Archive for the ‘Mage Knight’ Category
(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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
13 knowledge (11 AAs + a spell)
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.
The four bolts (Fire/Ice/Swift/Air) all either get you a crystal or give you a ranged attack 3, with some bonus (the fire/ice have the approrpriate element, the swift bolt is ranged attack four, and the crushing bold is siege attack 3). The bolts are always useful. If you are mana poor, you get a crystal. Mana rich, you get an attack. Granted, in solo conquest the attack won’t necessarily be useful (although Siege will be), but even if you wait to the regular attack phase, attacks that change element are nice ways to deal with physical resistance. A bolt is rarely a bad pick, although there may often be something better. Solid citizens, the lot of them. B+
I’ve separated the rest of the cards roughly by type, although some cards live in multiple categories.
The weakness of (non-ranged) attack cards is the necessity to not throw them away due to paralysis or getting knocked out. But other than that, attack cards are always in style. Block cards also due some heavy lifting, it’s rare you’ll block nothing (unless you cancel some attacks, or just plan to heal as much and have your followers do everything).
Blood Rage is just super rage, where you can take a wound for an extra +3/+4. Killing stuff is always good and worth a wound. B+
Chivalry gives you solid attack numbers, or lets you reduce them a bit to gain some reputation, which (in turn) may help you recruit. B+.
I’ve mentioned my love of doubling. Well, in some ways Counterattack is a doubler. Attack 2/4 and an extra attack 2/3 per unit blocked. That’s not a strict doubling, but against Volkare it can often come close (especially if you have a few elusive units where blocking also lowers their armor). Even against a regular city assualt you can often see this boosted to 10 or 13 easily enough. A-
The more I play, the more I like Dodge & Weave. In some senses another doubler — it lowers attacks and gives you bonus attack if you take no wounds — but against a large army you’ll likely forfeit the bonus. But even ignoring that — lowering attacks beats blocking. Reducing is always efficient (unlike swiftness or elemental attacks). You can’t partially block, but can partially lower (to maybe let a resistant unit bounce the rest). Lowering a 5 cold-fire paralyzing attack is a good deal, even if you never get any attack bonus. A-
With a big enough unit Force of Nature absorbs a decent attack. (A problem with resistant units — albeit a minor one — is that each can only bounce one attack. If you can already bounce 3-4 attacks, you don’t have many worries). And you can power it for block (for pesky assassinating enemies) or siege attack (always nice). B+.
The Ice Shield (which provides Ice Block 3 / & Reduce Armor of the blocked enemy by 3 if you power it), is an OK doubler. Ice Block three isn’t enough by itself to fully block lots of your more annoying enemies, and reducing armor by three is fine. It really helps if the unit is resistant. Still, there are often a number of good targets, but typically you have to power this to really get value, so call it a B-.
Intimidate provides a strong attack at the cost of reputation or a bushel of influence at the cost of reputation. Attack and Influence? Both good. Yes, your reputation will spiral down. Grab a few followers ASAP and embrace the decline! A+, but it may require some finesse and if you have no followers and are already dangerously low on reputation beware.
Into the Heat provokes mixed results. If you have built up an army and have lots of ranged/seige attacks, this just destroys opposition. The downside — being unable to assign wounds to followers (or block with resistant ones) is a big deal — but this card can provide twelve to fifteen points of oomph. On the other hand, if you draft this without a plan Into the Heat is one of those cards most likely to cause you to go “Hm…” and eventually discard it. You need ranged attackers (or Altem Mages) to make this work, or some plan to just eat all the wounds in the world, then unleash hell. (Sword of Justice goes well with this). I wouldn’t draft this early (until I knew my setup) but late game this can be anywhere from an A+ to a pure Failure.
Ritual Attack — Another mid/late game card. You don’t want to discard 6 cards (one per round) from your deck, no matter how good an attack you get. Still, discarding a red card (intimidate being the logical choice) for attack five or fire six (if powered) is a good deal. You do also get to choose what cards you get rid of, so you can make an assault time decision on what you need. Downsides — you spend two cards for one attack, so its anti handsize. Most decks can’t afford to give up many cards, but some cards do lose value over the game (people with X reputation don’t need influence cards, you may not need much movement in the late game, crystalize and tranquility are often redundant towards the end). Still, not a frequent target, unless I’ve drafted a card that adds cards to my deck. Then absolutely draft this, to reduce the variability of your deck a little. C+.
Unlike Ice Shield, Shield Bash finds decent targets. Swiftness shows up early (more so than fire). The armor benefit for the powered version isn’t as good but — depending on who you fight — you’ll get more block out of this. And you can tune Shield bash or dump extra cards into it. So — better than Ice Shield, but it depends on what you find and you can’t necessarily plan for it. Still a B-, though.
Agility gives you movement, then lets you spend movement points as attack (or ranged attack with the powered action) during combat. Note you lose movement points when you start combat, but (unlike ranged attacks or blocks) movement can be saved throughout combat. So if you are about to get paralyzed you can dump your hand as movement (or block) and still attack. B+
Given how much I love Concentrate, no points for guessing I like Ambush. Move to the attack, then boost it (or a block). Sadly, ambush is a strictly arithmetic card … always good for a little boost, but never turning into a monster card. Early, it’s A, but its effect will down as the game goes on, maybe half a grade per round. At some point you’ll be happier with other cards. In a siege, Agility may be much better, depending on what you draw.
OK, the real advantage of Frost Bridge is that it reduces swamps to one. The green city tile is filthy with swamps, and the powered ability to walk over lakes can be great. But typically you only take this if you know you’ll need it (or are absolutely desperate for move, or perhaps if you’ve taken another knight’s skill token, so you get no choice on your AA). D+ [After writing this, the very next day I bought Frost Bridge while in the green city, because I needed to beat feet over some swamps to the white city, which the TaoLing had discovered. So –rarely useful, but otherwise ignored].
Unlike a lot of other skills, Mountain Lore gives you 3 or 5 move, instead of 2/4. The bonus of 1 hand size if you end in a hill is nice, but highly conditional. The powered version also lets you stop on a mountain (and get two hand size). Hand size is nothing to sneeze at, and this is a big movement booster, although other card’s discounts make them just as good. But again, you’ll likely only draw this if you see a mountain you want to cross. C+.
Path Finding is the ‘rush across the board’ card. You want to play this with lots of movement to take advantage of the big discounts. Particularly on core tiles, a powered path finding can let you race to your next target. B
I frequently take Refreshing Walk because movement is good, and healing is good. You use something else to walk into battle, then can heal (wasting the movement) or perhaps move/heal the next turn (particularly good when you are heading for a glade or mine, and don’t really need the handsize right away). A solid B.
