Mage Knight is an absolute classic. It's interesting, crunchy, deep, thematic, satisfying, and challenging. The base game alone has an incredible learning curve and enough content to keep a hardcore gamer busy for tens of hours. Since its original release in 2011, the game has seen the release of two large expansions, The Lost Legion and Shades of Tezla, and the Krang character expansion. While Krang is simply another character, both The Lost Legion and Shades of Tezla introduce new scenarios, characters, and mechanics to the game, and when you combine the base game with all of the expansions, you have a mammoth amount of content. Even though it's going on 8 years old, Mage Knight is still as fun as ever, and with the release of Mage Knight Ultimate Edition, it's easier than ever to both get your hands on and to play.
Mage Knight Ultimate Edition is worthy of the name. It includes all content released for the game to date and sprinkles 5 new cards (4 Advanced Actions and 1 Artifact) in for good measure. The ultimate edition is absolutely the best place to get in to Mage Knight if you don't already have it, and it's also the best place to get all of the expansion content if you already have the base game but don't have the expansions yet, especially considering the price that each expansion is currently going for. If you already have the base game and all expansions, then 5 cards may not seem like they are worth the cost of entry, but they aren't all that Mage Knight Ultimate Edition has to offer to current all-in owners. Before we get in to specifics about this version versus the old, standalone products, let's take a look at what Mage Knight is.
Mage Knight is a board game/card game mashup that puts players in the shoes of one of the titular Mage Knights. You don't start at the bottom and work your way up, rather you are already powerful and you work towards gaining more and more power on your quest. The goal of your quest can be anything from conquering cities, defending a city from a rampaging tyrant, defeating the heads of opposing evil factions, gathering the pieces of an ancient relic etc. Mage Knight and the expansions have incredible scenario variety, yet even if you only ever played the very basic conquest scenario (in which you attempt to discover and conquer cities) every play of Mage Knight is unique, challenging, interesting, and fun.
Mage Knight features a ton of random elements, yet player skill is the single most important factor in determining your success or failure. You control your character via a hand of cards drawn from your personal deck, and so card draw randomization factors in to your choices. The beauty of Mage Knight lies in the variance of the cards, and the fact that every single card can be used in multiple ways. When you first start playing your turns feel limited to what your cards allow you to do but, over time, you learn that you can get creative with the ways you use your cards, and eventually you can overcome incredible odds, and take on challenges that seemed impossible when you first started playing.
There are numerous other random elements to Mage Knight, from mana dice, to which units you'll have available to hire to help you fight, to the layout of the board as you explore and discover what new challenges you face, but none of the randomization ever feels cheap or limiting. Instead, the randomization feels like a puzzle unfolding in front of you, and it's what keeps the game interesting and challenging from game to game, even when you are playing the same scenario over again. There are certainly random factors that can line up to make one play of a scenario harder than others, but once you are skilled in the game you'll become good enough to adapt and work around those challenges, and it's the main reason the game is so incredibly satisfying to play.
With all of that being said, this game does have an incredibly steep learning curve. It takes time and effort to learn Mage Knight. It takes multiple plays to build the experience to understand the intricacies of all of the different ways in which your cards, and the ones you can add to your deck over time, interact. It takes time to familiarize yourself with all of the different locations and enemies that you will encounter, and how and when to interact with those locations and enemies. As you add expansion content, those interactions, and the time it takes to learn and master them, grows and if you were a new player just jumping in to Mage Knight Ultimate Edition, you'd more than likely find yourself completely overwhelmed if you tried to wrap your head around all of the content at once.
Thankfully Mage Knight Ultimate Edition is packaged in a way that is incredibly new player friendly. The punch boards that the tokens come on, and the cards are all pre-separated. It's easy to separate out the expansion content from the base game content, and I'd recommend new players completely avoid the expansion content until they gain a firm grasp of how to play the base game. There is a sheet showing all of the tokens, and which expansions they belong to, and the cards are numbered/marked, so it's easy to separate them if you choose once you have punched them all but, it's nice to have the option of simply setting the punch boards aside until you are ready to use them. The walkthrough and rulebooks are also separated from an expansion rulebook, so you don't have to sift through all of the content in order to learn to play the base game.
