This game offers a lot of enjoyment in a small box. There are great strategic decisions to make -- where to spend your Mana or elusive Energy, when to heal your Scrolls, and the scrolls you buy for your Grimoire which can set up a combo-engine. There's a lot to do here, and it feels tight and well-balanced.
Theme and What is it?
Unlock the power within! Take on the role of a young Mageling as you embark upon a perilous quest to save the Evertree! Use custom dice to activate spells, relics, creatures, and allies as you battle the dark forces of the Tempest in five unique locations.
You will need all of your wits, and maybe a little help from your friends, to overcome the challenges of your journey and prevail in a final showdown of arcane sorcery!
Mageling is a dice placement, engine-building, card building, adventure game for 1-4 players that can be played competitively, solo, or cooperatively. Playtime is 30-90 minutes.
There are several ways to play Mageling — Co-op Mode with light character progression (for 1-4 players), the standard version which is the Competitive game for 2-4 players, and a quicker-playing Contest Mode (for 2-4 players).
In preparing for this review, I’ve played several games each of the Co-op and Competitive games. The Competitive game is discussed in this review unless specified.
When setting up Mageling, from the Nexus deck lay out a row of five cards called the Nexus (this is the market for the game).
Above the Nexus, layout 5 Location cards (the five different locations are The Evertree, Grimthorn Forest, Rune City, the Sky Tower of Ae’Ruim, and finally, the Cloud Chamber). Each of these locations has a small deck of cards from which the specific location for this game is randomly drawn. The first Location card, The Evertree, is revealed at the start of the game. As the Magelings defeat a location, the next Location is revealed, presenting increasing challenges the players must solve to progress.
Mana crystals and Spawns/Injury tokens are placed in the play area. Each player receives their starting allotment of Mana, and a Spirit Crystal board (player board). The Spirit Crystal has five sections.
The first section tracks Energy collected each turn from dice rolls. Unused Energy dissipates at the end of each turn; only Mana (which is crystallized Energy) remains between turns.
The second section consists of two smaller sub-sections collectively called Gather, where Mana and Energy are gathered. To gather, 2 dice may be placed in each section. Gain 1 Mana if the dice match, or 1 Energy if they don’t.
The next section is called the Animate section. Placing a special die face here (the “Finesse” symbol, which looks like a hand) enables the player to do one of three things: discard any one card from the Nexus, re-roll any number of your dice, or trigger an Animate card effect (indicated by the Animate symbol on the card).
The fourth section is called Focus. The player may choose one of the 5 dice runes. For each die set to that rune, and each Finesse die placed in the Focus section generates 1 Energy.
The advanced side of the Spirit Crystal board contains the fifth section. It has an effect unique to each Spirit Crystal and can be activated by using the Finesse die. The advanced side is used only in co-op mode.
Players progress through the game by amassing Mana and Energy and purchasing cards from the Nexus to improve their Magelings. Or do you want to use your dice instead to trigger Scrolls, heal Scrolls, or for their other effects?
As the Magelings improve, the five locations can be defeated. In Competitive mode, the first player to defeat the final Location wins the game. Other game modes have different conditions for winning.
The game is played in rounds, and each round consists of three phases for each player — Roll, Action, and Refresh. Other game modes may manipulate these phases.
In the Roll phase, the active player rolls all five dice and can optionally re-roll any of them once before their dice are locked.
During the Action Phase, the active player may take the following actions in any order as many times as their resources will allow (in addition to any Spirit Crystal actions if playing the co-op mode).
- Activate a Spirit — If there is a Spirit card in the Nexus and the Focused rune matches it, the active player may activate that Spirit card, triggering the effect on it. Then the Spirit card is discarded.
- Buy a Scroll — Pay Energy/Mana equal to the cost of the Scroll card in the Nexus, then add it to your Grimoire (play area) — or discard it to prevent an opponent from claiming it. Scroll cards in your Grimoire can be activated on your next turn.