Song of Wind discounts some spaces to one and zero, and in theory lets you shoot several spaces across the board. But here’s the thing. Those spaces weren’t noramally that difficult to get through anyway. (OK, deserts and wastelands are, but plains aren’t). And moving through lakes isn’t bad, either. Perhaps I’m undervaluing this, but this feels like the worst movement card. D+
Steady Tempo feels … steady. It’s a solid movement card. If you play it, you’ll draw it again at the end of the round, for more movement (or just one more card to chuck to something). If you are desperate, you power it and get it again ASAP. Not flashy, but useful. B-
In some extent, how much influence counts depends on your scenario. In Solo Conquest, you’ll typically have a turn or few loading up in your city. If your reputation is around zero, then you’ll get 3-5 influence for city tokens, so a few more actions to bump that up (or skills) can make a big difference. I’ve already said how much I love Intimidate, so let’s discuss the others.
Also, many of these skills go up in value when you buy them at a monastery, because you can then (next turn) use these AAs to buy another unit (assuming one is available).
Finally, these cards go in up in value if you have heroes and/or thugs (unless you have a skill that provides influence) since you’ll need to pay them off to attack a city or absorb a wound, respectively.
Diplomacy lets you spend influence for block. Not a big deal (unless you have an influence skill), but the powered version can talk some heavy hitters out of punching you in the face. So, you get slightly less influence than the other skills, but you can use it combat. Flexibility like that is often useful. B+
Despite the fact that Heroic Tale pays out 3/6 influence, it’s not my favorite. Yes, the bonus reputation and fame are nice (and can stack up fairly quickly), but all you can do is get influence. Typically you’ll only take this if you are going to use it next turn. B-
A literal feast or famine card, In Need provides munificent bounties of influence, all at the cost of having been beaten like a red-headed step child. Still, at a monastery this single card can heal your entire hand (or army of foresters and peasants) single handedly. Not the sort of thing to draft without a plan, but often when you draft it In need will pay dividends. B.
You can use Learning outside of interaction (which means your rep/city tokens don’t matter) to draft another card. You can also use it inside interaction, which will be useful if you have reputation or are at a city. The ability to use this outside interaction (which takes an action) does mean you can do some interesting things, like chuck your soon to be paralyzed hand to improve your deck for next round or possibly take a great advanced action right now. Remember that you can’t power the card then use the basic ability. That fact drops it down to B-.
Remember that if you use Peaceful Moment for its action, you aren’t interacting. Which means after a hard day of burning down monasteries and being shunned like the Pariah you so obviously are, you can still heal three wounds or ready some units with this bad boy. Often in the end game I’m taking a turn or two waiting next to the city, either building up my reserve underneath Sparing Power or I simply have to trek from the first city to the second and have nothing to do. So, a useful action is nice. Even readying one unit can mean taking out an additional Draconum or some such.
AAs that gain cards
Is I’ve mentioned before, it is possible to bloat your deck too much. (I just played a co-op game where I spent the second night waiting for Sparing Power to build a huge assault, but because we didn’t control the mana pool I absolutely needed Mana Draw to set a die to black. The dummy rushed so I had to assault with a few cards undrawn. This time I got lucky).
I just read a session report of one player versus the world where the one player (who seemed quite good) called Magic Talent “The best first Advanced Action.” I concur. Even ignoring the spell gaining ability, the option to chuck a card to use one of three is spells is highly flexible. Obviously whenever you go a spell route you want to get a good source of mana, and you can have too many spells, but unless I’m totally dry I’m happy with this. Even then, the source will power a basic spell action, and the offer normally has some spells that are situationally useful. And you don’t have to take this early for it to be useful. A single shot of a spell can game changing. A+.
Blood of Ancients costs a wound (tolerable) and a mana to get a card into hand. The advanced action doesn’t get you the card, but lets you put the wound in the discard pile (or not). It’s a decent first draw, because you’ll get another card next turn, but don’t go crazy. The nice thing about BoA is that you can grab the card you need right now. B+
Training lets you improve your deck by chucking a card to get a better one. Unlike the advanced Magic Talent, you still need to a chuck a card (instead of spending a mana) which sometimes means you lock up and don’t get to use it a round, but that’s fairly rare. Still from time to time I find myself carrying this for a few turns waiting to draw the right color and then it is somewhat of a load. Also, it doesn’t have the late game punch that Magic Talent does, because Magic Talent converts an Advanced Action into a spell usage, and with Training you could presumably have just taken the right card. There are exceptions (the skill forced you to take the bottom card, or all the cards are terrible but you hope to turn this into the new top card or wait for someone else to level up). But this is still a quite reasonable. A-.
I’m blase about wounds, so Blood Ritual strikes me as a good card. A wound for what you need right now is good, and the advanced action lets you crystalize. The ability to take Black Mana can be — the non-judgemental necromantic equivalent of ‘godsend.’ Note that the only other card in this section that can earn you a black die is Mana Storm, and that’s based on Lady Luck. A-
The TaoLing loves Crystal Mastery, and it does have turns where it lets you go hog wild (particularly with spells) and not spend anything. But — it can’t gain you a crystal you don’t already have (which Crystallize sometimes can). Still, if you ever get a fair amount of Crystals, this can save you a mitt-ful. B+
Not all decks have Chaff, but towards the mid game most do, and Decompose lets you trim it out and gain some crystals to boot. Typically by the second night (assuming you’ve set your layout) you know if movement is overvalued and you’ll know if you’ve toileted your reputation, so you’ll have some target for the card. (In solo conquest — Swiftness is often reasonable to get rid of by mid-game). I’d rarely take more than one card that throws away cards (not counting those — like Training — that replace them), but this one is pretty good. B-
How good Mana Storm is depends on number of players. Pure Solo, the source only has three dice, so if you use one to roll the other two, its a literal crap-shoot. Again Volkare, you have another dice. With co-op, the pool goes up as well. In a four player coop, brilliant. The ability to grab a crystal and force a re-roll — without using a source die — is solid. But in pure solo, the source is a bit too small. B- in a four die source, and adjust based on the number of dice.
