Review – PowerMage 54

PowerMage 54  

Designer: Corey L. Kliewer (2009)
Publisher: CLiK Productions LLC
# of Players: 2-6
Play Time: 15 min
BGG Rank/Rating: NA/6.14 (avg rating)
Weight: Light (really freaking light)
Category: Family Game

I received a free review copy of PowerMage 54 a couple of months ago, and I finally got around to playing it a few times over the last week.  The game is literally just a deck of cards, 52 cards of the 4 standard suits plus 2 jokers.  But in addition, each card has some special aspects that allow you to play a wholly original game with them as well.  All the cards have unique ilustrations and are of pretty good quality.  The art itself is a bit simplistic, but is also pretty evocative of the supers theme.  But anyway, let’s get to the game itself, which will be the main focus of this review… 

Game Basics  (click here for complete game rules) 

Okay, maybe “wholly original” was a bit of a stretch.  PowerMage 54 is a simple combat game between superheroes that the game calls “PowerMages”.  You start at 100 health, and the last person with any left is the winner.  The four suits have all been assigned a special purpose to accomplish this task:

  • Spades are Attack cards, which deal damage to your opponent.  
  • Clubs are Defense, which you can play in response to Attack cards and reduce the damage you take. 
  • Hearts are Health cards, which you play on your turn to gain extra health.
  • Diamonds are Thump cards, which you can use to multiply the effect of any of the other three types of cards.  In addition, all Thump cards have a special ability that can be used instead of multiplying something else.

But these general guidelines for card types only apply to the number cards (Ace-10) of each suit, because all the face cards are the actual PowerMage (superhero/villain) cards.  PowerMages can all be played and discarded for the special ability listed on the card itself, but they are also required in order to play a Thump card (for any reason) as well.  So while you could simply play the Pulse Rifle attack card (8 of spades) to deal 8 points of damage to your opponent, if you wanted to multiply its value by using the Thump x5 (5 of diamonds) card (dealing a total of 40 points of damage), you would also have to have a PowerMage (face card from any suit) in your hand as well.  But you don’t have to actually discard the PowerMage when used in this way, you only have to reveal it.

Everyone is dealt 5 cards to start, and you determine who will go first.  On your turn, you draw one card and then do one of the following things:

  • Play an Attack card (possibly modified by a Thump card), which can be Defended against (also possibly modified by a Thump card) by your opponent
  • Play a Health card (possibly modified by a Thump card)
  • Play a PowerMage or Thump card for its special ability
  • Pass (but only if you have less than 5 cards)

You discard any cards that you played, and then discard down to a total five cards in your hand if you have more.  Play continues until there’s only one player left with any health.


Heck, I don’t know.  Draw good cards, maybe?  Have luck on your side?  But that’s a little unfair, I guess, because there are a few decision points that you need to make. 

The biggest one is probably deciding when and how to use the PowerMage and Thump cards.  You’ve got to have a PowerMage in your hand to play Thump cards, so discarding your last one for its special power may not be a good idea.  And while you probably want to use that Thump card to multiply your attack, there’s also a pretty nifty ability that you could use if you held onto it for next turn.  But in general, what you do seems to be rather obvious based on your situation, so there’s no brain-hurty agonization going on about what you should do.

There’s also some choices to make about what to play now or save for later in hoping for a better combination, but again, that’s very luck based and obvious.      

What I think…

I’m pretty divided in what I think about PowerMage 54.  Let me start with the bad stuff first, and then I’ll temper that a bit with some other thoughts.

After we played our first (and her only) game, my wife Gwen commented that she would rather play “War” than suffer through another game of PowerMage 54.  Of course, despite winning, she had sat idly by for most of the game with a hand of unplayable Defense cards and nothing to do on her turns.  But since I had drawn only Health and Defense cards (and no Thumps to make them really impressive), I wasn’t doing much of anything to her anyway.  Our game went on for 30 minutes or so before she managed to turn my last impressive attack back on me and win.  So in comparison to the other games that we played that evening, it really looked like 30 minutes of gaming time wasted.     

