Among last year’s best games were Arcane Wonder’s first release Mage Wars, a complex CCG-on-a-board dueling game and Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing, the best miniatures game I’ve ever played. Naturally, great games that sell well (and some terrible games that sell well) tend to be the start of product lines, particularly when the titles in question have modular or customizable elements and “open” architecture. And so it has come to pass that both of these outstanding titles have received their first expansions, effectively giving us a first taste of how these games might open up and create new play spaces and options for those willing and able to stick beyond the core set.
Mage Wars has already had a couple of smart add-on purchases like a couple of “Core Tome” sets that give you the option to add more cards from the base game to your set and a package that gives you enough action markers in two new colors to table three or four players. But Forcemaster Vs. Warlord is the first actual content expansion, and it’s going for about $30 online. The set adds two new mages to the existing four, and provides a wealth of new spells, creatures, and equipment to use either with the included deck lists or custom spellbooks of your own creation. Two more of the fun vinyl spellbook binders are included, and it’s greatly appreciated since assembling them for play is one of the more labor-intensive parts of the game.
This is a fine expansion in particular because it further develops the Mind and War schools of magic as presented in the Core Set- and that means that these mages tend to play very differently than the four original characters. In Magic: The Gathering terms, the Forcemaster is a “blue” deck with lots of deflection, control, resistance, and trickery- not to mention the ability to pretty much jerk the other player’s creatures around the board at will. The Warlord is definitely a “red” deck focused on martial strength by way of lots of goblin soldiers, siege engines, and military outposts that can spawn units deep in the field. I’ve been playing mostly with the recommended spellbook lists and really enjoying both of these characters. Together, they make for an interesting match-up since the Forcemaster is almost alone on the battlefield all the time and the Warlord has tons of creatures and effects that benefit them.
If there’s a downside, it’s that this is already a pretty complicated, multi-faceted game with lots of information for a player to digest- particularly since it’s a game where you play with your entire deck open and there are tons of status effects, special abilities, combinations, and other intricacies. And this set gives you about half again what the Core offers, so if you’ve not fully digested what’s in that box then the expansion might be a bit too much. At least until later on, when you’ve got a better handle on the game and the wide variety of options that spellbook construction affords. Alternately, if you’re a red or blue Magic player then you might want to just start learning the game with one of these characters.
X-Wing’s new expansions, on the other hand, feel indispensible right out of the dock if only because they bring to the table more iconic ships to fuel your Star Wars (OT only, thank you) fantasies. If you’re playing this game or even remotely invested in it, I don’t see how you could not want the YT-1300 Millennium Falcon, the Firespray-class Slave-1, and a flight or two of TIE Interceptors and A-Wings. Each ship comes with a couple of new pilots and a small pile of upgrade cards but the sting of expensiveness is still felt. The new large ships are $30 a piece (but they look fantastic) and the fighters continue to retail at $15 each. Only the obsessives will likely want to field more than one of the big ships, but of course the sky is the limit with the small ships. I’m happy with three of each to allow for a player to take either a lead and a wingman or a lead and two wingmen.
A few new concepts are introduced among the new ships, chief among them is a new “Boost” action that gives the A-Wings and TIE Interceptors a surprising increase in agility by simply allowing the player to add a 1-straight or 1-bank to their move. The Firespray can load seismic charges or proximity mines and the YT-1300 has a killer 360 degree firing arc with its main guns. Needless to say, Boba Fett and Han Solo are among the featured pilot cards as are Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca. A new upgrade card allows ships to be “titled”, so that YT-1300 can be dubbed the Falcon for the sake of your scenario.
There’s a pair of much-needed scenarios included between the big ship packages. I’m really fond of the Bounty Hunter mission where the Firespray and an Imperial escort are in pursuit of a couple of Rebel ships- one of which is marked with a bounty. The Rebels- all under stress tokens- have to turn to fight and the Bounty Hunters win if they destroy the ship with the bounty token. It’s a fun, fast scenario with a touch of narrative. It’s also a natural fit for a Solo versus Fett showdown. It’s worth mentioning that with a Piloting skill of 9, Han almost always shoots first. This is Star Wars done right, as you remember it and as you love it.
Naturally, there will be more of both of these games coming in 2013 and beyond. I’d like to see both games expand laterally rather than vertically in the future. It’s great to have more units to play with, but I’d like to see other concepts developed to make these games more comprehensive and rich. I want to see Mage Wars develop terrain effects and maybe different arenas with unique layouts or effects. I’d like to see neutral creatures or other elements that create a larger sense of a game world. For X-Wing, it seems that a B-Wing and TIE Bomber are inevitable and very much wanted, but beyond that the core Star Wars ships in this scale class are few. Scenarios, campaigns, and card-based expansions would be greatly appreciated. And please, for Vader’s sake, can we get an official X-Wing playing mat with a Death Star surface on one side and a star field on the other?