The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Too Many Words about Mage Knight (part II)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. (The first article has my typical caveats).

First, a comment on the first article, D. F. says “it’s all about the level ups,” (in reference to the Shades of Tezla expansion). I don’t disagree, but —  I think “it’s all about the first level up.” You certainly want to get level five (for the sweet hand size bonus) eventually, but I’ve had very good games where I sat at level two for a long time then jumped up, and very bad games where I hit level 5 quickly. But typically yes, your power is tied to your level (even getting better followers tends to require power ups, and getting artifacts will naturally increase your level).

D.F.’s point that Tezla makes the timing much more chaotic is absolutely correct. My comment is more of a nit.

Some General Point I Missed in the Previous Document

I know I stated not to worry about taking wounds, but even after playing so many games I am personally still too cautious. I’ve been experimenting with new styles as I write this (see, for example, my latest session report) and reading other session reports and PBFs it became clear — still too cautious.

This affects my comment about tranquility. Earlier I said (in regards to drawing tranquility) “If you just have a single wound, well, that’s not likely. If you have lots of wounds, that’s its own issue.” But if you have, say, 4 wounds then when you draw tranquility you’ll probably get rid of a wound or two, and if you draw them all in the same hand, you rest. The problem with wounding a follower: yes, your tranquility will always have a target, but you can’t use your follower. Followers (like skills) are always “in your hand,” so a wounded follower is always “in your hand.” I’ve been experimenting with wounding followers much less (unless I know I am going to drop them) and it’s paying off. (Obviously I wound any followers I intend to dump soon in preference to taking a wound).

So I’m rushing more. Moving slightly farther than convenient; attacking with less in reserve. Offensive à outrance. The result? A solid improvement of my scores.

Anyway, more specific notes:

Ruins — I also forgot the Ruins! These are sort of super-spawning grounds with some combination of monsters for some combination of rewards, plus the ruins that let turn 3 identical mana (or one of all four) for seven (ten) points. If one of the five ‘mana-ruins’ show up in the first opening that’s likely a good game. There’s only so much murder you can do Roune One, but you can often scrounge 3 identical mana (using Mana Draw, Crystalize, Concentration and possibly the Mana Steal tactic or a magical glade) and still murder quite a lot (leveling up helps). Pretty much all my games of hitting level four before nightfall involve mana-ruins.

The other ruins are tempting targets (mostly), but best avoid early dragons. (The follower gaining ruin are much better late game).

Early Followers

In most games, the guideline for early followers matches everything else — take what you can. You’ll spend time for followers, and sometimes the choice is obvious because there are only towns (or only keeps) the direction you are going, and there’s only one matching unit.

When you have only one choice, it’s probably the best one. It could be worse, sometimes everyone is hanging out at the undiscovered monastery. That being said:

For the early (Level I/II) followers, I’m a sucker for the Foresters. Movement 2 (really three, because they’ll reduce costs for forests and hills) and Level I means you can heal them with tranquility without spending mana (or heal them + a wound from your hand spending a mana). (And at four body, they can often eat a wound that would cost you two wounds).

5 Influence is only a powered Threaten (or Improvisation or Influence + 1 card). The advantage of an early follower is the ability to soak up a wound or two, and these guys are great. You can use them to move then take a wound, or block one attack and eat another. You’ll probably abandon them late game, but hopefully that’s true of all units.

They have no attack, you say.

Early on, rarely a problem. You may have to stretch to get to attack 7 or 8 (for Guardsmen or Golems) but most of the time you can do it if you have 5 cards (assuming they include a rage or improvisation, and if they are all movement, perhaps attacking wasn’t a great idea? Brown units tend to require more attack, but typically (except at spawning grounds or when facing Orc Summoners) you can’t use units against them anyway, and in those cases bonus move you can use is better than attack/block you can’t.

Late game you absolutely want attacking units. Those let you attack Volkare/City, spend your hand blocking or range attacking and you still dish out damage even if you lose your hand. You may still block with some units (particularly to save your hand). Blocking also lets you block and then soak a wound or two…double duty. But units w/attacks offer the option to just soak 6+ wounds or eat a paralyzing attack.

