Design for Effect — Entangled systems
I’ve played a few more Magic Realm games …. we play for an hour or two after dinner and split a game across nights.
In one game my Black Knight used the Alchemist’s Mixture (one M*** missile attack every round for one combat and the Black Knight rolls only a single die for missile attacks) coupled with the Potion of Speed and a few rogues to kill the Tremendous Flying Dragon and six goblins, taking no losses. But before I found the Lair the Dragon’s wife showed up (a monster roll during regeneration day) and ate everyone while the Knight executed a hasty retreat, since he no longer had the ability to damage it. Our last game had four deaths in the first week (Bats are the undisputed Pound for Pound champion in the realm. Just call them “mini-dragons” and be done with it).
I’m pondering why I’m so attached to this game.Well, I like good games, but Magic Realm is an odd definition of ‘good,’ and this just begs the question.
Do I have a type? A taste? I like experience games, but after a dozen games of Combat Commander the ‘like‘ was more theoretical, less of a ‘Hey, I’ve played this game for 20 hours this month’ nature.
I’m wondering if its the entangled systems.
Consider bridge. You have a very interesting (to me) bidding problem. Then play. But a revealing auction may allow an alert defender to find the killing defense. A stone placed in the upper right corner threatens an opponents group but also serves as a ladder breaker for a stone across the entire board.
Puerto Rico isn’t just a “take an action, one at a time” game. You manage your action and your money. You don’t need money for everything, but you can get money a few ways. You need buildings to match your plantations. Actions and money blend. Buildings tie into the various systems.
Race isn’t just spend X cards for Y. Sometimes you spend cards for military, to get Y. Race has numerous subsystems and powers. Caylus has workers, but also money, favors etc.
Now — in general any game that isn’t a single system will have entangled system (and single system games like Chess and Go entangle the pieces position). Again I I wonder if I’m not begging the question.
So I started looking at games I rate a ‘6’ and see what’s lacking. Lots of these are simply mediocre, but let’s see what separates them from similar good games, so I’ll just look at games I’ve played at least a 3-4 times.
Anno 1503 — I may be misremembering, but the lack of a board reduces the dimensions of this (as compared to Settlers).
Ascension — Because of random purchase, you can’t plan out your combinations like Dominion.
Bang — I think this may just be too long for what it is. But it doesn’t feel like there are many entangled systems. (The ‘take that’ vs the ‘who goes there’ probably counts, though).
Battlestations — I liked this, but it’s simply too long.
Beowulf: The Legend — Hm. A meh game. I guess this does have entangled systems, but honestly for a game I’ve played 9 times, I’m not sure I remember it well enough to know.
Le Havre — Felt like a much sparser Agricola, due to the missing occupation/improvement cards. Definitely think there’s a subsystem missing.
Innovation — One of the Hall of Fame “I’m not even sure how I feel about it” games, but it has lots of subsystems (points grabbing things for the win, the alternate victory conditions).
London — Wallace is interesting, he usually has a few subsystems (money, ‘misery’ or some such, time) and I want to like his games, but they don’t grab me. Not sure why.
Pax Porfiriana — Hm. Eklund has subsystem linkage just as much as MR. Lords of the Sierra Madre was one of the first experience games I really got into, although its way too long.
Meh, I don’t see a pattern. (Other than the fact that 4 hours for a game of Magic Realm isn’t ‘way too long.’ Partially that’s because I’m effectively playing two player and it may be a fixed fun game, whereas I played Lords of the Sierra Madre (say) with six, and it is also a fixed fun game. Hm. Perhaps I should solo/co-op some Eklund games.
I feel like I’m groping towards a point or thesis, but I can’t articulate it. There’s something about linking subsystems that intrigues me, but I can’t put me finger on why some games do and others don’t. Perhaps its that the entangled systems feel ‘organic’ to me in some games. Magic Realm would never be something that people would argue could be discovered independently by other cultures or even species (a claim made about Go that is fairly easy to imagine being true), but its design for effect composition leads to a world that feels alive, despite being mostly a simple interaction of a few numbers, makes me wonder if ‘organic’ rules are better than.
In other news, I noticed an interesting VP variant. I may try it out. I like the idea for giving characters starting bonuses and then making them get much more difficult VP conditions as an option, but even just simplifying the VP may be useful for new players and I agree that once you get a feel for the game there’s probably a ‘best formula’ for VPs, which this solves.