I am SO happy to report that this is a stand alone game that is absolutely GREAT!
Theme and What is it?
You are a powerful Planeswalker working in Dominaria. Mana is slowly returning to the plane but the Cabal is attempting to control its power. You must travel the ancient lands and build up your forces so that you can become the Hero Dominaria needs. This is a stand alone board game within a Magic the Gathering setting but with its own unique mechanics.
In Heroes of Dominaria, players will move around the board and harvest the mana collecting on the various locations. At the start of each players turn, all the mana of one color will produce and extra features might be placed onto specific board locations. These are determined by a flip from the Dominaria deck. Players can spend their mana to use their planeswalker abilities. These abilities are place heroes, discover artifacts, defeat cabal, construct manaliths, and create leylines.
Manaliths allow players to get a single mana token that refreshes at the end of each turn if used. Leylines allow heroes to harvest mana anywhere in the connected leyline network. Artifacts and cabal tokens are placed when the Dominaria deck says to. Artifacts can be recovered using a planeswalker ability and drawing a random artifact from the deck. These usually have powerful persistent effects but could be incredibly useful one time effects as well. Cabal tokens prevent anyone from harvesting mana in their location until they are defeated.
Initially, we set up the game and were not seeing much similarity between Heroes of Dominaria and Magic the Gathering except the names on the board and use of mana. We were hoping for some good card interaction effects. Then we took our first two turns which consist of harvesting mana and moving once in either order… Not very exciting.
About half way through the game, we started having enough movement, mana, and artifact abilities to be able to take 2 or more planeswalker abilities in the same turn. And which ones we went for or what stack of mana we wanted to position to grab started to matter a lot.
We were suddenly able to control enough resources to finish several quests in a single turn and chain our abilities together. The game blossomed into a very satisfying engine in the last few rounds. We were a little disappointed in how quickly it ended right after we hit full stride. Using the optional setup for all locations starting with 2 mana tokens will greatly accelerate the first few turns and make those final combos highly explosive for all players. We like that way better.
Game Build Quality
You might expect a Magic the Gathering style board game to be almost entirely cards. It isn’t. Each player gets their own board to set nice wooden components on. The punchout mana tokens, artifact markers, and cabal are quality construction. This level of build quality is typical for a WizKids production.
There are a couple card decks too. But rather than wimping out on public quests by just making a simple deck of cards, Heroes of Dominaria gives these large cardboard tiles to make sure you can see what objectives can be accomplished. It helps that you feel very smug when claiming the first giant tile 10 bonus points. Very satisfying.
The artwork featured in Heroes of Dominaria shows its Magic the Gathering influences. The same mana symbols appear on board locations. The Dominaria location cards and the quest cards look like the style of art you would find in the normal card game. I am really happy with how the board looks on the table and the way they have made a great location map.
Heroes of Dominaria really hit the fun button in a big way with two main features. The first is artifact discovery. There are passive bonuses throughout the game that you want to uncover as early as possible. There are one time use artifacts that can be game changing. Which one are you going to get from the deck when you invest your very limited early mana into discovering one? The tension of chance and excitement of success make for a very fun experience.
The second feature is the one I want to highlight the most. The feel of an engine builder. Nothing I had read on the game prior to playing it used this phrase. But players have a high incentive to get some artifacts and some manaliths early. These often give discounts or recurring resources that will help fund future projects.
Even if you just play as a move and collect mana style instead of building the investment pieces of an engine, your late game amount of resources will let you do quite a few more things on a turn. The final turn of the game often looks like rounds 1-4 combined.
I love the experience of a game that gives you more power to influence how you did the later the game goes. It helps you learn the game, figure out what is important, and then not kick yourself for what you now realize were horrible opening actions.
Age Range & Weight
14+ is too high of a rating for the game. It is easy enough to teach and learn that I think 10 or 12 would be more fair. There are no thematic issues that I can find within it. Maybe needing to explain to a child what a Cabal is could be a reason for this rating? Probably not.
Anyway, I think the game is a very pleasant sort of complexity. Simple to put out and setup. Not hard to get into even if you cannot necessarily see the depths of strategy in the first few turns. But by the end of the very first game, you are already plotting what different styles you will use next time and how you can better utilize your very limited resources.
I honestly wasn’t overly hopeful about Heroes of Dominaria. Anything with a huge departure from an existing franchise that is using the same branding is suspect with me as a consumer. I assumed they were trying to continue selling the Magic the Gathering name all on its own merits. Some would need it just for completion. Others would possibly give it as a gift to a Magic fan who might not even really do board games.
I am SO happy to report that this is a stand alone game that is absolutely GREAT! It uses the same term and artwork for mana and for locations in the setting. But really very little else about the game resembles Magic the Gathering. There is no danger of being hooked on something that will make you spend even more money. There is just great gameplay and totally different tactics coming out each time you play.
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