Tower defense games, hey? They’ve been about for bloomin’ ages in the world of videogames, but seeing them in an analogue space is something of a rarity. If you’ve not heard of them, they have a simple premise: protect your stuff from an oncoming horde of enemies for longer than your opponent is able to. Some can be asymmetrical in a ‘good guys vs bad guys’ style, others are more about players facing a single common enemy, often controlled by the computer.
Now we’ve got a card based version of this rather popular game format that attempts to capture the spirit (and near constant panic) of the genre – Mage Tower from the unassumingly named Super Mega Games. Ostensibly for two players, it also has rules for up to four as well as co-op play and a solo mode – we’ll mainly be focusing on the game for two today.
Despite being a card game that initially looks like Magic: The Gathering‘s first cousin, there’s no need to fork out for boosters or anything – everything you need to play the full game is in the box. Opening it up will reveal a bunch of plastic gold, a very healthy pile of six-sided dice (fear not, those who despise randomness in their games, they’re merely in there to track damage) and over three hundred cards of various types.
The main two that you’ll be dealing with are the green and red ones, representing ways in which you can defend yourself and the monsters you’ll be facing. Before you start, each player is given deck of thirteen cards that can either be randomly generated or set up through a quick draft. They also receive a deck filled with twenty four monsters, comprising of four each of six types. Piles of Prizes, Demonspawn and Confusion cards are stacked to the side of the play area. Players then grab dice representing twenty life points and couple of cards from their draw deck, and you’re ready to roll.
As mentioned before, you’re trying to survive longer than the opposition by defeating monsters. Any that have been flipped (denoting that they’re angry) will attack you and then get discarded. Any calm (right way up) monsters will rotate, hyping themselves up to attack on the next turn – assuming they live that long. The final part of this phase is the drawing of new monsters, each of whom is given a numeric value – you’ll draw between ten and twelve points worth, then finally get the chance to fight back.
This bit is called the Casting Phase; you’re allowed to play cards from your hand that will attack the oncoming forces or buy and play Prizes that you may have picked up, spending the gold that you gain every turn. Again, cards have a numerical value and you’re limited to a maximum total of seven energy you can spend. Some cards will only attack the monster closest to you, while others (marked with an arrow) carries leftover damage on the the next victim in the queue. Very polite, these beasts, lining up perfectly to get battered…
You also get to put Defenders and Permanents in play. Rather than just getting to use them as a one-off for your current turn, these are a bit more hardcore and get to stay in play until they get wiped out by the hordes. Like monsters, Defenders also have values showing their life and the amount of damage they can do while Permanents are more about giving the rules a bit of a tweak in your favour. The order you decide to use them is entirely up to you, so you’ll be looking to build up strategies and chains so you can make the most of what you’ve got at the time.
If you fancy being a bit of an arse, you can also start chucking some monsters across the way an into your opponent’s path. Of course, all the while they’ll be planning on doing the exact same thing to you, so be sure that you’ve got enough to cover yourself on that next turn. Once your Casting Phase is complete, play passes over – there’s no holding over of energy or anything, you’ll simply start with a fresh slate on your next go. Get them down to zero health or have the most life when one player’s been through their monster deck twice and you’ll win!
Mage Tower came to me from out of nowhere and I’m delighted to say I’ve had some great fun with it. When I cracked open the box my first though was that I was dealing with another MTG clone, but thankfully it’s got a bit more about it than just copying another game wholesale. Yes, it looks very similar to the daddy of all CCGs but Mage Tower plays in a totally different way – it’s fast and furious, probably closer to something like Dominion than Magic. Interaction between players can be somewhat limited but that all comes down to the cards that come into play; some games will be all about smashing each other into pieces, others will be more focused on just surviving. This makes for a decent level of replayability, bolstered by the fact that you can get a full game under your belt in less than thirty minutes.
Negatives? Perhaps there are a couple. As previously stated, it all comes across a bit generic, but beneath the lookalike nature of the cards there’s a very interesting game. The rulebook isn’t the easiest thing to deal with either, but there’s an excellent tutorial video available that runs you through how turns work, as long as you can deal with the shakycam-induced nausea… I’m not entirely blown away by the single player variant, much preferring the conflict you get when facing a second player, and I’m yet to try out the co-op rules or face off against three or four players, but as an experience for two, Mage Tower gets the Little Metal Dog Seal of Approval. Or it would do if we had such a thing… Maybe we should get one?
Mage Tower is a 2013 release from Super Mega Games. Designed by Brett Brimmer, between two and four can play; rules are also included for co-operative and solo games too. Copies are available from the Game Salute store right now for the princely sum of US$35. Enjoy!