This month, we continue our series on highly recommended tabletop games with a look at Arcane Wonders’ Mage Wars, created by Bryan Pope. In recent months, I’ve highlighted some fun group games focused on storytelling, including Agents of SMERSH and A Touch of Evil. This month’s game maintains strong thematic elements, but puts the gameplay focus squarely on one-on-one competitive play.

Mage Wars draws on a number of familiar card game mechanics that may be familiar to players of games like Magic: The Gathering, including summoning creature cards and spells, spending mana, and attacking the enemy caster. However, unlike some of those titles, Mage Wars plays out on a strategic board, adding a tactical movement element, and the game is not built around an endless series of collectible cards in a deck – instead, each player has access to all their spells at any one time, and they’re all collected together in your own personal spellbook. 

Getting Started

A single core set of Mage Wars is built to be played by two players, although the game supports larger team battles if you bring more sets to the table. Nonetheless, the heart of the experience is one-on-one play, where you’ll match wits (and spells) with a friend in a battle to prove the supremacy of your school of magic. 

The most important element of game setup is preparing your spellbook. Each player is given an actual book filled with empty card sleeves and the identity of one of the playable mages. The core game includes the Beastmaster, Priestess, Warlock, and Wizard. Those identities help to shape the kind of spells you should choose to include in your spellbook; every spell is represented by a single card that can be slipped into your book, giving you access to it any time during the coming battle. A player could spend hours between play sessions customizing their spellbook; each spell has a cost to include in your arsenal, so you can play around to find the optimal configuration. 

Luckily for new players, Mage Wars includes a list of cards to include for your first couple of games, as well as a standard listing for each of the four classes in subsequent bouts. As a result, if you’re not into the customization feature, or you just don’t have time for it, you’re still in for a good time.

Once you build your spellbook, the rest of setup is a cinch. A surprisingly big board represents the arena in which you’ll fight, and each player lays a card with a picture of their mage at opposite corners. This card placement is the first hints of a larger feature that sets Mage Wars apart. Rather than moving miniatures or cardboard standees around the board, you’ll slide your cards around from space to space. Summon a new creature, and that card goes onto the board, begins moving on its own, and remains in play until destroyed. 

Finally, a straightforward numerical playmat is used to track your character’s stats, like mana and health, and some markers are used to indicate actions taken and status effects. Pull out the custom dice, and you’re good to go.

[Next up: How Mage Wars is played, and how long does it take to learn the game?]