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Can someone scan Shades of Tezla Faction Token reference?

I played a Mage Knight game with the Shades of Tezla tokens, which we don’t normally use because:

  • They are different sizes
  • They add a lot of variability (much harder, less scoring etc)

And I discovered I appear to have lost the reference sheet for the bonus faction tokens. I posted a request (with GG bounty) at the geek.

Also, I published a quick note on BGG giving an example of the math of comparing lines of play at bridge.

Written by taogaming

October 19, 2019 at 10:24 pm

Posted in Bridge, Mage Knight

Tagged with

I’m pretty sure that the TaoLing is a better Mage Knight player than I am….

(at least, in co-op).

How quickly they grow up.

Update — Also, just passed 350 plays of MK. But to show that I am not totally washed up, one was a solitaire victory vs cities of 10 and 18.

Written by taogaming

November 6, 2017 at 10:27 pm

Posted in Mage Knight

Too Many Final Words about Mage Knight (Part VII — Miscellania)

This is blah blah blah. You know the drill.

So, random miscellaneous thoughts that I’ve had when playing way too much solitaire MK. First of all, I’ve been upping the power level a bit. I can now somewhat routinely win at 11/11 cities, and I’ve had a few wins at 11/16, but have not (yet) won at 11/22. Still, some things jump out at me.

Games where I load up on followers go much better. I think this may be unique at high levels, because you can so rarely keep your hand against a huge city. An army lets you block (and a few ranged/seige) and then still do great damage. At typical levels, you don’t need as much, but at higher levels you want Altem Mages (to make everything siege) or Disease or some combination of great spells, and you still want followers.

Don’t sit around. I’m guilty of this, mainly on the second night when my usual plan is to wait and build up Sparing Power (one card a turn) and then attack on the last turn. That’s not a bad plan, but it’s still better if you can sit on a glade or mine, and I suspect that taking a detour and killing a spare Mage Tower (etc) would be better, even if I had slightly fewer cards. You can take out an 11 city in one swoop, but its tough. For a bigger city you really need to attack it twice (towards the end of the final day, and then in the final evening).

Some open questions I’ve been mulling

How many wounds is too many for your first combat? You go to a nearby hidden target, reveal it, and have your choice, take X wounds and win, or throw everything and block. Where’s the breakpoint? I suppose it matters on what you were attacking on how likely your remaining hands will be useful. Sometimes you don’t have a choice (I’m looking at you, Werewolf … stupid swift attack seven) but even four wounds seems … feasible. You can take six from sorcerers (which don’t KO, since three are poisoned wounds) but that’s difficult to recover from. At that point, unless you are getting Cure / Disease (which I’m liking more and more) and you go sit on a glade for a turn, I’m not sure it’s worth it. Three wounds is totally acceptable.

Is motivation really a top skill? I find myself passing on this more often than my earlier strategy guides would imply. Its still good, but I think I may have over-rated it.

I’ve also been playing co-op with the TaoLing, and he seems obsessed with finding cards that give him more advanced actions (or spells). Training, Learning, Blood of the Ancients, Book of Wisdom. That kind of thing. Its not bad, but at some point it felt like a waste of time. But I noticed that he’s routinely outscoring me in many categories while doing it. As a counter-balance, he’s also much faster to pick up cards that discard cards permanently from his deck.

And he loves Time Bending and will go well out of his way to grab it whenever it shows up. Which — given that there are only something like 24 spells, is often.

Anyway, I think I’ll leave it here. 20k words seems like enough, for now.

The full “Too Many Words about Mage Knight” series:

  1. Introduction — General Concepts
  2. Part II — Followers and Enemies
  3. Spells
  4. Artifacts
  5. Advanced Actions
  6. Characters
  7. Miscellenia (this post)

Written by taogaming

October 1, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Too Many Words about Mage Knight (Part VI — Characters)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. The first article enumerates my typical caveats. This section covers character skills and improved starting cards. I’m not going to talk about competitive (“hose your neighbor”) skills; I play solo/co-op, but as of this writing I have gone 1/3rd of the way to a thousand games. I doubt I’ll ever make it, but 500 may still be in the cards….

General Notes

Mage Knight is a deck builder, But you cycle your deck ~5 times. Given a vast, random array of options you rarely build the same deck twice. Of small differences do histories diverge. A deck with spells and Crystal Mastery should not be played the same way as a deck with Into the Heat and Banners.

Character doesn’t control destiny, but affects it significantly. Your character provides two upgraded cards and the vast majority of your skills. You could choose to take another character’s skill when you level up, at the cost of having no choice of advanced action cards. If you were selecting the bottom Advanced Action card in any case, then there’s no cost to selecting another player’s discarded skill. In solo or two player game, that’s usually not great. But with 4 players, which the TaoLing and I sometimes do, then you’ll likely have an excellent skill choice from another player, unless this is your first level up.

The interesting decision is when the lowest AA card isn’t your preferred choice. In that case, I’ll still consider taking it for the skill under several circumstances:

  • If the skill reduces multiple rest turns into one, take it. The only exception? If the round is going to end anyway. But even then, consider it (because at that point you’re carrying enough wounds to need this again). If you are playing cooperative, sometimes the right play is to accept way too many wounds in order to kill some units to soften up a city / Volkare. In solo you can’t do that (well, perhaps once).
  • Ask the standard economics question — as opposed to what? Sure, the bottom AA may be your least favorite, but how big is the difference between it and your favorite option? Similarly, how big is the gap between one of your skills and the best opponent’s skill? Mind the gap. If it’s close, prefer your own skill because next time the gap may be bigger. (If you take an opponents skill now, that’s one less potential option for next time).

The skill common to all base characters is Motivation, and so deserves extra talk. Motivation lets you draw two cards (once per round) and gives you a mana token if you are at the lowest fame. Good news: in solo you are! Motivation offers two standard uses — bulking up your hand (and mana!) for a key turn and recovering from a big battle. Usually, the better choice is to take the big turn and use it to avoid suffering a loss big enough that you can only discard one wound. But (particularly against cities) that isn’t an option. In that case, use motivation the turn after you get knocked out to draw two cards and pitch one plus all the wounds you’ve got.

