Magic: the Gathering, Arena of the Planeswalkers was one of the hottest board games of last year. Being the first strategy board game/collectible card game mashup based on the blisteringly popular MtG series, it’s not hard to understand why it was so successful.
In my review, the one thing I wished for was more units and Hasbro delivered in a way that I didn’t quite expect. Not only did they announce additional units, they announced a whole new expansion, the laboriously named Magic: the Gathering, Arena of the Planeswalkers, Battle for Zendikar Board Game Expansion Pack. Not only do you get new units for every color of mana, you get two new Planeswalkers: Ob Nixilis, the fiery demon on the box, and Kiora, the first multi-color mana Planeswalker in the game. Her addition is particularly welcome, considering that using the synergies between multiple colors of mana is core to the MtG card game. But even with all the new summons and Planeswalkers, they’re not the stars of the game. That goes to the Eldrazi Ruiner, a giant raid boss, who uses colorless-mana creatures to chip away at Planeswalker defenses before he crushes them into pulp himself (and when he isn’t using them, you can conscript them into your armies).
The new figures look amazing and the white summon in particular is gorgeously sculpted. The deco for the new Planeswalkers is much more consistent than in the base game. They’re as impressive on the battlefield. The Eldrazi Ruiner himself is massive. He only takes up two hexes, but towers over every other unit in the game. Unfortunately there’s no new map in the box, but it does comes with a new scenario to take out the Eldrazi, scaled for 3-5 players.
I played with the new expansion with my son, who has plenty of experience with the game, and my daughter… who was honestly more interested in the figures than the rules. It became apparent just one turn in that if they didn’t work together, the Eldrazi Ruiner was going to quickly chew through their summons and health. The Eldrazi can keep resummoning its spawns each turn if there aren’t any on the board, so it’s easy for new players to get distracted by the squishy enemies that die easily. It took my daughter a couple of turns before she saw that the Ruiner was wasting her time and turned her attention to the giant purple blob of goo hulking at the edge of the map.
Not that closing with the Eldrazi Ruiner itself is a better scenario. The Ruiner hits hard, but punishes Planeswalkers who send in their summoned creatures instead of joining the fight. If there isn’t a Planeswalker within melee range at the end of his turn, the Ruiner automatically damages everything around him. The best strategy is to coordinate attacks so that one Planeswalker is soaking up the damage while another sends in summons to assist, then switching out when the first Planeswalker’s health dips too low.
For my daughter, the strategy was bothersome; she just wanted to punch things. When I started moving the Eldrazi Ruiner to close the distance, she threw up her hands. “He can move too?” Soon after, we called it a game.
The Zendikar expansion scenario is definitely for those with experience with the game. But even if you’re not interested in challenging the Eldrazi Ruiner, the expansion is worth it to add new summons to your custom armies. With a summon for every color of mana, you can finally switch out units from the base game with something new. The new Planeswalkers are my favorite so far (though that may change when I review the new Shadows Over Innistrad base game with its lycanthrope Planeswalker). Whether you’ve been wanting to tackle new challenges or expand your armies, the Magic: the Gathering, Arena of the Planeswalkers, Battle for Zendikar Board Game Expansion Pack is well worth the purchase. With the new version of the base game hitting the shelves now, both the original Planeswalkers board game and the Zendikar expansion are deeply discounted, well under $20 each. Grab them on Amazon today before they’re gone!