Friday, October 23, 2015

Actual Play: Mana War

A Wild Kickstarter Appears!

Mana War is a deck of 50 standard-sized cards and two rules cards. Much like Spot It!, one of my favorite games to play around the house, Mana War includes multiple games to play with the deck. It's lightly themed along similar lines as the terrain in Magic: The Gathering, but each card is marked solely with one of five icons: fire, sun, earth, water, and a leaf. This means you don't have to read to understand the games, which is great if you want to play with little kids or really, really drunk people. In fact, one of the design goals is indeed to have a series of card games that one could play in a bar or at least introduce to players in such a venue.

The Games

I played Mana War and Mana Jungle with my 5-year old daughter. Before the Kickstarter's launch, I playtested Mana Lord.

Mana Lord is by far the standout game. The cards aren't complex and the game doesn't have a lot of rules, but there's plenty of strategy involved as you keep track of other players' hands and take hidden information into account. It's competitive without being directly adversarial.

Mana War was okay. For me, it devolved into "hope you draw the right card" rather than feeling like an actual game.

My daughter enjoyed Mana Jungle immensely, however. A lot of your success in a two-player game comes down to luck of the draw, because there are obvious optimal moves you can make. That said, the game was easy enough for my daughter to play after 1-2 coached turns (she whooped me). Seeing enough cards come up to present a move put smiles on her face every time, especially when she used her Fire cards to destroy my Leaf cards. More than two players would present more strategy, as you might find yourself making and breaking alliances as one player pulls ahead and makes themselves a target.

Finally, the designer plans on publishing additional games on his website, and the cards aren't tied down to a single game so tightly that you couldn't use them to track things in RPGs or other contexts. It's a useful deck, comes with many simple games, and won't break the bank.

Full disclosure: I was given a playtest copy and worked with the game's designer at my "real" job.