Motivation probably isn’t good enough to getting a second copy (the rare times that’s possible). You can’t use them on the same turn. You have to wait until the end of your next turn to do a second. Sometimes motivation doesn’t help in a round, but it often does. It lets you take risky plays like entering a dungeon when you can handle most things. If you get a reasonable draw, fine. If not, you can gamble that the next two cards may help you enough. Good early. Good late. If you already have massive hand size improvement you may consider passing on it, but you’d have reasonable games just selecting it all the time. A solid B, at least. But sometimes motivation fails you. You pays your money and takes your chances. That makes a reasonable choice, but not necessarily the best one. I think it falls in above average for all characters, and if you run a really heavy wound style, that may make it better.

Skills that provide attack (ranged or not) are good, although I’m more fond of attack two than siege one, because seige one only matters if its a break point, and if it isn’t you just have less attack later one.

For each character I’ll put their skills in rough order for the first level up choice. Late game will be more specific to your current needs.


Arythea has good cards. Battle Versitility — which replaces Rage — gives you 1 ranged attack as an option, and if you power it, you can choose from (ahem!) attack 4, block 4, fire attack 3, fire block 3, ranged attack 3 or siege attack 2. Versatile. With Lost Legion blocking with a powered Rage becomes useful; converting this to fire or a ranged attack is the typical usage. In any case, great.

Mana Pull’s basic ability to use a second die and to treat a black as any color (during the day) unlocks a stuck source die. The advanced ability to set two dice and get two different crystals is a nice boost past basic mana draw; but the basic version is quite good. As for the skills:

The Power of Pain — Play a wound sideways for 2 points? Yes, please. Your score goes down with wounds, but your ability goes up, way up. You may take the final city a turn or two faster, and that’s good. You have the option of not blocking a token to get a wound or two to finish it off. Then you worry about the wounds later. (Use a wound to get +2 to walk into a magical glade… done and done).

Dark Fire Magic — A red crystal and a red or black token is good. “Black on demand” is always welcome; this skill singlehandedly powers Fire Storm or Sacrifice or Flame Wave. Using the black for non-red spells is just as good. Even if there is black in the pool, sometimes you have two spells. And (during the day) you can get a red crystal while still powering something. Poor Goldyx, he got three Crystal + Token skills, none this good. If you don’t have any spells, then yes, this becomes mediocre, but red+red is still ok.

Hot Swordsmanship — Attack two or fire attack two is Ron Swanson. Kind of a big deal.

I won’t say the above skills are better that Motivation, but …. they are are great skills. And yes, probably better.

Dark Invocation — First of all, another way to get rid of wounds? Delightful. And it gives black mana!? Great. But the ability to chuck a card for green or white is also good (usually better than playing a card sideways).

Cooperative Skill — Healing two is good, and then the ability (on the next turn) to use a wound sideways for 3 points is also good. (And, if you have Power of Pain you can use two wounds sideways).  If you are playing an actual co-operative game (as compared to solo) this may be good to let go, just because other people will probably need more help dealing with wounds than you will.

Dark Paths — Movement is always fine.

Polarization — I rarely take this, although the ability to use gold as black (at night) and black as gold (during the day) means you’ll rarely got a locked source. In solo (three dice pool) that’s a big deal. But Athyrea already has two other ways to get black mana and Mana Pull to clean up the source during the day. This isn’t bad, just overkill.

Burning Power — Siege one is a weak skill, and Arythea has so many better combat skills (counting Power of Pain and black mana gaining as combat).

Dark Negotiations — Influence 2 (three at night) is good, not great. See Norowas’s Bright Negotiation for more details.

More than any other character, Arythea’s skills shine. Even the bad ones are solid. You can play it totally safe, but that’s not winning Mage Knight. You shouldn’t let your skills goad you into accepting excess wounds; but a few ar fine. Athyrea turns that negative around. Multiple skills that directly boost combat, excellent access to black mana, the ability to shrug off wounds, mana source unlocking, and versatility. When I increased the city levels to (11/16), I struggled mightily with Goldyx  game after game, then cruised with Arythea. Perhaps I got lucky. It may be she is suited to my style of play. But one character has to be best — I think it is her.


Goldyx two cards are the whelming Crystal Joy and the excellent Will Focus. Will Focus improves Concentration — already great — by having the powered version pump up the follow-on card by three points instead of two. Given the nature of breakpoints, that means you have six ranged attack (instead of five), or whatnot. The unpowered version can get a green crystal (concentration can get tokens of any non-green color), which means on the off chance you don’t find anything to do with your Will Focus, you get a crystal for next round.

By contrast, Crystal Joy is fine. The ability to crystalize over and over sounds great, but typically is only useful if you were already planning on spending a turn or two at a crystal mine (or magical glade) for other reasons. Crystal Joy makes some bad turns suck less, although the ability to chuck a wound with the advanced power is good. Sometimes its worth it to power it with a blue from your own crystals, just to toss a wound and get it back. Doing this when you attack a city and expect to get knocked out is great. Like a mini-motivation recovery.

Universal Power lets you use spend mana from the source for plus two (or maybe three) even when you don’t have a card that gives you what you need. Red mana turns attack two to attack four … if you hold rage. Universal Power turns <something> 1 to <something> 3 or 4, pretty much no matter what. The worst case is you play your rage sideways and a non-red mana for 3 attack instead of 2. For a long time I consider this wasteful, but Universal Power combines flexibility with might. If you already have the right mana and cards, this isn’t great but you don’t always have the right mana.

Flight is Goldyx’s signature skill. Bounce a space for free or two spaces for two points, and ignore rampaging. Simply great. Either this or Universal Power are worth considering instead of motivation, although your needs may very.

Cooperative Skill — Re-rolling a die in the source is ok. The cooperative part of crystalizing a second die is pretty good. So this is OK in solo, so-so in co-cop.

Glittering Fortune — 1-4 influence during interaction is fine (although you can’t use it during peaceful moment, etc).

Freezing Power — Siege 1 or Ice Siege 1 isn’t great. This would be the worst skill for many other characters (like Tovak), but Goldyx has a distinct lack of firepower, which turns this into a reasonable choice for him.

Colour* Crystal Craft — Gain a blue crystal and a token of the (non-blue) colour. [*Goldyx is British, obviously]. In general, the colour of the token matters more to me than how many blue cards I have, because you can save the crystal from turn to turn. It’s worth remembering that there are three of these, because its quite possible to get two of these the same level up.

