Mage Wars is the game of dueling wizards that makes Magic: The Gathering look simplistic
The name “Mage Wars” makes one imagine Gandalf battling Voldemort while doing backflips over a flaming chasm.
Mage Wars may not feature the Neville Longbottom vs Rasputin deathmatch you've always wanted to see, but it does feature one-on-one duels between wizarding archetypes like the Beastmaster, Warlock and Priestess.
Magic, but better
Mage Wars is a game about making Magic: The Gathering even better, from a certain point of view. This game takes the essence of Magic, but strips it of all the luck-based elements and makes it significantly more complex by adding a grid-based board where all the dueling takes place. It's a card battling game mixed with turn-based strategy.
The game comes with a huge variety of cards for you to build into your mage's spell deck. It's meant to feel like a collectible card game, but without all the expense of having to buy booster packs and hunt down rare cards. Every card in Mage Wars is included in the box you purchase. You then choose from those cards to build your personal deck. The game comes pre-packaged with starter decks for each mage.
However, your deck is handled quite differently than in other CCGs in that there is no random draw system. Mage Wars allows you to view all your cards from a spell book and play whatever you'd like, as long as you have the manna, rather than pulling a card at random from the top of your deck.
The spell book, by the way, is literally a book filled with your spells. The game comes with two books full of empty card sleeves so you can flip through your book of spells like an old-timey wizard while you play the game while concealing your spells from your opponent. There's really no understating how much more fun this small touch makes the game. It's like a tiny bit of cosplay.
The addition of a spell book that lets you play any card you'd like already ratchets up the complexity of this game over other similar card battling games. On one hand, its great to no longer be at the mercy of luck, praying you'll draw the perfect card. On the other hand, the game is more complex for having to figure out exactly which card of your 30+ card deck is the best to play in any given situation.
That's only the start of it, though. Your mage and the creatures you summon do battle on a grid-based board that represents the arena in which the mages are dueling. Each creature is essentially its own character with movement speed, health, and in some cases even its own regenerating mana stockpile. Winning at Mage Wars is about more than just casting the right spells, it's also about moving your private army of beasts and demons around the board and out-maneuvering your opponent.
The whole game is extremely complex, especially when you take into consideration that all of this isn't happening in a vacuum; all the while you're also being hunted and thwarted by the opposing mage.
But it's worth the time to study the game and get to know its intricacies. Mage Wars' systems seem designed to remove all of the esoteric elements of traditional collectible card games, and replace them with systems that are easier to understand while being deeper and more difficult to master.
The process of learning the game is a bit brutal. The somewhat luck-based drawing of Magic: The Gathering means that newer players can occasionally hold their own against the person who is teaching them the game simply by drawing an amazing opening hand. In my experience, that's part of what makes Magic so appealing. Once you get a taste of beating down an opponent, you're addicted.
Mage Wars doesn't have that. The whole experience is strategy, apart from the dice rolls that are used to calculate damage. If your opponent is better than you, they're going to win, and that's pretty much all there is to it. This is amazing for board game veterans who crave a strategic experience that tests their intellect, but it's also pretty bad for relative neophytes who are trying to learn the game. The game's website has many tutorial videos made to introduce you to those mechanics and help ease you through the learning curve, but there's still a lot to learn beyond that.
Mage Wars seems great for those who are willing to put in the hours to understand its vast complexities, but you might want to try this out first at a board game shop to see if you're interested enough to make the time investment.