Mahokenshi is a turn-based strategy deckbuilder developed by Game Source Studio in which you protect the Celestial Islands by completing a series of handcrafted levels with roguelite-style progression.

After choosing from the mission select screen, you pick a character, pick equipment, and load into a handcrafted map. You begin the mission with only a handful of cards but find money, cards, stat upgrades, and run-specific items to build your deck as in a roguelite run.

Unlike many deckbuilders, Mahokenshi uses a hex-grid map you must expend energy to move through, both to complete your objectives and get close to your enemies. You can get surrounded, use area-of-effect attacks, and teleport around the map using cards, and it lends the game a board game-esque feel that’s a lot of fun.

The synergies between movement cards, attacks, and the positions on the map you need to reach create interesting strategic decisions not common in deckbuilders. Maybe you want to spend energy to move instead of playing a card, knowing that the mountain you move onto will give you three extra strength. Maybe it’s better to head towards the shrine that gives extra energy for the whole run, even though you’ll take damage from the enemies surrounding you. Perhaps you never bother to fight until you’re overpowered from touching every shrine. It all depends on the random cards you get, what character you play, the terrain around you, and your preferred playstyle.

Whether you win or lose, your deck will be reset for your next run, and you’ll unlock new cards for your character and Crystals that enhance all characters’ capabilities.

The crucial differences from roguelites are the finite number of missions —18 or so in total — and the fact that each map is the same every time. Enemy placement, event scrolls on the map, upgrade shrines, and more are all fixed, with only the cards and items you obtain per run being random.

This approach means each mission can use specific objectives and terrain to give you a different experience. One map sends you running away from enemies while others have you defending a village or dashing around the map on a scavenger hunt.

The downside is that, once you complete every map, all that’s left is to unlock and level all the characters, complete the challenge objectives for permanent upgrades, and then use those new unlocks on the maps you already played. I finished the game with three of four characters unlocked, and once I finished, I wasn’t even sure it was worth going back. Sure, many of the maps were fun and unique from each other, but I had already played some of the tougher maps several times, and they were stale.

There was a weird difficulty spike in the middle of the game when I played, but the developers plan to patch it out before release. Despite the frustration of playing the same map over and over, when I finally won by creating an enormously powerful build, it felt amazing, and it showed me how cool the synergies built into these characters are.

The first half of the game was too easy, and I had a miserable time when I got stuck. But overall I had a great time with Mahokenshi. If you want a 5-10-hour strategy game with roguelite elements, I can strongly recommend this game. But unfortunately, it’s not a true roguelite and doesn’t have enough levels to support playing with these cards and characters for as long as I felt like I could have. There’s nothing wrong with being finite, but the game felt short. If you’re looking for a replayable deckbuilder, this just isn’t a good fit, despite being a good game.

Mahokenshi is available now on PC for $24.99 with a 10% launch discount.

Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Mahokenshi.

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