Potion Making — Healing two is useful, see comments on Golden Grail. That being said, this isn’t a great skill to take. Crystal Joy already provides some wound amelioration, but if you find yourself wound heavy it’s reasonable. Still — I’d rather get something that helps me in the end game, and that is probably anything else.

Putting it all together, Goldyx has lots of ways of gaining mana and crystals, some movement, some healing, some influence. He lacks punch. Ironically, that kind of means that Freezing Power should be taken more than I suspect, because one (reusable) attack is better than nothing. You need to go out of your way to some attack as Goldyx, as a string of recent losses re-iterated.  Whereas the other three characters have a sharp glittering arsenal, Goldyx basically builds up a bankroll of extra movement, influence and mana. You need to turn that into something useful.


Norowas’s cards are Noble Manners and Rejuvenate. Noble Manners replaces influence and gives you a bonus to rep and fame. OK, not great. Rejuvenate (improved tranquility) adds the options to get you some green mana or  ready a unit (instead of just drawing cards or healing). Again, nice not great. Actually, the improved Rejuvenate’s ability to ready a level 3 unit is fairly powerful, but obviously a late game card.

Bonds of Loyalty — Arguably Norowas’s signature skill, and truly great. This gets you an extra follower slot and more choices (which could be picked off, but in a solo game not an issue) and a five discount. Yes, you can’t fire that person, but you can have them step in front of a paralyzing unit.

Inspiration — Heal or Ready a unit is big. Units are nice because they are always “in your hand,” even a lowly peasant is pretty good if you can use them twice. Yes, you can’t do this in combat, but taking an Utem Guardsman and having them block four, eat up to five points of attack, then heal them and have them eat another attack. That’s up to 14 points of attack you just ignored. Then you toss the unit away and repeat next round.

Those are the two that are better than Motivation.

Day Sharpshooting — 2 ranged during the day (1 at night) is pretty good. But it’s more often night than day (for final battles, underground, etc).

Foward March — Movement is nice, but this is variable (You get 0-3, based on readied units). This may let you fly across the board by midgame, but is highly conditional on your opening. If you can’t get an early peasant (etc), pass on this.

Cooperative skill — Lowering movement costs by two (to a minimum of one) can let you get through some nasty forests or swamps, and the secondary effect only lowers by one, but again to a minimum of one, so its always useful.

Leaves on the Wind / Whispers in the Treetops — Green Crystal + White token (or vice versa). OK, not great, typically taken if you are short on mana.

Bright Negotiation — 3 or 2 influence is again OK. You could get lucky and camp out in the green city and just take a free advanced action every turn, but honestly that’s not great unless you are tuning your hand anyway. If you really get lucky you’ll camp in the red city and get 2 Influence + 3 or 4 for city tokens + 3-4 for rep + a few a turn and get an artifact every turn. But for every game that happens Bright Negotiation turns out to be ok not great. Now, if you have heroes and have to pay to use them in an assault (a rule I just now realized I forget in my last game) then this comes in pretty hand. And influence does equal healing. So, a highly variable power one that can shine with the right setup but is mediocre otherwise.

Leadership — +1 Ranged or + 2 attack or +3 block each combat, with a follower. Awesome in theory, but in practice you only get to use this once or twice a round (even if you have 3-4 followers, because you often spend them all during a big attack in the endgame.

Norowas’s style of play is pretty obvious — followers. Some games he raises an army that makes the world tremble, but it does leave yourself open to getting a bad draw (especially in Solo Conquest where there are only 3 followers/round). He — more than other characters — suffers from feast or famine.


Tovak’s two cards are Cold Toughness and Instinct. Cold Toughness is improved Determination, and is a big deal. Ice Block 3 instead of Block 2 is nice, a point better block and against some opponents four points better. But the powered version of Ice Block 5, plus one per ability or color of attack allows Tovak to block damn near anything with one card and one mana, unless they have magic resistance (which turns off the +1/per) or swiftness. In the late game, this + a blue mana typically blocks the most annoying thing you face.

Instinct improves Improvisation by giving you the option of not discarding a second card (at the cost of that cards +1). Since you can always discard the card anyway, that’s nice. Sometimes you only need two or four points instead of three or five, or you don’t have a card, or you don’t want to waste a card. Early on, its not much of an improvement, but again in the late game you’ll appreciate the option of not discarding. As for Tovak’s skills:

Cold Swordsmanship — Attack 2 or Ice Attack 2, once per combat. Excellent. The problem with blocking is it doesn’t kill stuff. You don’t win wars by not dying, you win them by killin’. This or Motivation is Tovak’s best skill.

Double Time — Move 2 (1 at night). Remember, this list is for your first skill. On Day one, great, but this drops quickly.

Night Sharpshooting — Range 1 (2 at night).  In Solo Conquest, ranged isn’t great, but you’ll often want to take cities at night, so its still attack two then. Ranged 2 underground is useful. This is at least a half grade better than Norowas’s Day Sharpshooting.

Cooperative Skill — This gains black mana, or gains you a token and then later (in solo) a bonus.

Shield Mastery — A great early skill that commands some value in the late game. Block 3 (or Fire/Ice 2) lets you gamble a lot more on dungeons/tombs and multi-chit draws like Spawning ground.

I Feel No Pain — Turning a wound into a card will let you recover much faster (mostly). This can be a game saver, if you had to attack and got a bad draw or are just playing at insane levels of difficult. Even without that, it may improve your hand a little bit each turn.

I Don’t Give a Damn! — Once a turn play a card sideways for +2 instead of +1 (or +3 if its a non-basic card).  I have mixed feelings. A nice boost, but using a card sideways is not great. This goes up with hand size boosts and late game (where typically you’ll have extra movement and be short on block or attack, or even just spend a round at your city and turning cards into influence).

Resistance Break — Late game, this moves up. Early game, its not as worth it (remember, its only once per combat). Reducing fire/ice resistance is minor, since odds are you’ll have physical attack. Reducing physical resistance is great. For the end game this can effectively give you six attack, but in the early game its often zero or one.

Who Needs Magic? — Inferior to IDGaD, because want to use the source. Not using it is gaining +1 by giving up +2 (or a spell!)

