Mage Wars Academy Game Review


The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up (publisher suggests 10+)
  • For 2 players
  • Approximately 20 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • To graduate you need only to survive


  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!


Students of the arcane learn two important lessons while at the academy. First, magic is powerful. Second, only the powerful deserve to wield it. It’s the day before graduation and the top Mages must take their final exam. The test is simple: survive. You have worked and studied hard. It’s time to test what you know. Failure is not an option.

Mage Wars Academy, designed by Aaron Brosman, Matthew Burch, Bryan Pope, and published by Arcane Wonders, is comprised of 1 Beastmaster Academy Mage (1 Mage card, 1 Ability card), 1 Wizard Academy Mage (1 Mage card, 1 Ability card), 131 Spell cards (2 preconstructed decks are provided), 2 Spellbooks (where the selected Spell cards are stored), 2 status trackers, 2 Quickcast markers, 6 Attack dice (custom six-sided dice), 1 Effect die (standard twelve-sided die), a various number of Status markers, Guard markers, Damage counters, and other effect tokens, as well as 1 Initiative marker. The cards are as thick and as durable as your standard playing card. The markers, tokens, and status trackers are made of thick cardboard and durable. The Spellbooks contain card holders, with the ability to hold 4 cards per side or 8 cards per sheet. The illustrations are outstanding, visually bringing to life the powerful magic being thrown and the various creatures being summoned from the mystical aether.

Mage What Now?

Have you heard of Mage Wars Arena? This game is best thought of as the “Big Brother” of Mage Wars Academy. Mage Wars Arena is a fairly complicated game, full of strategic game play, and tactical thinking. It’s also a game that takes some time to play and even longer to learn if you want to be competitive. For these reasons, Mage Wars Arena is greatly loved by my play groups, but seldom gets to the gaming table. Mage Wars Academy was designed, in part, to provide a streamlined game playing experience with a shortened length of play and easier learning curve without reducing any fun, strategy, or tactical game play. A bold venture.

The results are immediately evident. Mage Wars Academy lacks the large game board. This removes the need for players to think about positioning and spacial relationships in multiple zones in addition to all the card effects. The Spell cards are also less heavy with text, but not to the detriment of their usefulness. Think of it more like a trimming of content, which keeps the game intact.

Mage Wars Academy can be integrated with Mage Wars Arena. This only works one way, however, The Spell cards in Mage Wars Arena are not compatible with Mage Wars Academy since they lack the necessary wordage to be of any use. The same cannot be said about the Spell cards in Mage Wars Academy. All these cards lack is more options, but lose none of their usefulness in the process.

The end result is a game that is smaller and positioned to teach new players how to play Mage Wars and then transition them to a bigger and more complicated game. The learning curve is reduced as a result. It’s also a lot faster to play, which is always good when there never seems to be enough time for anything nowadays.

Welcome to the Academy

To set up the game, first determine which player will take on the roll of the Beastmaster and which player will take on the role of the Wizard. Both Mages are equally matched, in both strength and spells. However, both have their own unique playing style. Hand to each player their selected Mage and Ability cards at this time.

Second, give each player their Spellbook which will contain cards designed to be used by the Mage they selected. The game comes with 2 prebuilt decks and a list of suggested cards to use for the first couple of games. I highly recommend all players do so and later try their hand at creating a custom Spellbook when they have learned the game. For now, take the prebuilt decks and place the cards in the Spellbooks.

Third, have each player place their Mage card and Ability card in front of them, face-up. Players should take a moment to review their Ability card as it details their Mage in full. Ability cards contain the following information:

  • Card type, subtype, class, and subclass which describes the Mage, their race, and their level. There are several keywords provided, as well, that will be used in the game.
  • Training, which identifies which Schools of Magic the Mage belongs to. These are used when building Spellbooks.
  • Special abilities which are unique to the Mage and can be used as part of the player’s tactical and strategic game play.
  • Basic attack which describes the Mage’s most base form of melee. Sometimes a Mage just needs to throw a punch instead of hurling a fireball.


Fourth, give each player a status tracker. Set the Damage value to “0” and set the starting Mana value according to the Ability card. Place the status tracker near the Mage and Ability cards.

Fifth, give each player a Quickcast marker and place them on the Mage card with the “lighting bolt” image facing upwards.

Sixth, place the dice and remaining markers and tokens to one side of the game playing area. They will be used during the game.

That’s it for game set up. Have each player roll the twelve-sided die. The highest roll goes first and is given the Initiative marker.

