Mage Knight is Epic in Every Sense of the Word

I haven’t yet written about a game of Mage Knight I played a few weeks ago.

I received the expansion, The Lost Legion, for Christmas, and had some friends over during the break. I was able to convince them to play – even though I warned them it would probably take all day. As it turns out, that was a conservative estimate.

In an attempt to alienate both camps, I hope to write this in such a way that those who have not played before can keep up, and those that are experienced can treat it as an after-action report.

We selected our four mage knights. We were co-operating, in this scenario, against General Volkare and his massive army. Both the general and the mage knights were looking for the capital city. We had to find it first, conquer it before he gets there, then defend it against his army. Trust me. It’s a daunting task.

I had Arythea, the red mage knight. I had decided to try and build her as someone who could turn wounds to her advantage (card draws willing.)

Our epic journey began at 11am, after a late breakfast. Two of our players were new, but as I’ve said before Mage Knight is actually a very easy game to teach. I explained things as we went along and so set-up took much longer than initial explanation.

Things were humming along well, and the hours flew by. This is an incredibly long game, but you just don’t notice the time. Opening a Mage Knight box is a dangerous prospect. The lid clings desperately to the box, trying to contain that which is within. As the lid comes free you will hear a slight rush of air, as time itself is drawn in. You probably think this a myth, to scare the foolish from the treasures contained inside. When you play it – you will see, oh yes, you will see.

On the first night, Volkare attacked one of us. At the end of the game, after 3 days and nights, and we are high level and all four of us are working together, we expect to have a very difficult battle with Volkare. Trying to stand up to him by yourself on the first night is unheard of. And so they ran taking a few wounds for their trouble.

We proceeded as slowly as we dared. We wanted to explore every tomb, tower, and ruins but we also needed to make sure we moved fast enough that we would find the city before Volkare, and before his deck ran dry – if it did, he would rage and would be impossible to beat. Our slower pace meant he was able to recruit new followers to his army, but this is a trade-off we’d agreed to as our strategy.

My character was destroying her reputation in favour of more personal power. She burned monasteries for their artifacts (after intimidating them into teaching her a new trick), hired thugs who are actually more likely to follow a character with a poor reputation, and cajoled others to follow with magic.

We stopped for dinner and one player had to work a short shift. This gave us a break of 3-4 hours. We were just starting the 3rd day, and had just found the city. We were a pretty well equipped, but time was running short. We had to take the city as soon as possible, then brace for Volkare who would be arriving very shortly afterwards.

The original plan entailed taking the city at the end of the 3rd day, so we could fight Volkare during the final night… but we hit a problem.

Two mage knights approached from the west, and were effectively waiting for myself and Wolfhawk to rush back from the east. Unfortunately we were cut off by two dragons. One was a red and while challenging, he was beatable… if only I had got the right draw (and I did not). The other was a new summoner dragon who, with both physical resistance and arcane immunity, just couldn’t be harmed by Wolfhawk.

I had just  brought the powerful Altem Mages under my control (magic coercion of course), and they had the power to single-handedly dispatch that dragon – but I was blocked by the red who wouldn’t let me pass.

I discarded cards frantically while Volkare closed on the city in an attempt to get a winning combination on the red. It cost me a lot of resources, and I took a good handful of wounds, but I managed to dispatch the red. I moved up to the dragon summoner and, in what was ultimately a pretty anti-climactic end for a unit that seemed indestructible, my Altem Mages dispatched him with a wave of a hand.

This badly delayed our city assault, but now all four of us were prepared. We launched a four-way attack, and although most of us defeated our opponents, Wolfhawk had to leave one alive, and the strongest enemy defender (Altem Mages except this time defending against us) also survived. We were forced to wait until the first turn, of the final night to take the city.

After re-drawing a hand of cards ready for the start of the final night, I decided I had enough power to take the final two defenders myself. I did so, in a large part because my Altem Mages were able to dispatch one powerful opponent with nary a thought. This meant they were unfortunately spent for the upcoming battles with Volkare. The can destroy a single opponent, sure, but they also have the power to turn every one of my attacks into the most powerful forces of destruction in the game. If had that, anything I attack would surely die – before it even had a chance to attack.

Volkare soon arrived. We counted up his army and divided the foes. Some of us felt we could better-handle the more dangerous white and red elite enemies, so we divvied up a few extras to Mage Knights Norowas and Tovak. Without the Altem Mages to help me, I wasn’t sure I could comfortably handle too many elites, but opted for a couple extra orcs and soldiers.

