What a predicament! I hate card games – notably those god-awful mini-games such as in Red Dead Redemption 2, but I love deck-building games. Granted, they are very different; the only similarity would be the medium. That said, Mahokenshi is a different kind of deck-building game at that.
Loosely based on Japanese mythology, you’ll take on the role of one of the ‘ancient’ houses once you unlock them, and instead of boring bloody bushido, you’ll follow the path of the Mahoken – divine protectors of all things rotten in the Celestial Islands. Y’know – from Japanese mythology, like I said.
In reality, the Japanese thing is just the chassis for the setup, as Mahokenshi is clearly a fantasy game with swords, fighting demons in the sky, and unbelievable nails. Oh, it’s so silly! But it’s not, and – spoiler: it’s a decent game, mashing up a turn-based rogue-lite thingy with deck-building sets that matter.
Taking place across these floating islands, your hero will have a limited number of action points to cover the hexa-tiles on each map. Action points are used for physically moving across the terrain (though bonus cards can be used to reduce action consumption and future stitches), plus they’re used for battling enemies, literally throwing your cards at them in an aggressive yet ordered manner.
Each map is a self-contained challenge and handcrafted for your pleasure. Despite getting gradually more difficult the further you progress, the learning curve and general challenge in Mahokenshi is very good, making it accessible to quite a broad audience. The tutorial is brief and informative, but the gameplay is intuitive, leaving you to manage your precious time by formulating a decent strategy without learning cumbersome controls and lore.
A note on the lore once more, despite the references to the likes of kappa and tengu, and of course, the Japanese-themed architecture, markets and dojos, it’s very much a fantasy, so don’t get all nerdy about accuracies – you’re floating in the sky. The visuals are great, but more importantly, the card selection is excellent. Even the houses in the story (represented by jewels – i.e. Ruby, Topaz and… Frankincense?) feel very different. Well, the heroes, that is.
Game Source Studio hasn’t reinvented the wheel, but one of the cool things about the game is refreshing the deck with new cards for each mission. The options available are pretty good in that you can collect more through side missions, exploration, purchasing new cards from merchants, and then upgrading their power through the dojos on the map. Like similar titles, you can exploit a card or two and do crazy damage with minimal action points, but as those cards renew each time, it makes the game as fresh as your pants. Well, maybe not yours. There are also attribute upgrades available, too.
I played Mahonkenshi mostly on the Steam Deck, and though it ran ok, the cutscenes didn’t work at the time. Switching to the desktop naturally looked better, but it has to be said that playing on the sofa with the Deck was great, not just because of the portability but because the game is so accessible and somewhat addictive. The only major negative for me was the repetitiveness. Missions could do with a few more side quests, and it wouldn’t hurt to have some maps in the future. Otherwise, there weren’t that many beefs I had with the game.
So, if you’ve read anything above this paragraph, you’ll have guessed correctly that this game is a recommendation. Easily one of the most accessible deck-building games that cast its net to a broader audience due to the boardgame-like tile style of play, Mahonkenshi gets a thumbs up from me. Even if it’s all make-believe.