September 14, 2011

Card Game Review: Mag Blast

Mag Blast (Fantasy Flight/Christian and Anders Petersen, 2006 [3rd Ed.])
2-8 Players / 10+ / 20 minutes

The situation was bleak.  My scattered fleet vainly tried to regroup, but I sighted enemy targets in all sectors.  I had no ships in the Blue or Green quadrants.  My crippled command ship's alarms blared incessantly, warning of impending doom.

"All power to shields," I barked.

"Admiral," meekly replied one of the few surviving crewman, "we don't have shields."

In disbelief, I growled, "What?! Just what kind of spaceship is this? I want to speak to Gene Roddenberry."

"Well, sir, that might be arranged here in just one second."


A starting fleet.

What You Get:

Surprise!...Cards!  There are 10 races with varying abilities (represented as command ship cards), 54 fleet ship cards (of various classes and configurations), and 101 action cards.  Fantasy Flight's usual reputation for quality holds true to form here.  They're sturdier than the average poker cards and linen-textured.  John Kovalic's cartoonish art is appropriate for the light-hearted, chaotic theme and will delight sci-fi fans with its satirical homage to the genre.

The Quick Rundown:

Your goal in Mag Blast is to blow your opponents out of the stars!  There are no victory points in this frantic free-for-all.  If your command ship is destroyed, you're eliminated from the game.  It's as simple as it is brutal.  However, you have a fleet of ships divided among four sectors around your command ship for protection.  Before you can target an enemy command ship, you must empty at least one of his sectors of any fleet ships and then you can start pounding it with one of your own ships through that corresponding sector.  You begin the game with only one random fleet ship in each quadrant and do the best you can with the action cards at hand.  Each fleet ship is rated for strength (hit points), maneuverability (movement points), and weaponry (type of gun[s] it can fire) - plus a couple types have a special ability.  A turn consists of first discarding any action cards you don't want, then drawing until you have 5 cards in hand, then discarding certain cards for an extra fleet ship (if possible), then maneuvering your starships between sectors, and finally playing any action cards you wish.  Action cards allow you to blast the enemy (once per turn, per ship) and also provide various other combat results such as direct hits that can catastrophically destroy an enemy vessel or capture it, etc.  There are also fighter and bomber squadrons you can launch to inflict more damage if you have a carrier.  You can even play action cards defensively to avoid damage.

Hence the game's name.
E for Everyone:

This game puts "confrontational" on the map.  I mean when the goal of a game is to destroy your opponent ruthlessly and as fast as possible, we are dealing with a special category of interaction.  So does that make Mag Blast suitable to play with kids, who by nature are more prone to react emotionally to this particular gaming characteristic?  From our family's experience, I would argue not only is it suitable, but it can provide some great times.  I say that for several reasons.

First, it is simple to learn and play.  While opponents may be bashing in your bulkheads, the rules at least are not bashing you over your own head.  The only part of gameplay that may take a few rounds to keep clear is between the three types of guns and the four different sectors.  Fleet ships can only fire blasts into their corresponding sectors and may only fire the type of blast(s) that their rating allows - laser, beam, or mag (dealing 1, 3, and 5 points damage respectively).  The four sectors are color coded blue, green, yellow, and red while the three blasts are similarly color coded yellow, green, and orange.  My kids were confusing the limitations of color sectors vs. color blasts and mixing them up.  After a full game, it should not be an issue.  The rest of gameplay is well structured and the special action cards have clear instructions regarding their abilities.
Carriers can launch fighters and bombers.

Second, it is light-hearted.  Sure, the sci-fi satire pretty much sails right over my kids' heads (except for a bit of Star Wars, perhaps), but the cartoony and humorous art keeps any tension that the game generates from being stressful.  For a game of cutthroat battle, it just doesn't seem vicious.  And the oft-maligned rule of having to make a "sound effect" as you play a blast card (or miss) proves that this tongue-in-cheek game doesn't take itself too seriously.  "Dude, did you just say 'pa-choo, pa-choo,' when you shot my cruiser?"  I mean come on, it's hard to really take that personal.

Third, it's almost always quick.  It is not unheard of for a player to be sucked into the cold vacuum of space before they even get a turn!  We have a gentleman's agreement in our house to give everyone at least one turn.  While early elimination can be a major drawback with other games, it's not as critical to us in Mag Blast because we usually play a few games at a sitting.  Now, if you're unfortunately vaporized that quickly in all of those games in one sitting, well then, I would contend the issue is with your gaming group and not the game!

Finally, the variety of cards and randomness provide for unique games every time you play.  While I don't necessarily recommend playing this ten times in a row, it will not grow stale for periodic plays.  In some games, all I can do is fire away at the enemy with conventional blast cards.  Other times, I'm able to draw good combinations of direct hit cards to really deal damage or change up the situation.  Sometimes you get plenty of reinforcements to replace losses and other times you're scrambling to shore up holes in your defenses.
Playing a direct hit and an effect with a blast card rocks!
Now, to be honest, this will not be a "go-to" title for serious gamers nor one that will motivate a gathering together.  Hardcore strategists will keep their distance like Klingons avoid Tribbles.  I also don't see it as a casual party game since the sci-fi geek theme will be lost on mainstream society.  It is what it is.  There is next to no strategy; luck will drive your battles; and the chaos factor is off the chain (especially the more players you have).  I could say there is a balancing act with the maneuver action in moving ships around to maximize firepower or protection by sector.  And there could be an interesting, diplomatic meta game with numerous players creating shifting, advantageous alliances.  But I'd be over-stretching its strategic reach. 

Okay I'll Shut Up Now:

In the end, I give Mag Blast an 8 on the Geek scale (Very good game.  I like to play.  Probably I'll suggest it and will never turn down a game.).  Even though you'll delight in knocking out your child's ships like bulls-eyeing womp rats in your T-16 back home, she'll relish in returning the cruel favor.  This quick, light, and simple romp creates quite the many surprising narratives for its breadth and price.  Whether you need to fill some time or want a break from the deep strategy slugfests, Mag Blast is a good choice as a thematic and chaotic yarn...I just wish it had deflector shields!


  1. This one hasn't really been on my radar, but it looks like it could be a fun game to play with the right group. I'll have to check it out.

  2. Indeed, with the right people and in the right situation, I can't recommend it enough!