I did have an ace up my sleeve, though. For what turns we’d been able to prepare, before Volkare’s arrival, I had been saving up my strength with a tactic called Sparing Power. This allowed me to put an extra card away each turn, and then take all these saved cards into hand at the start of a later turn. This allowed me to have many more cards than my normal hand limit in preparation for the attack.

We flipped over our enemies so we knew what we faced, and simultaneously calculated and organized our tactics. In a typical game of Mage Knight you usually fight one enemy. Sometimes you might fight two. At the climax of the game, you may be forced to face three. In this battle, I was facing nine.

A quiet murmuring arose from the table as we each mumbled various ideas and calculations to ourselves: “To block them, I need 6. But it won’t be efficient blocking, because I don’t have any fire block, so in total I need 12. If block with these guys, then that lowers it to 4 – ah! But I could play this, with a bit of mana, and then that’ll just leave me with 1…”

One by one we announced we’d finished our attack. You really need to then call another person over to check your working, because the battles get that complex.

I think we were all pretty proud of our eventual defenses, but I really only remember my own:

As I said, I had many cards over my normal hand-limit.

The first thing I did was break my ring artifact – this gave me unlimited green and black mana. Green mana tends to be of the domain of nature, and healing. Black is the rare, powerful mana needed to augment the most powerful spells.

I also had an advanced action that allowed me to cast a spell I could see on the table, but didn’t actually have in my hand. I used this, with my unlimited mana, to cast a mighty earthquake, lowering all my opponents armour (effectively hitpoints.) In many cases this lowered them all the way to 1.

Next, I had to mount a defense, blocking what I could. I shot a few of the weaker enemies with arrows and I threw my thugs and other followers suicidally into the path of my enemies (by this stage, my reputation was so bad I was actually barred from interacting with NPCs :/) I still took a huge number of wounds, nearly stunning me, but that’s all I needed.

My counter attack consisted of just one card. Flame Wave. Cast using my unlimited black mana (and a dash of red I’d been saving.) It starts out powerful enough: Fire Attack 5. But it is increased by 2 for every enemy you face, for a total of… Fire Attack 21. With enemies already softened up with an earthquake, that single wave of fire wiped out Volkare’s entire flank.

In the end, everyone had done well. Tovak had to let one elite enemy get away, Norowas had to let one minor enemy slip through his fingers, and Wolfhawk couldn’t quite kill one of his either. Volkare’s army of about 34 was reduced to 3.

Yes, our hands were greatly depleted, but even so at least two of us were able to comfortably dispatch these final enemies, and Volkare was defeated.

We were elated. We looked around. It was 2.30am. For those that couldn’t be bothered with the maths, that’s 15-and-a-half hours, minus a 3-4 hours for dinner. We’ll just call it an even 12-hour game.

Cards Against Humanity or “Do You Have a Sense of Humour?”

cards-against-humanity

Wow. It’s a game that is pretty  damn light on mechanics so I really wasn’t expecting much. Add to that that I’d heard lots of dubious mentions around the internet. I thought – perhaps a little elitist-ly – that the people that liked it were probably board-game philistines. Yes, probably a fine little game, but not really on par with the great games *I* dip into.

There’s certainly not much depth there but we played and kept playing this game. Well, for an hour maybe, but certainly well past when we were told it was supposed to end. And holy crap did we laugh.

I should be able to explain this pretty quickly: There is a black deck and a giant holy-crap-you’ve-never-seen-one-this-big white deck (the game was brought along by someone else so this might have included expansions.)

Everyone gets a hand of 10 white cards. These cards say things like “Ghengis Khan”, “Child Beauty Pageants”, “BATMAN!!!!”, or “Civilian Casualties”

Then the first player flips over the top black card. Black cards say things like “What’s guaranteed to get you laid?” Then everyone  (excepting the current player) picks one of their ten white cards for what they think will be the funniest answer (well, technically, they will pick the card they think the current player  will find funniest) and play them face down into the middle.

The current player shuffles them, then flips them over and reads them out. Lastly, that player decides which card they think was the best and the owner of that card gets to take the black card as a point. Rinse and repeat with a new player flipping over a black card. Whoever has the most points when you feel like stopping wins.

