As I was walking around the Washington State Convention Center at PAX West this year, I noticed that Daily Magic Games was offering free donuts (until the WSCC laid down the law about bringing in outside food) to anyone who sat down to play a demo of one of their upcoming games. Being the professional that I am, I decided that I really, really wanted a delicious pastry treat, and so I stopped at the booth to try to get into the demo. Four other people beat me to the punch though.
The next demo table over didn't have anyone sitting at it, and it looked like I had some time to burn before I could weasel my way into one of the glorious donut-chairs, so I sat down and asked for a demo of what looked to be a relatively small form factor card game. I asked Isaias Vallejo, who was demoing the game at the time, to give me a quick overview of the game and he said "It's like Uno, with magic spells."
I never did get a fried, sugary gut-bomb, as I alluded to above—the WSCC staff strolled in to the Daily Magic Games booth and shut down the free-treat party while I was there—but I still walked away satisfied. I was intrigued by ManaSurge to the point that I asked Isaias for a review copy, and he graciously provided one to me. The description that Isaias gave me of the game is fairly accurate, but the iteration on the core mechanics that it borrows from, coupled with the fun theme and quick play, add up to a game that has hit my table a surprising number of times already.
ManaSurge pits a group of mages against one another in a magical game of hot-potato on a quest to be the first to gather 12 Magical Shards (read: victory points). One player starts a spell by playing a numbered card (cards come in values 1–8). The suit that the card belongs to determines what special magical effect that spell will have. The next player has to play a card of equal or greater value, or the spell hits them and ends. If a higher number is played, the spell passes the player by, but if they play a card that matches the last numbered card play, they can Counterspell and send the spell back the direction from which it came. If a player plays a card that matches the suit that started the spell, they Resonate the spell and can place a Shard on that card. When the spell hits a player, the last player to play a card scores a point for hitting them, and everyone else gets to collect the Shards from the cards in front of them and, a new spell is begun by the player to the left who has collected the fewest Shards.
When a player gets hit, they take damage equal to the number of Shards on cards that were played during that spell. Damage is taken as cards drawn, face down, from the deck, and the damage cards are kept on the table in front of the player until they have 5 or more damage, in which case they must perform a Rebirth (lose a point) and take all of their damage cards into their hand. There are a few effects in the game that allow players to get rid of damage, but the best way is via the titular ManaSurge. If a player manages to play the last card from their hand, they immediately score two points, and then they draw back up to the default hand size of five. If they have any damage, they take those cards into hand first, and draw any remainder directly from the deck.
Along side the numbered cards are a variety of Metamagic cards. These cards are effectively wildcards that can be played regardless of the previous numbered card, and each Metamagic card has an effect that breaks the rules of the game in some way. It can be tempting to horde Metamagic cards, but there are effects that can stop them from being played, and if a player ever needs to begin a spell and doesn't have a numbered card, they must suffer the Rebirth penalty. Even though they have a wide variety of effects, the Metamagic cards are almost always useful, and some can be ultra-effective if a player holds them for just the right play. The luck of the card draw means that you can't count on those plays, but it's fun when it happens.
ManaSurge also comes with some Wizard cards that can be used to give each player a special power during the game. The Wizard cards are fun to use, but many of the powers are situational enough that they don't get used very often. ManaSurge plays just as well without them, but they are a fun addition to have access to when players feel like changing things up a bit.
A note on “chrome”: ManaSurge has good card quality that stands up to heavy shuffling well, and the art is neat and thematic. Each numbered suit has the same art across all of the cards, but each MetaMagic card is unique and interesting. The Wizard cards all feature a face of various Kickstarter backers, so they don't quite fit in as well artistically, but it doesn't really detract from the game. The rulebook is okay, although some of the symbols used aren't very intuitive. There too many symbols used, though, so even the less intuitive symbols aren't too hard to pick up and remember.
The bottom line:
ManaSurge is indeed like Uno with magic spells. It feels iterative rather than derivative though, and it's a great filler, and an even better gateway game to play with people who aren't ready for the myriad of complexities that hobby board gaming can offer. The game works well across player counts, even with just a pair of players. The fact that the Caster of each spell will always be the player with the least number of points is nice and, even though the luck of the draw is unavoidable, playing the right cards when you have a choice, especially the right Metamagic card, makes a noticeable difference. It's not revolutionary, but ManaSurge is quick, portable, and fun.
Get this game if:
You like quick playing card games.
You enjoy Uno, but want something with more meat on its bones.
You want a relatively simple game to play with more casual players.
Avoid this game if:
You only like weightier, more complex games.
The copy of ManaSurge used for this review was provided by Daily Magic Games.
ManaSurge is a quick playing, fun and familiar game that slots into the 'filler' category perfectly. It's easy to teach, fun to play and is a great choice when you are playing with more casual players.(Review Policy)