Which illustrious illusionist would win a fight to the death? Which witch master will give the other wizards their due? Will Gandalf win a fight to the death with Dumbledore? Will the evil Gargamel trump the magical Merlin? Does Jafar manage to make sure the Wicked Witch has to make a walk of shame down the clinker path back to Oz? A bunch of maturing mages battle it out to become the supreme magician in Archmage from Starling Games. Grab your hat, magic wand, a bunch of loyal apprentices, your magic book full of high-profile spells, and let those hands fly to exhibit your striking magic skills in the battle for the title of Archmage!
In Archmage, players are going to try to master the best spells and gain dominion over the land. They do this with their influence by spreading their apprentices across the land and by teaching their apprentices magic. Just in magic 101, but also that advanced course in blood magic comes along.
The game takes place in several rounds and each round planets (indicated on the player boards) move off course. Once these planets are in the same line, the last round of play has begun.
During a turn, a player may take a quantity of actions. The player may move his/her wizard around the playing field (consisting of different tiles) or discover new areas in the wilderness by turning over tiles and thereby earning a one-time bonus and unlocking new areas. In addition, a player may also fight with other players’ apprentices (the apprentices then disappear from the playing field). If a player passes empty spaces, this player may place one of his/her apprentices there.
Depending on the tile where the mage ends his/her turn, this player may perform an action. On empty wilderness spaces, a player may also place a tower once during the game for bonuses and additional action possibilities. Players may also choose to leave a ward in the wilderness to thwart other players. If the player ends his/her turn in and village, he/she can collect relics that can be used to pay for other actions. In a camp, a player can add new apprentices to his/her party. In an enclave of one of the fantasy races or in the tower, a player can initiate a student from the company into a particular magic by placing this student in the corresponding field of the game board. In the tower, a player can also have two apprentices of different magic disciplines compete with each other to teach one of the two a stronger form of magic. The winning apprentice is promoted and the losing apprentice is dismissed and returns to the party. However, you may lose access to acquired knowledge and thus certain spells.
By initiating or promoting apprentices, you unlock magical spells which you place in your spell book that lies on the table ready for use. These spells provide effects and bonuses during the game and also points at the end of the game. Once the planets are in a straight line, a player takes the last turn and at the end of his/her round looks at how many points he/she has accumulated. The lordship of the realm can still change in a later turn of another player, but has no impact on the players who have already been awarded points.
Archmage is a complex game that in my opinion combines area control with a way to upgrade your personal gameplay mechanics and powers in a unique and engaging way. The system of initiating and promoting apprentices is a very fun dilemma. It earns you stronger spells, but potentially loses you previously acquired spells. The game looks like a bombastic action game, but actually it is a rather elegant and perhaps a bit of a dry Eurogame. To quote a joke by Deck_of_51 on instagram, “Euro Wizard, Harry!”.
Archmage is primarily a puzzle in the form of efficiency combined with only a very small element of luck (only tile placement is random) which makes planning moves feel truly economical at times. Each turn consist of various actions and points of progression. Turns taken by other players can feel a bit more drawn out as a result. You try to acquire good positions on the field of the game and thereby get your engine running. Therefore, be careful before playing with slow thinkers. Because actions on the playing field are limited and public, the game is very interactive. Highly recommended for the frequent flyer of magic!