The Author would like to thank Mystic Tiger Games for providing a copy for review!
Manaforge, now you finally know where all those magic items come from!
It is no big secret that board games have made a massive comeback over the last 5-6 years. Once again families gather beneath the dinner table and pop open cardboard boxes for a night of familial competition and fun. Games have become far more complicated though in recent years, causing many gamers to be put off due to the complexity of rules. Furthermore, if complexity does not turn them away, poorly written manuals, time requirements, and the cost will. Luckily, Manaforge has a great instruction manual, plays in about an hour and a half, has a fast setup and clean up with a ton of replay value.
Manaforge is a game created by Bryan Kline and produced and distributed by Mystic Tiger Games.
Let’s take a peek inside the box and discuss what Manaforge is all about!
What’s inside the box?
- 1 Game board
- First player Marker (looks like a small anvil)
- 4 Player Mats
- 4 player score counters
- 4 player-aid cards
- 72 item cards (24 of each Dawn, Noon, Dusk)
- 20 talent cards
- 40 mana Dice (8 of each Fire, Wind, Earth, Water, Arcane)
- 56 Gem Tokens 14 of each type (Fire, Earth, Wind, Water)
- 14 Mana Prism tokens
- 10 Gem cards
- The Rulebook
Quality of the game pieces
The game board and the player mats are made out of thick cardstock about 16th of an inch or so. Both sides are black and glossy with 1 side having the game details and graphics and the other being plain black. The sides do have the raw cardstock exposed on the player mats, so this is not a game to spill a drink on! (not that you should ever intentionally do that)
The cards are all covered with a light laminate glossy covering and have pertinent information on both sides. I will, of course, recommend card sleeves that are clear to protect your cards. The cards do show wear after several shuffles so card sleeves will protect the appearance of your cards over time and use.
All tokens are similar cardstock to the player mats, with the sides being exposed cardstock but there seems to be a nice firm seal on the token graphic attached to the cardstock.
The score counters and the first player marker are painted wood and as such extremely durable.
Overall, the pieces are all functional, bright in color and appearance with good artwork. While not quite reaching the durability level of a Fantasy Flight Games product, I still feel this game is built to last and should endure multiple playthroughs with no issue, providing it does not come into contact with fluids.
The game board is placed in the middle of the table with the player mats placed at each end. All cards are shuffled as well both item decks and talent decks. It should be noted the item decks should always be shuffled with their type (i.e. dawn with dawn, noon with noon and dusk with dusk) You will then carefully choose 18 cards of each item type at random and stack the cards in 18 card blocks with dusk on bottom, noon in the middle and dawn on the top. You will have leftover item cards which are simply returned to the box. The Talent cards are all shuffled and then 4 at random are given to each player face down.
You then enter a talent card draft. Each player picks a card out of their 4 they like and pass the other 3 clockwise to their opponent. Repeat this process of choosing a card and passing the stack until all talent cards have been chosen and each player has a hand of 4 talent cards. The players then will choose 2 out of the 4 cards in their hand as their wizards innate talents and put the rest back with the unused talent cards in the box.
Talent Cards draft and purpose
Talent cards represent the innate magical abilities or training each wizard possesses. Talent cards can do many things such as changing mana from a temporary power source into a more long-term gem by flipping the mana dice to the gem slot on each die. They can reward wizards for building items from certain elements by giving them an extra gem for each item they build that uses that element. Arcane talents often let you make a multipurpose source of energy that can take the part of any one element. Some even reward the player by allowing them to convert gems directly into victory points. A few will even grant you extra mana dice, thus allowing for a leg up in mana possibilities to choose from.
Talent cards can have a huge impact on gameplay and there is more than one strategy to choosing them. In my first playthrough, I chose to stick strictly to Wind Talents. During the second playthrough, I chose one arcane card and one Fire Talent. I can attest to it producing much different gameplay results which were very interesting to watch unfold.
The top six item cards are dealt out one on each space on the main board. Initially, these cards will be a smatter of both items and workshop tools. Workshop tools ultimately help Wizards create greater magical items, whereas items will usually give a one time gain of victory points or help in gaining cumulative victory point gain. (For example, wands give you one victory point and some form of cumulative gain for every other wand in your store.) Any cards that were previously tapped or turned in your workshop space are now turned upright or recharged (not on the first turn obviously but on subsequent turns) Finally all players roll their dice.
The game begins play with whichever player has the first player marker (The little anvil). We did this by youngest goes first at my table. Play proceeds clockwise around the table from there. The player can perform the following actions on their turn.
- The player can spend up to 4 of the dice they rolled to either gain mana, create a mana gem, or power up an item in their workshop
- They may either build an item (spend the required mana amount and type to buy something off the main board) or if they choose not to build they may gain a mana prism. The player must choose one or the other gaining either one item or one prism per turn
- Activate one of the item cards in their workshop at whatever level it is charged up to (Many of the workshop cards require mana gems to power them for greater effects) Exhaust it (turn to the side) once its used
- Upgrade an item card already in the workshop. (place any mana gems inside a workshop card to unlock additional benefits)
- Activate a talent – some talent cards activate under certain conditions such as purchasing an item that uses the same element as the talent card or opting to turn mana rolled on a die into a mana gem for later use
- Play proceeds to the next clockwise player, once all players have gone, the first player marker passes clockwise as well and a new turn begins by clearing the main board and placing 6 new item cards out. The new first player gets the first choice of items!
- When clearing the main board any item cards remaining are placed face up on the discard pile on the main board. This is because some items may allow for a player to search the discard pile for cards they might have missed on the first go around.
- There are 9 rounds, once the item deck slot is empty and all players have made their final purchases off what is left on the board gameplay ends and victory points are tallied
The game intermixes both strategy (purchases, talents, and gems you earn) with random luck through the use of dice. The winds of magic are not predictable and as such Manaforge uses dice to show random elements the wizard has at their disposal. While some cards that are purchased may allow for some control (such as flipping dice to a gem slot instead) ultimately fate is a fickle mistress that may not play well. Smart resource management and the realization that costs get higher and options to generate mana or victory points increase as better cards are revealed through play. This makes your initial few purchases critical to properly understanding and using your mana.
It is important to realize just how much impact your initial talents can make. At first glance, it may feel like taking a talent card that gives initial victory points is a poor choice. That is up until you lose the game by a measly 2 points and realize that the talent card may have won the game for you after all. There is a certain logic behind choices. If you chose to focus on gaining just one element in the initial Dawn segment of item cards, this might serve you well. Later on though, when cards are generating victory points rather than enhancing mana gain, this may leave you struggling to have enough diversified mana for larger item purchases.
Is it worth the price?
You can purchase Manaforge from its producer here. At around $50.00 USD, the entry point price wise is completely justified in the cost of components and replay value. I can easily see where this game could delve into expansions that add new forms of mana or more items. With the initial product, my household is still finding new items we have not seen before on our 5th and 6th playthrough. With multiple different outcomes and strategies, Manaforge mixes the perfect blend of luck with skill and reasoning. I know amongst the sullen teenager crowd of my household, there is very little persuading needed to get them around the table. If that is not a product endorsement in this age of screens and cell phone usage, I do not know what is.
So go out and pickup your copy of Manaforge today! Happy gaming!