Our ‘First Play’ guides describe the experiences of relatively experienced board gamers playing a new game for the first time. As such, they don’t include in-depth thoughts on strategy, depth or reliability.
In Mage Wars Academy two players will battle to the bitter end in an arcane filled magical extravaganza.
During the game setup phase each player builds their deck of cards and places them inside of a plastic sleeved spell book; making sure they balance powerful spells with affordable actions.
Once battle commences, each player can play any of the spells they can afford using their mana points, one after the other, with the ultimate goal of destroying your opponent’s mages health and reducing them down to nothing more than so much magical dust.
Setup of Mage Wars is built around reading the available spell and once you pick your ‘hand’ you simply need to slot it into the plastic card holder book and then you’re ready to play. The manual does provide a beginner’s guide to what spells you should add to your spell book so you can be up and playing within minutes, while experienced players can deck build to their hearts content with a provided cards. The additional components are kept aside in a pile, easily accessible by all players.
We as usual decided to watch a YouTube video on the game – Arcane Wonders, the publisher of Mage Wars Academy has created a series of well-produced useful tutorial videos that got us off the ground within about 10 minutes. We stopped watching after the main setup section, and moved over to jumping in with the rule book.
Like a lot of card games, the actual mechanics are not complex but the learning curve is in understanding all the different cards and the actions they take. There were several times during the game that the rules didn’t make certain actions easy to understand and we had to resort to Google – but outside of those occasions a glossary of terms did greatly help. We could always find the section of the rules, it just didn’t always help explain our exact situation.
A slight bit of confusion does arise from the fact the cards are the same format as another Mage Wars game – Mage Wars Arena. They understandably wanted to keep the cards compatible with each other, but some cards mention rules or information that isn’t applicable in the Academy game; this does slightly increase the learning curve as you’ll be taking in redundant rules.
The two characters included in the base game both have very different approaches to battle, with Rob’s Wizard being more focused on magical spells and mana and my own character, The Beast Master, being about conjuring animals to help.
I made several mistakes in which cards I choose to play at what times – including using a powerful healing spell that could heal all my beasts when I only had one. Because of the limited supply of these I quickly suffered losses and found my beasts being killed in quick succession. Robert however made a critical mistake in his mana management – spending a large amount to defend an inconsequential beast while not using his abilities to deny me mana. All to quickly I had enough to bring out the big guns, and he didn’t have enough to counter them - and by that point the battle had be sealed, and my victory - my sweet glorious victory - was inevitable.
I’ve never been into trying this type of card battle game – they’ve always seemed a bit pay to win for my liking, but Mage Wars Academy comes with more than enough for you to have a solid game; I didn’t at any point feel like I was playing a sample of a larger more complete product. The addition of having all the cards available to play at all times reduces one of the biggest issues I have with card drafting games, and that is the luck variable. By being able to select what to play when you’ll actively being able to make informed decisions about what strategy you want to put in place.
It felt like an actual battle and there was a sense of understanding where you made mistakes and what you could do better next time. The random element of the dice still produced at times some annoying results but the annoyance on one parties side was met with an equal amount of smug happiness on the other – in the end the luck of the dice balanced out at it was the strategic decisions that won and lost the game. Mage Wars Academy is a great fast paced card game that didn’t outstay it’s welcome. The final victor didn’t become apparent to early and til the bitter end victory was still in play. If this is what this type of game brings, then count me in for more… didn’t hurt that I won.
I had heard Mage Wars described as ‘funny’ before, and I agree I had both very happy and very angry moments playing this game. The pace of play is very quick and between spells, creatures, equipment and hidden cards the battlefield can totally change in a moment. The spell book mechanic is not only excellent thematically but also fun to play, though it does mean on this first game I had a lot of spells to read and become familiar with (hence why I uncharacteristically lost). - Rob Clarke