The first time I played MageQuit was a few weeks ago in Seattle for PAX West. It was one of several games playable at The Mix, an off-site mini celebration of indie games held annually alongside Penny Arcade’s mega expo. I was browsing the games on display when someone literally pulled me aside and handed me an Xbox controller. “Here, play with us.”

“Is this your game?” I asked, assuming they were one of the devs.

“Nope.”

“Oh, are you media too?”

“Nope, just play.”

Soon, I and five others were duking it out in MageQuit, a game I vaguely recalled from my pre-show emails but had not booked to play that weekend.

I’m not sure if that group of five others had already been playing and wanted to rope in more players or if they were just handing out controllers before they jumped in for the first time, but in retrospect I’m so glad I was in the right place at the right time go get literally yanked into it that day.

Others gathered around and watched us play too, and each new person approached with the same visible curiosity followed by equally blatant excitement once they understood the stakes. A few weeks later, when I was offered the chance to review MageQuit, I jumped at it, remembering it as that awesome game I loved in Seattle that night. I wanted to see if it was as good round after round, day after day.

As it turns out, MageQuit holds up over extended hands-on time even better than it did in my 30 minutes with it in late August. That’s because when you really start to dig deeper into its design, MageQuit is more than an excellent party game; it has the potential to be a beloved esport.

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In MageQuit, players take on the roles of wizards, each one with a short white beard and a big pointy Merlinesque hat. Up to 10 players locally or online in up to three teams — or no teams at all — can take to one of several arena maps, each with their own obstacles and aesthetics. At the start of a nine-round game, each wizard will draft their primary spell.

Draft order, like in fantasy sports, is randomized, at least for the first round. Hitting the battlefield after everyone is armed with one spell each, players duke it out by scrambling around the top-down arena and firing off their spells. In the end, one wizard will be left standing, and everyone gets a point for any eliminations they earned.

Simple enough, but we’re just getting started. Before round two, the draft order shifts. Lowest score goes first, so the leaders wait until the end. There aren’t enough spells for everyone to get whatever they want, so also like a fantasy draft, you have to hope the spell you want is on the board when it’s your turn, or else have a backup plan — and maybe a backup plan for your backup plan.

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For the first several rounds, players continue to battle on arenas of different kinds, like a fiery inner volcano with a periodically bursting lava pit in the middle, or two islands connected by narrow bridges with a giant wizard-eating fish patrolling the perimeter.

Each arena feels like a different map and given the distance-firing involved in most spells

Between each of the first seven rounds, your spellcasting arsenal will expand impressively. After the primary spell, you’ll soon choose movement spells, melee spells, defensive spells, secondary spells, and ultimate spells, one at a time, round by round, with a live draft divvying them up each time.

That’s why it feels reminiscent of a sports game, but to make it an esport, the actual battles would need to be balanced and exciting, and that’s precisely what they are. Game speed is a subtly strong reason the game works so well. Every mage runs at the same slowish pace, though they are all equally agile too, which means dodging enemy spells is a learned skill and takes great consideration with each step, especially in a full game of 10 players.

You also need to track what each of your opponents has in their spellbook, because it will determine how they’ll attack and how you should defend. The balancing act of each spell’s strengths and weaknesses feels painstakingly designed. The most powerful spells may have long reload timers, while quick burst spells may do less damage but you’ll have them readied again much faster.

Some spells can pull enemies toward you or freeze them motionless, while others may allow you to teleport behind them or put up a briefly impenetrable wall. You can also curve your spells left or right, which lets you play the geometry of an arena with a satisfying level of tactics.

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The colorful and silly face of MageQuit — your beard grows with every point scored — belies the game’s deep competitive nature, and it all flows as it should thanks to brilliant design that never lets anyone get too strong by accident. It feels like a game where the best players will win because of their versatility and honing their skills with any spell loadout they end up with.

The fact that these spells are broken into different elemental genres, like fire, wind, water, and more means you’ll start to discover which are your favorites, but you’ll never so comfortably build your hero the same due to the intriguing draft aspect. You have to be prepared to make do with what you get, and the manner of awarding early-round draft picks to the lowest scoring players gives it all the parity fantasy sports have achieved for decades.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that MageQuit is one of the best games I’ve played this year. Anyone who enjoys party games needs to pick this up — but even more than that, I’m waiting and wondering when it will be given some competitive league consideration. It’s simple to follow for spectators, and more importantly it’s exciting too. For players, it packs the nuanced depth and crucial balance to make a name for itself in the competitive scene. Whether you’re playing or watching, MageQuit is spellbinding.

 

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