First Among Mages
Archmage, by Starling Games, is a strategy board game of fantasy, exploration, and territory building. Players build and lead an order of mages towards the epic destiny of becoming Archmage, a wizard that weaves all six spheres of magic into one. Designed by Tim Heerema, with art by Enggar Adirasa and Dann May, Archmage is a hybrid of euro-style and thematic board games. Players gather and manage resources, control areas, and learn spells to shape a tableau of powers over the course of the game. After players learn the basic spells, then they combine them into higher forms of magic and continue to grow their order in their quest to become the Archmage.
A few magically talented individuals, their devoted followers in tow, have been drawn from their villages across the twisted wilderness to the Ruined City.
At the very heart of the city, the cursed Tower of Magic rises into the broiling clouds. From this vantage the Archmage and her Order of Mages ruled these lands for an Age, drawing together the warring magics of the mythic races into one all-powerful and cohesive force. That was, of course, before The Ending.
The Ruined City is now home to but a fragment of the mythic races that once served the Archmage and her Order. And until now, no human has dared step foot in these forsaken streets. The newcomers, of human stock, are the descendants of the ancient Mages, now outcasts living in camps in the farthest reaches of the lands. Unusual shows of power in their home villages have already gathered them small but enthusiastic bands of followers. And now they have travelled to meet with representatives of the mythic races, to seek their wisdom and magical secrets.
The mythic races are the keepers of six very different spheres of magic, with very different abilities. It was only the power of the Archmage that long ago found ways to combine the spheres and gain higher and higher levels of magic. Now, much of the magic of the mythic races is lost, and the newcomers, having come so far, are told they must now travel the lands to reclaim lost relics sacred to the races. It seems the journey to absolute magical power has only just begun…
Archmage is a euro-thematic hybrid, where players take on the role of fledgling Mages, traveling the lands to recover ancient relics, gather followers, and train apprentices in six spheres of magic and beyond. As the power of their Order grows, they will pit apprentices against each other, and attain unheard of spells and magical powers, building their own Mage tower to watch over the lands and weave their magics.
When the time of reckoning comes, a new Archmage will rule.
Each turn consists of three phases:
- Preparation: Players remove all of their temporary spell tokens cast on their previous turn from their locations on the map. Refresh the spell book. Move one planet on the Planet Track one space towards the center.
- The Journey: Players can spend up to five movement points to travel across the map with their mage, deploy followers, explore the land, and/or attack opponents. Players may also cast spells during this phase.
- The Journey’s End: A Mage will finish each Journey in a specific location where they will perform a specific action for that location.
Mages will learn spells within the modular spell system, with 18 spells in the base game. The cost to cast spells is in Relics, the magical currency of the game that is unique to each mythic race.
The game is played over a number of turns, depending on the player count. After the last turn, the Mage with the most powerful Order of Mages, is declared the new Archmage and power is restored to the lands… until the next time!
During the Journey Phase, the active player may spend up to five movement points. Unused movement points do not carry over to subsequent turns. There are three different uses for movement points: Travel, Explore, Attack.
Travel – The active player’s mage may progress from one location to any adjacent location at the cost of one movement point, resolving the effects of any spell tokens, city tiles, or opponent’s mage figure or mage tower along the way.
Explore – If a player’s mage travels into a face-down location, they may Explore the area at the cost of one movement point. The tile flips to its face-up side and will provide a one-time Exploration Bonus based on the type of location that is revealed. In a Wilderness location, the active player collects one relic of that type. Camp locations give the active player one new follower in their Company. Hybrid race enclave locations are where a player may perform a single Initiate Apprentice action. If they possess one of the appropriate relic types coveted by the hybrid race, they may trade two relics of a single type in exchange for the training of one apprentice in the matching sphere of magic.
Attack – Players may choose to attack an opponent to increase their own area of influence. Attacking increases a player’s ability to gather relics or recruit followers. Also, it shrinks their opponent’s number and is a way to gain Blood relics.
The Journey’s End
When a player’s journey ends on specific location, they will perform a specific action for that location:
- Town – For each Town controlled by the player, they may select one relic of their choice or move one follower from the Supply to their Company.
