Full disclosure: Familiar Games sent me a review copy of Mageling.
What is this game about?
Mageling is a dice-rolling, tableau-building game about young mages who must travel through dangerous locations. The multiplayer game is essentially a race to be the first to traverse each of five different locations in Mageling's world. However, moving to new locations costs energy—more than your character will be able to generate at the start of the game. So you'll have to grow your powers and use them wisely.
Each turn, you will roll five dice, and then be allowed to re-roll as many of those dice as you like. Then you'll need to decide what to do with the dice you've rolled. Each die face will display the symbol of either a school of magic in the game or a "finesse" symbol, which is a hand. If you have multiple dice of the same type, you can build up energy and us it to buy cards from a market row—as well as to potentially activate a card in that market row without actually buying it. You can also use pairs of dice to gain mana, which is energy you can keep from turn to turn, or use finesse to remove cards from the market (and, in solo mode, to activate a special ability).
As you acquire cards, you'll be able to use your dice to trigger card abilities in addition to these basic actions, and the fun of the game is in acquiring effective combinations of cards. You'll also need to spend your energy to move from location to location, which can be expensive and which can trigger some surprising side effects.
How does it play solo?
Mageling has a solo/co-op mode that keeps the core of the game intact, while adding elements that keep things challenging. Rather than race other players to the end, in solo mode, players are racing to get through every location before the Evertree—the first location in the game and your home base within the world of Mageling—runs out of life. There are ways to give extra life to the Evertree, but you are working against the clock, and there are Ancient Ones who will awaken throughout the game and try to stop you. The solo game is also played as a short campaign, where your race to save the Evertree gets more difficult and desperate in every chapter. At the same time, you'll gain access to a personal market of spells that you've handpicked, in addition to the market row that all players can access in every game.
Overall, Mageling is a good game, especially as a first entry from a new designer and publisher. My favorite thing about it is that the game rewards repeated play, which means that as you continue to play Mageling, you'll have new insights into what cards and combinations are most effective. There are multiple paths to victory, so learning how to work the game and see its possibilities is very enjoyable. I also like that there are multiple uses for both cards and dice, so you can choose how to apportion your resources and whether to use a card immediately from the market row—meaning you use it only once—or whether to expend energy to buy it for your tableau.
I also personally like the way the solo campaign is done. It's meaty enough to make the game challenging, but not long enough to feel like a slog. It's also possible to just start a game at any chapter of the solo campaign, or to stop playing whenever you want. I'd say the campaign creates a sense of growth and deeper gameplay, but without a matching sense of obligation.
Mageling is not, however, without its flaws. Because it is a dice game, you will have inevitable dead turns due to bad luck, especially early on, before you've acquired cards that let you make more of bad rolls. This issue can be exacerbated in solo mode, where the market doesn't fluctuate enough, which can leave you with cards you don't want and not much that you can do about it.
Most vexing for me, however, is that Mageling is a good game with a rulebook that doesn't give the best first impression. I had to go to Familiar Games's website to check the FAQ, or onto BGG, to check multiple rules ambiguities, and I found that very frustrating. In a hobby where many players are constantly in search of novelty in games, where they want to play more games than they have time for, and where they move on quickly from games that aren't working, it's a big ask to expect that level of patience.
Do I recommend it?
Potentially. If you liked One Deck Dungeon and want a different game with a similar vibe, if you like dice games, and if you like discovering interesting card combinations, then you will like Mageling. Just be patient as you work through the rules at first.
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.