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Manaforge Review

Quick Look:

Designer: Bryan Kilne
Artist: Jes Cole, Justin Lynch, and Le Rastislav
Publisher: Mystic Tiger Games, LLC
Year Published: 2017
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 60-90 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com


Manaforge by Mystic Tiger Games First Player Token and Dice

Welcome to Manaforge, the magical workshop where wizards conjure mana and craft magical items. Come on in and peruse our selection of wands, rods, and other goods that will enlighten your mind and make you the talk of the realm. Don’t delay, conjure today!

Alright, let’s talk Manaforge. The gist of it? It’s fun, it’s thinky, and yes, the dice are super cool. The gameplay is smooth and the strategies varied. One of the members of my game group even made the comment that, for him, Manaforge beats out 7 Wonders as a drafting game. I’m not sure where I stand on that possibly controversial opinion, but I can say with honesty that yes, Manaforge is magically delicious.

I really enjoy the drafting aspect, in that each round six new cards are laid out and each player can choose only one. Some cards grant points, whereas others boost mana output. Both are important, but which is more important? That’s up to you to figure out. Each player may only have a maximum of four cards in their workshop which, out of the nine cards possible (because nine rounds), is a fair number. One might think that maxing out their workshop with four cards that generate mana would be a good thing. However, in one of the games I played, I was the only one that had four cards working their magic for me, and the other players only had three cards in their workshops.

Guess what? I lost. I know, I know, what dark magic was going on? As it turns out, they managed their mana much more efficiently than I did, despite my being able to generate more via workshop cards. I was in first place for a while, but then, in a completely shocking move, my opponents launched ahead towards the end of the game. Thrilling, to the last.

I give that example to help illustrate a certain point of the game. That is, it takes smarts and management skills to win this game (yes, I realize I just called myself not-smart…at least in that particular game). The coupling of dice with card effects is a wonderful marriage in which players are able to stack the odds in their favor, while at the same time giving themselves a guaranteed amount of resources. Some abilities also allow certain dice to be switched to a certain side, thus granting players more control over what they receive. The balance is slick, and the many options make each turn important.

Speaking of many options…

Be wary with who you play with. Some turns may end up taking forever as players mentally calculate their various types and amounts of mana, thinking of what they can buy with it, then realizing they don’t have enough so they start looking at a different card when, lo and behold, they forget how much mana they have and inevitably start over. I’m speaking of myself, of course. There were times I simply could not keep track of my floating mana, and keeping tabs of it all made my head practically explode. If there was a method included in the game for keeping track of floating mana, that would be amazing. Unfortunately, there’s not. But, there are other ways, including using various dice for certain types of mana, making your own counters, and other such methods. This aspect is certainly not a turn off for the game, but do be advised that it could hurt your head (it did mine once or twice).


Manaforge by Mystic Tiger Games setup

Setup is easy, which is always a good thing. The main board goes in the center of the table, and each player places their player mat in front of them. Each player’s score markers start at “0” on the score track.

Next, the item deck is constructed. This is done by stacking 18 Dawn cards on top of 18 Noon cards, and that pile of 36 cards (18 Dawn + 18 Noon) goes on top of 18 Dusk cards. This deck acts as a game timer, meaning once the deck runs out, the game ends (nine rounds total). It’s important to have the Dawn cards on top and the Dusk cards on the bottom, because each grouping of cards (Dawn, Noon, and Dusk) corresponds with early-, mid-, and late-game items (acquiring the resources to take a Dusk card during the first few turns of the game probably isn’t going to happen).

Each player is dealt four Talent cards and chooses one to keep. The rest are passed to the left, and each player chooses one more card to keep (of the remaining three). These are the two Talent cards they will start (and end) the game with. Each player starts with one die of each element (earth, wind, fire, and water), and anything else their Talent cards grant them (as indicated on the lower right corner of the Talent card).

Manaforge by Mystic Tiger Games Talent Cards Scavenger and Wind Crafter Cards
This player starts the game with an additional arcane (pink) die and wind (grey) die.

Choose a first player and give that person the first player marker (shaped like an anvil). The first player takes two mana prism tokens (which basically act as wild mana, usable in place of earth, wind, fire, or water), and all other players take three mana prism tokens.

Rules and Gameplay:

Manaforge by Mystic Tiger Games mana prism tokens and wind mana tokens and water mana token

To begin each round (including the first round after setup is complete), deal the top six cards from the item deck face up on the spaces indicated on the game board. All players Recharge all their item cards (e.g. turn upright) in their Workshop, and then all players simultaneously roll their dice.

The first player may choose any and all available actions, repeated as many times as possible (some can be done more than once, others only once). Spending dice (up to four per turn) grants benefits (i.e. mana, special abilities). Building an item has players choosing one card from the game board, paying its cost, and adding that card to their workshop or store. Instead of building an item, players may instead choose to gain a prism, which means passing up a card in the middle and gaining a mana prism token instead.

