I have problems with Mage Knight. The rules are a mess. The ‘rulebook’ assumes you already know the rules from the Walkthrough; sometimes finding a clarification to something I vaguely know takes 10-15 minutes. The player aid cards, being double sided with different information, are helpful but require finding the right side.
But my main problem with Mage Knight is fixed fun. Sure, with two players I spend some downtime planning my next turn. But add a 3rd player and its thumbs a twiddlin’.
For me this is a solo game.
Because, at it’s heart, Mage Knight poses a delicious puzzle. Even a single turn can be a challenge. “I want to go kill the Orcs. I have five cards in my hand. I have some mana available in the source, but I can only use one of those (You spend mana to get the ‘advanced’ action on a card). Additionally, any card can be used as any of the four basic actions (Move, Influence, Block, Attack). So each card has six possible uses. Hm. Spend the mana to move four, then do this? Spend no mana to move, but use a move 2 and a spare card, then attack using the red mana to improvise?”
Now try to figure out what your plans are for the full day (~3-6 turns), or the next few days. (“Should I accept a wound to do this now, or delay and hope to win cleanly next turn?” …. “Should I risk assaulting an unknown fort and hope I don’t encounter the golem?”) It’s a challenge.
The chrome works. Mage Knight lacks the purity of some of Vlaadi’s designs, but there’s meat on these bones. It’s an expensive box, but it’s packed.
Compare this to a solo game like Friday. You play Friday in 10-20 minutes. It is a challenge, but it gives up secrets after a few plays. After three plays of MK (call it 10 hours, although only one was solo) I’m just starting. I’m struggling to get a grip on the solo conquest scenario; I barely conquered the first (easier) city in time, not even discovering the second.
That’s an evening of solo gaming. Constantly engaged; an engrossing 2-3 hours. Sure, it’s anti-social. But it’s complex. Merciless. Engaging. And building up a narrative.
I doubt I’ll put Mage Knight into the bag; but I’m glad I got it.
Rating — Suggest (Solo) to Indifferent (4 players).