Time to see if you’ve been paying attention in class.

Get to Know Your Spellbook

Players will be using several different spell types in the game. Each of the spell types are summarized here.


Creatures include the Mage and any other creature that is summoned into existence. Creatures are the “doers” of the game, able to take actions, target foes, and defend each other. Creatures have special attacks and defenses, but are not invulnerable. A creature will take damage and eventually be destroyed unless it’s healed.



These spells outfit the Mage with special gear that provides a unique trait, bonus, or effect. Weapons, armor, and trinkets are all possible types of equipment. A total of 11 pieces of equipment can be added to the Mage during the game. Each location that holds the equipment can only hold one such piece at a time. For example, a “Belt” Equipment card can be placed on the Mage’s waist, but a second “Belt” Equipment card will need to either replace the first or be destroyed.



Enchantments are powerful magic that give the Mage an advantage if used correctly. When they come into play, they are attached to another creature or to the entire zone in which the Mages are sparing. While it remains hidden (face-down), the player’s opponent only knows that “something” has been cast. The Enchantment has no effect other than making the player’s opponent feel uneasy. The player can reveal the Enchantment later in the game, fully releasing the magical power and effects.



These spells are quick to cast and their effects are immediate. Once cast, they are resolved immediately.



These spells have been specifically crafted to be as deadly as possible, giving the Mage the ability to hold their own against pretty much anything their opponent throws at them. Like all spells, however, the Mage must be able to cast the Attack spell if they hope to use it to defeat their enemies.


Your Final Exam

Mage Wars Academy is played in rounds. Each round is divided into 4 phases in which both players take their actions and resolve effects. The next phase of a round cannot be started until both players agree that the current phase is complete. A single game is referred to as a “duel” and always consists of 2 players (2 Mages, in this case).

The location of cards played is important. Summoned creatures are placed beside the player’s Mage card in a row. Equipment and Spells are placed next to the player’s status marker. Each player will also have their own discard pile that holds “destroyed” cards. Cards are played from the player’s Spellbooks, which acts as the player’s hand of cards.

Phase 1: Reset

The first phase of each round is dedicated to getting everything ready to use for the remainder of the round. The following steps are taken in the order listed here.

Step 1: Pass the Initiative Marker

Having the initiative advantage only lasts 1 round. At the start of every new round, the Initiative marker is passed to a new player, giving each player a chance and opportunity to take advantage of going first.

If this is the first round of the duel, then skip this step.

Step 2: Reset “Creature” Spell cards

Creatures (including the player’s Mage card) are either “active” or “inactive”. Active means the creature is ready to be used. Active cards are orientated so the text is easily readable by their owner. Inactive means the creature is not usable. Inactive cards are orientated sideways. Any creatures that are sideways are now tilted so they are orientated the right direction.

Step 3: Flip Markers

By default, all players start with the Quickcast marker. This is flipped over to show that it has been used. Like resetting creature cards, the player now flips over any used makers. Doing so is referred to as making the marker “ready”.

Step 4: Channel Mana

Mages must “channel” Mana (the stuff that powers magic) if they want to cast their Spells. Each Ability card has a value named “Channeling” that indicates how much Mana is gained per round. Mana doesn’t expire and can be stored indefinitely by a Mage if they so wish. Players keep track of how much they have in their reserve by using the status tracker. The only way this value will be reduced is if the player casts a spell or an effect drains the Mage’s Mana.

Phase 2: Upkeep

Some Spells continue to function after they have been cast. This also includes some Creature abilities. This phase focuses on going through the cards in play and determining if any effects or bonuses are triggered. These are automatic and always take place, but the players can determine in which order they are resolved.

Phase 3: Action

Now we are getting to the most interesting part of the game. Spell casting!

Each creature in play can take 1 action. The first creature each player has is their Mage. The player leverages their Mage to build a small army. The more creatures the player has, the more actions they take. Once the creature takes an action, it goes from active to inactive. The actions are as follows.


Creature “Spell” cards will have an “Attack Bar”. This is a section dedicated to the Attack action on the “Creature” Spell card. It describes the type of attack, the quick action, the full action, melee attack, ranged attack, damage type, attack dice, effect die, traits and the name of the attack. However, not every creature will list these attributes.

For example, let’s look at a the Attack Bar from the “Lighting Raptor” creature.


A) Quick Action: Most attacks are considered “Quick Actions”, but a few take longer and are considered “Full Actions”. The speed of the action only comes into play for certain effects and spells.