Tovak’s many good battle skills dish out or block damage. Complement that with movement to reach the scenes of carnage you’re trying to cause (one reason I rate double time so highly for him. By comparison Wolfhawk already has movement …. so it would be marginal for her).


Swift Reflexes improves swiftness, and lets you play it (without mana) for ranged attack one, or reduces an enemy attack by 1 (2 if powered). Reducing an attack can function is slightly better block, since you can reduce a swift or ice attack. It can make the Storm Dragon’s 4 Ice/Swift attack blockable with a mere 8 regular block instead of 16. Tirelessness improves Stamina, but not by much. Adding one to your next move isn’t nearly as good as move 3, since to get any benefit you must spend another card. The advanced power adds one to every other card, so its possible to make it move 8. Wolfhawk likes Mazes, Tirelessness + any card is 6 movement.

Dueling — +1 Block and +1 attack isn’t bad (though they have to go the same enemy. A bonus fame (if you don’t use a unit against that enemy) is the icing on the cake.

Know Your Prey — I used to pass on this, because its once per round, but what an ability. Removing physical defense can save you 7+ attack. Removing fire or ice can let you target a spell.  Summoning is an ability. Know your prey is 5-6 “I am not left handed” moments. It’s a toss-up between this and dueling for best skill. These are both better than motivation, IMO, but Wolfhawk’s motivation gives some fame, which is intriguing.

Cooperative Skill — A card sidewise for 4 points (not for interaction) is not to be sneezed at. A bonus for each unassigned command token can be gross, but typically you want followers anway. Still, sometimes they get paralyzed away, and 4+ points of block or attack or move is not swiss cheese. The -1 attack and -1 armor secondary ability aint bad either.

Taunt — As discussed on the Swift Reflexes, lowering an attack is sometimes better than block because of swiftness or fire/ice. It also may let you just let it through for one less wound. Taunt also has the option to increase the attack and lower armor (after the ranged attack phase) which turns extra block into attack, or may just save you same attack (at the cost of a wound, or not).

Hawk Eyes — 1 Movement a turn is nice, and the bonus (exploring for one less at night, revealing from two tiles away during the day) are nice kickers.

Deadly Aim — Adding +1 ranged/siege or +2 attack to a card isn’t as good as just providing it — you need a card, but that does mean you can keep any modifiers (fire or ice).

On her Own — Influence 1, 3 if you don’t use it to buy a unit. A decidedly inferior influence skill.

Refreshing Bath / Refreshing Breeze — Get a blue (white) crystal and heal one. I’m not sure how I feel about this instead of a crystal and a token. I guess healing is slightly better on average, but the token can be huge with the right comination.

Wolfhawk has a fun style of play, and her skills provide some compensation if you don’t happen to get followers. Don’t fall into the trap of ignoring followers (they are almost always useful), but Wolfhawk suffers less from their absence. A dueling, prey-knowing Wolfhawk is a force to be reckoned with, but a city is still a city.


Savage Harvesting is  a march that lets you chuck a card to gain a mana (multiple times, if you pay for it). It is often useful in the first turn to get rid of an unwanted tranquility or influence. Ruthless Coercion ‘improves’ intimidation by adding influence and (when powered) the ability to ready spent units, but costing even more reputation. Krang often falls harder, faster down the reputation track. Note that you can influence away from a village/keep/etc and not deal with the reputation effects, so Krang can still coerce his followers, so long as their are no witnesses to restrain him.

Also note that Krang doesn’t have motivation!

Battle Frenzy — I won’t say I’d always take this and ignore the other skill, but it may be true. +2 attack, and +4 attack on your final battle each round (or if you are desperate) is great.

Master of Chaos — This does great things, but the timing is hard to control. You can get something every turn, and if what you want lines up with what you are doing, its great. Worth taking if you can see the next few turns and line up your starting position, and about once a round you can choose what you want. Not as good as Battle Frenzy, but probably the ‘signature’ of Krang.

Spirit Guides — 1 move and 1 block every turn. Solid.You may not use it either turn, but this is a good amount of both.

Puppet Master — Either take a token each combat or spend a token each combat for half attack or block, keeping the type. So, this is free-ish, attack or block, but only half the time. As apart from that you get some flexibility, assuming you’ve been rampaging properly.

Arcane Disguise — As noted above, 2 influence isn’t huge. But the ability to cancel a -5 (or X) reputation can be a big deal. That means getting a follower in your first city, even after you’ve burned and pillaged your way across the board. It means ruthlessly coercing your followers and still getting more.

Regenerate — Spending mana to heal is ok. It lets you use something from the source each turn, and a red mana may get you a card for a full heal. But this isn’t up to Athyra or Tovak’s skills. Mediocre but sometimes great.

Curse — Reduce an attack or armor by one. You can use this in ranged attack phase against unfortified opponents, which is nice. At worst this acts like attack one.

Cooperative skill (Mana Enhancement) — When you spend a mana (however) gain a crystal. And then someone can get a free token of that color. So this is basically two mana, making it roughly equivalent to all the “Crystal + Token” skills. BUT, you need to have the mana (either source or other means) to get it. On the plus side, you can take whatever color you need.

Shamanic Ritual — A mana token of your choice is good, and giving up an action to reset is OK but will be done rarely. The issue is that with Savage Harvesting Krang usually isn’t desperate for mana, and his other skills are great.

Battle Hardened — This lets you ignore some damage, and may save you a wound (see thread for details). In that sense, its better than block because you can use a bit, but rarely is taking one less wound taking zero. It could really help against paralyzers that you sacrifice a follower to, but that lets a little bit left. I may be undervaluing this, but I hardly ever take it.

Krang is whatever he gets. If you get battle frenzy, he’s a murderchine, if you get master of chaos, he’ll try to tap dance the best he can. Roll with the punches.


The newest mage knight has two movement based improvements. Druidic paths reduces a terrain by one (min of 2). Unpowered, this is better than Tirelessness, assuming you aren’t going only on plains. It lets you get into a hill (or woods/desert at the right time) for one card. If you are only going through plains, useless. The powered version lets you reduce all of one terrain, which is probably only one or two points of movement. One with the Land can be used for heal 1 or block 2 instead of movement (or heal 2, block X, where X is the cost of the land you are one). That’s nice. Towards the end game you often have too much movement and an emergency heal/block is nice. Flexibility is always appreciated.

