Monsters and Magic: A Preview of Archmage Origins

Archmage Origins

Logic meets bluffing in this abstract card game of monsters and magic — coming to Kickstarter on May 9.

Gameplay

Archmage Origins comes with sixteen monster cards and four spell cards. At the start of the game you shuffle these together and lay them out, facedown, in a 4 by 4 grid, setting aside the rest to be the exploration deck.

Each player takes a deck of mage cards. Each deck is a different color and has eight cards numbered one through eight. Players agree on which of the two rulesets to use. In option one, each player selects a corner of the grid and may only play cards along the two sides that meet at that corner, with each player only being allowed to play one mage card on each of their spaces. In option two, players may place cards around any side of the grid, with two mage cards allowed per space.

On your turn you may peek at one of the monster cards in the grid (not showing it to any other players). If it is a spell card, you follow its instructions before discarding it and replacing it with another card from the exploration deck. Spell cards will often have you shuffling cards in the grid or peeking at extra cards.

You continue peeking at cards until you have found two monsters. You may either leave these two cards where you found them or swap the locations of the two monsters. Next, you may play one of your mage cards along the edge of the grid next to a row or column in the grid.

Once per game, on your turn, you can decide to use your "hold monster" token. You place it on one of the monster cards and it prevents that card from being peeked at or moved.

The game continues until the players have used all their mage cards. All monster and mage cards are then flipped face up and the scoring phase begins. For each monster card, you add the numbers on the mage cards that intersect along its row and column. The player with the highest total wins that card. Different monsters are worth different points. Some monsters must be won by a certain number or will be discarded. Similarly, if there is a tie, no one wins the monster and it is also discarded. Some monster cards are also worth more points depending on which colored mage won it. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Archmage Origins components

Review

At heart, Archmage Origins is an abstract game about reading your opponent, misleading them, and making educated guesses. But the heavy dose of theme is likely to appeal to players who are ordinarily a bit wary of abstracts. The game has an aesthetically dark look to its art, with a lot of black and the stark color contrasts on the mage cards. This look and feel makes the game feel fresh while also making it really feel thematic despite its largely abstract gameplay.

Figuring out which row to place your level eight card or which column to throw away your one card on, almost feels like a logic problem, while the spell cards keep things unpredictable and add a nice dash of luck to the game.

When you add more players to the game, the amount of space available decreases, which makes for tougher choices. In fact, playing with different numbers of players is fun because it changes your approach to the game and the strategies you’ll take. That being said, the game plays best with two or four players because those numbers work with both rulesets, while with three players, only option two is supported.

The game plays quickly, in ten to fifteen minutes depending on player count, and packs quite a punch for such a quick game. There’s a lot to think about and a lot of choices to be made. The short game time also makes a rematch a very tempting option. Check it out on Kickstarter and see for yourself.

Pros: Great blend of theme with abstract gameplay, nice amount of depth in a short amount of time

Cons: Not as versatile with three players 

Disclosure: this preview is based on our evaluation of an unpublished prototype of the game, which is subject to change prior to publication. While a modest payment was received to expedite the review process, our thoughts and opinions expressed here are honest and accurate.