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Mahokenshi – Review

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Mahokenshi

Mahokenshi is a turn-based deck-building tactical board game where you play one of four different samurai mages against demons who are seeking to corrupt the Celestial Isles.

Overview

Mahokenshi features a set series of stages, each with a designed goal and a number of challenges which earn you a currency, crystals, that let you unlock special bonuses that persist across characters and stages. Whichever of the four samurai you bring to the stage gets experience points, which steadily unlock additional options both for that character, as well as the characters as a whole.

Stages can be repeatedly visited in order to try to achieve missed challenges or level up one of the samurai, and with how difficulty of main stages scale, it is clear the game expects you to do this. 

On the battlefield map, you get four cards and four energy per turn, with energy being spent either cards or on moving across the battlefield, with the energy cost of moving into a hex being based on the terrain in the hex. The map features a combination of enemies and special sites, which either increase your base capabilities for the stage (attack, defense, energy, or card draw), are part of the stage’s victory conditions, or serve to fulfill typical site functions in deck-building games: adding cards to your deck, removing cards from your deck, upgrading cards, or giving the character new passive special abilities. 

Because of the fact that you know where everything is from the start and have the ability to revisit locations as you wish the game ends up feeling less like a pure video game and more like a board game in video game form. It is easy to imagine the game as a particularly complicated to set up and manage board game, though thankfully it is a video game instead, so nobody has to deal with that. 

Achievements and Triumphs

Mahokenshi features fun and tight gameplay, with truly distinct character decks and playstyles. Stage goals are reasonably varied, and figuring out the stages offers plenty to think about. The roguelite progression offers plenty of choices without being too overwhelming. While other deck builders have added a tactical element before, none of them have done it quite like Mahokenshi.

Having such a large battlefield, filled with special locations, creates a pretty big decision space which leads to a lot of possible ways to explore the game. This, combined with a variety of characters, and the different ways cards are added to your deck impact overall capabilities, leaves you with a lot of ways to approach stages, even if the overall number of stages it not exceptionally large.

Failures and Limitations

Unfortunately, the biggest thing holding Mahokenshi back is a core part of its identity (and part of the reason this review is as short as it is). There is nothing particularly new or boundary-pushing about it. If you are tired of the deck-building formula, adding a strong amount of dimensionality to the movement and stage interactions is probably not going to change minds. It is, at its core, a standard deck-builder, and each person will be able to tell for themselves whether this is a formula that is interesting to them.

The other thing which may put people off is the severe difficulty spikes that you can experience when moving through story stages. This is clearly intended, as these stages are almost intended to be equivalent to more typical roguelike deckbuilder’s entire runs, presenting a specific challenge to overcome over time, and increased unlocks rather than representing a smaller slice of the game. This can be quite a shock when first encountering it, though, and the graduation in difficulty between stages is not as smooth as it potentially could be. 

Conclusion

If the idea of playing a very spatially focused combination of a tactical game and a deck-building game as the core sounds fun and appealing to you, then you will almost certainly like Mahokenshi. Its core game look is fun and effective even if the deck-building fails to push boundaries. 

Summary

Mahokenshi has a lot to offer people who love the core structure of deck-building games but doesn’t push boundaries enough to get the attention of those who may have grown tired of it.

Pros

  • Fun, tight gameplay with plenty of decisions and challenges
  • The board game-like world structure results in a wide decision space of individual moves
  • Characters have distinct and varied play styles
  • Familiar and standard deck-building mechanics make it easy to pick up and learn

Cons

  • Familiar and standard deck-building mechanics result in slightly repetitive core experience
  • Game’s steep learning curves and expectation of stage replays may throw people off
  • There are so many goblins. Why are there so many goblins?

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