Braevalar has a few good skills and a lot of OK ones.

Forked Lightning — +1 Ranged Cold Fire attack against up to three separate targets. Yes, you’ll often be saving this to the regular combat phase, but its 1-3 attack, and great against physical resistance.

Shapeshift — Turn movement into block into attack, but for basic cards only! Flexible, flexible, flexible.

Feral Allies — + 1 attack or reduce an attack by one is good, not great. -1 to explore costs provides a little bit extra.

Secret Ways — +1 movement is fine, and the mountain or lake movement can save your bacon, but its tough to tell early.

Cooperative Skill (Nature’s vengeance) — Reducing an attack by one isn’t great, but making it cumbersome (so you can spend movement to reduce it more) is intriguing. This can let you partially block, and sometimes (I’m looking at you, Storm Dragon) its a god-send. And someone else can do it agian.

Thunderstorm / Lightning Storm — Token + Token instead of Crystal + Token, but you get some choice (Green and either blue/white or blue and either green or red). OK.

Regenerate — As with Krang, but made somewhat better by the storms, which may find a use for a ‘wasted’ token.

Beguile — Like most influence items, usually 2 influence, the 4 at a the circle or 3 at a village is a mild kicker.

Elemental Resistance — As with Krang’s Battle Hardened.

Maybe its just lack of experience, but Braevalar appears to be the weakest Mage Knight. Lots of OK, nothing crushing. He can do just fine (Shapeshift and Forked Lightning are quite good), but often has to choose between two mediocre skills.  One may be much better in the current situation, but wouldn’t it have been nice to draw a rock crusher. Also note that Braevalar (like Goldyx) is somewhat short of attack, so grabbing those advanced actions is a priority (although with shapeshift you can grab whatever and then use the basic card you doubled up as attack).

Written by taogaming

July 29, 2017 at 10:40 pm

Puzzlement and Wonder, Comparing Mage Knight and Magic Realm, Pt 2

(If this were a book I’d throw a colon in there. ‘Tis all the rage in publishing).

As I mentioned, Mage Knight & Magic Realm have little in common except theme. Thematically they aren’t even close, Tolkeinesque fantasy versus a high power-gaming bash fest.. While exploring the Realm I pondered the differences between them.

I call the first the Combinatorics of World-Building.

Enter a Dungeon in Mage Knight and what will you face? A brown monster. No exceptions.

You can analyze how many you can defeat and weigh that risk versus the 2/3rds shot at an artifact and 1/3rd shot at a spell. A simple enumeration will do. Can you defeat the Gargoyle? the Shadow? the Hydra? Medusa? Crypt Worm? Etc? You can’t? Check again. Have you missed some trick?

A puzzle, to be sure, but a well defined puzzle. One monster, one reward — each have a parameter. You may get the one monster you can’t beat. You may get the easy monster. You may get the Horn of Wrath, or your choice of two dud artifacts to choose from (I’m looking at you, Banner of Fortitude and Banner of Courage), but there you go. You knew the risk/reward ratio.

There are 8 brown monsters, 30-ish artifacts and 30-ish spells, but the numbers don’t multiply. You can assign an approximate value to the artifacts and calculate what percentage of the monsters you can defeat, and solve.

Now Imagine that each artifact had a small box on the bottom that modified the rules in the combat when you gained them. Most of them don’t do much, but you may go down and face a Whatever and draw your artifact and peer at the bottom and it says “The narrow walls prevent ranged attacks….” and your plans are out the door.

What if every card did that? If you face a Crypt Worm, you weren’t going range attack anyway, but if you faced a Medusa, you most definitely planned on it. If you’ve played two dozen games of Mage Knight, you’ve likely faced every brown creature in a dungeon setting. But with combined effects — No way I’d have encountered all the combinations in my 300+ games.

I’m a fan of combinatorics.

I’ve already seen several interactions messing with people in Magic Realm, and that’s before you even get into players deliberately messing with you. You search for a treasure and get it, but boom! Curse. You start to buy something and boom — there’s a modifier that makes a combat likely to break out right away! These aren’t even interactions, just single cards, but the systems do interact. In my current game, I searched and found the black book, which provided black mana. The sudden influx of mana turned on a spell I had inert and — boom, I’m suddenly a giant octopus.

Now, I’d planned on being a giant octopus later that day, so no big deal. But if I’d been planning to try to hire some helpers it would have seriously cramped my style.

The book of learning has an example of the Elf controlling all six bats with magic, a feat the author says he’s never seen in 200+ games but happened in a solo game he set up to demonstrate, with no cheating. Amusingly, I did it in my first game with the elf. But it does take some lucky chit interactions and some lucky rolls, as well as having the Control Bats spell.

I like my puzzles, but have I been surprised in the last hundred games of Mage Knight? Not that I recall. Nor possibly the hundred before that.

Can I be surprised by Chess? Yes. The unexpected move. The deep brilliance. These are usually based — again — on some combination (Chess even uses that phrase). Mage Knight has that; the core of the game is manipulating your hand of card to get the most oomph. So I’m not sure why it doesn’t surprise me that much. Then again hundreds of games is a lot. It may be that you always (always!) control your hand of cards. No monster shows up that says “Oh, discard one card before combat.”

To be fair to Mage Knight, The Realm extracts a high price for surprise. Gameplay suffers under randomness. You see ‘unfair’ results. Nobody would say that Mage Knight is less fair, I think.

Unfairness has its charm, in a way.

I like puzzles, but I also like puzzles where you can’t enumerate the possible outcomes. (Even with full knowledge). Approximation and intuition are skills like any other. I don’t care for Tales of the Arabian Knights and I’m not sure it’s a game, but its a hell of Story-telling engine. Combine that potential with something that gives me some actual decisions — even if the results could just be “lose a turn” — and I’m intrigued.

Magic Realm drips with combinations — Each map hex has a few chits that define what’s there. While you build the map in MK, once a tile is up its fully known. Until you know the chits on a tile in Magic Realm, it might contain treasures, or dragons, or spiders, or an Octopus Garden. (Also, the tiles can be flipped over, so its not as static as you think).

