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Mahokenshi review | PC Gamer

Need to know

What is it? Part card game, part strategy game, part postcard from Japanese myth.
Expect to pay:
Release date: January 24, 2023
Developer: Game Source Studio
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Reviewed on: Windows 10, Ryzen 9 5900X, 32GB RAM, RTX 3080
Multiplayer? No
Link: Official site (opens in new tab)

Mahokenshi is basically Slay the Spire with samurai wizards, and that’s a solid selling point right there. It’s a deckbuilder, the kind of game where you start with a set of rubbish cards and accumulate better ones as you work towards your goal, but one that tweaks the genre conventions in some unusual ways. Plus, you get a katana.

The theme turns out to be the least impactful part of Mahokenshi, a thin layer of second-hand Japanese folklore on top of the familiar elements. The mahokenshi are mystic warriors who’ve made deals with divine spirits for power, and there are four to unlock, each with their own deck. The one who cut a deal with a spider gets cards with poison and stealth effects, while the one whose powers come via a turtle spirit gets defense boosts and damaging spikes. In between fighting goblins, bandits, and cultists, these four face the occasional oni, while the item that lets them ditch useless cards is a kimono for some reason. The Japanese-ness is pretty superficial is what I’m getting at.

(Image credit: Iceberg)

The structure is what really differentiates Mahokenshi from other deckbuilders. You play on a hexgrid, spending action points to manoeuvre your samurai across the floating Celestial Islands to find treasure, quests, power-ups, and so on. Instead of a randomized Spire or the mix-and-match Hell of Monster Train, all of its 18 missions have pre-determined layouts and goals, each telling a little story. One began with a tense chase, four feral oni pursuing me through the forest toward a castle. That affected the deck decisions I made, making the movement of cards more valuable than normal, and altered the way I played.

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