The million-dollar question – the real crux of whether this is the game for you or not – is: How is your sense of humour? Let me give you some examples from the game I played, and you be the judge:

  1. What’s guaranteed to get you laid? Winner: American Boy Scouts Association. (Honourable mention: Child Beauty Pageants. Honourable comment: “Hmm. I can’t decide. Let me just eliminate all the responses except for the pedophilia ones.”)
  2. Batman’s guilty pleasure. Winner: BATMAN!!!!! (Honourable mention: Civilian casualties)
  3. If I was president of the United States, my first act would be to establish a department of _________. Winner: German Dungeon Porn.
  4. What’s the next Happy Meal Toy? Winner: Roofies

Space…The New Frontier

I just finished a fairly epic Sunday evening of board games. We played fair bit of Dominion, Resistance: Avalon, and the my new Space Alert expansion: The New Frontier.

Also, one of the new additions to the group brought along Cards Against Humanity which I think deserves its own post.

You may remember I referred to Space Alert as the greatest co-op game ever, because it avoids Game By Committee.

This was the first time we’d cracked out the Space Alert expansion. I’ve been sitting on it for a while, and one of the reasons for that is that a lot of the expansion seems to include ways of making the game harder. This is pretty common for co-op games. I find it is also pretty common for us to not require any further difficulty! We were only succeeding at about 50% of our games anyway. If we played a couple sessions back-to-back we might get smooth enough to mix in a couple “yellow-difficulty” cards, but a whole new “red” difficulty? Are you crazy?

The expansion also includes an entire new deck of action cards. So-called “double-action” cards they allow for, theoretically, twice as many actions but the way they are designed it would be quite challenging to use them efficiently. To compensate for (theoretically!) twice as many actions the expansion includes a slew of harder mission tracks. Red difficulty. Harder sound tracks. I’m really not convinced we’ll ever use them.

So there’s a couple things added to the expansion I’m sure say, a dorm-full of college students, will use but not really our group. Fortunately for us, though, there is some quite fun additions that both the uni-bums and hard-working-average Joe can utilise.

Previously there was a mission log which you could scribble in if you wanted to. We did – mostly to track our best score. We’d also go to the effort of writing down the crew. If we got the same crew together, we’d try and dig up their log and add to it. If we got the same crew together. That never happened as far as I know.

The expansion fixes this all quite nicely. Now everyone gets a character sheet, and they can track their individual missions on that sheet. But it’s more than just a score-card, with the expansion this is a whole new experience system including a class-like specialisations.

So you and your crew successfully complete a mission (yay!) Then you add up the points, convert that to experience, and voilà, after a success or two you level up. When you level up you get to pick the first rank of a specialisation. There are 10 specialisations to choose from each with three ranks (novice, advanced, expert.) So you can, eventually, get several expert specialisations under your belt. This system replaced the heroic action cards which were, by comparison, pretty bland. You pick one of the specialisations you have ranks in at the start of the game and take a card corresponding with that specialisation (for example, the data analyst gets a card that lets them use the main computer from any room on the ship.) As mentioned, this card replaces the heroic action card from the base. Before you get any ranks, you’re unarguably going to be weaker than with the base game. However with a rank in a specialisation you should be about the same strength, and when you get to advanced and expert levels (with which you can choose better cards) you become more effective.

Combined with this whole system is a massive achievement system. This is exactly what it sounds like and clearly borrowed from computer games. Basically after you finish a mission you refer to the achievement sheet and see if you completed any – typically you’ll complete at least one, and the bonus experience this grants gets you across level. (Well, at least at first. The levels get harder to reach the high you go.) The fun thing about these achievements are that Rio Grande have included quite a few that a computer could never cover. For example, an achievement wherein three or your crew members agree you used your specialisation in a particularly great way (open to abuse, maybe, but you’re only cheating yourself!)

Over the Christmas break I’ll be camping out with a couple friends. I expect to give this expansion a thorough workout.

Mage Knight Expansion: The Lost Legion

As I said before, I had my Xmas a little early this year (as my family does every year.) One of my presents was the Mage Knight expansion: Lost Legion.

Now, Mage Knight is an ingenious game. It is challenging, flexible, thematically rich and its mechanics are, for the most part, pretty intuitive. So what can an expansion bring to the table?