- Activate a Scroll — Each Scroll card corresponds to one of the five rune types (die faces) and can be activated by placing a corresponding die on it. Once activated, a scroll remains active until the end of the current player’s Action phase.
- Discard a Scroll — The active player may discard a Scroll from their play area. If you buy a new Scroll and your Grimoire is full (it can hold only 8 Scrolls), you must discard a card to make room.
- Discard a Spawn — The active player may spend 2 Energy/Mana to discard a Spawn token from their play area. Spawn tokens represent otherworldly beings that block a mage’s path. Some conditions in the game force players to gain Spawn. A player may not defeat their current location until all Spawn in their area has been discarded.
- Heal — Scrolls can be damaged by various card conditions. Damaged Scrolls remain in the play area but cannot be used until they’re healed. To heal a damaged Scroll, place a die with a Rune (face) that matches the icon on the Scroll. During the Refresh Phase, the damage is removed from Scrolls healed this way.
The Refresh phase occurs when the active player has finished their Action phase. Any unspent Energy is lost (though Mana persists). Remove damage tokens from Scrolls that have been healed during this round. Finally, assign any damage tokens in the play area to undamaged scrolls, discarding any damage tokens that cannot be assigned.
Play passes to the next player and continues around the table.
When I saw this game online, unfortunately after its Kickstarter had ended, I was intrigued by the art and the dice. At the time, it was a visceral, surface-only good impression. I made a late pledge to support the game. Some people may not like this art style, but for me, it is pretty great.
The 17-page manual may appear confusing at first, but that is just because you’ve not encountered a game exactly like Mageling before. The game isn’t complicated, and the manual is well-written without apparent typos.
Work your way through a learning game (my wife and I call these our “stumble-through” plays of games) and learn the game. It will soon click. Play it again soon after to “set” the learning, then you’ll fully enjoy Mageling.
Do yourself a favor — find the PDF manual online (here) and print the cover in full-color expanded to fit 8.5″x11″ paper. The cover on the small manual (small to fit in the game box) does not do justice to this artwork. It’s compelling and provides a glimpse into a fascinating world.
Game Build Quality
I received the game at Gen Con. When I opened it, I was impressed by the quality of the components — nice thick cardboard tokens, custom engraved dice, decently sturdy card stock, and purple plastic Mana crystals. I wish the Spirit Boards were on thicker chipboard, but they are sufficient as is.
The manual is well-designed and printed on quality paper. The print is a tiny bit small for my old eyes but printing the rule book PDF (link above) from the Familiar Games website expanded to 8.5″x11″ made it comfortable to read.
As mentioned above, the art really grabbed me for this game. Not because the art is hyper-realistic; it’s not. But the art offers a cohesive glimpse into a fascinating fantasy world.
The muted colors lend a dreamy, ethereal tone to the game. It’s got a good table presence and would fit nicely on a standard-sized card table for four players.
This game offers a lot of enjoyment in a small box. There are great strategic decisions to make — where to spend your Mana or elusive Energy, when to heal your Scrolls, and the scrolls you buy for your Grimoire which can set up a combo-engine. There’s a lot to do here, and it feels tight and well-balanced.
Age Range & Weight
The age range is listed on the box as 14+ and BGG suggests 12 or older. I agree with BGG on this one. I believe a 12-year-old could play and enjoy this game. There is nothing objectionable from a parental standpoint here. Only Scrolls (not Magelings) take damage, and there is no character death.
It is a medium-weight game (3.00/5.00 on BGG) with a 60-90 minute playtime. It’s more game than you’d expect given the small form factor of the box.
Mageling is a fun, medium-weight game of dice rolling, engine building, and card management set in an attractive fantasy environment. There are hints of deep lore in this world; I hope the development team gives us some stories set there. The game mechanics, artwork, and various modes of play add up to make this a great game in a small box.
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