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That leads into the biggest reason that someone who already has all of this content might want to spring for this version of the game: quality of life improvements. First thing's first; the quality of the cardboard components is universally improved over the standalone game and expansions. One of the things that bothers me the most about my original versions of everything is the difference in coloration on cards and tokens between the products, and the fact that the Shades of Tezla tokens were ever so slightly smaller than those from the base game and The Lost Legion. When stacked for play you could easily see where the Tezla tokens are, and the coloration differences in some of the card backs makes it easy to tell when you will draw certain cards. The standalone products also had some issues with tokens being punched off-center, and the overall fit and finish simply weren't nice and consistent.
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Mage Knight Ultimate Edition does away with every single one of those concerns. The token and card coloration is consistent, the tokens are all the same size, and the finish on the cardboard components is nicer, and easier to read. Some of the components have been reworked entirely. The faction leader tokens from Tezla are about twice the size of the originals, which makes them much more user friendly, and the reference cards have been split out into individual cards, whereas before they were double sided so you had to search through the stack of reference cards front-and-back in order to find the card you wanted. The token reference and ability reference sheets have been condensed so that all of that information is in one place rather than split across 5 different booklets, and everything fits nicely into the box (although I will note that the cards will no longer fit properly if you choose to sleeve them).
All of those quality of life improvements add up to make the ultimate edition an absolute joy to play. All of the little annoyances about component inconsistencies are gone with this version of the game. Setting the game up and putting it all away is easier than ever, and finding the reference materials you need during play (I've been playing since 2013 and I still check them constantly) is a breeze. The improvements to quality and storage mean that Mage Knight will be hitting my table more often than ever before, and I enjoy playing it now more than ever before. The quality of life changes made to this edition make it feel fresh and exciting, even though there are only 5 cards that are new to me, and so I highly recommend Mage Knight Ultimate Edition to everyone, even those people who already own the game and all of the included expansions.
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A note on play time: Mage Knight is a long game, even when played solo. Expect to spend 2 hours minimum playing once you've learned all of the ins and outs, and expect to add an hour per player. You should also plan to spend a minimum of 2 hours going through your first walkthrough while learning. I prefer to play Mage Knight solo, and I will play it with up to two other people, but you'll have to set aside most of a day if you want to play this with a full player count. It does take time to learn and play, but it is so worth it.
A note on “chrome”: As stated above, the component quality of Mage Knight Ultimate Edition is excellent, especially when compared with the inconsistent quality of the standalone game and expansions. The game is easier than ever to learn, and the rules are easier than ever to reference. The miniatures are almost exactly on par with those from the standalone products, although the city minis do have a wash on them, which makes them look quite a bit nicer than the originals that I have.
The bottom line:
Mage Knight is one of the best board games of all time, and Mage Knight Ultimate Edition is the best version of Mage Knight and its expansions. If you don't have Mage Knight then this is the absolute definitive version to get, and it is even worthwhile if you are like me, and already have everything that has been released to date. The game is extraordinarily fun, complex, satisfying and enjoyable, and having consistent components, condensed reference materials, and an easy storage solution means that it's easier than ever to get this wonderful game to the table to play. Whether you are a solo player, a coop player, a competitive player or a mix of all of the above there is something in Mage Knight for you. It takes time to learn how to play, and even more time to master, but the time invested in Mage Knight is always worthwhile, especially since the game constantly rewards you with new challenges, and a true sense of accomplishment as you learn to play, begin to succeed, and then become good enough at the game to challenge yourself with new scenarios and variants (all of which are included).
Get this game if:
You enjoy challenging, deep games that reward player skill.
You like games that can be played, and are equally fun, solo, cooperative or competitively.
You already have Mage Knight and enjoy it but haven't purchased the expansions yet.
You already own Mage Knight, and want all of the quality of life improvements of the ultimate edition.
You want the best version of one of the best board games of all time.
Avoid this game if:
You dislike complexity, and steep learning curves.
The copy of Mage Knight Ultimate Edition used for this review was provided by WizKids.
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