Basically, more of the same. This isn’t a bad thing when you’re already on to a winner. A new Mage Knight to pick, a handful of new spells, actions and some new enemies make up the bulk of the meaty stuff. They also took the opportunity to tweak the rules but when you read the changes it’s a bit like reading a video game’s changelog when it says: “Increased the wizard’s damage output by 0.02% over 3 seconds, and reduced the cooldown on the fighter’s shield bash by 0.1.” Honestly, if you were noticing these figures you’re clearly autistic.

From here on out, if you aren’t actually familiar with the base Mage Knight game, it might all go a little over your head.

So: New enemies, and a new Mage Knight. Great. There is of course the titular Lost Legion. The Legion is utilised in a couple new scenarios that have one incredibly strong army. A bit like combining several cities together at once. Added to that, they have a simple AI and march around the map revealing tiles and looking for the one city in the scenario. Once found, your objective is to get to the city first, assault it, then defend your new city against the legion.

I like it. A lot. I like it a lot more than finding and assault cities, but it certainly hasn’t improved Mage Knight’s only remaining problems and it’s not perfect.

My only game of it so far went a little like this:
We moved and explored, and avoided the legion (hereafter called “Volkare” since that is their leader’s name and the figure represents him.) At one point Volkare found and attacked me putting three wounds in my hand. Not great, but bearable. As the game wound down – some 6 hours later – I started to wonder if we were anywhere near strong enough to fight Volkare’s army. It was truely massive and we’d played on one of the easiest difficulties.

He had 2 white, 2 draconum, 6 green, and about 3 or 4 greys. When assaulting a big city, you might fight 1/3rd that and it is incredibly tough! I’d realised that by this point in the game we should have been somewhere between level 7 and 10, and we were actually level 5. The problem seemed to me that the scenario had too many country-side tiles which don’t grant enough experience.

My fears never came to fruition, though. We got down to the last tile. We knew it was the city. We decided that we had better use Space Bending exclusively to explore a tile so we would find the city near us and Volkare wouldn’t find it before us.

Unfortunately, despite picking quite high tactics, Volkare pulled the #1 round position, went first, pulled the exact card needed to move and revealed the last tile. This put him adjacent to the city and us on the other side of the map. He moved in next turn and it was game over.

On one hand, I was sort of relieved. The game had been going for 6 hours (barring a break for food) and probably would have taken another 1.5hrs to finish off if we’d revealed the city.

This brings me to Mage Knight’s problems. Gee it takes a long time. I saw a forum post on Boardgamegeek of someone exclaiming that Lost Legion took 5 – yes 5 – hours. I shrugged and thought to myself: “Our typical Mage Knight games take 8…” I’m sure we could speed them up a little, but I don’t see any way to shave 4 hours off to make it more acceptable. We love the game though, so we just set aside a day to play it. It doesn’t get played as much as it should, though (who has a day free to spend on a game?)

This could be a result of not quite being able to juggle all the rules – which is Mage Knight’s other major problem. The rule books are horrendous. Their structure is only passable as a first read-through. Trying to later refer to rules is pointless. They’re often in the totally wrong section. For example:
The game has turns and rounds. You have several turns to 1 round. I wanted to know the sequence of actions required to end a round. You might think there’d be a section on “rounds” that outlines the structure of a round and what to do when one ends. Nope.

You might think because the end-of-round is the last thing that happens (before we start from the top and do it all again) that it’d be at the end of the rules – just prior to special scenarios and appendices. Nope. Do you want to know where it is? I have no idea. I just went to look so I could tell you and I seriously couldn’t find it.

The thing is: I know what to do at the end of round, because I read it somewhere. The rules are really quite intuitive, so the rules are easy to remember, but if you need to know some niggly detail – do you put the spells at the bottom of the pile, or discard them when refreshing the offer? – good luck finding it.

Alas, Lost Legion followed the exact same pattern for rules structure. I had got all the Mage Knight rules down so I didn’t have to refer to the book any more… with Lost Legion I had to refer to it a couple times and woe betide the poor soul that dives into those books seeking answers.

Xmas Board Games

I went out to visit the family for Xmas (we have ours a few weeks early to get around conflicts on the day itself.) As I have done so the last couple of years, I took a few games out with me.

The Resistance has always been popular, but this year I took out The Resistance: Avalon. For guys and girls who don’t game much, the whole class-based system got a little confusing at times, but by the end of the weekend we had it all worked out. I was keen to try out the classes thing – I thought it actually sounded more fun than plot cards. After giving it a red-hot go, I’m not sure if I actually like it better. It’s nice for something different, but I wouldn’t say better. I think mixing it up is the key.

