Archmage – Starling Games – Review

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Starling Games was launched as an imprint of Tabletop Tycoon in 2018. At Starling Games, we strive to create games for the hobbyist gamer, crafting elegant mechanics with beautiful artwork and top-notch components.

  • Area Control
  • Variable Player Powers
  • Crowdfund Date: 2017
  • Official Publication Date/ Street Date: 2018

  • 14+
  • 60-120 min
  • 2-4, solo variant

The time will come when the planets align and a new Archmage will arise!  Will it be you?

Gather relics and followers, train initiates and further their mastery of magic and yours, and learn from the races of the lands — beware, though, other mages and their quest for the same.  Harness the six spheres of magic, stave off your opponents, and be named Archmage!
MATTHEW KEARNS
Writer, Trainer, Midnight Planner

You are a human mage in a diverse land of mythic and hybrid races.  Your affinity to magic and drive have won you followers as you seek the ancient magics and gather power.  There are others in this land that have the same mind as you and you strive against each other to gain relics, cast spells, and expand your spellbook so as to achieve the greatest prize: to become Archmage!

Goal
The goal of Archmage is to gain the most victory points through controlling the most wilderness lands and the spells in your spellbook.

Setup
Place the gameboard between the players.  Place the tile with the enclaves and ruined city in the center of the gameboard.  Randomize the wilderness and outpost tiles and place the wilderness, outpost, and town location tiles as specified for the number of players.

Give each of the players a tower board, spellbook mantle, planet tokens, relic tokens, followers, mage, spell tower, and deck of spell cards.
Create the Supply of followers (10 followers from each player).  Place the spell effect tokens in piles near the game board.

Turns
There are three phases to each players’ turn: Preparation, Journey, and Journey’s End.  Each of these phases has actions and choices to be made.

In the Preparation phase, a player removes temporary spell effect tokens, update/refresh their spellbook, and progress a planet towards alignment.

During the Journey phase, a player move their mage, explore the land, attack followers of other mages, and deploy followers by spending Movement Points.  When you explore locations you can gain relics or followers and have a chance to deploy followers at uncontrolled revealed locations.  If a location has a follower of another mage, you can attack and destroy the follower costing you a movement point, sending it back to the Supply.

Finally, the Journey’s End phase, the player’s available action is based upon the location the mage ends its movement by placing wards on available locations, gather resources from your controlled locations, recruit new followers, or initiate and/or promote apprentices.
The last turn for each player is when all of his planets are aligned.

The sheer number of components makes one think that this is some complicated, intricate game, but once you run through it, you’ll realize that it is pretty easy and straightforward at its core.

The version of the game that I am reviewing is the Collector’s Edition, which came with some premium components like wooden tokens to replace some of the cardboard ones, a gameboard for setting up the location tiles, and foil spell cards.  Everything was nice except that the tower (player) boards were warped a bit so they don’t lay flat.  The punch outs were good, no tearing of the paper.

The art in the game is outstanding, one of the highlights of the game to be sure.  Lots of unique art pieces, plenty of detail… a nice fantasy theme to it all.

Archmage is a game where the players play against time and themselves, so you need to balance what is best for you against watching the other players and doing what you can to slow them down.  Based on how the game flows, strategy and focus can change from turn to turn.

The age range is 14+ but I don’t think the game is that complicated.  The steps for each player’s turn is short and you aren’t typically managing too many spells to pay too much additional attention.  I would peg it more at 12+ because it requires planning, forethought, and the weighing of options quickly if you’re going to keep the game going at a decent pace.

My son liked the game more than I did.  The beginning part of the game was a little slow as you tried to figure out what your strategy was going to be.  The middle took awhile as we were still trying to understand what the final goal was for the game and how we should approach maximizing our efforts going into the end of the game.  In two players, one person can win in a landslide he controls one of the two main scoring aspects: wilderness location control and size/complexity of spellbook.  This would be better with more players than two as it is less likely that one person could dominate either of the scoring categories and thus the game would be tense throughout.  I do wish there was at least one other aspect that provided victory points to provide a little more diversity in scoring opportunities.