Review – Magestorm from Nexus Games, designed by Piero Cioni
note – Nexus Games has provided a review copy for this review
As a huge fan of fantasy gaming, I was very excited to have a chance to play this game, especially after my disappointment in the War of the Ring expansion, Battles of the Third Age. I had seen the video demonstration that was filmed at Essen and Magestorm looked very cool indeed. I was especially interested in the emphasis on Magic as the core focus of the game.
So Magestorm, the start of a board game series for 2 players, aged 12+, arrived in a huge and heavy box. Opening the box, I was very pleased to see that the components and artwork (by Fabio Mariorana and Kieran Yanner) were gorgeously thematic. There is a board with a hex grid superimposed over plain terrain. Then you have a good supply of double sides hexagon tiles with different types of terrain. There are nicely sculpted miniatures depicting the two armies (humans and elves) with a very nice design feature of snapping the figures onto a base to form combat units. The individual figures are specific to the two army races but other than the cavalry, it really doesn’t matter which minis are together on a base of 4 figures (each representing 1 troop). This adds to the fog of war as you aren’t sure what type of unit you are taking on until you are engaged in combat.
The actual make up of the units is managed through a card combat system where you put different types of troop cards together in up to 12 Unit hands. These cards have all the information you need as to their attributes for attack defense, .
Magestorm is a game of tactical battles set in the fantasy world of Aleen, the world of Two Suns, where the forces of magic permeate everything. The two armies are the ancient race of elf-like people called the Lausjan, who’s land, Tys, on the Old Continent, is being invaded by the humans from the Western Continent, the Kragis. Each army has similar combatants with some differences specific to each but nothing that is a game changer.With a maximum of 12 based units per army at any one time, and some will combine, the numbers of troops is very manageable and makes for battles that won’t take too long but have plenty of action.
The real core of the game is in the magic. There are 4 types of Mages and in each of the 10 scenarios provided (a scenario generated is being created for Nexus’ website) each army has a Mage who I guess you could say is the puppet-master, controlling all events and the actions of their armies. The 4 types of Mage are are all familiar to fantasy fans – the Airmage, who controls the air, the Druid whose magic is to do with plants and beasts, the Firemage, who controls light and fire, and the Fate Guardian whose powers relate to fate and destiny. Each Mage has a deck of cards which are used to use their powers in battle.
There are markers for spells, power points, wounds, and hold orders, as well as cards for the troops of each race, terrain benefit cards and Mage spell cards.Alongside this, each Mage has a Mage board where you use the PowerPoint markers to build up and direct which spells will be available to the Mage.
The rules are very thorough, relatively easy to follow and although there is a reasonable amount to go through, once you start playing, it all pretty much makes sense. The scenario booklet provided gives you 10 scenarios along with flavor text to draw you into the world in which these battles are fought.
The sequence of play is as follows:
In the Magic phase, the active player moves their power point tokens on the Mage Board. The placement of the tokens in effect, stores and channels magic into specifically chosen spells which are then at the Mage’s disposal for battle. This is very interesting and makes sense as you need to think about what spells will have the greatest impact according to how you want to fight the enemy. Its a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different spells.
In the Strategic phase, you cast your strategic spells which tend to be “area effect” spells rather than direct combat spells. You also use Strategic Points to move and place battlefield objective markers, give “hold” orders to units, and adjust unit formations and composition. The objective marker rules are quite good as they really mean you need to focus the movement of your troops according to where you want to hit them hardest.
The Movement phase pretty much speaks for itself as you maneuver your units towards the objective markers, subject to terrain effects, and you will also look to enter combat.
The Combat phase is where you follow a number of steps where you reveal the cards of troops you are throwing into combat (nice fog of war effect here as you keep your troop cards under wraps until they actually clash…), cast spells (3 magic steps) engage and melee with the enemy.
The cards are the heart of Magestorm and are the engine by which the game comes to life. The artwork is excellent and the detailed information is clearly laid out. The process is intuitive and makes sense. It all moves well although you need to absorb it by reading the rules thoroughly. There are a number of visual examples nicely laid out.
AND it all looks great! Very well presented, this is an attractive game.
Did it work for me?
I really enjoyed playing Magestorm. Once I understood the rules and the examples shown, I found it easy to play. I really like the Magic system and the choices you are faced with in employing and shaping raw magic into different end results with different impacts. The open ended system allows lots of room for creating your own scenarios. There is a lot in the box with excellent components. This is not a deep game but it is a game with good theme and atmosphere. Most importantly, the game is fun and doesn’t get caught up with too much detail and fiddly stuff but let’s you get on with the battle.
I have seen comments on Boardgamegeek comparing it to Battles for Westeros from Fantasy Flight and although I haven’t played the latter, the comments indicate that this is a much better game on every level.
I can’t wait to play with the expansion armies!
My main disappointment, and I admittedly am being a picky fantasy fanboy here, is that I would have rather seen the game themed around an existing fantasy world such as Terry Brook’s Sword of Shannara series where magic is a key element. It could have worked very well and sold a ton. As it stands, there is some background and historical notes which provide a decent level of richness. But it is all very much on the surface and although it works, isn’t enough to satisfy my need to understand the world of the game in more detail. It would have been very useful to have a map of the world where these battles are being fought. Had this been licensed in the world of say, Shannara‘s Four Lands, I would have given it top marks!
All in all, a very good game that could have been nigh perfect!
Boardgames in Blighty rating – 8 out of 10
Not really a family game, as its a bit complex for younger than 12 and is clearly aimed at teens and above, particularly if you like the fantasy genre, like me ;-).
For more information about Nexus Games go to – http://www.nexusgames.com/home.asp