Dark eyes meet across a desolate plain, as a group of powerful strangers stand, ready for battle. Wands twitch, sigils glow, as they all await the first move. The World Crystal is almost close enough to touch, yet they have far to go to prove they have the power to wield it. Everyone is prepared. It is time.
A shadowy figure steps forward. A raging inferno leaves the mage’s hands, twisting and writhing with red hot energy. He volleys the flaming sphere to a nearby sorceress who, in a poof of glowing yellow, blinks out of sight. The firestorm swirls to its next target, and blasts him from his feet, leaving him smouldering on the charred flour. Which is really unfair because JASON KNOWS I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING ABOVE A 7. WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO ME? Because I didn’t come to your improv show, right?
ManaSurge is a wizardy hand-management, trick-taking game for 2 to 6 players, from Daily Magic Games and Frank Sronce. In it, you’ll take turns flinging ever increasing spells at each other, trying to gain crystal shards and knock out your opponents. Get ready for some fight number sequences with lightning and tactical meanness and stuff!
How It Plays
So the idea is that we’re all a bunch of awesome wizards, having an epic wizard duel in order to collect wizard-friendly crystal shards, so we can be the most powerful wizard, in order to prove our wizard worth to this big massive World Crystal (which I assume is pretty banana pants crazy powerful). Lost? That’s okay.
There are two types of cards in a ManaSurge draw deck; Spell cards and Metamagic cards. Spell cards have a number and a suited special power. These are the spells you’ll be flinging around at each other. Metamagic cards are their own suit of no rank, but let you instead use a one-off power to affect the round.
To begin a game of ManaSurge, choose 5 of the 6 suits to play with and then shuffle them up with the mana cards. Deal 5 cards to each player, and then place the rest of the cards face down in the centre of the table. Choose your start player and give them the Caster token.
To start a round, you need to set the rule for that round. The caster chooses a numbered card from their hand and plays it to the table. They place a shard from the general supply onto it, along with the caster token, so people can remember the rule for the round. They then choose the direction of play for that round. The next player must play a valid card in order to avoid being hit.
A valid card is any card with an equal or higher number, or a metamagic card. If you played a card of the same suit as the Caster’s (the card ‘resonates’), then you get to perform the suit’s special action, as well as place a shard from the supply on it. If you play a card of the same numerical value, you may counter the spell and reverse the direction of play.
A round continues until someone is unable to play a valid card. That player takes damage in the form of cards and doesn’t get to collect any crystal shard’s they’ve accumulated during that round. Boo and indeed hiss. Worse than this, if you ever have five or more damage cards in front of you, you have to discard your hand and lose another shard!
A much better option that death is the eponymous ManaSurge. Awesome wizards don’t collect cards. Awesome wizards don’t hang around. Awesome wizards play every single card in their hand until there are no more. Because when you do this, you get extra shards. Because you deserve it.
There are also option Wizard cards (wait, there are wizards in this?), which give players unique special abilities throughout the game. These let you play extra cards, give spells to other players, among other things.
The game ends when one or more players end a round with 12 or more shards (12 in a 5 and six player game). If it’s a tie, the player with the most shards wins.
You’re a lizard, Barry.
So here we are. Another day, another wizard fighting card game. Hey, I’m not being mean – there are a whole lot of them. You’ve got games stretching from super cereal business, Magic: The Gathering, to zany funtime cardstuff, Epic Spell Wars. You’ve got a host of games allowing you to fire lightning bolts with the play of a card. It’s a game genre that is so saturated you almost lose the benefit of the built-in buyer base, due to the sheer amount of comparable titles.
In terms of the theme it all makes sense. The trick taking, card beating mechanics sort of feel thematically correct. Admittedly, your spells may move a little circularly, but it does seem right to be passing a magical hot potato around the room until it finally explodes in all of its resplendent, purplish glory. It’s as thematic as a game like this can be.
It’s certainly grabbed the theme firmly with its art style, with artwork featuring a lot of very colourful spell-wielding folk, drawing from a range of magical archetypes. The art style is brash and appealing, even if a couple of the faces are a little squiffy.
The components are all solid. I like a good, solid small box and the cards are pretty and clear, if a little thin for heavy play. This might be one to sleeve if it makes its way into your collection. The cardboard shard tokens are great looking and the wooden Caster token is a very nice addition. It’s a wee blue lightning fist. It appeals to me. The instruction book is easy to follow and there’s even a URL and QR code for an online tutorial, which I always think is a worthwhile addition.
The game mechanics are pretty straight forward and you’ll pick them up quickly, and it should be a fairly easy one to teach to friends and family who only have experience with traditional card games. One of my favourite parts of the game is yelling MANA SURGE. But yelling stuff is often my favourite part of a game, since I’m obnoxious. There are enough decisions in the game that even though your hand may well be random, it still feels tactical. And spiteful. Very spiteful.
It’s a fairly fun game, providing that you’re into take-that style play. Pretty much every card you lay will be adversarial. You’ll take strategic shots at your neighbouring players in order to knock them out and claim your shards. You’ll reverse play on your BFF because you know they only have one card left and it’s a 3, and 3 is a rubbish number. It’s quick, light, but often vicious. Personally, that works for me. I’m not competitive in the sense that I need to win, I just really enjoy butting heads with other players (in a friendly, game-appropriate manner).
My main criticism of the game isn’t really a criticism. It’s a decent enough game. And that’s as far as it goes. That’s totally okay. I enjoyed it well enough but it doesn’t stand out. Someone in our group just bought Bucket King 3D which involves similar sequential card playing AND tiny colourful buckets. Does ManaSurge have tiny colourful buckets? No. It does not. But it’s still a fun game. And it plays between 20 and 30 minutes. And it’s got pretty colours and an awesome lightning fist.
So, all in all, a good solid “yes, maybe” from me. That wasn’t clear enough? How about a “sure, why not?”. We’ll get some play out of it but I’m a little worried that it might slip away unseen to the back of the small box shelf. Goodbye, sweet game. You were goodish.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Edsevium Games for providing a review copy of ManaSurge.