Mage Knight was a miniatures wargame published by WizKids beginning in 2000 and was the first example of the “Collectible Miniatures Games” (CMGs) genre. It was also the first miniatures game I actually played.
I say actually played because my first introduction to miniatures games, like many people my age (old), was Warhammer. Sometime in those early internet years, I came across images of beautifully painted minis from Warhammer Fantasy. My friend Matt and I became excited and decided to go halfsies on a starter box.
Our excitement was tempered once we opened the box; We were greeted with unassembled, unpainted miniatures and an intimidatingly thick rulebook. We ended up assembling a few miniatures and I even painted my first mini, but we never played. The rules looked too complicated and a game session never came to fruition.
Fast forward to 2002. My friend Matt wanted to go to what was then called Wizard World in Chicago. I didn’t collect comics at the time, but I agreed to go along–at least I could see Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes promoting Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. While there, I picked up the premier issue of Devil’s Due’s relaunch of G.I. Joe, but then something fateful and unexpected happen.
We came across a little booth for some company called WizKids. We had never heard of them, but they roped us into a game demo. At the time, I was surprised to see games at a comic convention–after all, this was in an era where conventions like San Diego Comic Con was actually still about comics.
The game demonstrated was Mage Knight. In contrast to Warhammer, these miniatures were pre-painted and fully assembled. Furthermore, the only rules reference we had was a little cheat card that explained some of the miniatures’ special abilities. All other information was cleverly designed into the now famous”Clix” base on the mini. As the figure was damaged it battle, the base dial was “clicked” and the stats changed.
For my friend and I, this system was a revelation. Previously flummoxed by miniatures rules, here was a game we learned to play in less than 5 minutes. When we got home, we immediately bought some Mage Knight starter sets and boosters and played. We even managed to get some other players in our tiny town.
It all ultimately ended when WizKids announced Mage Knight 2.0 in 2003. While technically older sets were compatible with the new version, the new crop of minis had expanded powers and the ability to accommodate styrene item cards. It was clear the older stuff would become obsolete.
Though the party didn’t last long, the Mage Knight era of my gaming life had significant impacts. One, it got me to actually play a miniatures game. Once that seal was broken, combined with a base knowledge of how miniatures games played, it was much easier to try out more complex, traditional miniatures games. Two, it taught me the money sink nature of “collectible” games. My introduction to this beast was Spellfire, but Mage Knight drove the point home that these CCGs/CMGs were a dangerous path to tread, fun games or not.
Postscript: Wizard World 2002 was the first convention I ever attended. After the positive experience, I convinced my friend we should go to Gen Con the next year. It was moving to Indianapolis in 2003 and it would make an easy day trip. But that’s a story for another time…