Published by: Arcane Wonders
# of Players: 2
Do not let the thin box fool you. Mage Wars: Academy is packed tight with great components. The core set includes enough cards for two mage decks and plenty of extra cards to customize your decks when ready. The art is really sharp and looks great. The largest components are the two spell books that act as your deck for the game. The spell books enhance the feeling of being in the game and selecting which spell to cast. Academy also comes with dice and some cardboard status tokens. Each player will a two dial tracker that keeps track of your mana and damage taken during the game.
The rule book is rather thick, but don't worry as it explains everything clearly and through steps that will not overwhelm you. The rule book has plenty of colorful illustrations that help explain the games finer points as well as show what each stat on the card means. The rule book also contains a codex that explains the keywords on the cards. Even though there are quite a few keywords, they are easy to understand and do not require much referencing back to the codex. I was very surprised how easy it was to learn this game and explain it to another new player. Mage Wars: Academy really surprised me with all the quality components that were packed in such a small package.
Mage Wars: Academy is a 2 player card game that has players going head to head to be the last Mage standing. Academy uses a "boardless" game system instead of the board that is used in Mage Wars: Arena. Each creature that is played is in range of the other creatures. There is no range or distance of spells and attacks. Rather, attacks are divided into two types, melee and ranged. Ranged attacks let you bypass guarded creatures and do not allow for a counter attack.
Each player starts with a mage class. The core set contains the Wizard and Beastmaster classes with future classes coming in expansions. Each mage will have their own spell book that contains all the cards they will use for the game. Think of the spell book as your deck of cards except you get to play any card from that deck at anytime. I really like having all of my cards available from the start. No longer will I be punished by not being able to draw the right cards. The game cycles through 3 phases. The first two phases, reset and upkeep are setting you up for the main phase of the game. The action phase is the phase that players will take turns activating creatures, casting spells and attacking.
The reset phase has players passing initiative, readying creatures, flipping markers and channeling mana for the upcoming phases. The upkeep phase has players resolving some card keywords like regenerating health or taking tokens off a card. The action phase has players taking turns starting with the person who has initiative. Each turn you will activate a creature and perform an action. Creatures are any summoned minions and your mage. A creature can attack, guard, or cast a spell if it is your mage. After a creature has performed a action, the card is turned sideways to show they have been used this round. Once all creatures have been used the round will be over and will start a new a round with the reset phase.
Attacking is very simple. You will declare what you are attacking with and who you are attacking. The opponent may try to evade with defense if the card has a shield with a number. For example a creature may have a shield stating 7+, this means they will roll a 12 sided die and on a roll of 7 or higher they evade the attack. They can only use that shield once per round. After a player can not defend or fails at the roll, the attacking player will roll dice according to their attack value. The creature Slavorg that is pictured can roll 4 dice. The dice will either show a blank, 1, 2, or critical 1, critical 2. The regular 1 or 2 roll shows 1 or 2 damage that will subtracted by the creatures armor. Critical damage does not get subtracted against armor and damages the target for the rolled value. Example: you roll 3 attack dice against Slavorg. You roll a 2, 1, and crit 2. Slavorg has a armor value of 2. You take that 3 regular damage and subtract the 2 armor from it. That leaves you with 1 damage and 2 critical damage. Slavorg will take 3 damage for that turn. After damage has been settled, if the creature was guarding and had the quick action icon or counterstrike keyword, the defending creature will attack following the same steps.
Besides attacking with your creatures, your mage can cast spells. These spells range from attack spells to equipment and enhancements. Each has their own mana cost and casting one turns your mage to inactive for the rest of the round. Both player's mages have a quick action token. Once per round they may cast a spell that has the quick action icon it. You still need to have the mana to pay for the spell. For example you could attack normally with your mage and then attack again with a quick action attack spell. Once you get your opponent's damage taken to equal or greater than their health points, you win the game. This can happen very dramatically and unexpectedly. The rule book references that some icons will be used in future expansions with new mechanics.
If you have followed my previous reviews you will see I am very 50/50 on head to head card games. I have never had any interest in playing Magic the Gathering or similar games. Part of that held me back from playing Mage Wars: Arena. Mage Wars: Academy surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. Arena was very easy to learn and play but offered plenty of deep thinking and strategy. There is so much packed into this tiny box that makes you feel like you definitely get a huge bang for your buck. As for those who already play Arena, I don't know if you will enjoy a simplified version, but it will be a great tool for you to get new ones into the game without making them feel overwhelmed. All of the cards in Mage Wars: Academy are compatible with Arena, which is always a plus to have more cards.
Games lasted anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending on experience. The spell books really make you feel like you are in the game. My favorite part is having access to my whole deck from the start of the game. No longer am I getting screwed by card draws. The game flows very smoothly and can be fast paced. I have had endings that are close and some that come out of nowhere with lucky dice rolls. Seriously 10 critical damage is insane. So if you do not like any randomness of the dice you may be put off by this card game compared to others. I really enjoyed Mage Wars: Academy and those I played with really enjoyed it as well. This will be staying in my collection and look forward to customizing my decks and future classes. If you like duel card games or Magic the Gathering, I highly recommend you giving Mage Wars: Academy a chance. This is the new entry point that many of us needed.
+ Spell books really make you feel in the game
+ Quality components
+ Easy to learn and play
+ Lots of tactical decisions and quick game play
+ Cards are compatible with Mage Wars: Arena
- Experienced Mage Wars players may be turned off by simplified gameplay
- Only two classes to choose from currently
- Fitting everything back in the box is very tight with no room for expansions
- Dice can make or break your game depending on the rolls