I like magic games (this is not to be confused with Magic: games…). I like seeing the different ideas and implementation ideas people come up with to represent magical powers. The same goes for most magic genres. So when I saw that a game called ManaSurge was on our review list, I jumped for it.
Why the sigh? Well…
I’m going to do something I don’t usually do, and write my rating for this game first! This is to save you the bother of reading through the rest of the review (though it might end up being comical as I try and remain up-beat while talking about a “game” that doesn’t warrant the effort – no promises!). In my opinion, ManaSurge gets a 1.5. There, I said it! It’s a (slightly) thematic and admittedly quite nicely produced reimplementation of Uno – but it does that implementation badly. Most of the 1.5 is going to the production quality. Long story short, unless Uno leaves you wanting something more (and even then, only if “more” is more suits – Orange and Purple lovers are sorely lacking representation…) then you’re better off investing in card sleeves to keep Uno fresh…
Now, having said that, it’s possible that I see no game-play here because I am too mature (read: old) for the “game” and want something more. I (using the presumptive “I” that encompasses my gaming group) am also not ManaSurge’s primary audience (at least, I hope not!). However, I like playing Kackerlacken Poker, Tsuro, Hive Mind (but who doesn’t?) and other such light-hearted, easy-playin’ games. This doesn’t come close to any of those games. And you’ll notice I didn’t use quote-marks around game when it comes to those titles!
I would leave it there, but I have a word-count to aim for, so…
Having got that out of the way, on with the review!
Characters to add…character?
In ManaSurge you take on the roles of master wizards fighting for a mystical “World Crystal”; a crystal of unparalleled magical power, don’t you know! Up to six players compete in a “duel” (lets not haggle over whether a duel can include more than two people) where you’re daring your fellow wizards to boost the power of your spell, until someone fails to do so, and bears the brunt of the damage. Each player takes on the role of a wizard and has a special power.
The first wizard selects the type of magic spell, and then each subsequent wizard must either match or beat the rank and/or type of the spell cast:
- A wizard can play a card of any type, that matches the rank of the spell, to protect themselves from damage. This wizard can also counter-spell!
- A wizard that can play a card of the same type, and a higher rank, is said to “resonate” with the spell!
- Alternatively, a wizard can use Metamagic to affect the flow of magic around the table.
(So, the game boils down to playing cards that either match the suit, or the number, of the cards already played. So far, so Uno!)
- If a wizard plays the last card from their hand, they experience a ManaSurge (read: score more points)
- If a wizard cant play a card, the spell hits them full in the face, and they must take “damage” and the round ends.
At the end of a round of ManaSurge, wizards can refill their hand to five cards if they so wish. Not doing so leaves you with more limited options for the next round, however makes it potentially easier to ManaSurge! The player who last played a valid card also takes an additional shard – just rewards for flinging a spell at another wizard!
Types of magic? Isn’t magic just…magic?
ManaSurge Magics have six different types (read: the deck has six suits):
Blades – the spell rank is reversed, meaning that the same or a lower card must be played by subsequent players.
Fireball – the spell’s final damage is the number of shards, plus 2.
Frost – allows you to pass a card to the next player.
Lightning – allows you to play another valid card, either increasing the spell’s strength, or metamagic
Quake – if anyone other than the caster is struck by the spell, all other players take 1 damage
Entangle – ignore the numbers, you can play any power Entangle card
Remember, to trigger the special rules, you must match the type of spell played by the caster.
There are also fourteen metamagic cards, which affect the flow of the spell, that can be played regardless of the magic type
Reso-spelling and Counter-whatting?! My head hurts!
Don’t worry, I can explain everything! (well, advanced quantum theory makes my brain sizzle too).
In Manasurge, when a wizard declares a counter-spell, the wizard reverses the direction of the spell, effectively directing the damage back in the direction of the caster. This is optional, and might not be in the wizard’s best interest!
When a wizard resonates with a spell, they are able to use the spell’s special rule. The wizard also places a shard on their resonating card. At the end of the round, if you aren’t the unfortunate caster who takes damage, you get to keep these shards as victory points. The number of shards added to all ’resonating’ spell cards indicates the final damage that the spell inflicts.
So what’s a ManaSurge, then?
Shards (yes, that’s a ‘d’) mean victory points!
A wizard experiences a ManaSurge when they play the last of the cards from their hand. This is quite difficult to do. Certain spells allow others to give you cards (Frost). Metamagic cards can also keep gameplay away from you if your opponents are paying attention to your hand size. That Metamagic can be played regardless of suit, however, is a help.
When you ManaSurge, you take two additional shards as a reward. And shards mean victory, if you have enough.
Spells are dangerous, eh? You mentioned taking damage..?
Spells in ManaSurge are, indeed, dangerous (with magic types like Fire, and Blades, this might have been obvious). If you cant play a card, you take damage equal to the number of shards played on spells this round. Damage takes the form of face-down spell cards placed in front of you. If you ever have five damage cards, you lose a shard (if you have any) and discard your hand. You then pick up the damage pile, and continue playing with those cards as your new hand. This can either be good, or bad news! Sometimes ManaSurge damage piles are actually better than the hand you were previously playing with – ooh, those fickle…erm…card gods!
OK, so them’s the rules? Sounds good! What’s ManaSurge like to play?
Actually, THESE are the rules…
Uh-oh, so you saw through that, then, eh? well…playing ManaSurge is akin to pulling teeth. Your own. With tweezers.
Not enough? OK…
Imagine a Mexican wave at a sports stadium. But this wave starts and ends too quickly. then skips a couple of sections before starting and petering out again. This continues for an inordinately long time – and there’s no sporting event to be cheering for in the first place! (what on earth is a (however loosely) sports-based analogy doing in a board gamer’s review?)
In my opinion, the problem with the game is that the deck is too dilute. While the mechanics sound like a good basis for some round the table spell casting action, it’s really difficult to actually make it around the table! Because there are six suits, it’s unlikely that players each hold cards from the active suit. Because there aren’t enough of each number in those suits, it’s also pretty unlikely that there will be much counter-spelling. So the game sputters around three or so players before the round ends and someone takes damage.
ManaSurge has most of the ingredients to make a fun, light-hearted, quick to play game. It just feels like the balance in the decks is so off, that game isn’t fun to play. Possibly my group’s five players is where this game breaks down. Fewer players (or different ones, who knows?) might make the problems less apparent. It’s a real shame, because as mentioned some real work has gone into making this a good-looking game. Hopefully you agree after seeing the pictures.
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