- Camp – Players take one follower from the Supply for each Camp they control.
- Mythic Race – Players may trade previously gathered relics of the type coveted by that race (a a single relic type for a mythic race or two relic types for a hybrid race).
- Wilderness – Players may place a ward of protection on that location and any adjoining location that they control, or build their Mage Tower.
- Mage’s Tower – If a player end on their Mage Tower after it is built, they may train the Mage and test their Apprentices. The Initiation and Promotion of apprentices updates the contents of the mage’s spell book.
Players continue through a set number of rounds, based on player count. During the final round, each player will take their final turn (Preparation, Journey, and Journey’s End) and complete their own final scoring. Players will tally their victory points based on two factors: Dominion over the Spheres and Dominion over the Land. The player with the most total victory points wins the title of Archmage.
Theming & Artwork
Designer Tim Heerema is an obvious fan of the fantasy rhelm. It is apparent by the effort he put into the design and backstory of Archmage. Heerema did an excellent job integrating the story, gameplay, and game mechanics with the fantasy theming. There are pages in the rulebook describing the backstory, the six Fundimental spheres of Magic, the Mythic races and the Hybrid races, and the land and its relics.
The artwork by Enggar Adirasa and Dann May is gorgeous, and adds even more to the overall presence of Archmage.
Gameplay & Mechanics
Archmage is a hybrid of euro-style and thematic board games., with mechanics including resource management, area control, and tableau building. If you enjoy any of these in your gameplay, them you will probably enjoy this game.
There are a few unique actions in this game, but one that really stands out is the tracking of rounds. At the top of each tower board is a series of blue oval-shaped spaces. This is the Planet Track.
On the Planet Track, players record the current positions of the six planets as they progress towards conjunction. During the Preparation phase, players move one planet on their personal tower board one space towards the center. That player also gains one relic of the color of the sphere of magic where it lands. When all planets have converged on the central space, this marks the start of the final turn. What a unique, interesting, and thematic way to track rounds.
This game is gorgeous. It is definitely one that will have people stopping and asking what you are playing, because the table presence is stunning. I was fortunate to receive the Collector’s Edition from Starling Games. This edition includes a 4-fold game board, cloth supply bags, a gold foiled slip case, a scorepad, wooden tokens for the Cursed Tower, spells, and wards. The Spell cards also have gold foiling.
The game scales well with varying player count. More tiles are added with a higher player count. This allows for fewer players not to be overwhelmed with exploration or be too spread out, avoiding conflict.
There is also a solo variant for Archmage! To become the Archmage and defeat the evil Warlord, players have 15 turns to complete two objectives: master apprentices in four different spheres of magic, and control the majority of tiles in at least 3 of the 5 different wilderness location types.
I must admit, I don’t know that there is much replayability value with Archmage. It is a fun game, don’t get me wrong, but it just seems like each game will feel similar.
I also feel that there is not a lot of variety with the wilderness tiles and the spells. There is a recent Kickstarter that was successfully funded for the expansion, Archmage: Ascendant. This expansion adds new fundamental and advanced spells, Prophecies, and Places of Power to explore and control. It also includes a new co-op mode. Pre-orders are open now.
As much as I loved the Collector’s Edition, I found the gold foiling on the spell cards make them difficult to read. And I love a nice two-layer player board, but mine were warped. I am hoping that stacking weight on them will help flatten them out over time.
Archmage is a gorgeous game. The time and thought that went into the fantasy theme is impeccable. If you are a fan of fantasy at all, you will enjoy reading this material and watching it unfold on the game board in front of you. It can seem overwhelming at first. The contents of the rulebook are so detailed that the actual gameplay is intimidating. There is a lot of flipping through the rulebook on the first couple of plays to figure everything out. But the game really isn’t as complex as it seems. There are a few great tutorial videos by the designer that were very beneficial for learning the game. I would recommend starting there.
- Release Date: 2018
- MSRP: $50.00/$70.00 – Collector’s Edition
- Playing Time: 60-120 minutes
- Age Range: 14+
- Player Count: 1-4
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