Spell Forge is super crystalize. You gain a crystal, and it will always work (unless the spell offering is only spells you are maxed out on, in which case you instantly gain a token), and if you spend a blue (from the source) you get two crystals. Solid and efficient. B+
As I stated in the first section, Mage Knight is a game of brutal bombs, so I’m reasonably pleased to take Maximal Effect once we’re into the second day or so. It makes your hand denser — blowing up a Stamina to move six now may be much better than being able to move four. Blowing up Determination for block ten will stop a lot of things, and almost stop the rest. And you can tune it for what you need. Blowing up another Advanced Action costs you a point, but you get a lot more out of it. But unless your deck can already do what you want, this won’t help. B
Flexibility powers Pure Magic, but at the cost of mana. If you’ve got mana, then this is a great card. In particular, if you have a lot of mana but not mana spells — you’ll be flush and the ability to swing this card from block 4 (or 7) to attack or influence or move is great. B
The ‘super-tranquility,’ Regeneration has the flaw that it doesn’t replace itself if you don’t draw wounds, but the ability to ready a unit is pretty nice. If you are totally unit-less, then yes, this could become dead weight. But if you’ve got this in your deck, use those guys to block and wound, and then by the end of the round they are ready for the next day. B.
I prefer Stout Resolve to Pure Magic even though the latter gets more oomph, because Stout Resolve costs less mana and lets you discard a wound without resting. Assuming you can keep your hand, Stout Resolve turns that wound into two more attack during a city assault (as well as making any other useless card a bit better). Never a great draw, but never a bad draw, and that earns this an A-.
Granting movement and handsize at the cost of an action, Temporal Portal was one of those cards I didn’t draft for many, many games, because the action seemed big. But moving two spaces — even one — can be a hurdle in the early game, and many sites that look daunting with five cards seem trivial with seven. As I’ve stopped trying to sweep the board clean and (in particular) try to skip past rampaging orcs that give nothing but fame except after my first level up, and as I’ve lost game after game getting pinned by some dragon or trying desperately to route around lakes and mountains, I’ve grown to appreciate this. It still has limitations, but I think this is a solid B.
Aah artifacts. Even the ‘basic’ action is usually great … and nary a mana to be spent. A dungeon near the portal is always a welcoming site — with a decent hand and non-abysmal luck you level up and likely get an artifact. A fair price for a few wounds.
And early on, any artifact is good. Later on you may get unlucky and draw two artifacts that are both mediocre or affect areas you can’t use much of. But even in the mid game an artifact is not to be shunned lightly. The two points for the artifact is the least important part of it. You can make your destiny without breaking a few artifacts, but its much easier if you do.
A Sidebar — The Power of Doubling
I mentioned the Disease spell’s power derived from the fact it turned Block into Block + Attack. In effect, it doubles what you’ve got. Geometric progressions grow so much faster than arithmetic. These are combos to look out for. Successful ranged attacks effectively double, counting as attack + block (since they kill the target before you have to block).
So, if I say something “Doubles” in value I may not mean it literally, but that the effect grows quickly.
All four rings either gain you token plus a crystal and 1 fame, or you destroy it for infinite tokens of the appropriate color (and black!) and +1 fame per spell of the matching color. Black man on demand means that selecting a ring is always a reasonable choice. You can power 2+ spells (even if they don’t match the rings color, you’ll probably have a few crystals by the second night, when you might reasonably break a ring).
If you happen to have spells of the right color, that’s a bonus, but I don’t worry too much about it.
Mid-late game, you may know that the ring isn’t that great if you lack spells and are mana rich. In that case you’ll snatch the other card, but first day? A ring is a safe choice. (Maybe not the top choice, but good). You’ll earn 5-6 fame, load up on crystals, and some spare mana. I don’t worry if I waste the token the turn I play the ring, although of course its nice to get full use. Early on, a ring is a B+ grab. Maybe A-.
I consider the Endless Gem Pouch a psuedo-ring; not quite as good, decent. You’ll get less fame, but you keep everything you can’t use right away. If you break the bag, you’ll get 5 tokens (one of each), which gives you a single black (assuming you break it at night) plus a variety. When you roll gold you’ll get the crystal you want most, and when you roll black you’ll get fame. So — More variety, two crystals a round (instead of a crystal + a token), less fame, no infinite black. Call it a B-.
To make this category a card should be generally useful and/or have a huge upside.
The Horn of Wrath is great in conquest. Siege attack five can usually pierce out a cities minor unit, and if you break it you can take out a non-resistant major unit. Sure, you may eat a few wounds, but you probably would have anyway. Even when facing Volkare (where you’d prefer ranged) the horn works fine. You get a free Concentration + Swiftness that you always draw together (and a bonus card). If you always took the Horn you’d be wrong some small percentage of the time. A+
The Banner of Fear has a place in my heart. Drafted early, give it to your peasants (whoever) to wave at your enemies. Then (before the second night) you shuffle it back in and during your first city siege you cancel three units. (If you don’t need to do that, then congrats! You’ve got a great game). This lets you hit your first city taking almost no wounds (assuming you hold a heaping helping of Murder, which you should because you just cancelled three units for one card). The time/wounds you save will pay you back. Sure, this is only a one-use card, but what a use. A+
The Bow of Stardawn shines against Volkare (who tends to not be fortified) but the ability to break it to turn ranged into seige is also good, or doubling seige to ranged is going. Its either a literal or figurative doubling, and also great early (when tramping down into dungeons, etc). A- only because you need a few combos with it in solo conquest.
The Sword of Justice is a literal doubling when you break it — you double your physical attacks and remove physical resistance (from the non-magically resistant). So — a sometimes quadrupling. You can’t save attack from phase to phase, so you can’t play your attacks prior to block, lose your hand, and then do this, but you can still break it prior to losing your hand, then double your followers/skills/etc. A-
The Amulet of Darkness is a stretch for this category, because you don’t always have spells. But when you do — man, playing an advanced spell during a daytime round can be huge. B+ in general, but in the right deck this is an A+ card.
The Circlet of Protection (aka the “Chiclet” of protection. I don’t know why I started this). I rarely own the Chiclet, I just rent it by breaking this the following turn. Skills are great; taking a skill — even one someone passed on as the weaker of the two — rocks. Keeping the circlet provides flexibility (maybe you want one skill this round, and a different one next round) and using a skill twice during a battle can be amazing. But not breaking this risks the timing, and usually the flexibility isn’t worth it. So — as I said — I typically posses this for one turn. This goes up a fair amount as you add players, because the number of skills to choose from grows.
The Golden Grail. You say you have no wounds so you shouldn’t draft this? I say go forth and attack your closest enemy then (airquote) block (airquote) it for free and earn two bonus points to boot. If you draw it with wounds its obviously valuable. And if you have too many wounds.
