What You Get, if you can still find it ...
Mystic War is probably out of print - in fact, I
think the game company is out of business. It's too bad, because
TimJim/Prism (a union of two small game companies publishing together
for economic reasons, I suspect) made some good games. This one
is my favorite of them, though. It's a fairly unique game - I
haven't seen any others quite like it. Expect it'll take a little
The game comes with eight player mats, 56 resource chits, 12 Victory
Condition cards, 82 Action cards, a first-player card, rules and
While there is no real board as such, each player has an 8.5" by
11" mat they use to track their progress in the game, and seven
resource chits to help them do it. Each mat is identical, having
a brief Sequence of Play aid and four areas to track different
things. Three of the tracking areas look pretty similar: five
large spaces labelled 0, 10, 20, 30, 40 and some text in each box,
and a smaller track of ten spaces labelled from 0-9. Six of the
resource chits are used in these areas: one to track the "tens"
value and one to track the "ones" value for the three different
The three resources are:
You start the game with 5 of each: put one resource chit in the
large "0" box and another in the small "5" box. Thus you have 0
tens and 5 ones = 5 followers, 5 mystic power, and 5 gold.
- Mystic Power
The fourth tracking area, using your final resource chit, is your
Wealth status. I really like this aspect of the game: your wealth
status changes frequently and it's easy to keep track of. If you
ever have less gold than you have followers, you're Poor:
put the resource chit in the Poor box. If you have at least
twice as much gold as followers, you're Rich: put the
resource chit in the Rich box. Otherwise you're Content,
and the chit goes there. Printed in each box is the result of
your wealth status: being Poor halves any resource cards you play,
and being Rich doubles any. Them that has, gets more; them that
lacks, gets less ... very real world. Everyone starts Content, of
course, since you start with 5 Followers and 5 Gold. If you lose
even one gold from this position, though, notice that you become
Determine an initial start player (giving him/her the Start Player
card), deal out two Action cards to each player, and you're ready
Well, it depends. There are four different ways to victory in the
game, and you don't know what the others are shooting for. At the
start of the game, the twelve Victory Condition cards are shuffled
and everyone secretly takes one, without revealing the excess.
There are three Victory Condition cards for each of the four ways to
victory, which are:
But there's a catch: you not only have to meet the requirements
printed on your card (only you know what it is, of course), but
you must have those levels when one of the three Judgement action
cards are played. So you may get there, but if there's no Judgement
card that round, you're vulnerable to being knocked down before
one can be played ...
- City Victory: at least 40 followers, 10 mystic power, 10 gold
- Archmage Victory: at least 40 mystic power, 10 followers, 10 gold
- Hoard Victory: at least 40 gold, 10 followers, 10 mystic power
- Balanced Victory: at least 20 followers, 20 mystic power, 20 gold
When the 82-card Action draw deck runs out, by the way, you have
the option to draw a new random Victory Condition card from those
left and shuffle your old one back into the remainder.
The Basic Play
There are four phases in each turn, as printed on each player mat.
Every player performs actions in a given phase before going on the
next phase, so no one is doing phase-two actions until everyone
has done their phase-one actions, etc. The phases are:
Special Powers: right off the bat the game has a very
attractive feature. Remember I said above that every "tens" box
contains some text? Some of that text grants you special powers;
other text gives you resources. In the Perform One Special
Power phase you may, if you wish, perform one of those special
powers, just as you might have guessed. What you might not have
guessed is that you're actually limited to exactly the
special power described in the "tens" box you're in. Example:
you just went from 19 followers to 20 followers: you're no longer
in the "10" box, you're now in the "20" box. At this point you
may no longer perform the special power of the "10" box, but may
perform the special power of the "20" box during this phase.
- Perform One Special Power
- Receive All Resources
- Draw Action Cards
- Play Action Card or Pass
Sometimes you'll have more than one special power available: having
20-29 followers, for example, allows you to research mystic
power: convert ten followers to five mystic power. And having
30-39 mystic power allows you to summon a demon to destroy some of
an opponent's resources. If you have both of these conditions,
though, you can only perform one (of your choice) in a given Special
Receive Resources: in the second phase, everyone collects
resources based on the "tens" boxes they've recorded. 10-19 gold,
for example, grants you 2 followers while 1-9 followers also gives
you 2 followers. (You can never go below 1 in any resource, by
the way, nor above 49.) This phase is very mechanical and everyone
performs it at once - nothing you can do to influence anything
Draw Action Cards: in the third phase, everyone, starting
with the Start Player, draws more action cards. This is determined
solely by the number of followers you have:
Thus there's strong incentive to gain followers even if you're not
going for a "City Victory" - though lots of followers can lead to
- 1-9 followers: draw 2 cards
- 10-19 followers: draw 3 cards
- 20-29 followers: draw 4 cards
Play Action Card or Pass
The fourth phase of the game is the heart of it, and so deserves
its own section. It will usually consist of more than one round.
Starting with the Start Player, you may (sometimes must)
play one Action card or pass. If you pass, you may play an
Action card in a later round - this phase lasts until all players
pass consecutively. The number of Action cards you may carry over
from one round to the next is based on your mystic power level:
1-9 mystic power allows you to hold 2 cards, 10-19 mystic power
allows you to hold 3 cards, etc. You may not pass if you have more
cards than you're allowed to hold. You also may not pass if you
have one of the three Judgement cards - playing a Judgement card
triggers a victory check, remember. You don't have to play a
Judgement card early in the phase (though you may), but you must
play it before you pass.