Players may also activate an item card that they have in their workshop. Players may only activate an item card if it is Recharged (e.g. returning the item cards in the workshop to their upright position). Some item cards can be upgraded, which is an action that can be done as many times as desired, so long as the active player has the resources necessary for the upgrades. Upgrading cards improves the output of those cards. For example, instead of receiving a measly water mana when a certain card is activated, having upgraded that card allows the player to collect a water mana plus a water mana gem (to be used on a future turn, if desired). Lastly, players may activate a talent, assuming their talent card is equipped with a talent that can be activated (some are passive, meaning they activate once a certain condition is met).

Manaforge by Mystic Tiger Games Steam Vents card upgrade
This card is upgraded, and can now be used to gan either a wind, or a water/fire mana (one or the other). An additional water gem would allow this player to use the card to gain two air mana, and a fire gem would grant additional options.

Once the active player has done all they desire to do (or can do), the next player takes their turn, and so on and so forth until all players have taken a turn. Once all players have taken a turn, the round ends. If the item deck is empty, the game is over immediately. If there are still cards in the item deck, then all remaining item cards from the previous round (cards that weren’t purchased) are discarded face up on the discard pile and the first player token moves clockwise. From here, start the round as normal (draw six item cards, Recharge personal item cards in workshop, and roll dice).

Once the game ends, the player with the most prestige (points) is the best working wizard of them all. If there’s a tie, the player with the most remaining mana gems and prisms wins. If there is still a tie…I suggest a wizard duel (the rulebook suggest sharing the victory, but wizard duels are far more exciting).

Theme and Mechanics:

Illuminating Wand in Manaforge by Mystic Tiger Games

The theme of wizards cooking up magical items in their magical forge is a familiar one to me, and yet Manaforge took it and turned it into something I hadn’t seen before. Using dice as the main way of gathering resources is a fun way to go about it. Despite the randomness dice incorporate, each player has a special ability that helps negate said randomness. Enough, at least, that I never felt like the dice hated me. Drafting cards also helps increase a player’s ability to get the specific type(s) of mana they want which, when combined with the dice, is a great pairing of mechanics. In all, I felt the mechanics fit the theme well.

Artwork and Components:

Earthquake Wand in Manaforge by Mystic Tiger Games

I love art from the fantasy genre (I won’t deny having a poster of a steampunk dragon in my writing room that I like to look at when the words aren’t flowing). But not just any art will do. I like visuals that tell a story, images that inspire, and pictures that help encapsulate the theme and meaning. That said, I really like the artwork attached to Manaforge. I think the artists did a fantastic job. It’s not heavily detailed like you might expect from the cover of a book from Tor, but I find the art to be delightful nonetheless.

I’m a sucker for custom dice, and Manaforge doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The dice are engraved (no stickers!) and the symbols are easy to read. The tokens themselves aren’t anything special, and while I’m sure they could have released the game with gems that correspond with the element in question (and which would have certainly raised production costs), they work just fine for me. The cards have a nice feel to them as well, however after the first game they were already warping. The game board, while apparently a glorified sticker on a folding board, looks and feels great, too.

I would have loved a way to keep track of floating mana, rather than relying on my English-minded brain (numbers don’t like me). There was a lot to remember, especially by the late game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I simply forgot about a piece or two of mana I could have used.

The Good:

Some folks wear replica athletic jerseys; others prefer the replica mage robes. (Go Mage #23!)

The drafting mechanic, mixed with dice rolling, creates a fun experience for collecting resources. The varying types of cards to choose from make each turn interesting, especially when more than one player is eyeing a certain card. There are lots of decisions to make, and the strategy is surprisingly deep. And it’s fun! Guys, Manaforge is a lot of fun.

The engraved dice are pretty cool, too.

The Bad:

Bending cards in Manaforge by Mystic Tiger Games

With the difficulty of keeping track of floating mana available to use, turns can be long and confusing. The card quality isn’t great, but that’s the only downside of the components. Player interaction between turns is virtually nonexistent, which can make the rounds feel longer than they are if other players are taking too long deciding what to do.

Final Thoughts:

Manaforge Workshop Mystic Tiger Games

I dig it, and I’ll be bringing Manaforge out again and again. I like the drafting of cards mixed with the rolling of dice, as it creates a bit of tension (what am I going to roll?) coupled with a well-constructed engine within the workshop. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this game to anyone, so if you’re even the least bit curious about it, by all means “forge” ahead (see what I did there?) and give it a go!

Players Who Like:

If you like card drafting games, fantasy-themes, and a mix of dice and cards, Manaforge should be on your shelf.

Check out Manaforge on:


About the Author:

Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Utah with his wife and kids. He's a freelance writer and editor, as well as a budding game designer. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with a rich, engaging theme. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

Check out Benjamin's reviews here.

Manaforge Review Manaforge Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on June 26, 2018 Rating: 5

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