Because it’s useful with a wound free deck, the grail is actually weakest when you have a medium number of wounds. Enough that you might draw it with a single wound and not be willing to take one more. This also gains value the earlier you draw it (like a ring). Solid A- on day 1 (especially as you are almost certainly staring at 2-4 wounds from earning it) and drops a half grade (or more) each round. It can also be a late game life saver, letting you flush out wounds redraw and attack right away.
The Banner of Command works great because its a one time Call to Glory. Typically there will be an early city unit you’d like to recruit before you conquer the city, and breaking this gets you the unit (and the two fame you’d lose by breaking it!). If you get to use it for influence a time or two prior to breaking, that’s a bonus. In contrast, the ability to have an extra unit is sometimes amazing, but typically the units run low fast. But sometimes you get hosed in the unit draw (particularly solo). B
Book of Wisdom — As an early pick, this can really make for a monstrous deck. In many ways, its nice to trim your deck out as you improve it. Just grabbing a bunch of new cards (with Blood of the Ancients, or Learning, or buying everything when there are multiple monasteries) can get you a theoretically awesome but practically too-variable deck. Using Book of Wisdom to toss base movement for advanced movement (like Steady Tempo or Pathfinding) and Rage for better attack isn’t flashy, but its solid. And if you find you no longer need influence, you can turn those cards into something better. B
[TaoLing particularly enjoys cards that net more advanced actions and often drafts them. Sometimes this works spectacularly, but I’ve seen him struggle with bloated decks increased variability. He draws no movement or all movement no attack and then flounder the final day or two. It’s a grueling way to lose].
Tome of All Spells –Any spell can huge, and I’ve already sung the praises of casting an advanced spell during the day (with the mana paid for). Still … the tome is an anti-hand size combo in that you are giving up two cards (and one must be the right color) for a spell. If you have hand-size-boosting, that won’t be a problem. But a knight with six hand size (and say, a wound) will find this dead weight from time to time. B
Druidic Staff — The nice thing about the staff: flexibility. You get what you need (at the cost of a card). But typically I use it for the white (move up to 2 revealed spaces) ability. The staff is the only movement-granting artifact, but it’s good. Readying a single unit can help take out a dragon, crystals are nice and healing is nice. But nothing is great, although the advanced ability can often prepare an assault by teleporting to the right place and giving you some crystals. B because its usually useful.
The Amulet of the Sun doesn’t have near the power of amulet of darkness, but its minor powers are good. Using a gold at night can really reset the mana pool, forests are much more common than deserts and two move is not to be scoffed at, and revealing garrisons is great. B
Look, the Bag of Infinite Gold gives you fame and influence. What it doesn’t give you is time. I’d much rather have less fame and some mana (like say, a ring). Repeated four influence is nice, but you can only recruit so often, and by comparison the Banner of Command just lets you nab that great unit (without requiring an action or being in the right place). B-
Soul Harvester — Attack 3 and gain a crystal. Nothing wrong, but not sexy. The advanced ability (attack 8 and one crystal per defeated unit in the phase) can actually gain you more points than you lose from breaking it in the right situation, but the Soul Harvester is purely additive. Even the (terrible) banners may have a right situation come up where they are game changers. With Altem Mages or some other combo you could gain massive crystals with this, but that makes the Harvester icing on an already delicious cake. C+
Shield of the Fallen Kings — Block improved in Lost Legion, but this isn’t enough block to shine. Block six with no special powers is just barely better than determination, although you have the option to block four twice. If the shield doubled against swiftness that would be something, but “one point better than a powered card you start with” isn’t much to write home about. Breaking this isn’t great either (Cold Fire Block 8 or three cold fire block fours). C
Most Banners grade poorly because they require a parlay. You need units that match the banner. (The Banners of Command and Fear are great because they don’t require units. Command gets you units, and Fear stops enemies). That’s why most of them are listed here.
The Banner of Protection grants Armor +1 and all resistances. This (typically) turns one unit into a tank, able to bounce 1-2 wounds a round. (An Utem Guardsman works well with the Banner). The advanced ability (“Throw away all wounds you received this turn”) is ok; but hard to time. Typically that means you throw away five wounds, and if you had it in your hand, you could have used it to bounce some wounds. C+
Banner of Fortitude is here because ignoring one wound a round isn’t bad, but it’s no Grail. If you have it you can end a round (the second night, say) by assaulting a city/volkare and wounding every unit, then reshuffle it and break it the next day to heal them all your units. Particularly against the green city (which poisons) that can be huge. But … still a parlay. C-
The Banner of Courage lets you ready a unit (except during combat) or ready all units. The advanced action can be great, attack a city (etc) and discharge a massive volley, trash the Banner, repeat. But …. You have to have enough units to be worthwhile, and either be weak enough to not take out your target the first time, or have another target(s) that really need the units the second time. And you have to get the Banner at the right time. It clogs your hand. But if you get an Altem Mages (etc) good. C
The Banner of Glory (Armor/Attack/Block + 1 and +1 fame per attack or block) is a minor boost, really only efficient on a resistant unit (to boost the repeated block) and a small fame bump. If you’ve got a Guardian Golem, it’s fine (if you get them both really early, especially) but the number of times its fine is way too low. If you quickly get a healers + a unit, you can pop this for 2 fame a round, and I’ve done that, and I’m still underwhelmed. C
I don’t always get spells, perhaps incorrectly (ignoring the times where none of the mage towers are on my path of destruction). Spells aren’t as good as artifacts (they cost one or two mana) … but you’ll pick from three known choices (instead of two unknown). ‘Known’ counts heavily. Timing when to attack a Mage Tower or buy a spell at a tower or blue city before a round ends (to grab a good spell) or just after a round begins (to hope for a better one) is an issue. If you get a consolation prize in a dungeon, well — sometimes tough luck.
In theory you can time your Advanced Actions, but there roughly twice as many AAs and it’s rarely worth it to time your level ups. In general, the right time is now. Hit Level 2 ASAP. Maybe wait a turn for an AA (if another player is about to level up). It’s certainly not worth waiting for a round, since you’ll cost yourself a skill use. In solo the spell deck is the most consistent, game to game. (For large co-ops you’ll see most of each deck, since the AA deck cycles faster and you’ll likely hit several monasteries fast).
Format is spell name / advanced name [Description] — Thoughts, and final Grade (overall).
Good Spells better in Solo Conquest than vs Volkare’s Return
Fireball / Firestorm [Ranged Fire 5 or Siege Fire 8 + take a wound]. — Solid attacks. Quite good in Conquest (where Siege is valuable). (Snowstorm/Blizzard are the same, except ice). Solid B.
