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The game scales to what you want to do with it. With just the core set you can build four complete spellbooks – one for each mage. Until I feel like customizing I leave those intact to teach people. You can also go with the apprentice books which are just smaller versions of the starters.

The apprentice books are well balanced and fun. They promote more of an aggressive style as they’re played on half the board.

But, you UH’s point, yes there is a time investment. Like any army or deck you build you have to understand what it does and how it works. Mage Wars consists of the following spell types:

Creatures – pretty straight forward.

Conjurations – stuff that stays on the battlefield that’s not a creature. Walls, towers, barracks, magical artifacts, and creatures. Yes there are some creature conjurations. Right now I think they’re mostly plants though.

Enchantments – As in Magic, these are “permanent” spells that stay on an object. All things in Mage Wars is an object – creature, conjuration, the mage. Unlike magic the enchantments have multiple functions – buff, debuff, and counter spells. Yes, your counterspells need to be pre-planned and placed on objects. The surprise is the reveal. All enchantments cost 2 to cast and go on an object face down. The cost to reveal depends on the enchantment itself. Reveals can happen in between any step. This goes back to the mechanics of the game and understanding that all turns are just a series of steps.

Attacks – Straightforward attack spells. Cast them and they’re gone (unless bound to an object).

Equipment – Stuff for the mage to wear. It’s important to look your best.

Incantations – These would be the equivalent of a sorcery in Magic. Spells that you cast and then they’re gone (unless bound to an object). They do all kinds of things.

Figuring out what these do and how they interact is the time investment. The apprentice books are a good way to get a feel for the game. They have everything except conjurations, one mage has conjurations in their apprentice book. Then you add spells to the apprentice book and you have the pre-made starter.

The nice thing about Mage Wars is that the core set is only about $45 US. That’s a ton of game in the that box. If you bought 2 core sets (for a lot of spellbook building) and every expansion it’s around $200 US. That’s not bad.

Also, coming out (hopefully) early next year will be Mage Wars Academy. They take the four core set mages back to their younger days. Simpler spells and spellbooks. The arena board is only slated to be 3 squares and it’s designed to be a fast play, simple version (think magic). Supposedly all academy spells will be compatible with mage wars and most mage wars spells will be compatible with academy. So you can customize but you don’t have to.

They also have a modular board coming out with alternate scenarios and win conditions. Really looking forward to that.