Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Quick Review - Archmage: Origins - Kickstarter Preview

Archmage: Origins
Designer: Dave Killingsworth
Publisher: SolarFlare Games
2-4p | 10-20m | 8+
Quick Review - Archmage: Origins - Kickstarter Preview

Coming up late this summer, SolarFlare Games will be releasing a game on Kickstarter called Dawn of the Archmage.  This looks like it will be a pretty awesome game with some really cool miniatures.  It'll be a much bigger scale game than previous games from Solar Flare Games and I'm pretty excited about it.  You should be, too!

There's good news though.  You don't have to wait months to get your first taste of the Archmage universe.  Right now, on Kickstarter you can find Archmage: Origins.  Archmage: Origins is a small, 56 card game (and four tokens) that introduces you to some of the creatures you'll encounter in Dawn of the Archmage.  It's a fast game that only takes 20-30 minute for two to four players.  Best of all, it's only $9, including US shipping (only $12 for the rest of the world).

In Archmage: Origins, each player takes on the roll of a mage, either the Necromancer, Technomancer, Demonologist, or Element Master.  They'll each have a hand of eight cards numbered one through eight, plus one Hold Monster card.  They'll each also have a token in their mage's color.
The mage cards are all the same for each mage, but they really do look pretty cool.
To set up the play area, the 20 monster and spell cards are shuffled and laid out, face down, in a four by four grid, with the remaining four cards becoming the exploration deck.  These will probably become part of the grid by the end of the game.  That's it for setup, the game is now ready to play.

Archmage: Origins plays over eight rounds, one for each numbered mage card in your hand.  On your turn you'll basically be peeking at two of the cards in the grid, an then pacing one of your mage cards at the edge of a row or column.  At the end of the game each player's total power over each monster in the grid is compared and the mage with the not power will control that monster as part of an army of monsters.  Each monster has a different value, and the object is to control the most powerful monster army.
You'll get to peek at where the monsters are before you try to control them.
But there's more to Archmage: Origins than just remembering where the valuable monsters are.  There are a few bit that shake things up a bit.  First, after looking at two cards you are allowed to swap their positions. This means the layout of the monsters is potentially changing.  Second, there are spells mixed in with the monsters, or, instead of discovering a monster you may activate a spell that will change things around.

There are four spells.  Three of them have similar behavior, but the fourth is a bit trickier.  For three of the spells, as soon as one is drawn you'll discard it and put a new card from the exploration deck in its place.  Then you can pick up all the cards in the same row or column, orthogonally adjacent, or diagonally adjacent depending on the spell, mix them up, and put them back in the empty spaces.  This really mixes up the board, causing some confusion, especially for anyone who previously viewed any of those cards.  I'll discuss the fourth, Divination spell a little later since it involves the Hold Monster cards and tokens.
Four spell cards can mess up all you thought you knew.
Then you can continue your turn, and are still allowed to look at two cards (either two more cards or one more card depending on if the spell was your first or econ peek).  After you've peeked at two monsters you can leave them in their current locations or swap them.  After this you may use your Hold Monster card.  If you want to use the Hold Monster card you can discard the card and then place your mage's token onto any monster on the grid.  This means that monster cannot be peeked at by any other player (without using the Divination spell), and cannot be moved by any other spell.  You only have one Hold Monster card and token though, so use it wisely!
Hold Monster tokens can lock a monster in place and prevent others from looking at it.
Maybe it's something you want, maybe you're just bluffing...
The Divination spell is a little more complicated than the others.  When you peek and see the divination spell you have a choice.  You can either discard and replace it to peek at a card with a Hold Monster token on it or you can keep it in play, but then when you swap the locations of your two peeked at monsters you can include the Divination card in that swap.  This means you'll have three cards that can be put into any of the three locations.