Expose / Mass Expose [Target loses fort/resistance, ranged attack 2 / All enemies lose one or the other, ranged attack 3.] — Note that the two effects (cancelling and ranged attack 2) do not have to be the same target. A in conquest, B vs Volkare.
Mana Bolt / Mana Thunderbolt — For this you should be flush with mana. This costs two (or three). You can tune it to what you need, but it’s not as tuneable as you hoped. Unless you pay red, it’s an ice attack (red makes it cold fire). You can really just tune its type. Green makes it siege, white makes it ranged, blue makes it large (but only a bit) and red makes it cold fire. Generally not as good as Snowstorm. C+
Underground Travel / Underground Attack — Turn one green into 6-14 movement. Note that underground attack de-fortifies the site, but you’ll withdraw back to your space if you lose. I originally rated this a terrible spell, but it’s grown on me as I’ve been writing the series. That’s a lot of movement for one spell, and I often find myself using Magic Talent to cast this if its a legal target. B- [But note that in Volkare’s Return you have to find a single city and then defend it. Not much movement. If you are playing Volkare’s Quest (where you have to go out and back) this goes up to at least a B+.]
Wings of Wind / Wings of Night — This can move farther than underground travel (good!) but you have to pay (bad!). At night, you can stop a large number of enemies (3 moves points stop 3 enemies). As a white spell, it affects anything not-magically resistant. Honestly, I should take this more often. This + Improvisation or a powered March practically stops a Level 5 City. You’ll want to bump hand size with this (b/c you’ll need to move into the city, and can’t store movement) and you’ll need followers with attacks. But even if you don’t use the night action, this will also let you jump over to a wrongly placed city in cooperative games. B-. (When it works, amazing, but takes effort to work. I may be undervaluing this).
Demolish / Disintegrate — Armor – 1 and either ignore fortifications (Demolish) or destroy a (non-fire resistant) enemy (disintegrate). The basic ability makes attacking cities in the daytime much easier. This is also a good spell to pick up and go hunting in Tombs (where it’s always night) as long as there’s a black mana showing. Yes, Yes, you’ll suffer when you draw a Summoner Dragon. That’s kind of a theme. [FAQ — The ignore fortifications part is versus a site, so fire-resistant creatures may still be ranged attack. But they don’t lose the armor bonus. See this thread). A-. This isn’t terrible against the Big V, because he’ll have so many units.
Call to Arms / Call to Glory — I’ve loved Call to Glory (recruit a unit) for a long time. It’s the “get out of reputation hell free” card. I’m not sure it’s the best spell, but it’s pretty good. Call to Arms goes down in value the more players there are (because you go from 3/4 followers for one player per turn to 4/5 for two players, etc). Volkare also sucks indecisive units away, so better when playing Conquest. B+, but drop this with more players.
Good Spells better vs Volkare
Flame Wall / Flame Wave — The advanced attack (with +2 versus each enemy) can get huge against Volkare, if you can save this one card (using your hand and units to block), you can often unleash an 17+ point Flame wave. IF. B
Tremor / Earthquake — This lowers value, and the advanced version lowers value of fortified units more. That could make it better versus cities, but Volkare has more units (and the daytime version doesn’t care, so Volkare affects more). B+
Offering / Sacrifice [Discard cards to generate mana / turn crystals into tokens to generate ranged/seige fire/ice attack] — The spell I’ve gone back and forth over the most. For a while I grabbed this every chance, but too often sacrifice isn’t great. Siege 8/12 isn’t huge. Ranged 12/18 is better, but 18 will usually be ice. And then you typically waste some of the converted tokens. Some very good PBEM players call this “The best turn 1 spell.” So consider grabbing early (especially if you’ve gone hard negative in rep, because then you can still spend your influence cards on this). However you value this, it lowers in value as the game goes on, although if you happen to be mana flush its a solid late game pickup for Sacrifice. This is probably a B+ card on day 1, and gains a bit vs Volkare.
Equally Good Spells
Equally good mainly because they affect a single enemy.
Whirlwind / Tornado [Cancel an attack / Destroy an enemy] — The advanced version is great against Altem Guardians (which require 14 of any attack to kill) or any non-magic resistant unit that has too much armor and especially physical resistance. (Storm Dragons, etc). The weaker version is good against your must-block creatures (paralyzers or those that deal out too much damage, like Familiars). Since this only affects a single unit it’s not an instant game winner, but typically in either game there will be that one annoying unit this takes care of (either attacking or defending). Sadly, it doesn’t work against Summoner Dragons. A-
Burning Shield / Exploding Shield — Fire Block 4, and either turn it into Fire attack 4 or destroy the enemy (if successfully blocked). Against weaker enemies (that aren’t fire) this is a superior whirlwind/tornado because it blocks and kills (instead of either or). But against better enemies or fire resistant, it’s inferior. So a good early game spell, and Whirlwind is better late game. A if you get it in the first day, but drop a grade each day.
Chill / Lethal Chill — Again, a lesser whirlwind. Chill does remove fire resistance, but doesn’t work against Ice resistant creatures (a fair percentage of those you’d really want to stop, Delphana Masters and Ice Dragons, all of which paralyze. Interestingly, Freezers have an ice attack, but are fire resistant, so it works against them). B
Restoration / Rebirth — Heal 3 / 5 (in forest) and rebirth readies 3/5 levels of units. Never get this, unless you are just swamped with wounds. Although the nights ability to ready 3 levels isn’t bad, if that gets you 2 units back (foresters and something else). I suppose you can use this to attack, use your units to block and soak wounds, then re-set them. Perhaps I’ve been ignoring this, but it’s probably the worst spell. D. (I’m willing to listen to arguments. It does let you resurrect units).
Meditation / Trance — Another spell I don’t use much. Reshuffle two random cards and two handsize? That’s actually not bad, but its random. This works well if you’ve been using Training (etc) to make your deck better, or have a lot of artifacts, etc. If you use Preparation to grab an early artifact, then (since its night) you can use it twice. Note that Trance isn’t an action. You can do this and other things. C+
Space Bending / Time Bending — A feast or famine spell. Space Bending is a minor Underground Travel … but Time Bending? Woah. Take back all the cards you have and do another turn right away? With a large hand size that’s monstrous. If you take Sparing Power and put one card a turn under it, and happen to get Space Bending late, you can take a turn with 10+ cards (more with Motivation) and then re-use them. I’ve upped my opinion about this after seeing some examples but often it’s merely “good not great.” But if you grab this early you can cater your deck to it, and if you just space bend on a night or two, that’s usually great horrible. B
Mist Form / Veil of Mist — [Move 4, all terrains are two, but you can’t go up hills or mountains for the entire turn. But you can cross lakes. / All units gain resistances, ignore the first wound and any additional effects.] Another spell I almost never take, although looking at it I’m not sure why. The Veil would let you effectively block a number of tokens equal to units + 1 (assuming the +1 was relatively small), and move four / ignore terrain isn’t bad. I’m going to make a concerted effort to look for ways to play this. If nothing else, this stops the annoying lakes. (I don’t often play with random orientation….). C+? based on my actions, but what do you know.
