Are you one of those people who picks out items based on how it looks like? Because I am one of those people… So when I saw this box and theme of the game, I immediately got excited. By a massive magical disaster a long time ago, the heart of the land and tower of the mage was ruined which forced people into the surrounding lands. But as a new era is coming and descendants of ancient mages are spotted, hope is spreading fast. But only one can become the new Archmage restoring order to the land. Will it be you?

How to Play.

For the set up of Archmage, place the board on the table with the ruined city tile and tower in the middle. Place the tiles with wilderness locations, towns and camps on the game board according to the illustrations in the rulebook. Each player takes a mage figure and places it at the ruined tower in the middle of the board. Also take a tower board, spell book mantle, the spell cards from your mage and 15 followers of your color. The remaining followers go to the common supply, also keep the spell tokens nearby. Then take one cube and planet of each color and randomly place the planets on your planet tracker. With fewer players, place the planets according to the rulebook. Then gain relics (colored cubes) based on the numbers below the planets.

Each turn is played in three phases. On your turn, you start with the preparation phase (skip this phase on the first turn of each player). If there are any temporary spell tokens placed in the previous turn, you can remove them now which will end the effect of that spell token. Also refresh your spell book. If you have gained or used spells, you can use them now during the next two phases if you pay the cost. Also progress one of your planets on the top of your tower board. Once all planets stand on top of each other and collide, the game will end and you will take your last turn. For each planet you move one space (they can stand on top of each other), you gain one relic that matches the color of the planet. Then comes the Journey phase. Here you can move travel and attack. On each journey phase, you can move up to five times to adjacent tiles. There are spells that give you more movement. If you choose to discover a facedown tile. Flip it faceup and gain the one time bonus resource. If you discover a camp, you gain a follower, for a wilderness tile you gain a resource in the color of the location and if you discover a camp with a hybrid race and have two relics matching it’s color, you may initiate one of your followers to become an apprentice on your tower board.

For each tile you travel, you can deploy a follower. With a follower present on a location, you control that tile and placing a follower is always optional. You cannot place a follower on a tile with other races. If you travel through locations that are controlled by an opponent, you can choose to attack. To do this, simply spend one more movement to remove the follower of your opponent and place the follower back in the common supply. If there are any spell tokens or wards (protection spell), you have to deal with those first. Once the tile is unoccupied, you can freely deploy your own follower.
After all your movement is spend, it’s time for the journey’s end. In the last phase the action you perform, depends on where you end your movement. If you end your movement in a town, you gain a relic cube for each wilderness you control, a follower for each camp and a relic of your choice, or follower for each town. If you end in a camp, you may recruit three new followers from the common supply. If you end on a wilderness location, you may place a ward of protection on the tile you stand on, and all the adjacent tiles you control making it harder for your opponent to attack. Or you can build your tower if you end your movement on a wilderness tile that you control.

If you build your mage tower, place the tower meeple on the tile and immediately gain a relic for the location of the tower and all the tiles adjacent that you control. Building a tower lets you initiate or promote apprentices. Promoting apprentices gives you access to more and more powerful spells to use and have in your spell book. The followers will have to be initiated to the outer ring of the tower board first (outer colors). You can initiate them at camps with hybrids, at the cursed tower or at your tower paying with relics of the right colors. If you want to promote your apprentice to a more advanced, inner ring, you can let two followers from adjacent colors dual at your tower, again payed with relics with matching colors. The winner (or winners) of the dual can be placed to the more advanced ring while the other follower will be placed back in your company. For each new space used on your tower board, you gain that spell, or lose a spell if you chose to promote followers for example. Always update your spell book in the preparation phase.

The game ends when all of your planets collide in the center. After the final turn has been taken by each player, the counting for victory points will begin. You gain victory points for controlling the most locations, and having the most spells. The more advanced the spells in your possession are, the more points you will get. The player with the most victory wins the game.

Playthrough of the game.

As the map around the ruined city was surrounded with both our meeples just before our last turn, I tried to gather the most recourses I could to promote as many of my apprentices to gain the most spells and win the game. Tomasz however had different plans. Marching with his army of followers towards his tower for the final Journey’s end, he wiped away my followers and control over the land with his spells and movement. Even though I had performed a spell who gave my land vines making him spend more movement and making it harder to attack, he on his turn had a counter spell, giving him more movement…
I lost with two points since I had lost the control advantage of the map and he thought he was very clever. But no worries, I will show him next time.

Even though we had fun with Archmage, it felt a little empty with two players only. Especcialy after playing it with four people later. With two people you don’t use the full map and there is simply not as much competition. For the most part of the game, I had my side of the board and Tomasz had his side and we were both focusing on gaining more spells and gathering supplies. With four people however we had a big competition over the land since you get supplies from them with certain actions if you control them. Spells were used more and also had more purpose. That being said, Archmage has a great theme with good art especially on the spell cards. But I must warn that the shininess of the cards can make it difficult to read the cards properly sometimes. With each tile you discover more land and unlock more actions to use. We also like the strategy behind the game. You need to balance if you are going to deploy more followers for land you cross through, or if you will save them to promote them later for spells. With four people this choice really isn’t that easy anymore which makes the game much more fun and challenging.

Final Thoughts

Archmage is a magical thematic strategy game where you have to choose between gaining control over the land or promoting them to gain more spells, all to try and become the new Archmage. This game is a lot of fun and well balanced with four players, but with less then three we found it was a little empty and less challenging. The cards have nice art and the components are good quality. The game is easy to learn and has not only reference tiles, but also a reference sheet with all the rules compiled into it which makes it much easier if you are playing your first game to refer to the rules. If you have a group of four, this game is awesome and challenging.

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