You play your twelve chits, but only two points of effort per combat round. Your items can combine. You may have one thing you can’t use at all, but if you get that second (rare) thing you’ll wield a powerful combination. Any Mage Knight can cast any spell. Any Mage Knight can get use any other’s skill, although Goldyx will get Goldyx’s skills the most often.

In Magic Realm, the White Knight will have a tough time learning spells the Witch can learn. (I’d say never, but …)

Jay Richardson has a review comparing Magic Realm to RPGs that’s worth checking out. One interesting (to me) point he makes is: Because the characters don’t level up, this makes the game less grindy and more interesting. That’s a novel point. You get better be looting good stuff, or working together with others. An interesting dynamic.

OK, so combinatorics. What else?

Magic Realm contains more hidden information (and randomness).

Part of that was discussed before — you have face down chits and monsters that can appear and disappear, and the treasures are put into piles but that’s really not that different than randomly drawing them (like in MK). But the hidden information causes a novel effect.

In Magic Realm, you make (some) decisions with incomplete or even wrong information. You plan your turn and then roll for monsters. This gives you — in effect — a huge fog of war effect. Do you hide before you move? Well, there may have been no monsters prowling the Deep Woods this turn. Was your hide wasted?

There aren’t any monsters on your path, but other players may move and monsters may follow.

You have to decide on much less information. But each sub system you base your decision on is understandable. Most characters fail to hide 11/36th of the time. The monsters appear on a known system (if you know the chits). Knowledgeable players can quickly determine if a monster is safe or deadly or risky (I can do this for simple battles, now). You can guess the price range an item will cost you, based on your relationship with the seller. You go first 1/n times (n= number of players, ignoring hired helpers) at which point the game state will match.

Each of these systems are calculable, but the overall impact provides remarkable breadth. From a game play perspective there’s a lot of “Why this” but it has a certain logic. The rules read weird, but feel right. In the real world if you were hiding from monsters, could you ever be certain you were successfully hidden?

Only in the negative and only too late.

I was trying to think of an example. Consider a game of chess where you wrote down your move and only then did your opponent reveal his prior move. (You’d have to cover White’s first turn advantage, perhaps they wrote down two moves and the opponent got to pick after he wrote his first move, and you’d have to deal with issues of failed pawn captures, etc).

This game would most definitely not be chess, even though it used a lot of the mechanisms of chess. You could make theoretically horrible chess moves that could work quite well.

Chess feels like chess, not because knights move two in one direction then one in an orthogonal one, or because of castling or en passant. To be sure, Chess has all that but if you switched how the pieces move you’d be a smilar game (like Chinese Chess). Chess feels like chess because it is a complete information game with alternating moves. Chinese Chess and Shogi feel closer to chess than my invented game which uses the exact same rules, but doesn’t reveal the moves right away.

Magic Realm feels like my chess analogy, a little. You don’t see your opponents move until after you’ve declared yours. In order to simulate this, MR uses lots of charts and randomness. At it’s heart, Mage Knight feels like a ruthless rush to exploit a world, and Magic Realm feels like avoiding the onrushing of a ruthless world.

Written by taogaming

November 25, 2016 at 8:28 pm

Comparing Magic Realm and Mage Knight, Part I

Fairly often — though less frequently than my idyllic youth —  I play a game that feels miserable, bewildering, or just plain bad.

Mostly I note the poor decision and never play again. The first board game I played in college? Terrible — It lasted from 10pm until 6am (not a mark against it) with bewildering rules including a bunch of exceptions. The game didn’t actually end at six, that’s just when I lost. The “graphic design” made following the rules difficult but even then it seemed to contain obviously bad features.

It wasn’t time wasted — gaming with friends rarely is — but I quickly moved on to better games including the murderer’s row of Cosmic Encounter, Illuminati, Bridge and some others like Junta.

I rarely revisit bad games. Who would? Still, sometimes my judgement gets called into question and so it happened that four years later I gamed with a group that loved this title. I played it again.

That game was Titan, which I’ve played at least a hundred times, probably closer to 250.

In the past I’ve had a few encounters with Magic Realm, none of them good. So I’d just ignored it. But reading a recent thread comparing Magic Realm to Mage Knight piqued my interest again. After all, I’ve played three hundred games of Mage Knight in the last few years — I’m slightly burnt out again, but I’ll pick it back up.

So I wanted another solo game and this seemed interesting. I started reading the “Book of Learning,”  basically a number of session reports that double as tutorials. Given the plethora of revised rules (I particularly recommend Magic Realm in Plain English) and the existence of Robin Warren’s brilliant Realm Speak program) the barriers to entry are much lower than they used to be the last time I tried to play.

Remember, my M.O. for the last five-plus years is to ignore new games unless it still had people playing a year or two later, then give it a try. I make exceptions, of course. For designers I like, or games that just seem like they are in my wheelhouse. Hell, I didn’t even try Mage Knight until it had been out several years. So sometimes I’m late on great games, but I save a lot of time in the process.

Magic Realm still has a dedicated following almost forty years after it’s arrival, despite such obvious warts as an Avalon Hill Rule Set that made Up Front seem simplistic. I began to think there must be something to it, so I dove in. This review is still preliminary, but I have put in dozens of hours on learning this and playing (solitaire, via Realm Speak). This is part I because its not complete; I’ll probably add more thoughts as they occur to me.


I don’t normally summarize mechanisms in games anymore, because plenty of places that do that and I’m not a bleeding edge reviewer, but sometimes you have to. Magic Realm’s basic ideas aren’t difficult (not that you’d know that from reading them).