Charm / Possess — Influence four with either a discount or a bonus crystal (often a rebate), and the advanced ability is a combined block and attack. Another spell I’m always happy to see. A- only because sometimes during the day you just chuck it because you have no place to recruit or no good targets, but possession is always worth it.
Cure / Disease [Heal 2 with a bonus, or all blocked enemies have armor reduced to one] — Another spell I’ve been grabbing more and more often over the last month. Disease effectively turns your blocks into block + almost lethal attacks. Combines really well with Utem / Altem Guardsmen (both of whom double their block against swiftness). Heal 2 (during the day) is often just enough healing to be useful to pick up a few spare wounds and redraw right away, or reset a damaged unit. Honestly, during the day I’d be looking to go underground with this, unless you had a lot of wounds. Still, this is only rated B, mainly because the day effect is only so-so.
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).
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.
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.
This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. There are many ways to play MK, but typically I play solitaire (Volkare or Solo Conquest) or Cooperative (usually Full Co-op scenario … Conquest again). My thoughts are tailored towards that. Most of this will be useful if you play competitive, but some won’t. I have zero PvP experience, so remember that.
On the other hand, after not playing much the last sixth months I’ve been binging with 25 games in the last few week, putting me well over 250 plays (99% solo/co-op) and have scores ranging up to 270 or so in Solo Conquest (standard settings, harder cities can score more), so I possess some skill. I see session reports of people who have much higher scores than I do; I hardly know everything.
I’m going to assume you have Lost Legion, but if not most of this will apply. I do have Shades of Tezla, but those monsters aren’t really incorporated into my thinking much.
Many strategy discussions focus on “which advanced action card is best?” or “which skill is best?”
Interesting discussions, to be sure, but we set the table before the meal is served. Just as it is a mistake to study Joseki (opening patterns) before tesuji (typical attacking/defending moves), so too should we start at the beginning. There are several concepts that form the core of MK.
Mage Knight is about Bombs. Breakpoints appear all over MK … you have enough or nothing. When facing a Medusa (4 Armor, 6 Fighting, Paralysis), ranged attack three is worthless, and you will likely discard your hand to avoid taking two wounds then discarding your hand. Range Attack 4? You win, and get a tasty spell/artifact. Seven influence + a mana buys a spell at a mage tower. Six influence? Nope (well, there may be something available, but not always). 4 Movement won’t get you into a forest at night. You need five. All or nothing.
Therefore, hand size is a bomb. Because you can play a (non-wound) card sideways for +1 Move/Influence/Block/Attack that means that bonus hand size is effectively helping you achieve breakpoints. Don’t undervalue cards that give hand size (typically next turn).
Also, Mana is a bomb. Because mana typically adds two points (with the right card).
Wounds are typically an anti-bomb, but the counter to that is that MK is a timed game, like baseball. You have so many turns before the round is called (by the dummy). If you don’t risk any wounds you are probably going too slow. Ideally you have only a wound or two, but you can win with a surprisingly large number. (Granted, it will hurt your score). If you play conquest at a higher level, avoiding wounds is impossible. You can limp along with a wound, but if you have more it’s probably best to rest (you can still crystallize, heal or do other non-move, non-actions. Being on a useful space like a mine or glade makes that turn more palatable).
You want to do something every turn, but ‘something’ is flexible. Walking to a crystal mine and crystallizing a token from the source is a fine turn during the first day. Presumably you are moving towards another goal as well. (Rarely backtrack in solo-conquest). Getting a peasant in turn one is something. You can’t get an artifact every turn. Yes, sometimes you just rest and get a better hand, rather than limp along for 3-4 turns, or burn your hand to get to a magic glade, to start the healing process.
Too much of something isn’t flexible. If you only got attack skills and cards and spells, you’d be a walking advertisement for murder. If you can walk far enough. Better to get some attack, some movement, some block, some mana generation, because
Typically, in Mage Knight you are defined by your minimum. You will regret being mana short (and relying on the fickle source) or having no followers, or having no bonus movement when the swamps arrive.
You have to spend money to make money. Crystals don’t exist to score 1 pt each at the end of the game. They make your hand more potent, you can often spend them for much great effect early on. You don’t dungeon delve just to take an artifact for 2 points (plus the points for the monster and adventuring). That artifact lets you do something amazing. Sometimes I discard it the very next turn and only get a single use from it. Spend it, but wisely. An artifact you use once to conquer a city bloodlessly is better than getting three uses from it while also carrying a few wounds (or even just being slowed down a turn or two by having to lay siege two or three times).
Cards will come at poor times, need some flexibility. Attack does you no good if the nearest enemy is too far away. Movement does you no good if a dragon will smack you the first step you take. Any card can show up at a poor time. You can’t avoid bad draws. You can mitigate it. But there’s a bit more to it. The game state changes as well, and what is a great card at one point may grow or change as the game goes on. The most obvious cards are spells — they (potentially) work much better at night (or underground), but all cards have some variability. Well, I say that, but it’s not entirely true.
Skills and Followers are always in hand. Followers aren’t as flashy as artifacts, but you know they’ll be there in the opening hand. Yes yes, you can’t use them in dungeons or against monasteries, but you know when they aren’t available.
Finally — Time your actions to the dummy. Should you spend a card for +1? Well, that depends. If your deck is going to run out first, you can afford to pause for a turn to let the source reset, maybe draw some cards that let you be more efficient, etc. Has the End of Round been called? In that case squeeze every last drop out of your hand and followers. This shows up in a few ways.
Let’s discuss the game state in some detail.
The phases of the game
On the first day your goal is to level up. It doesn’t have to be on your first turn, but it shouldn’t be on the last (you want time to enjoy your new advanced action and skill). A follower would be nice, as would several crystals. Artifacts and spells work, too. It’s entirely possible to sac a dungeon on your first or or second turn (or burn a monastery), possibly at the cost of some wounds. But a bad draw could see you discard your hand. In that case, try again. (The TaoLing had a recent game where his first two dungeon raids required him to discard his hand to avoid wounds. On his third try, he got an artifact and was off to the races. A slow start, but recoverable).
