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Sizing up a tabletop giant


Sizing up a tabletop giant

Before there was Gloomhaven, there was Mage Knight. Vlaada Chvátil’s 2011 fantasy conquest game wasn’t a legacy title, nor was it strictly a co-op (though co-op play rules were included). But with its modular hex map, hero miniatures, action-card system and emphasis on granular, every-little-decision-counts strategy, it was an inspiration for Isaac Childres’ hit game.

Now, eight years after its debut, it’s back and bigger than ever. Literally. It’s been repackaged with its three expansions (The Lost Legion, Krang and Shades of Tezla) in an Ultimate Edition box that is annoyingly far too chunky to fit in your Kallax shelves. Including everything but the Atlantean kitchen sink, it’s an impressive relaunch. But how does it bear up in this post-Gloomhaven world?

The short answer is: extremely well. Of course, Mage Knight: Ultimate Edition won’t win back any detractors. The rules remain just as complex and chewy to digest, while the game itself is brutally difficult. Combining deckbuilding, exploration, conquest and very light RPG elements, it gives each character their own ‘deed’ deck, from which they must play cards with the utmost of care and a crystal-clear focus on good planning. Those cards oTher a basic action (Move 2, Block 2, Attack 2 and so on) and a stronger action that requires a once-per-turn mana boost of the correct mana type, drawn from a source of regularly re-rolled dice. Any card can add one to the strength of any action if played sideways, but this is often suboptimal. As is wandering aimlessly, or even curiously, around the board. As is getting wounded, each wound putting a useless, non-discardable card into your hand. As is anything else which in any way impairs your ever-crucial play tempo. Start lagging and the game is lost.

For some, it might feel overly mechanical, a little soulless. It doesn’t help that the story is scant and your characters, while represented by colourful pre-painted miniatures, are blanks. It’s all about the nitty-gritty of your choices each turn, and it requires a lot of thought. If played with others who are still learning its knotty ropes, the downtime can become crippling. But, as with Gloomhaven, once you and your fellow players click with its mechanisms and the game flow smooths, it will become one of the most satisfying tabletop experiences you’ve ever had.

That is why Mage Knight is worth the attention of newcomers. There is an undeniable thrill to powering your Norowas or Goldyx around the Atlantean Empire with smart cardplay choices, often via combos which you didn’t realise were there at the start of your turn, but emerge as you begin laying those deed cards down.

It is puzzley in the best way possible – absorbing rather than frustrating – which is also why it’s an amazing solo game. So much so, some Mage Knight fans prefer it as a solitaire experience. It is certainly one of the best out there and, despite its complexity and numerous components, has a blessedly quick setup time, too. On that front at the very least, it has Gloomhaven beat.



It’s a tough, complex, some might say merciless game. But lock into it and it will blow you away like a strength-eight siege attack.


► Fame and reputation board

► Day and night board

► 26 hex map tiles

► 204 deed cards

► 56 unit cards

► Seven hero cards

► 14 skill description cards

► 12 tactics cards

► 54 wound cards

► 23 site description cards

► Four city cards

► Factions card

► Scoring card

► Four castle miniatures

► Seven hero miniatures

► Volkare miniature

► Eight mana dice

► 68 mana gems

► 42 skill tokens

► 140 shield tokens

► Eight turn order tokens

► 145 enemy tokens

► 15 ruins tokens

► Volkare clix dial

► Volkare token

► Two avatar tokens

► Necropolis token

► Hidden valley token

► Five graveyard tokens


If Isaac Childres’ combination of cardplay and miniatures battles won you over, get stuck in with one of the games that inspired him.

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About The Best Games of 2019

Must Plays and more in our Best Games of 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Over the next 196 pages discover all of the most positively reviewed games of the year. With a massive 181 games reviewed, this is the definitive “what to play next” guide of 2019! Games reviewed include: Wingspan Copenhagen Hellboy: The Board Game Res Arcana Lifeform Century: A New World Megacity: Oceania Pandemic: Fall of Rome Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Rough Nights & Hard Days Azul: Stained Glass of Sinatra Tapestry Letter Jam Hako Onna Everdell Battle Ravens Dune + Many more!

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