  • The map is fully built, but you place hidden chits to indicate what appears where. So you know the entire layout, but the Lost City could be in any cave. A setup sheet lists which monsters can show up on which chits. Setting up the game is a huge time suck (the first time is about an hour, but with practice that comes down) which is why a computer moderator is such a godsend. One click setup.
  • Pre-programmed turns. Everyone writes down their turn and you resolve in random order. (Richard Hamblen also designed the classic Gunslinger, which shares this). Each player gets roughly four actions per day (only two if they are underground that day) to move, hide, search, prepare, enchant, rest, trade, hire followers, and the like. The planning phase is called Birdsong instead of morning (a lovely touch that feels out of place in the rulebook, like finding a colorful Monet print hanging in your IRS auditor’s cubicle)
  • You resolve turns (daytime) in random order. Most rolls involve throwing 2d6 and taking the higher number. Some things like hiding are simple — fail on a six — others involve charts (typically lower is better). Some monsters ‘prowl’ during a turn and prowling Monsters appear on the board based on the chits. Prowling monsters already on the board move if you end up on the same tile as them (unless they’ve already blocked another character).
  • After everyone has moved, you have evening — when spells are cast and combat occurs.
  • Each character has twelve action chits which are mainly used in combat/casting. Each chit dictates its use (Move, Fight or Magic are common, a few other rare ones exist) and a speed (a number, lower is better).

The rules for combat are … non-trivial. But at its heart, there’s some order.

Let’s take a simple “One Character, one Monster” combat. You get a pre-combat action (maybe running away, or casting a spell, or preparing a weapon). These typically take a chit. You attack the monster and it attacks you (if you weren’t hidden. If you were, you get one free attack). You set your tactic and the monster’s tactic, and your maneuver (defense).

What the rules don’t tell you — the monster’s actual tactic is random. You can set up which box its in, but it will roll randomly to move. It may also flip over (double sided monsters) which adjust its values. The faster attack goes first, and if it’s faster then the opponents defense? It hits.

If it’s not faster, then it hits only if the defense used fails against the attack. If you ducked when the attack was a downward smash, no help there.

So — there’s a Rock Paper Scissors aspect, but intuitive: Faster attacks hit. Equal (or slower) attacks hit if the defender dodged into them. Should have jumped aside as that warhammer came down.

Attacks (and weights) are rated on a scale of Negligible, Light, Medium, Heavy and Tremendous and if the attack is greater than or equal to defender’s vulnerability — dead. A character who takes a hit less than his defense may wound a chit.

Also, each chit you spend has an effort (0-2) and if you spend two effort in a round (the max) you fatigue. Wounded and fatigued chits are out of play until you rest them.

If nothing important happens for two rounds of combat, it ends, otherwise you keep going.

Now — combat can get much more complicated. You can have multiple monsters, followers, weapon sharpness and armor, multiple characters, PvP, spells, horses, missile attacks, armor, weapon length (which changes the order of attack in the first round only, and is a tiebreak in later rounds), special rules for tremendous monsters (which grapple when they hit and then autokill the next round unless they are defeated first).

Even getting the basics down is taking games (see my note on messing up in this post). I forgot another few small points last night. I don’t really understand followers and magic, yet. You can play the game using only movement and combat (for some characters).

Simple combats aren’t devoid of strategy, merely simple. Your main questions are which chits to play (can I guarantee a kill? Do I want to run away? Do I want my attack and defense to line up, so that if the monster hits me I know I’ll hit him. Can I prepare for the monsters to flip over (an 11/36 chance). While setting up one monster is effectively rock-paper-scissors, setting up multiples can get quite detailed. And it’s not R-P-S in the sense that its truly random. It’s just one (interlocking) system. One character may be hopeless versus a monster, when a different set of chits (or manuevers) would give you a shot or a guaranteed victory.

Advanced combats can be planned out, but I’m still not able to see things … like “Oh, if I do this I can probably kill Monster A but in the next round I’m going to die no matter what.” There’s a backgammon-esque quality to combat — strategy but you have to play the odds, either relying on some lucky die rolls in bad situations or defending against bad rolls in good situations.

With experience you’ll learn to not get into bad situations. (He said, as his latest game had one character trapped between three unbeatable clearings and another character died to a group of angry natives). Right now I’m applying a maxim of Go to Magic RealmLose your first fifty games quickly. I’ve survived two games, mainly due to luck and playing the easiest character. To be fair, that’s how I learned Titan and 1830 (although those losses take more time).


Most importantly, Magic Realm is definitely a lifestyle game. It does not shine out of the box. There are warts, and I’m not just speaking of the rules. This is not a game to pull out once every five years (unless you burned out and put it away for a while).

Secondly, Luck in Mage Knight is card luck. If you draw a hand full of movement cards, you know the combat cards are lurking in your deck (or vice versa). If you fail a roll in Magic Realm, you can fail again and again. Very small hurray for dice!

Third, Magic Realm and Mage Knight differ in scale and narrative. In Mage Knight, you start off as a minor demi-god who can defeat tribes of Orcs, raze villages, plunder monasteries for mystical artifacts, and two days later you are taking out a fully defended city in a quick siege. You are Jason Bourne, Lizard God-King. Encounters ramp up until the climactic battle vs Volkare or Capital City, as you grow in power.

In Magic Realm you could stumble into the boss monster’s lair on day one and die. Over the course of the month you may get some followers or cool new stuff, but you won’t really level up. (There are optional rules for that). Typically you kill a few monsters, loot their stuff, sell it and try to find a lost treasure. You can fail harder, faster. You may find a great site on day 1, loot it, and then die because you weren’t hidden on day 3 (of 28) and some bats pecked you to death.

I happen to enjoy ambiguity and atypical styles of narrative that embraces failure, but its definitely not to everyone’s taste.

You can easily spend half a game in MR doing nothing but rolling two dice, failing, and going onto the next day. In Solitaire, this isn’t a big loss. If it were a 4 player game? Could be very frustrating as you roll two dice and end your turn, and the next player has an epic turn, then a great/interesting battle, then gets all the loot as gaming groupies swoon and applaud. Then you roll two dice and fail again.

It makes Mage Knight seem Euro by comparison, which is an odd thing to feel.

On a related note, The Magic Realm feels alive and real. On one level it is merely a collection of places to loot and monsters to murder, but the environment changes. In Mage Knight, you find an artifact and add it to your deck. In Magic Realm, you may find an artifact and keep it, but it may alter the entire rules right around you. It can affect everyone on the tile its on, from the instant its discovered. You plan your move out, but searching may disrupt your plans, literally warping reality. It hasn’t happened often in my game, but it’s amusing. Perhaps this is part of the appeal of legacy games. It feels like literally anything can happen as you rip open a folder with new cards. I guess I understand that now.