You don’t have to get a follower, but it doesn’t hurt. You don’t have to crystallize a token (or sit on a mine), but it doesn’t hurt. Ditto artifacts and spells. Ditto exploring. In general, as long as you expand your power, you are happy on turn one. Sometimes I’m at level 3 by the end of the first day, but not always (or even often). Fame will come later. As long as I’m at level two and have some reasonable growth (an artifact, spell, follower, crystals, or significant forward motion) I don’t mind being ’empty’ in one category, or having a few wounds.
The first night is similar. I’d like to be at level 4 by the end of the night, but it’s not as pressing as level 2 was. Now you start with a skill and advanced cards, you should be able to stockpile power and routinely take a dungeon/maze/monastery and most ruins, although Dragons and White Tokens may give you problems.
During the second day my goals are to make sure at least one core tile is played while grabbing enough fame to get to six hand size (level 5). Getting more powerful cards is nice, but I want a shot at attacking a city on the second night (when spells are more useful) or at least recruiting a large unit. And the hand size
Core tiles require more movement, a lot more swamps/wastelands/lakes, but at some point movement is going to diminish in value. If you haven’t killed your reputation, then influence is going to go up, because once you take your first city you can spend influence (and you’ll get ~3 bonus, +reputation) to buy cards, and possibly the great city followers.
By the third day, I’m preparing for the final assault. I’m hitting targets of opportunity, and sometimes I’ll attack a spawning ground/keep/whatever just to grab a level or increase my handsize, but I’m selective on my targets. Followers are there for city assaults, unless I’ll get a bigger buff spending them early (or its the third day and they’ll reset before I attack on the third night). Note that (except vs Volkare) ranged attacks are not a big deal — most city defenders will be fortified, unless I’ve picked up something like Expose. (If I have a handful of ranged attack, that’s when I start looking at ruins or other enemies to convert those cards into a buff card).
I discuss the state of the game because values change. Swiftness is a great card on a first day battle but mediocre vs the final city assault (unless you can remove fortifications). Buying 10 advanced action cards is great, unless your deck becomes a hodgepodge where you may have all your attacks at the bottom. You might want a +attack skill and +influence skill, but you probably want the attack skill first and the influence skill second, and not vice versa. Naming a card or skill ‘good’ or ‘bad’ also means discussing ‘when.’
The basic deck
You have sixteen cards. So let’s consider the ‘base’ opening deck, independent of the upgraded card. You’ll have these all game, unless you throw some of them away.
Stamina (x2) and March (x2) — Move 2/4. You need lots of move in the game. Typically you won’t need much move towards the end (as you camp outside the final city or wait for Volkare to wander up) but movement is good. Extra movement lets you swing out of the way to sack an extra target, or cross those annoying swamps (or deserts/forests at the wrong time). Movement is better than block against cumbersome foes, because you may be able to partially spend and reduce a wound. Beware of spending too many of these cards early, unless you are just going to camp on a dungeon for points to end the round.
Let me digress to state that picking up a single movement boost (skill or advanced action) is fine, and if I get a lot of cards, a second is not unreasonable. You can wind up with too many ‘cool’ cards and find yourself sitting or spending your cool cards for +1, so picking up move/attack/block/influence in rough proportion to your starting deck isn’t a bad idea.
Swiftness (x2) — As discussed above, ranged attack is great early and mediocre late. Early, I want to use this to shoot something (and not have to block). Later on? If I can use it for shooting, great. If not, movement it is. Also, I’m content tossing these away for better cards (via Training or other effects) or for crystals (via Decompose) around the halfway point. I don’t often do (those cards don’t show up often), but it’s possible. Again, playing vs Volkare Ranged attack never really goes out of style.
Rage (x2) — You need attack to kill stuff. Later on, you may spend this as block, but early on unless you are going to be paralyzed, its usually better to eat some wounds then kill your enemy, and level up and earn your reward.
Concentration (x1) — Concentration is the bomb. It gives you a mana (which is a bomb) or if you spend a green mana it lets you pump another card by four (instead of two). If you have Concentration + Swiftness (with a green mana) and one other card in your hand you could reasonably attack a dungeon on T1. Add in a block and now you can defeat a shadow or gargoyle (albeit at two wounds) or a crypt worm (3).
Block (x1) — Lost legion made block much more important. Block Five (with a blue mana) will take care of most early game things you’ll face, although there are exceptions.
Improvisation (x1) — Without spending a mana, this basically lets you play two cards sideways for +3 instead of +2. That’s not bad (it’s like having an extra ‘blank’ card), but when you spend the mana now you are spending two cards for five. That’s more like it. The flexibility makes this a good card for emergencies (at least, when red mana is available).
Promise (x1) / Threaten (x1) — I want to get an early follower, but I’m not desperate. Especially if there’s no convenient place to stop, these are the most likely to be spent sideways. Do I threaten? If I have to. Obviously I’d prefer not, but especially if I’m getting a reasonable T1 follower (more on that later), I’m fine doing it. If there’s no great follower on the first day, I’ll try to grab two the first night (once I’ve got level three) but … there may not be two available.
Tranquility (x1) — The problem with healing yourself: you have to draw Tranquility with the wound. 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 a follower wounded then you always draw tranquility at the right time. You can also spend this for another card, effectively shrinking your deck. (Or spend it for two cards if you have a green mana), which may help you over a breakpoint. If necessary, take a turn spend a green mana and grab one card over your handsize, then wait one turn to reset the mana pool and go. Not a great turn, but do-able, and if you are sitting someplace useful, such as a crystal mine, it may have other benefits.
Crystallize (x1) — Again, if I have a free turn I grab a crystal from the pool (of course). But I’m also fine just using it to turn a blue into what I need (assuming no gold). Unless I’ve seen concentration go by, I’m usually pocketing green unless I know what I’ll need next turn (assuming I have no mana) or a color I’m missing (especially if the source is missing). Second choice is usually white (for Mana Draw and Swiftness). But often it’s just ‘what am I missing?’ Unless I’ve picked up a lot of great cards of one color, I want to be flexible.
Mana Draw (x1) — Basically a bizarro Crystallize, except you get a spare mana that you use right away (sometimes to Crystallize, yes!). There will be times when the source locks up or threatens to lock up, and in those cases you may want to spend a white just to turn a black/gold die to a color you can use, even if it costs you a crystal.
