The Magic the Gathering board game was released in the UK last week and I decided to pick up a copy as soon as it came in.
There were several factors that for me made it an easy purchase:
- The price; it was only £29.99
- The quantity of models included; there are 35 in total. Even if this game proved to be less than great, I could still use the models for D&D figures, etc.
- The theme. While I may be an ex-MTG player, I still enjoy the theme and also the artwork. This board game looked like it would be a more visceral representation of what a typical game of MTG is supposed to represent; Planeswalkers (powerful but not invincible beings) summoning creatures to aid them in battle whilst hurling spells at one another.
I had seen a couple of games of this going on before I had chance to play it, so needless to say I was quite eager to dive in. On our board games night I was joined by three others and we decided to do a four-way free-for-all. We began by choosing which Planeswalker we were going to use, and I was left with a choice between Jace Beleren and Gideon Jura. This surprised me somewhat as blue is typically the most popular colour in Magic and I expected Jace to be taken first, so I jumped on the chance to use the mind mage (aka troll).
After a bit of a slow start (because none of us had played it before) we quickly got stuck in.
Chandra Nalaar (red Planeswalker) got immediately ganged-up on by Nissa Revane (green Planeswalker) and Liliana Vess (black Planeswalker), taking four damage in the process. Green managed to capture the power glyph (+1 attack for the whole team) and black captured the toughness glyph (+1 defence for the whole team), whilst I was just short of the movement glyph (+2 move for the whole team).
Green surged towards my blue figures with his elementals and soon after, his rangers. However, while his attention was focussed on me, red managed to deliver a sneak attack with his firehounds on Nissa. Through a combination of spells, the firehounds were turned into rabid, fiery, death-beasts, and they killed Nissa!
With his Planeswalker gone, it meant that he could no longer summon. Really getting into the role of a blue mage (i.e. a total d***), I moved Jace closer to the green creatures (did a switcheroo with one of his illusions) and used the Unsummon spell to send his elementals back to his reserve, effectively removing them from the game. To make matters worse, on the green player’s next attack he triggered one of my hidden enchantments, which unsummoned the squad attacking…yeah, I really did that. There’s a reason why no one likes blue mages!
The red player started to counter-attack the black Planeswalker, while I sent some creatures to harry them from behind.
Jace and the last phantom managed to finish off the last of the two bloated zombies, which gave Jace a clear line of sight to use his Mind Control ability. He used it to move Liliana off the toughness glyph and into the firing line of Chandra!
Chandra dutifully obliged, striking Liliana down (and completing her revenge on the two Planeswalkers that ganged-up on her at the beginning of the game!). The following turn she burned my last creature with a sorcery, which allowed her to re-summon one of the currently dead Phoenix creatures. This meant that the red player had more points worth of models in the scoring zones at the end of the game, making Chandra the winner!
It was a fun battle, and Jace was amusing to use. Chandra was a wrecking ball, as befitting a red mage. If Nissa had not been killed when she was, the green player was setting up to dominate the middle of the board. Liliana quickly took the toughness glyph, which combined with her zombie mastery made her team very difficult to hurt.
I am writing this a couple of days after we played, so I am now going to go through the positives and negatives as I see them but with a slightly less knee-jerk reaction.
- There is very little down-time as player’s turns are quite fast.
- The models are sturdy and unlikely to break (although they bend, but that is quite easily fixed).
- Apart from a few details, the rules are quite straightforward. This means that players can spend more time working out how to destroy each other rather than wrestling with the rules.
- It is comparatively cheap. You get a lot of models for your money.
- Each of the Planeswalkers plays how you think they should (red mages burn things, blue mages choose which spells you can play, etc).
- The rulebook is not as clear as it could be with regards to turn structure (although the movement rules were quite thorough).
- There is not much terrain in the box, but I appreciate that this was to keep costs down.
- The turn tracker is on the scenario page in the rulebook, which means that if you use it you cannot search through the rest of the book. We just used a die to keep track of what turn it was, so it’s not really a big deal.
- There is currently no customisation; you have to use the Planeswalker with the same creatures and spells each time. Obviously there are going to be expansions (one for Battle For Zendikar has already been announced), but as a standalone experience it may get repetitive.
- The board pieces are not double-sided. I really think that they missed a trick here.
We probably got a few of the rules wrong, but it was a lot of fun. In fact, the green player who was ruthlessly taken out of the game is eager for another play!
Based on my one playthrough I would recommend this game to anyone that likes tactical miniature games. I used to be a massive Heroclix player, and the potential for team customisation in this definitely reminds me of Heroclix. I will be very interested to see how the customisation rules will work going forward (can you have more than one of the same spell? If so, will they be released separately or will you need to buy multiple copies of the base game?). As a standalone game I am not sure how well it will do, but it is clearly meant as something you expand upon, and as long as they keep the price of future products similar I am sure I’ll end up buying them all!