There are four types of Action cards:
Resource cards, over half the deck, are pretty straightforward:
playing one allows you to increase the named resource by the number
of points listed on the card. There are resources that increase
followers, or mystic power, or gold, and some (dragons) that allow
you to destroy resources of another player. There are also some
wild resource cards that let you name the resource when you play
- Resource Cards
- Spell Cards
- Deity Cards
- Event Cards
Spell cards may be played out of turn (though only in the
Play Action Card phase). These can impact other cards played:
negate, or double resource cards, mostly, but some allow you to
transmute the named resource to another type, and others allow you
to take resources another player has just lost. Anyone can play
any card on any player, by the way.
Deity cards either give the receipient special abilities,
and remain face up on the table, or affect other deity cards -
removing or stealing them, mostly. It can be tricky to play a
Deity card - you can't remove them once played except by other
Deity cards. So though it may sound like a good idea to play a
card that protects followers (you can't lose any), it also cancels
your ability to exchange followers for mystic power or gold -
possibly for the rest of the game!
Event cards are a grab bag, ranging from disasters to
mega-blasts to pennies from heaven to forcing a player to reveal
his Victory Condition to the Judgement victory check cards. Quite
entertaining when you play them, less so when played against you
So each round in the Play Action Card phase you play one card. At
this point, anyone with a "Play anytime" card may play it, usually
to negate or modify or transmute the card you just played. You
may then counter with one of your own "Play anytime" cards, and
others can join in the fun. The rules give a fairly complex and
detailed example of such card play just so you can follow along.
In addition, there are two identical player-aid sheets to pass
around that spell out the exact effects of each card in the deck
- nicely done.
Oh, and remember Wealth status, which can change repeatedly throughout
any given phase? When you play a resource, check your wealth
status: if you're Poor, halve the resource points. If you're Rich,
double them ...
The first person to pass in this phase, by the way, claims the
Start Player card for the next round. The only advantage to being
start player that I can see is in the first phase, Use Special
Power. You can use a special power without risk that someone else
may alter your ability to use it - or you may be able to affect
another player with your special power, changing their special
power status, if you suspect they were going to affect your position.
A pre-emptive strike
Major Interaction and Options
And that's the game. You continue like this until someone meets
their victory condition when a Judgement card is played. (Two of
the Judgement cards are shuffled into the deck, by the way, and
the third, a different color card, is always put at the bottom of
the shuffled deck.) But, oh, what a wild ride until that moment!
The game is best with 4-6 players, I think. This is where the
table talk gets interesting and people begin to speculate about
the others' victory conditions and start to make deals:
"Look, if he's going for an Archmage Victory, he's only 2 mystic
power from winning! If you play a dragon on him, I can double it
..." And so on. I find this type of game most
enjoyable, myself - we call it a bowbing game.
But that's really only part of it. There are many nuances in
raising and lowering your various resources throughout the game.
Unlike most games of this type, there are actually excellent reasons
to lower your resources at times! Sometimes you want to
move back to a lower "tens" box to get a specific special power.
Other times it's useful to lower your followers so you become Rich
to double your resource cards. And sometimes there's an event that
is better if you have lower resources. I like this aspect of the
game very much - it makes for some interesting play. In addition,
there's the bluffing aspect: no one really knows what your Victory
Conditions are, so constantly manipulating your resources up and
down can confuse them, yet can also ultimately work towards the
best possible situation for you.
So it's primarily a game of bluff, picking on the perceived leader
- who may not really be the leader at all! - and manipulating your
resources both up and down to get the best ultimate position.
There's both strategy (you really can plan long-term in this
game, though it's often hard to implement such a plan!) and tactics
involved: which cards do you play in which order? Which cards do
you save for defense, and which do you use to help another player
attack a third opponent? What resource do you build right now and
which do you convert to a different resource? And so on - really
lovely choices, the heart of any game.
Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?
First and possibly foremost, if you are of a religion that believes
it's wrong to play a game in which people summon demons, stay away
from this game. In this game world, a player-character wizard can
summon a demon to destroy another wizard's resources.
Fussy folk might not like the components. Aesthetically, the player
mats have been called anything from plain to ugly, but nothing
outside that range. The cards are okay graphically in a monochrome
way, but nothing special. None of this bothers me - I only dislike
components when they actually interfere with playing the game, and
pretty components are as likely to do that as plain ones. There
is no problem in that regard: all components are quite functional.
Of course, you may not like pick-on-the-leader bowbing games. In
that case, definitely stay away. I like such games, myself - I
find them great fun.
With certain types of players, the game can go on a bit longer than
is fun - some people spend more energy knocking each other below
victory levels than working on their own victory levels. If you
have a group of such players, I don't recommend this one. Also,
the Judgement card spacing can be really bad - if you get the two
shuffled ones in the first draw, it's a long way to the next one.
And finally, the game wasn't that popular among gamers when it
first came out. It was regularly panned. I have no idea why,
actually, but be warned that I'm in the minority in liking this
A very entertaining game which takes anywhere from 45 minutes to
2 hours to play, depending on how much bowbing you do and the
spacing of the Judgement cards. I have no idea of availability,
but if you like what read here and see one, pick it up - you won't
(Added April 23, 2002)
I notice that Brian Bankler has added a fix for those players who
find the game takes too long. Personally, I've never had this
problem, but if you do, check it out!
It looks simple and effective - nice job, Brian.
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