The Tactics Deck
In both solo and co-op the player(s) pick their tactics, then dummy chooses randomly. You rarely want to take a high number, but there are exceptions. At night taking Preparation (5) can help if you need one key card (usually a spell or artifact) for an assault if you have a good hand, or Sparing Power (6) if you have a poor hand and plan on building up to one huge hand. (Alternately, attacking ASAP and then taking the cards from S.P. next turn to ensure you have at least one real card, so you can discard all your wounds).
Against Volkare there’s something to be said for taking The Right Moment on the third day. The double turn lets you fully commit to a defense (or attack) and then declare the end of the run immediately on your doubled turn. (Obviously, you have to have an empty deck). Attacking Volkare (or defending) and then instantly calling the round is one of the key tactics against Volkare. Unless you have built an overwhelming force (which you can do in Solo) you’ll want to attack with all your units, then reshuffle your deck, reset your units and do it again.
Also, against Volkare’s Return (where you frequently wait in the city for him to arrive) you don’t care about turn order as much. It’s just two points (if the deck doesn’t end). But Volkare deserves his own section.
Back to Solo Conquest. Typically on the last day/night take the lowest number to ensure going first. With nothing better to do early I will grab the 1 on the first day, but I will grab the 2-4 as needed (whichever one speeds up my first level up). First night, if you are in a good mana situation tend to take long night (and hope the dummy doesn’t draw the one) because it makes my deck 3 cards larger, so I can spend a bit more dramatically and rush forward. But if not, taking the Mana Manipulation (3) card is a life-saver. Preparation to fix your hand is an option (taking Tranquility while you have two wounds, taking a card to ensure your first combat, etc).
In Co-op you’ll have to discard one of the player’s cards, but we still tend to take the (no special ability) 1 card whenever convenient then discard it. That makes the next days/nights a bit safer.
Let us discuss public relations. In Solo Conquest, a slightly negative reputation isn’t big deal. If you are at -2 when you take your first city, you’ll be slightly positive after your +3 reputation at the city (one per chit you killed). If it’s the red city (artifacts at 12 Inf/pop) that’s bad, but for each of the other three you’ll be able to buy a card (Green), spell (blue) or unit (White, which allow you to buy any units). Useful. If you build up your reputation even a bit (no pillaging, no burning monasteries, and killing a few orcs and dragons) to +1 or +2, you can often sit for several turns (again, not at red) and buy several card. Nice. But the downside is that keeps and mage towers are also -1 reputation, so it’s incredibly easy to drop five slots (or so), from that. A threaten, a keep, a mage tower, attack the city, that’s four steps. Sure, you’ll kill 2-3 orcs ASAP, but after that? Only when convenient.
So in my typical (Conquest) game, I am slightly negative reputation. Some games you can tell you are going to go hard negative. -5, or even the dreaded X. In those games, you want to get a few followers quickly, and then if you are lucky enough to see Thugs (before you get to X) or Magical Familiars grab them . The rewards for going negative will be good (an artifact for each monastery burnt, plus more fame). Typically I may try to save a Dragon for after the first city: kill it to go from X to -3, and then interact once or twice before the final assault. But what you don’t want to do is drop hard before you get a single follower.
And Norowas? You probably don’t want to go hard negative with him, at least not until late.
In Volkare’s return, you are likely to be camping in the city for a turn or few before Volkare shows up. In that case, a solid positive reputation gives you sometning to do. Chuck your influence (and movement) cards for a spell or advanced action. Even 12 Influence for an artifact is doable, if you are positive.
Your deck is what you have to work with. And the map is … what you have work on. The meals you partake on on your way to the final banquet. A smorgasbord of locations to visit, set aflame, and cook your meals on. Sometimes literally.
Villages — You can recruit, heal (3 inf/wound) and by no means should you forget the ability to pillage (-1 reputation for +2 cards).
Crystal Mines — Good stopping points, and good places to spend resting or even just crystalizing. Ditto Magical Glades.
Keep — Better recruiting (more common, anyway). The hand size bump (when near a keep) isn’t a great buff, but they stack, and there is always a keep next to the white city.
Mage Tower — A spell is a serious incentive (at least the first one or two until diminishing returns set in, unless you have a good source of mana). On the plus hand you can select your spell, versus the artifacts blind draw. Sometimes you sac a monastery and get two artifacts that aren’t much use (duplicate what you are already good at). For both Keeps/Towers you want to sidle up on them early on just to make sure they don’t have something you can’t kill (Golems and other high-armor and/or physically resistant targets)
Monster Den/Dungeon — Both of these are a single brown token (that you can’t see before you commit). The monster den only gives you two crystals, but you can bring followers. The Dungeon is an artifact (2/3rds) or spell (1/3rd). Unlike fortified sites, you can use ranged attacks. Sometimes you have a choice, and the choice is dictated by your hand. If you have ranged attacks, head for a dungeon. But without those (and only mediocre block) you may want to take a fortified site b/c you are sure you can hit it. The advanced sites are similar but with tougher monsters. Of the two, the Spawning Ground is better — two browns is less of an issue than a Draconum, and adding crystals ti an artifact (Grounds) is better than adding a spell (Tomb).
Maze — A somewhat tune-able Dungeon. You have to spend 2-6 movement (and movement from the movement phase does not carry over) but you can take a single follower. Often in the early game, two crystals is the best shot.
Monastery — Ah, the Monastery. These have the ability to interact (for advanced actions and followers) or burning. (Note — the purple defender isn’t fortified!). Often enough, you interact one turn, flambe it the next. As discussed above, assuming you have a follower or two already, the reputation hit for the first time isn’t bad. Burning a second monastery (or lots of threatening) may spiral your rep to the point you never get another unit. But (assuming you can handle the majority of draws) the three steps of reputation will be easily balanced out by the artifact and ~5 fame.
Rampaging Units — These aren’t sites, in one respect, but like sites they cost time and cards. Both are in short supply. The first orc you kill? Great, that’s a level (usually). Killing one later on, not so useful (except in the cases where you can literally shrug off the damage and the card would be one you’d likely discard anyway). Later on kill rampaging units when it’s convenient or you have to to move on. Killing a Dragon is valuable (points wise) and sometimes necessary but typically requires significant resources. Are those resources going to be needed? Time your deck. There is nothing worse than killing a dragon before walking into the final battle and realizing your deck cannot generate the attack needed to kill the last unit.
Putting it all together — You can’t really plan on sites, but you know what to expect. Just as with your deck you’ll have to go with the flow, but the game is all about tradeoffs.
In Part Two — Some comments about the Conquest vs Volkare’s Return, the heroes and the minions.