Mage Tower: A Tower Defense Card Game Review

Mage Tower: A Tower Defense Card Game in play

Today's review is of the little game (with a long name), Mage Tower: A Tower Defense Card Game.

Mage Tower is - you guessed it - a tower defense card game.  If you are familiar with this genre from playing various video games of this style, then the general flow of the game will be no great surprise.  On each turn, you draw two cards and gain a gold.  Next, you take all of your angry monsters and have them punch you in the face (costing you life points).  Then, any monsters that weren't angry yet grow angry.  (I think they just grow jealous of all of the monsters that did get to punch you.)  After this, you draw more monsters, because you can never have enough of them.  Finally, you play a few cards in a desperate hope to not die.  Play continues in this manner until you are the last man standing (in a competitive game), or until you have exhausted the deck of monster cards (in a cooperative or solo game).  Oh - or until you die.  If you die, you lose.

The first pro that I have for Mage Tower is that, for those that really enjoy the game, there is a ton of replayability.  Why?  Because the game comes with 166 unique "draft" cards.  Each game your deck includes 8 of these.  So, let's forget all the complex math that determines exactly how many different combinations of cards are available.  Let's do the simple math - you can play the game 20 times and use completely different cards each time.  Granted, you'll be using the same basic five cards (two Archers, two Elite Archers, and one Knight), but I think you get the point.

The next pro that I have for Mage Tower is that it does seem to do a fairly good job of capturing part of the feel of a tower defense game.  I have played it several times, and each time I do get some of the overwhelming odds feeling that you go for in a tower defense game.  Specifically, a great tower defense game has overwhelming odds that can just barely be defeated - and then, only if you play your best.  This also lets you challenge yourself to do slightly better the next time.  In video game terms, this means letting less monsters pass through to the other side of the screen, but in Mage Tower, that means ending the game with more life remaining.

Mage Tower (Defense) game monster cards
You will see these six monsters all game
But, this pro leads me directly into my cons.  I said that it does a good job of capturing "part" of the feel of a tower defense game.  There is another element that I really enjoy in tower defense games.  It's this - my defenses start off pitifully.  They are barely able to kill a mostly dead skeleton.  Yet, that's ok, because the first enemies that attack me will be incredibly slow moving mostly dead skeletons.  And, when I kill them, I will be able to afford better defenses - which is really important, because slightly better monsters will be headed my way.  I felt like Mage Tower missed on this.  Yes, there is a minor deck building element (this is where the gold comes into play - you can buy one of three cards which, when shuffled into your deck, becomes much better the second time you play it), but for the most part, I didn't find the deck building to matter very much.  (More on that in a minute.)  Secondly, you are fighting the same monsters from the beginning of the game.  You have the same chances of drawing a Giant on the first turn as you do on the last.  So, your deck doesn't really get better, and the monsters don't really get tougher.  It doesn't build in the way that I would hope that a tower defense game would.

My second con is really two things that worked together (poorly).  Some cards are just flat better than others; and the deck building element generally doesn't matter.  Of the 166 cards, I probably played with about half of them in the 5-10 games that I played.  Of the cards that I used, there are only a few cards that allow you to draw more cards.  So, gaining a card into your deck doesn't really come into play very much.  Odds are, you're only going to see a card that you add to your deck once, or maybe twice by the end of the game - and that's assuming that you bought the card very early (in a solo game you will, assuming you live, take about 10-15 turns, and your deck is 13 cards, so you will go through it approximately twice; again, that is if you live).  Yet, there are some cards that are just insanely good.  What makes them so good?  Well, one of them can be played from your discard pile.  And, whenever you play it, you get to draw two cards and discard two cards - suddenly making all of your other "good" cards better, because you will actually draw them.  The only down side to a card like this is if it is at the bottom of your deck, and so you don't draw it quickly.  Otherwise, it will probably single-handedly make your deck better than your opponent's.

Skeletal Apprentice from Mage Tower card game
This Apprentice is amazing
This leads into the next con: the game often feels too slow - or, another aspect of this is that your decisions are often too prescribed.  When you can only draw two cards per turn, then, unless you get cards that let you draw more, your options are going to be very limited.  I've had many turns that consisted of drawing two cards, playing them both (which often will simply attack the closest monsters - no decisions on that end), and then pass for the next player.  Yes, there are times in the game when there are really neat combinations of cards, and a lot of strategic decisions.  Unfortunately, it is at least as common to have turns that are far too straightforward as turns with difficult decisions to make.

The last thing that I will mention isn't really a "con" as much as something for you to be aware of.  There is player interaction in this game (specifically talking about the competitive version of the game), but the interaction is more of an "annoy my opponents" variety than anything else.  There are many cards in the game that have either a sole function or a primary function of pestering other players.  This can come in the form of adding an extra monster in front of them, adding a bad card to their deck, or eliminating a card from the top of their deck (among other things).  These things can definitely come into play, but since there's nothing that they can do to prevent whatever card you play, it has more of the "annoy-a-neighbor" feel that I mentioned instead of something that will affect your planning.

Overall, I give Mage Tower: A Tower Defense Card Game a 6.5/10.  The game functions, and I have played it quite a few times.  As a solo option, you might check it out, but overall it isn't a game that I see myself coming back to.

If Mage Tower sounds interesting, you might also check out Castle Panic, Legend of Drizzt, and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

I would like to thank Super Mega Games for providing me with a review copy of Mage Tower.

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