But these guys can last a long time. And if you pick up the Banner of Fear (spend a unit to cancel an attack) they work as good as anyone.

For cheaper follower (3-5 influence):

Peasants — Flexible, you can get them and later spend them for influence. Fine.

Herbalists — More to get a green token and then eat a wound, in my book. I liked these quite a lot when I started out, but now I pick up Herbalists when I have nothing better.

Thugs — Often taken since they ‘reverse the polarity’ of reputation (for the entire turn you buy them). Thugs can attack, block or influence (with some rep penalties) but their inability to soak a wound unless you spend influence is a significant downside. (That, and they often finish your death spiral of reputation by use). Still, you take them when you’ve been torching the landscape. Ideally you take them and a powerful keep unit at the same time.

Scouts — Siege/Ranged attack 1 isn’t too useful (unless you’ve already got some). I mainly use these guys once to peek at the next purple/brown token or to explore far away (and move). Those abilities are nice.

Utem Guardsman — Let’s compare to a Forester. Block 4 isn’t much better than Block 3 (although doubling vs swiftness is nice). Attack 2 versus movement … early on I typically want the movement. The Guardsman can soak up to 5 damage instead of four, but then takes two heals to heal (as he’s level two).

The followers that cost 6 (or 7) require a serious investment, at least two cards + mana (unless you have a decent reputation … which can happen even on the first day, but often not). But they are good.

Utem Crossbowmen — Ranged Attack 2 (when it helps) effectively gives you a bonus Concentration to your swiftness, and attack/block 3 is significant.

Utem Swordsman — The ability to attack/block 3 or attack/block 6 (at the cost of wounding the swordsman) is powerful. Yes, that means they are one-shots. Consider these guys barely sentient hand grenades, and if you get more than one use out of them, great!

Shocktroops — Terrible, except that the ability to lower an attack by 3 (and redirect it to the troops themselves) is great against many late game enemies — swift, cold fire, assassinating attacks and the like. These can save your bacon against Delphana Masters (5 Cold Fire Assassinating + Paralyzing), Storm Dragons (Ice 4 Swift with 7 points of Elusiveness. Cancel 7 points of armor with 4 points of block instead of 16!). Shocktroops are insurance (unless you have lots of ranged attack units, at which point their ‘bump all ranged attacks by one’ is OK). The issue is, you don’t know ahead of time what you’ll need.

Magic Familiars — Recruiting Familiars is not interaction, so negative rep (even X) is fine. But the price is hefty — mana (in addition to getting to 6 influence). If you recruit them from a glade during the day, the site will provide the mana assuming you started there. You buy a lot of flexibility. Don’t be afraid to use one of the non-boosted powers, as long as it’s the right time. (Don’t be afraid to buy them even if you have to boost the wrong power). Still, you’ll want a decent mana supply, or just plan on recruiting, using, wounding, and then discarding at the start of the next round before you have to re-up your contract.

Illusionists — Influence is fine, white crystals means if you don’t use them earlier you can always get some benefit. A low armor, but physically resistant means that they can absorb some strikes from Golems or Heroes (saving you a block), but their real ability is to spend a white many to prevent an unfortified enemy from attacking. Respectable late game units against Volkare, they can shut down a white (city) or red (dragon) token.

Guardian Golems — Armor 3 and Physical resistance means that Golems bounce one attack per round. That’s their job. Block/Attack 2 is a bonus. Being able to spend a mana for Fire/Ice Block 4 is a bigger bonus. But ‘bouncing one attack’ is not to be discounted. (Particularly against Volkare, who will have a number of Orc and Keep tokens ….)

Foo Monks — At 7 influence, OK not great. Attack/Block 3 or spend a mana for Fire/Ice/Siege attack (or fire/ice block) four. In Solo Conquest, Siege is by far the best version. Not an early game purchase, but often bought towards the end game when the advanced units are ‘wrong.’ (Monasteries don’t have many recruitment potential, so if that’s where you are, you often get a monk by default.