B) Melee Attack: The sword icon indicates that the attack is melee based instead of ranged. Melee attacks require the creature to get up and personal to their target, which often results in the need to get through guards, blocks, and then avoid counterstrikes. Ranged attacks get to ignore these effects and punch holes in the enemy at a distance.

C) Damage Type: Some attacks have elemental attributes that define the attack. In this case, lightning. Some targets will be more susceptible or more resilient to certain types of damage.

D) Attack Dice: Normally, the die icon will include a number that indicates the number of Attack dice the player rolls for the creature. There are also some creatures, the “Lightning Raptor” for example, that have a fluctuating value that is based on other factors. In this case, the “Lightening Raptor” gets to roll “X” number of Attack dice for every Charge token it has. If the creature has 5 Charge tokens, the player rolls 5 Attack dice.

E) Attack Name: The name has no impact on the game play, but it’s fun to announce to your opponent what type of attack your creature is making.

F) Effect Die: Successful attacks often lead to an additional effect. The Effect die is used to determine if an effect does occur. This is done by rolling the Effect die and determining if the rolled value is high enough. In this case, a roll of 7 or higher will inflict the target with the Stagger effect.

G) Trait: Some attacks have one or more special traits. In this case, the trait shown is “Ethereal”.

To make an attack, a player does the following using one of their creatures.

  1. Declare Attack: This is done by simply announcing to your opponent which creature you are using (the attacker) and which card it’s attacking (the defender). If the creature has more than one attack (the Mages, for example), the player must announce which attack they are using.
  2. Defense: The defender can now choose to activate the defending creature’s Defense abilities, if any are available. Defenses can only be used again the first attack of the round, which means the defender will need to determine the best time to improve their defenses and when not to. There are a few creatures who can use their Defense ability multiple times per round.
  3. Roll Dice: It’s possible that the attack is avoided altogether due to creature abilities and spells. If it’s not, the attacker now rolls their Attack die and the Effect die at the same time. Regardless of any spells or effects that reduce the creature’s attack, the player will always roll at least 1 Attack die.
    • Critical Damage: Starbursts indicate damage that goes through the defender’s armor.
    • Normal Damage: Any number values without starbursts can be blocked.
  4. Reduce Armor: The total value of normal damage is subtracted from the defender’s armor.
  5. Mark Damage: The total damage inflicted from unblocked critical damage and unblocked normal damage is subtracted from the defender. If the defender was the player’s Mage, the status tracker is used to record the damage. If the defender was a creature, the Damage counters are used. If the total damage inflicted is equal to or higher than a creature’s Life value, the creature is “destroyed” and discarded.
  6. Assign Effects: If the effects were successfully rolled for, the attacker now assigns the effect on the defender.

A defending creature might be able to counterstrike, but only if it’s still alive. Counterstrikes allow the creature to immediately attack back. Doing so is optional.


Instead of taking an aggressive stance, a player’s creature can take a defensive position. This is referred to as “Guarding”. Any creature that is Guarding is given a token and cannot attack another creature for the round. However, any attacks from an opponent must always target a creature who is guarding. In this way, the player can make some of their creatures into bodyguards, defending weaker creatures. Some creatures gain the ability to counterstrike when Guarding, as well.

Any creature that is attacked or counterstrikes loses their Guarding benefits. If the creature is still active, it can be used by the player to attack their opponent.

Cast Spells

Mages are the only creatures that can cast spells as an action. Any card in the player’s Spellbook can be brought into play. If the spell requires a target, the player must announce the spell they are casting and what card they are targeting. The Spell card indicates what it can target.

The player must then be able to power the spell by spending Mana. This is done by announcing how much the spell costs and then reducing the total Mana the Mage has by that number value, keeping track of the transaction via the status tracker. If the player does not have enough Mana, they cannot cast the spell. Some Spell cards list an “X” for the Mana needed, which is further detailed on the Spell card itself.

The Spell card is then played and becomes an “object” in the game, meaning it can be targeted and used.


The Quickcasting action is very special. It gives the Mage one additional action it can use, even if it has already been activated. In game terms, this is just a second optional action, but it can only be used to cast a “Quick Action” spell. All other spells are considered to be a “Full Action”. Some other creatures might be able to take a Quick Action, as well.


The game continues until 1 Mage’s Life is reduced to zero. This Mage has failed their final examine and must repeat the semester if they survive. The other Mage graduates with honors and goes on to fight in the arena!

Game Variants

A number of game variants and methods of customization are provided. Each are summarized here.

