A top-level costing model is developed and used to project the cost of electricity (COE) (in mills per kilowatt-hour) expected from conceptual fusion power plants. Application is restricted to magnetic fusion energy (MFE) concepts. These costs are estimated parametrically in terms of the mass of the fusion-power-core (FPC) heater, the power required to sustain a reacting deuterium-tritium plasma, the heat transport/transfer system that delivers the fusion power to the balance of plant (BOP), and the BOP needed to convert the fusion heat to electrical power. Although the highly integrated (simplified) cost-estimating relationships (CERs) used to express COE in terms of FPC mass power density (MPD) [in kilowatt(electric) per tonne] and the engineering gain QE (inverse of fraction of gross electric power recirculated to the fusion power plant) apply primarily to MFE approaches to fusion power, the costing gauge that results is generally independent of confinement scheme. Unlike other analyses, the approach used here does not require a plasma model for evaluation; this costing gauge simply evaluates a financial model that expresses the COE (or unit direct cost [in dollars per watt(electric)]) in terms of MPD, QE, and a minimum number of top-level (e.g., highly integrated) unit costs or CERs. The nonlinear scalings and connectivities between physics, engineering, and financial models (including credits for unique safety features and licensing advantages) must be determined by appropriate (generic or concept-specific) systems models. Results from concept-specific studies are used to assess the practicality of achieving the required combination of physics and engineering needed to assure competitive COEs vis-à-vis appropriate combinations of MPD and QE for the unit costs and CERs used. Although highly simplified and intended primarily to provide an easily used economic gauge for MFE power plants, a comparison of the predictions of this gauge with the results of modern, detailed, and cost-optimized studies of a number of MFE approaches indicates the need for change in the direction of the current fusion program and the thinking that is maintaining that direction. Improved economic and operational prospects for MFE can be expressed in terms of lineage that begins with higher MPD tokamak configurations embodied in the second-stability and spherical torus regimes and moves toward configurations with increased poloidal field domination, reduced externally generated magnetic fields, and further increases in MPD. This increase, however, must be attained while maintaining both a safe and environmentally attractive configuration and economic QE values. Although scientific progress along a linear extension of the current tokamak database is warranted and necessary, this progress should not occur at the expense of ideas that might lead to an economically and environmentally attractive MFE power source that would eventually be pulled into the energy market because of significant cost differentials rather than being pushed into that market by technology advances that may not be recognized as leading to a power plant that is either attractive or needed.