The Second Follower Deck and the Late Game

Early on, focus on the first level up and acquiring power.  Most paths are fine, assuming you don’t completely overspecialize and neglect multiple components. Later, get more selective. Hitting a random Green token for 2-4 points is typically an orgy of waste (unless you need to clear a path). Once you hit level five, you could try to focus on points to level up. But it’s more efficient (power-wise) to grab better followers or spells or artifacts. After all, your first skill + Advanced Action took three fame. Late game you need 20+.

What you want in the late game depends (somewhat) on the scenario you face.

Playing Solo Conquest (“Conquer two cities”), you’ll face ~3 units in your first city and ~4 units in your second (with typical levels). With few exceptions these units will be fortified.

Playing Volkare’s Return (“Conquer a city and defend it against Volkare”) you’ll face ~3 units in the only city, and then face ~6-11 units in Volkare’s army. These won’t be fortified. (If you are playing Volkare’s camp as a possible city on Solo Conquest, then you’ll have less certainty in conquest).

Similarly if you are playing Volkare’s Quest (“Kill Volkare before he gets to the portal,”) I typically never even get to the city, since it’s at least four tiles away and you have to double back to fight Volkare. (IMO, the hardest of the solitaire scenarios. I lose more often than win at Medium/Medium settings).

In Solo Conquest units with ranged attack aren’t great. You have to block (with your hand) and keep the unit undamaged until the regular attack phase. You’d prefer heavier punching non-ranged attacks (or even just block). Siege attacks are golden. Killing units first saves you from blocking and you can have your now-spent unit eat a wound or two, if necessary.

Versus Volkare, prefer ranged attacks (which tend to be bigger or fire/ice to avoid physical resistances). There will likely be some fortified units, but if your arrows blot out the sun you can pick up the stragglers later. (And Orc Diggers aren’t a huge threat).

Against cities, take units that siege, or block / punch. Against Volkare, take ranged attacks.

This doesn’t just apply to followers, but also to spells and advanced actions. You are always constrained by what is available, but playing Solo Conquest after your first city snap up any Catapults, because those will be useful. Amotep Freezers (with attack/block five, or cancelling attack and lowering armor) are more useful than ranged attack. Against Volkare the Freezers aren’t bad, but if you can kill a unit with Ranged attack, you don’t need to block. Prefer the white (ranged) Heroes, or perhaps Sorcerers (with their ability to cancel resistances).

The grand daddy unit in both campaigns are Altem Mages, with their “spend a black Mana to turn all your attacks into siege attacks.” You turn Rage and Improvisation and +2 attack skills into sieges. If you play against cities at exceptionally high levels (or Megapolis), then you’ll want some trick like this. As others have pointed out on BGG, some tricks do not scale, but a few do.

Level III/IV units often posses some resistances, these work as pseudo-block. A unit that ‘bounces’ an enemy token is helpful if it takes you multiple attacks to finish off an enemy.

Beyond that, you get what you can.

The late game is also all about Synergy. If you have Bow of Stardawn (which provides ranged attacks or doubles existing ranged attacks and/or make them seige) then Ranged attack units are good, and Expose (always a good spell) becomes amazing. And if you have ranged attack units, Into the Fire (give your units +2/+3 attack/block, at the cost of not being able to declare them as damage targets) is great.  But if your units are mainly there for physical resistances, Into the Fire is a dead card, you can’t declare them even if they would be undamaged). So, as much as possible, synergize.

But you often don’t have much choice.

Hidden Enemies

If you know what you face, you know if you can defeat it or not (or if you may have to spend your Motivation skill to draw a few more cards). Against Cities you’ll see what you face when you step up next to them. Ditto Keeps/Mage Towers during the day. It’s more important to focus on the tokens you can’t see, and early on that means

Brown (Monster) tokens

If you are level one, you can still go into a dungeon or monster den. Typically the worst case to see there are Medusa (6 paralysing attack) or Minotaur (5 Brutal attack, which is enough to knock out a Level 1 or 2 mage knight). Unless you draw one of those, if you have Rage + a few cards (and red mana) you can eat 2-4 wounds and dish out retribution. Those two you have to block. Unless you have Concentrate + Swiftness. In which case you hope to draw them and not the Crypt Worm (fortified 6 armor) or Gargoyle (4 physical resistance) or Shadow (4 Armor + 4 Elusive).

