Mons and Mages solo review – Engine building with monsters

This preview of Mons and Mages is based on a prototype. Everything you read here is subject to change. This prototype has been provided to me by the designer. 

The premise for Mons and Mages is simple, you as a player take on the role of seasoned wizards and compete with each other in the triannual Mons and Mages tournament. You will recruit mystical monsters into your team, combine their unique abilities and create the most powerful combo moves to strike down your opponents’ healthcore.

But this is not a fight game, really. It is a game about recruiting companions and combining them in unique ways that benefit your tableau and engine. If your Mons work together well and empower each other you will come out on top.

How to play Mons and Mages

The goal of the game is to recruit Mons with unique characteristics and abilities and combine them into your team. You will use their powers to create interesting combos and deal damage to your opponent(s).

On your turn you will go through 5 phases (unless you are stunned). These are:

  1. Stun check
  2. Income
  3. Action
  4. Active staff
  5. Trick check

Stun check: You check how many stun tokens you have. If you have less than three you are not stunned and will proceed normally. If you have three or more stun tokens you carry out a stunned turn (remove stun tokens, get income, move staff without activating).

Income: during this phase you will receive runestones as income. You always get one runestone from the supply (audience). You can also get income from your meditation cards if you have runestones there (acquired by meditating during the action phase).

Action: you can either collect a card from the wild (buy it with runestones) or meditate (place runestones on an empty meditation card to double the amount).

Active staff: you move the staff forward one space and activate the card it lands on.

Trick check: if all three of your stage cards have been removed you can choose one of the advanced tricks on the back of those cards.

This is just a quick overview of what a turn looks like. Most of the action will take place during the “Action” phase and the “Active staff” phase so let’s take a closer look at those.

When you collect a card from the wild you will pay its runestone cost and add it to your board on the right end (unless stated otherwise). The card you collect might also have a stun cost which means you will receive a stun token when collecting this card.

Some cards have an imbued symbol which means they get one runestone from the supply added to the card and you can collect that later.

After you collect a card from the wild several things might happen:

  • Remove one cube from the left-most stage card: if you still have cubes on your stage cards (basically blank spots you start the game with) remove one cube. If the card is now empty you remove it and thus remove the useless spot.
  • Resolve the cards origin ability: if your card has an origin ability (top, middle icon) you must resolve this.
  • Resolve the cards enter ability: if your card has a lightning bolt symbol it has an enter ability which is resolved immediately upon joining your team.
  • Resolve the cards ongoing and/or relationship abilities: an ongoing (blue) or relationship (yellow) ability always stays active and resolves whenever it instructs so.

After you collect a card from the wild (or meditate) you will move on to the “active staff” phase of the game. During this phase you will move your staff forward one space and activate the card it lands on.

There are two types of cards that can be activated this way: mons and landmark cards. When a mon card is activated the mon will first attack, dealing damage equal to its strength (printed strength + number of growth tokens). Then it will gain mana, place one mana cube on the leaf symbol on the card.

When a mon has an amount of mana that equals or exceeds the number of mana it can hold the mon will discharge. When a mon discharges it will: remove mana equal to the number it can hold (do not remove excess), resolve its class ability, resolve its spell.

When a landmark card is activated you resolve its staff ability (if it has one).

You will continue taking turns until every player runs out of health and the winner will be declared.

Look and feel

First, it is important to note that the copy that I received from the maker of the game is a prototype copy. So anything and everything can and might be changed throughout the making and producing of the game. I will, however, still mention some things about the look and feel of this game.

Let’s start with the art, because it is beautiful. Mons and mages is from the same designer as Shu’s Tactics (which I still love btw) and you can clearly see the resemblance in style. But I do think the art fits even better with this theme than with Shu’s Tactics. The Mons really shine bright as the main focus of all of the action cards in this game. But, I secretly like the trick cards more than the Mons! They just work so well with the simple purple and orange, one colour drawings. They shine in their simplicity and I want that little wizard as my personal mascot! Anyway, the art is lovely and will definitely keep your interest throughout many, many games.

The components are also great. The dice are wonderful and the growth tokens and mana cubes are perfectly fine and work well. The stun tokens are the real winners because they are gorgeous and I love those acrylic tiles. I just wish I could use them more often throughout the game! The runestones are a bit more difficult. I like the design and the colours but I don’t think the double-sided design works great. Throughout my plays of the game I did have a few instances where I was in doubt about if I accidentally flipped one of them or not. Having the 1 value on one side and the 3 value on the other seems like a tricky system.

Overall the quality of everything seems to be great and the components all work together well, presenting a well put together game.

How to play Mons and mages solo

To play Mons and Mages solo you will play against an AI boss. You will use the same rules as in the standard game and set-up as if you are playing a two-player game. When you play against the solo boss you will try to reduce their health to zero while they try to do the same to you. In my prototype of the game I had one boss to go up against, Alice, in three difficulty levels.

As a player your turns will pretty much stay exactly the same as in a multiplayer game. When it is the AI turn they will do a few things in order. First, they will deal damage equal to the number of cards on their board (which will increase throughout the game). Then they will gain 1 mana and cast a spell if they have enough mana. The spells are a bit different for the different difficulty levels but they will always catch a mon when they cast their spell. Catching a mon is resolved with two dice and a simple reference sheet.

When they catch a mon (or landmark) they will resolve a scheme on their boss card based on the symbol on the card they caught.

So the boss will behave pretty predictably (you can see how much mana they have and thus when they will catch another mon) but their schemes might make things slightly unpredictable. In my experience I always anticipated when they would catch again and if you really want to catch a certain mon you should do it before they do their catch action.

Just like in the standard game the goal is to defeat the boss by bringing their health down to zero.

What I think of the game

When I got asked to cover another game by the designer of Shu’s Tactics I was very excited because I love that game. But when Mons and Mages arrived at my door I honestly wasn’t too sure about it. You see, I have never been into Pokemon or Digimon or any of those kind of shows. I don’t really connect with the whole catch some animals and make them fight kind of thing (which I know those shows aren’t about but still). I also don’t enjoy boardgames about fighting or duelling or similar themes. So at first glance this game isn’t a good fit for me. But, it is!

Because this game is about engine building. It is about utilising your abilities and finding great combos to continuously improve your team. You look at the Mons you have, the tricks you can do and what is on offer and you find the best combo that enhances your engine. And once your engine gets going it is really fun to run. Everything you do can influence something else and activate a bunch of abilities throughout your team.

In a weird way this game makes me think of Hadrian’s Wall. They are not the same sort of games of course but they give me the same feeling. It is great when you collect a Mon from the wild, resolve its abilities and those abilities then trigger another Mon to discharge, which triggers another Mon to do an ability etc. If you plan correctly you can make great combos happen. It truly makes you feel like a wizard 😉

The solo mode is also great, comparing to the multiplayer it feels very similar without a lot of upkeep on the solo AI. It really gives you the opportunity to focus on your own engine and build a great team. The AI is both predictable enough that you don’t feel completely helpless in planning your moves but also unpredictable enough to not make it feel like fighting a spreadsheet.

I would love more AI opponents with different playstyles but the one included in my copy offers a great deal of playability already with its three difficulty levels.

All in all I think this game is wonderful and I will definitely be playing it more often!

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