Seriously, though, the main problem with PowerMage 54 is that it’s completely random.  While there may be some potential for putting together card combos, the severely limited ability to draw and manipulate your cards makes real hand management an impossibility.  Since you only draw one card per turn, and there’s no way to discard or exchange cards from your hand, you are totally at the whim of chance. 

And that randomness can be pretty fickle, too, because the range of possibilities of what you can get is rather drastic.  Just to point this out a little, let’s think about a 2-card combo using an attack and a thump card.  It’s possible that you could be holding the 2 of both suits, which played together equal a grand total of 4 points of damage.  But if you’re holding the ace of both suits, that damage would total a whopping 225 points.  And the chance of drawing one of these combos is completely as likely as the other.  So if you want to win the game, like I said, draw the right cards. 

One other little thing that bothers me some is how inconsistent the game is.  If someone drew the 225-point combo in their opening hand, the game will be pretty freaking short.  But if everyone draws a bunch of health and defense cards, it can drag on and on forever.  And like Gwen found out, holding that hand of defense cards when your opponent isn’t attacking you is the epitome of boring play.  So while a 10-minute game might be pretty fun and exciting, a game that drags on for 20-30 minutes (or more) is torture.

If I could summon the interest to play the game another time or two, though, I think that a few little tweaks might make a considerable difference.  My first idea is that when you take a “pass” action, why not let you discard one card and then draw back up to a full hand.  This would at least mitigate the total luck of the draw, and add a few interesting decisions about passing.  Overall, it seems like the game is just begging for a little more development, and could have some potential as a light combat game.

But while game itself doesn’t have a lot to it, there are some redeeming qualities.  It’s pretty obvious that there was some intention that the game could also serve as just a superhero-themed deck of cards, and I think that it does a pretty good job in that regard.  My first thought is that it would be awesome as the initiative deck in a Necessary Evil campaign for Savage Worlds, but I’d love to play poker or any other standard card game with it as well.

And also, you have to consider the value of the game.  I got it for free, of course (which was well worth it), but even the list price of $6.99 is pretty darn reasonable.  The cards seems to be of pretty decent quality, and if you like how they look, I’d recommend getting them to use as standard cards.      

But again, if you’re thinking about the game of PowerMage 54 itself, it’s not really something that I can recommend. 

The Verdict! 

I played a couple of 2-player games, and couldn’t imagine subjecting myself to a multiplayer game using the core rules.  And like I mentioned earlier, I was sent a review copy by the designer.

Rules: Mostly simple, but there are a few questionable interactions that are detracting from such a basic game.
Downtime: Not much, unless you can’t do anything constructive even on your own turns.
Length: Varies; 5 minutes is possible and very appropriate, while 30 minutes is way too long
Player Interaction: It’s a fighting game, so there’s quite a bit.
Weight:  Feather-weight
GamerChris’ Rating: A decent deck of cards but ultimately flawed stand-alone game, which I rate at a disappointing  4.  


  1. Tony

    Of course if you’re really looking for a good superhero card game you could also dust off your old decks of Super Deck!

  2. Chris Norwood

    You know, I really had to resist the urge to do a “compare and contrast” between Super Deck! and PowerMage 54.  They’re actually quite similar (from what I remember about SD!, anyway), but I just didn’t want to invest the extra time it would have taken to really play them both and do all the unnecessary analysis (since I rate both of them a 4/10).

    But maybe we’ll have to pull them both out next time you’re in town, Tony, just for nostalgia’s sake!

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  5. The biggest one is probably deciding when and how to use the PowerMage and Thump cards. You’ve got to have a PowerMage in your hand to play Thump cards, so discarding your last one for its special power may not be a good idea.

  6. I could summon the interest to play the game another time or two, though, I think that a few little tweaks might make a considerable difference.

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