Customized Spellbooks

The game’s initial prebuilt decks for the Mages work very well, but it won’t be long before players want to change them. The players use Spellpoints to build their Spellbook. Any spells from the Schools of Magic the Mage is a member of are worth their level. Any spells outside of the Mage’s School of Magic experience costs double or even more. Players are welcome and encouraged to mix and match as often as they like.

Multiple Exams

The base game allows for 2 players to go head-to-head. Add in another base game and another 2 players can join in. The rules are the are the same and game play can be conducted as a free-for-all (everyone against everyone) or as teams.

To learn more about Mage Wars Academy, visit the game’s web page.

Final Word

The Child Geeks fell into two groups. Those who knew how to play Mage Wars Arena and those who did not. For those not familiar with the game whatsoever, it took very little time to teach them how to play the game. Mage Wars Academy is a game that becomes more complicated when you start introducing more complicated cards. Regardless, actions are handled one at a time and if there are any questions, you have all the time in the world to ask and learn. As a result, the Child Geeks who were learning all about Mage Wars for the first time never felt stressed. According to one such Child Geek, “I really like this game! It reminds me of Magic: The Gathering, but is more fun because I get to cast whatever I want.” Interestingly enough, the Child Geeks who were familiar with Mage Wars Arena were a bit stumped at times. As one Child Geek put it, “I keep wanting to play in the arena. This game keeps tricking me into thinking it is both easier and harder than what it is.” Which is to say, the more experienced Child Geeks kept trying to look for hidden strategies that were not there and missed those that were. With both groups, each game was found to be satisfying and well worth while. The Child Geeks voted to approve Mage Wars Academy.


The young Beastmaster is fierce…

The more casual Parent Geeks found Mage Wars Academy to be an absolute godsend. As one Parent Geek put it, “Oh, thank goodness! I really like the arena game, but it takes too long and I am always looking up the rules. This version is much, much better. I’d play this again right now if we had the time.” What the Parent Geeks really liked was how streamlined the game felt to play, but it still provided a challenge and the ability to create your own Mage. According to one Parent Geek, “What made the other game so interesting was the ability to create your own strategy, but it took longer than I wanted to test out different builds. This game is much faster and will let me experience much more.” With lighter game play and easier set up, all the Parent Geeks found Mage Wars Academy to be simply excellent and approved it without hesitation.

The Gamer Geeks are a fickle bunch. They kept telling me that they were not going to compare the two different games. According to one Gamer Geek, “Mage Wars Arena and Mage Wars Academy might share similar game play and names, but they aren’t even close to being the same game.” No disagreements there. What was hotly debated was if the changes made in Mage Wars Academy were the right changes to make. The vast majority of Gamer Geeks voted “yes”, but a few had their doubts. As one Gamer Geek put it, “Academy is good, but it waters down everything I loved about Arena to nothing more than card plays.” Lucky for this Gamer Geek and everyone else it’s not a “this or that” type of decision. Players can have both if they want and the Gamer Geeks did. They agreed that there was enough room at their elitist table for both versions of the game.

Make no mistake. I am a HUGE fan of Mage Wars Arena. I find the game to be a lot of fun, challenging, and it has provided endless value. And then Mage Wars Academy came along and I started to doubt the depth of my affection. You know that old adage, “You don’t know what you are missing until it’s gone”? Think the reverse here. I didn’t know what Mage Wars Arena was missing until Mage Wars Academy came into my life.

Here’s the thing…

I think Mage Wars Academy is a better game. Not in the sense that it’s designed better, but because it can get to the table faster and be played more often. Mage Wars Arena is a big game that takes time to teach, time to play, and time to get better at. I played 3 games of Mage Wars Academy in less than an hour. Best of all, the speed and energy of the game never drops. It only gets more exciting and intense. As you start to run out of cards in your Spellbook, you begin to perspire.

And yet, there’s room at my table for both games, as well. The Gamer Geeks are absolutely correct on this count. Both games are significantly different enough in what they provide to the player to make both worth keeping. What I am really interested in is using the Mage Wars Academy cards in a Mage Wars Arena game. Something I look forward to trying, but not for some time. I’m having too much fun playing Mage Wars Academy.

If you enjoy fast-paced card games with strategy and tactics, the ability to create your own style of play, and simply cannot get enough of magic, then do play Mage Wars Academy. For those of you who are die hard fans of Mage Wars Arena or are someone who walked away because you just didn’t have enough to play it, sit down and play a game of Mage Wars Academy. Heck, everyone should. This game gets an A+ in my Spellbook.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

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