I also took out Fury of Dracula. One of my favourites. I thought it might work well, because one side is co-operative, so all I had to do was put the relative that was best at picking up the rules in Dracula’s seat, and have all the other players working together against them. Or, alternatively, get an experienced player (like my brother) to play as Dracula, while a bunch of relatives and I play as the hunters. The big problem with this game was its length – it’s honestly 2-4 hrs long, and although very good it’s hard to convince people to play. To my surprise, I did get a game in the first night and my little 11-year-old niece stabbed Dracula (my experienced brother) twice in the heart killing him and winning the game for us. She wanted to play again after that, but we just didn’t have the time.

The big success was City of Horror. This is no surprise – it’s a fantastic game. It’s not quite as easy to understand as some games (even a complex game like Mage Knight has more intuitive rules and easy-to-grasp mechanics) but after one game you get the hang of it and it all comes together for a great social game. The teenagers/early 20s loved it and were online looking to shop for their own version straight after that first game. I wasn’t sure people were really “getting it” so I was a bit surprised. The second game played out like a proper game of CoH, though, with lots of wheeling and dealing going on, so I guess people got into the swing of things.

Well, the actual point of this post was supposed to be to give a list of games stores to get these games from. I got three separate requests from family members, so I thought I’d post here as well. If my family visits my blog, they’ll get an updated list too, since I think I might have left a couple off.

These are my go-to stores in Australia. You have a much better selection getting things from the US or, in a pinch, the UK, but the shipping is extremely painful. By getting it from an Australian store you usually get it for about the same price (once you include overseas shipping), but much faster.

I got most of my information from this old Board Game Geek thread: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/47360/2009-online-australian-retailers-list-price-compa. Unfortunately, much of the information there is now dated, but I was still able to get a few nuggets from it.

http://allaboutgames.com.au/

http://www.fastbreak.com.au/

http://unhalfbricking.com/

http://www.milsims.com.au/

http://www.gamesparadise.com.au/

All sites I have bought from at one point or another. For me, it’s less about price and more to do with stock. It can sometimes be hard to track down a great game I’ve heard about and get it for less than $50US + $50US shipping. In Fury of Dracula’s case, I just happened to walk into a cosplay store a few suburbs from my house and saw it on the wall. I had searched everywhere online for that game and just couldn’t find it, so I was pretty chuffed.

If you have any other stores I might be missing (I’m sure I am) please let me know in the comments.

Board Games + Water = Sad Games Pusher

Over the weekend we had a water main burst under the main bathroom sink. We were out at the time, and the bathroom is on the second floor.

By the time we got home, the entirety of the top floor had an inch of water over it, and the ceiling between the two floors had partly collapsed. Where it had not collapsed, the water was cascading like a theatre production of Singing in the Rain.

Unfortunately for me, my games collection lived on that bookcase. I’ll show you what I mean:

PANO_20131110_125342

That waterfall must have been going for a solid 2 hours, we estimate, so the boxes were not in good shape. Most were so soggy they were hard to remove without them turning to mush in my hands.

Battlestar Galactica (and all expansions), Resistance, and Space Alert all dodged the damage by virtue of not being unpacked from my last games session. Yay for laziness!

I didn’t have the heart to open the boxes. My brother and old housemates came around to help so I gave them my boxes to see if they could salvage anything. They texted me later to say “90% inside the boxes was OK” – so perhaps it is just the boxes themselves that are destroyed.

One can only hope.

If the Show’s Characters Had This Luck…

There would have been only one season of Battlestar Galactica.

A group of 4 of us (1 Cylon, 2 Humans, 1 Cylon Leader) were playing the new Daybreak expansion. Things did not go well for the humans:

Do you see what I’m seeing? THREE distance-1 jumps. Our Admiral was NOT a Cylon (the Cylon having revealed reasonably early so we also KNEW the Admiral wasn’t a Cylon.) This means (and he confirmed at the end of the game) that the Admiral was presented with 2 distance-1 options THREE TIMES out of 4 jumps.

What chance do we have with draws like that? I would have never thought this would be a possibility (maybe only distance-1 options ONCE, but 3 times!?)

If the Cylon wasn’t already revealed there would have been NOTHING the Admiral could have said to prevent being brigged. Sigh. Damn luck.