Before I begin, I was provided with a prototype copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. If you would prefer to watch a video review, then check them out below. You can get your own copy here.
I, like most other geeks out there spent my fair share of time playing Magic in middle school. As I got older I fell out of it, and never went back, mostly because it is just so expensive to keep up the habit. Though in recent years, the idea of expandable card games has become a thing, these are games that you buy the expansion and you get all of the cards. Done. This, in theory keeps the cost down, and keeps the field level.
Now, being an expandable card game is nothing special in this age of gaming, but when the folks at Midwinter Mages told me that they had come up with an expandable card game that removed ALL luck from the game…well I was intrigued. I mean it is a deck of cards…surely there is luck somewhere? Right?
Before I go any further, this preview will assume that you already know how head to head card games work, and I will not be going into the nitty gritty on mechanics, beyond highlighting the things that I find to be unique about this particular game.
So, how has Paragon removed luck from their game? Well they have done this in a few ways. First you are allowed to stack your deck. Yup. You decide before you even get to the table the order in which your cards will be drawn for the entire game…and you never shuffle. (I cannot tell you how hard it was to sit down the first time and pick up the deck and not shuffle it!). There are some cards that might make you slightly alter your deck, but that is all; additionally you are allowed to look at your deck as much as you like to make sure you know exactly what is coming. Now, like any other card game you need resources to play your cards, but, again, you always know exactly how much you will get each round. The first round you have 1 mana, the second 2, the third 3, and so on.
The other thing that stands out to me about this game is that you are spending your cards to buff the two “avatars” that you have selected to represent you. This means that all the cards you play are equipped to one of these heroes. You might equip a weapon or armor, or ability in order to all them to beat up on the opponents avatars more than they can beat up on you. First person to reduce both of the other players avatars to zero health is the winner, but look out! Killing an avatar unlocks their final ability, they might then be able to steal a card from your side and equip it to their surviving avatar, or maybe in death they turn into a ginormous sword which can be equipped…each avatar has a powerful ghost ability that is quite potent.
So what do I think?
The art is amazing. It is absolutely some of the best game art I have seen recently. I absolutely love it, and I also love that they have not gone down the path of the 80’s style chain mail bikinis, rather the women in the game look like they kick as much butt as the men. This brings me to the avatars themselves. They all feel unique, thematic and balanced. I really feel like you could win with any combination of avatars.
Midwinter Mages set out to create a completely luck free, strategic card game. They succeeded 100%. This is a game that you can really dive into, and really make a game plan for, far more than any game of Magic. I will also add, that if you like deck-building, this is a game for you.
Finally I feel like every single rule in the game is there with a purpose, and to support the theme of the game. Hit an opponents weapons with your weapon? Well they both take damage. Bring out a shield? There is a rule that lets you hide behind it and protect all your other gear from attack. It is well done.
There terminology is a bit tricky at times. All of the cards are “equipped” or “unequipped”; this works perfectly with items, armor, weapons, and even abilities; but when you come to the one shot or instant cards it is just a little confusing. Why are you equipping something that is going to go away right away…why not just call it an instant effect and be done with it. Now I understand that this is done to keep the terminology down, but in this instance, and only this instance I think it detracts from the theme slightly.
This is a mastery type game. More so than other card games I do not think there is anything particularly casual about it. In fact a major portion of the game is played before you even hit the table. The deck building is so incredibly important, and can be quite challenging. Additionally, since there is no luck involved you really have to learn the ins and outs of your deck. I think this could be a turn off for some players…just like the best Lacerda game is so heavy that it is a turn off for some players who prefer party games.
Bringing it all together
This is a fun, challenging head to head card game. The theme feels different from other games, and overall every mechanic supports the theme and makes logical sense. (As much sense as demi gods investing humans with their power and sending them to battle others for dominance makes logical sense that is.) The game has no luck, and a large portion of the game is in the building of your decks and game plan before you even hit the table. The art is amazing. There is a little bit of odd terminology, and this is not a game for a casual player.
All this talk about mastery, and you still can’t master getting to the point?
*Theme is realized
*A card game that is 100% strategic, there is truly no luck involved
*A few wonky terms
*This is not a game for a casual player, it is a game that you will want to master
*If you enjoy building decks, then this game is your grail