Fourth, characters in the game feel different. Mage Knight packs a hell of a lot into 16 cards and 10 skills. Each character starts with only two variant cards, but leveling up and taking a critical skill and those cards mean that Goldyx is distinct from Tovak who differs from Norawas or Krang.

But at the end of the day they all do the same things against the same things. They all cast spells (if the take a Mage Tower to earn them). They all have the same victory conditions (based on the scenario). A Lava Dragon poses the same number of wounds to them — assuming they cannot block. Etc.

In Magic Realm, the White Knight’s a dragonslayer. If you tell him Dragons are over yonder, then a-yondering he will go. Terrified of bats, though. His armor slows him down. He’ll kill some, but they’ll tired him out. No killing blow, just death of a thousand cuts. The Wood’s Girl may be able to kill a Dragon with a lucky shot (missile damage is a random modifier), but she’ll take her shot from the bushes then run away. Unarmored, she can’t risk getting hit. Plays totally differently. Two different equipment chits, a few different special abilities (skills in Mage Knight) and a different mix of starting chits play totally different. I grok (somewhat) the White Knight. He’s very forgiving against huge monsters.

He just gets nibbled to death by bats.

Characters play differently, despite their similarities. Some have their own rules. The Witch gets a familiar that can move separately around the board (to spy on other players and examine the realm’s secrets). The White Knight can cast a single (white) spell, but he’s not able to cast anything the Witch knows, even if he learns the spell. He’s never getting a familiar. The witch can’t just put on the Knight’s Armor (should she get it). She’s too weak.

While there’s an elegance to having each spell’s rules on a card, Magic Realm’s spells feel Tolkienesque. Some of them move and attack and block and influence, but you can transform yourself into a toad (who can quietly hops away from battle, usually) and then wander the forest ignoring the roads. You can curse others. Some spells affect only specific monsters. Some last for combat, or a day. Some are permanent. It feels much more lived in.

Short form — Magic Realm feels more like an experience than a winnable game. I suspect that the long term strategy is deeper, there’s a similar puzzle like aspect to combat although Mage Knight is a more satisfying system. In fact, MK is generally a better system overall. But Magic Realm has its charm. I imagine that an update that tried to streamline all of the Realm’s byzantine experiences into a simple core ruleset would fail, the same way that civilization does not compress. But if someone could convert this (or perhaps another genre that felt as lived-in), they’d have a huge hit.

Magic Realm isn’t a great game. But it’s a great experience. I’m enjoying my time exploring it.

Written by taogaming

November 10, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Posted in Mage Knight, Magic Realm, Reviews

Tagged with

Some more MK

It’s been a few months since I played MK, and (as the TaoLing is away) I set up a solitaire game. My first one was … nicht so guht (full report). After lunch, I decided to play again (since the game was already set up). Solo Conquest with Braevlar (again), but since I’d just lost somewhat badly, I lowered the city strength to 7/14 (instead of 5/8). And I took pictures.

In the opening I drew one of my favorite starting tiles, the “Monastry + Dungeon” combo, I used Rethink to prep my hand and — voila! Concentration plus Swiftness. I went to the Dungeon on T1, attacked it (Shooting the Minotaur) on T2 and got the Diamond Ring + Blood of the Ancients (more cards, at the cost of wounds) and Braevlars “discard a wound for a mana” skill.

This is known in the trades as “a good start.”

I could have ducked to the monastery, but that would have risked having to backtrack (if a bad tile showed up). Since there was a familiar available, I went to a magical glade to recruit the familiar and also get rid of the wounds from Blood of the Ancients and incidentally kill an orc. I could have killed another near the glade, but I raced forward to kill a different orc, get a crystal, and explore, revealing a keep, monster den and ruins.



Position after Day One

The first night I sacked the keep. I could have probably taken the ruins (after recruiting) but again that risked having to backtrack and as it turns out I had a handful of movement. I went to the monastery and explored, then burned the monastery (for the Golden Grail). I grabbed Blood Rage for a steady supply of wounds to heal (for fame).  I went forward and killed another orc and grabbed some crystals. Still going fine.


Position after Night One

Position after Night One

For the second day, I explored the the final country tile and the first core tile, getting a Wizard Tower and Dragon. A modicum of murder later (hmm….) I had a fireball spell and another level. I explored and found the green city. Things were looking good.

Position after Day 2

Position after Day 2

On the second night I went to the village next to the city (which took a lot of movement) and got some heroes, graciously looted my hosts (-1 rep, +2 cards) and took the green city with relative ease. Once there, I got a few more followers then healed up (glade + grail)

During the 3rd day, I quickly revealed the white city, I decided to kill the nearby Dragon and then go around to take the keep next to the white city (for the hand size boost of +2, since it would be my second keep). Along the way I took out a Spawning Ground and luckily got the Horn of Wrath. (Best artifact for Conquest). Along the way I got the Regenerate which meant that once I took the keep I could clear a wound, refresh a follower and study my options.


The final battle (Note — I haven’t yet walked to the keep)

With the Horn, and an Ambush and a lot of blocking (skills and cards, and three physically resistant followers) I determined that I could attack and kill two white units (the 6 fire brutal and the 4 cold fire brutal/poison), while only taking a handful of wounds (Braevlar’s skill to make someone cumbersome came in handy here) and while keeping the Horn of Wrath for the final night. I used the final few turns of the day to clear out some wounds, and also using Blood of the Ancients to grab Decompose and turn tranquility into a few more crystals.

The final night was just a question of when I’d get the right cards. I spent a turn or two healing, decomposing, recruiting, then assaulted twice. The first time I didn’t have any siege, but a lot of blocking and attacking (combined with followers) took out the Altem Guardians (I hate those guys), the Golems and the fire heroes (while keeping my hand). I healed up and then attacked again (breaking my Diamond Ring to provide black mana for Firestorm, which added to the Horn of Wrath) finished off the stragglers. For my last turn I recruited the Guardians and healed the Firestorm wound.

Final Score:

  • 142 fame
  • 13 knowledge (11 AAs + a spell)
  • 8 loot
  • 13 leadership
  • 8 conquest
  • 4 adventuring
  • (No wounds)
  • 35 points from cities (10+10+15)
  • 11 timing (6 cards in dummies deck + 5 for the round not being called)

A nice solid score of 234.

Written by taogaming

September 24, 2016 at 2:24 pm