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Mage Knight 2 Playtest Report: the prequel to the preview

October 24th, 2003: Mike Sugarbaker says...
Mage Knight 2 Playtest Report: the prequel to the preview

Neither Allan nor I had actually played Mage Knight up until yesterday. We’ve flirted with MK Dungeons (he’s actually on a big Dungeons kick right now), but that’s it. So, we’re not the best qualified to tell you how Mage Knight 2 differs from its predecessor, but we’ve gathered a little. We also have too small a sample to deal with to tell you generally what the figure selection is like in gameplay. We played the Quick Start rules and aim to get a fuller game in next week. Details below.

First: the viewports cut into the bases. They have a little extra room, which it appears that they use for a little speech-balloon-looking thing that adds another color patch to one of the other four slots. So, in addition to the first special ability on a stat, you can add another. Why don’t they just do the semaphore-flag-looking thing they did in Dungeons and apply two colors to the stat in the first place? I guess they just felt it was poor user interface. Either that or they want the option of applying the bonus color to more than one stat at a time.

Next: the bases themselves. The icons next to the stat slots in the viewport can now change! You’ll have to keep an eye on them, because they indicate the type of attack a figure is best at (bow = ranged, sword = close, a couple other subtler options), some general stuff about defense (some shield icons have a wand inside them, indicating magic resistance bonuses), and whether they can fly over blocking terrain (got a wing instead of a boot? You rule). So that’s a layer of complexity that, to my knowledge, wasn’t there before. We didn’t find it overwhelming… but then, we aren’t ten-year-olds.

Other new elements in MK2 are a bit sillier: plastic cards that either have game text (for Weather and Terrain modifiers) or stuff you punch out. We got four cards in our starter and two boosters. One of them was “card 2 of 3″ to build a small hut. Whatever. Also happening on the cards, apparently, is Equipment. MtG and MK are getting all happy about Equipment all of a sudden. If a fig has little slots in its side, you can slide it a deal that costs some army-building points and gives it special stuff. That’s what it boils down to.

What about the game? As I said, neither Allan nor I had played before. The Quick Start had us playing with 100 points worth of figures, which for both of us meant one big clanking steampunk fatty, and either one (for me) or two (for him) weenies. And one action per turn. Given MK’s system of preventing a figure from acting twice in a row unless it wants to take damage, Allan found this unbearably slow. Me, I just figure it means that each turn is shorter, and that I’ll always get a chance to do something about it if someone walks up wanting to smack me.

Allan turned it around at the last second and won. We agreed that in a small game it might matter a lot to have more figures on the board. My Steam Mauler outclassed his whatever-it-was, despite being only 6 points higher in value; I think this is largely because Allan chose not to use his ranged attack early. But in the end, his remaining weenie had nice range and my big dude was in sad-enough shape to take a fall. (Compelling narrative, eh? Yeah, shut up.)

It’s a good game. If you hate collectibility (read: lack self-control and don’t know how to get the most out of starters), then fine, you won’t like MK. But we found that there’s a lot of strategic and tactical depth, for a modest initial learning curve. The whole staggered-action-taking thing is just another gameplay challenge to keep in mind – some folks might find it frustrating, but hey, I find it frustrating that I can only move one piece at a time in chess. It’s part of the flavor. The changing special abilities over time, and the fact that they were coming as a surprise to us, are a real positive. And we have reason to believe that the new elements being introduced into the rules for MK2 will be easy to integrate if you like them, and easy to ignore if you don’t.

Next time: we play a 300-point game with the full rules. Allan will be able to take three actions a turn and will stop whining. Maybe.

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