If you have 8 attack you can handle a random brown, but when you draw Medusa/Minotaur abandon your plan to save your hand. That’s not disaster, but it does slow you down. (The rewards are good enough that if you do that and then attack again and win, you are often in a reasonable position). If you are in a Labyrinth maze you can adjust what you are going for to keep cards in your hand (and presumably have a follower to help block/eat wounds).

One reason I dislike the Tesla expansion — the new brown tokens now have a few super kickers, where 10+ damage is necessary to kill them, (even worse specifically block 5 + attack 5 against the Vampire, or a ridiculous attack 13). When crunching the numbers Lost Legion made brown tokens a bit more palatable to early characters (only Shadow required 8 damage to kill, but at least you only took two wounds) and perhaps Tesla is just rectifying this. But it’s a real pain that the tokens are a different size and not just color, so I can’t draw from a bag. Perhaps I should make a deck of cards for the tokens. Hm…

Tezla adds a lot of variety in tokens, there will always be a lot you can’t handle, unless you have a super flexibly hand and mana pool.

Purple (Magical Defenders) Tokens

These are the …. guys … you face when you go after a Monastery or Mage Tower. Again, a starting character can usually take these out if you are willing to eat a few wounds). And again there are two tokens that will typically require blocking … the Magical Familiars (two different 3 attacks, each brutal) and Ice Golems (2 cold paralyzing, and also physical resistance). So the Ice Golem is the token to watch for. Unless you happen to have fire attack or fire block, you’ll need 4 block then 8 attack to deal with this. Thankfully, there’s only one. The Illusionist also summons a brown token, so it has all the considerations. But again — 8 attack is usually enough.

And remember — you can use followers against Mage Towers (and see the token early, during the day), but they are fortified. Monasteries aren’t — they showed you hospitality, you monster! — but your units won’t help. Also of note for Purple are Sorcerers, which are immune to magic, six armor (so no concentration + swiftness without a boost) and poison. Three wounds + three in the discard gets to the point where I consider just blocking and failing. (Depends on who I am, what spell is in the display if I’m attacking  a mage tower, etc).

Red (Draconum) Tokens

As Rampagers, you always see these guys coming. But when Lost Legion came out, people stopped going into Tombs. In general, you always had to be careful … because the Ice Dragon (6 Cold Paralyzing + 7 Armor with cold + physical resistance) meant you either needed a massive hand to deal with them, or a spell. (Like, Destroy Target Enemy). You drew a dragon and destroyed it. Or you used your Illusionist to pacify that rampaging dragon.

But the Summoner Dragon … oof. Magical resistant (do, no disintegrating or destroying them) and 8 physically resistant and summons two brown tokens, which can ruin your day.  Even for high level characters, having to block a medusa may leave you short of the sixteen(!) damage required.

The Storm Dragon also ruins picnics. And (like the white token Altem Guardians) you can find yourself short of the 14 attack necessary. Tokens like those require a cauldron of whup-ass to kill, unless you have the right combination of fire block or ranged fire/ice attack or an insta-death spell.


Written by taogaming

June 6, 2016 at 4:40 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks for the articles, Brian. Great stuff. I’m in the midst of one of my intermittent “all MK all the time” campaigns, so good timing.

    I don’t find the Tezla stuff so crazy overall, but I agree that Vampire is screwy. Faction Tokens are generally (in some situations, significantly) better than 1 Fame. So if you call them 1.5 Fame, then a Vampire is “really” worth 5.5 Fame. But for the Vampire specifically, I don’t like the Elusive/Vampiric ability blend, regardless of the numbers.

    Jon Waddington

    June 8, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    • “All MK all the time,” yeah. My last thirty days have seen a lot of MK.


      June 9, 2016 at 7:55 pm

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