Learning to Spell--A Single-Take Review of Mage Wars Academy

Today's review is Mage Wars Academy, a 2-player card game from Arcane Wonders. Each player is a wizard, trying to lower his opponent's life points to zero. Does that sound like Magic: The Gathering? Yes, broadly. But Mage Wars Academy is a distinct beast. Will it put a spell on you, or does this spell fizzle out? Let's find out!


The Components

The game comes with two spellbooks: one for the Beastmaster and one for the Wizard. These hold each wizard's cards, and Arcane Wonders made the sleeves in the books big enough to hold sleeved cards. The rules give you a starting set of spells for each wizard, but there are also plenty of extra cards so you can tweak the spellbooks in any way you want. This game is all about customization. 

It includes 131 cards--all of which are brand new. 

Two Status Trackers show Mana and Damage received.

You also get some dice, markers, and various tokens.


The Gameplay

There's a big gameplay difference that should immediately shut down any comparisons to Magic. In Magic you draw cards from a deck, so you may or may not get the cards you want when you want them. But with Mage Wars you can play any card from your spellbook. They're all available from the moment you begin--you just have to be able to pay for them.

This can cause some analysis paralysis, depending on the person you're playing with. Or depending on you, I suppose. 

You're each trying to reduce the other wizard's life to zero using five different types of spells. 

Creatures--You'll summon creatures onto the battlefield to fight for you. They have Life and Armor, and they'll fight for you until they're destroyed. 

Incantations--These spells have an immediate and one-time effect on the game. It might be destroying another spell, or healing a creature. 

Enchantments--These spells target objects or the zone. An Enchantment starts out facedown and then you reveal the Enchantment when you want to spring it on the opponent. So, for example, you can Giant Growth one of your Creatures or Shrink an opponent's Creature.

Equipment--These spells target your mage, and allow you to add weapons, boots, gloves, etc., all of which add boons to you. 

Attacks--These spells are a one-time attack on a creature. 

After housekeeping things such as passing Initiative, gaining Mana, and so forth, you'll reach the Action Phase. This is the main part of the game, where you cast Spells, attack your opponent's Creatures, and your Creatures take actions. Players take turns taking actions until there are no more activations left. 

When you reduce your opponent's life to zero, you win. 

There are rules for multiplayer team and free-for-all games, but I haven't tried them. I hate when 2-player games try to make themselves multiplayer. 


The Verdict

Mage Wars Academy was designed to be an easy introduction to this entire system, and it works well in that regard. But that's not to say it feels like less than a full game, or that you'll feel like you're missing something. Arcane Wonders is supporting this game fully--including two just-released expansions: Priestess and Warlock, which include new Mages and new spells for them.

Mage Wars Academy includes pre-set Spellbooks for each mage, but it also comes with plenty of other cards, so you can swap cards out or experiment once you're familiar with the game. 

Each Mage feels unique and plays differently. The Beastmaster has swarms of cheap, disposable creatures, and a few behemoths. He's also got spells that make his creatures even more awesome. The Wizard is doing his best to mess with the battle and the Beastmaster. Traps. Nasty Enchantments. Very different.

One of the biggest advantages of Academy over Arena is the time commitment. Because you're maneuvering on a board in Arena, the game takes considerably longer. Mage Wars Academy takes around 30 minutes, which is much more appealing to me. I might end up still playing for a couple of hours, but playing a few games of Academy in the same time it takes to play one game of Arena is more fun for me. Your mileage may vary. 

One aspect that is similar to Magic is that you're casting spells and summoning creatures to fight for you. If that sort of thing bothered you about Magic, it'll bother you just as much in Mage Wars Academy.

Firestone's Final Verdict--Mage Wars Academy is a terrific 2-player battle game. Before this came out I had practically everything Mage Wars had put out. But since Mage Wars Academy came out, all of my Mage Wars stuff has stayed on the shelf. It's fast, fun, and very customizable. Bring on the expansions!

Theology of Games would like to thank Arcane Wonders for providing a review copy of Mage Wars Academy. This in no way affected our opinions of the game. 

Thanks for reading!