is really similar to the way Fantasy Flight is structuring their rulebook(s) in their newer games where they sometimes have 2 or 3 books. One of these is the intro rules explanation and tutorial scenario and then a full reference guide that goes into the minutia and is organized in such a way that it is easier to reference then the first book. Some fo their games even have a third book that is just scenarios if it is a game like Descent or Imperial Assault that has many, detailed scenarios and setup for them.