Once you've finished all your peeking and spells you'll put one of your mage cards in one row or column.  In a standard game you can only place one card per row and one card per column (one in each space on two sides of the grid).  An alternate rule set lets you put up to two cards per row and column (one in each space on all four sides of the grid).
All eight rounds are complete.  We're ready to start scoring!
Play proceeds through eight rounds until players have played all eight of their mage cards.  Then all cards (mage cards and monster cards in the grid) are turned face-up.  Then players compare their control over each monster in the grid by adding up all the values of their mage cards at the intersection of the row and column that the mage cards have been assigned to.  The player with the most control collects the monster card (usually - there are a few monsters that require the controlling mage is two or three points stronger than the next mage).  Ties are not controlled by anyone.  The winner is the player with the most points in controlled monsters.  Generally each monster is worth the points printed on it, but there are several monsters that give a bonus or penalty if a specific type of mage controls it.
Mage cards are played, monsters are revealed, now let's see who controls what!

That's the game in a nutshell!  It plays pretty quickly, just about 20-30 minutes, so it's a good filler.  Two player games are more controlled, three and four player games can get pretty chaotic.
Sadly, I ended up with a pretty weak army of minions.
Final Thoughts:
As an introduction to the Archmage universe, Origins doesn't present much in the way of story or mechanics, beyond a bit of backstory in the rules.  However it does give you a peek at the rich artwork and awesome monsters that you might encounter in the bigger game.  The theme here is great, but it's really just pasted onto an intriguing game mechanic.  The game would be pretty much the same with any of a number of themes.  That's OK, though.  Even though I never really felt like I was a mage casting spells to control monsters, the peek and control mechanics were fun.
You'll get to peek and then decide where you want to place the monsters back.
I do think the game is best at just two players though.  With four players moving things around the game gets pretty chaotic.  There's a very strong memory element to the game that is pretty challenging with just two players.  With four players there are so many more card moves and a lot more competition for each monster in the grid.  There were a lot more ties in the four player games, resulting in much lower scores.  The game was still fun, but I had much less feeling of control.
Some of the cards, like the monster with the Elementalist bonus on the right there, will have a bit of added graphic design
to make those bonuses, penalties, and other conditions easier to see at a glance.
With four players, it became more a game of trying to remember which cards I had looked at than what the card values actually were.  With the combination of spells moving cards around and players possibly swapping cards, actually managing to control the monsters you want feels more like luck than strategy at some points.  Yes, there is some strategy in deciding whether to play low mage cards or high mage cards and at what point in the game they're played, and deciding whether to use the Divination spell to peek at a held monster or use it to move more cards around is an interesting decision.  If you play right you can use Divination multiple times in a game to really mess with your opponents.
There's a lot to keep track of in Archmage: Origins.
Archmage: Origins is definitely a game where having a really good memory will be a huge benefit.  If you don't like memory games this one will drive you crazy.  However it's quick and light enough that you can get a game or two in quickly, without getting hugely invested in the game, so the memory aspect never felt too overwhelming.  It's also an easy game to work your own house rules into (I'm considering playing with a rule where you can't swap cards unless you 'pay' by placing your Mage card face-up), so if the memory is too chaotic for you, go ahead and change things up a bit!
Awesome artwork is becoming a staple of SolarFlare Games titles.
Yes, I'd be terrified of Tatashk....
The artwork, though, is where Archmage: Origins really shines.  SolarFlare Games is becoming known for having some really excellent artwork in their games.  I previously reviewed The Lords of Rock and was completely blown away by the artwork in that game.  Archmage: Origins is a bit of a smaller game than LoR, but the artwork is the first thing that everyone has commented on.  Everything, from the mage cards to the awesome monsters, looks outstanding.  The game designer has been sending me images of all the monsters as they've been completed, and even though some of the artwork on my prototype cards is unfinished, the final artwork for all the monsters is amazing.

For such a small game, Archmage: Origins packs quite a punch.  This is another solid filler with great artwork from SolarFlare Games.  And at only $9, how can you pass it up?  Archmage: Origins is available on Kickstarter right now, so pick up a copy today while you wait for Dawn of the Archmage later this year.

Preliminary Rating: 6.5/10

This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends. Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games. Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play). I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game. Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing. Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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