The Tao of Gaming

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A long session

Played a poker session where I won a small and big blind on the first hand, then went down to 40% of my buy in for most of the night, and then went back to 110% right before the game ended. Then I came home and wasn’t quite sleepy enough to go to sleep despite the hour, so I played “just a bit more” of my factorio (air quote) speed run (air quote). I had a fair amount of of rocket units and low density structures built before I finished my silo so I quickly got up to 40% ready to launch within a few minutes of the silo’s completion, but the remainder took two hours, so I didn’t get to bed until … just before dawn. Still, under twelve hours.

Played a game of Magic Realm with the TaoLing. Actually, I mainly let him play, I was sketching out some player aids (literally sketching/drafting. I’m taking a drawing course and since I couldn’t find the graphics I wanted I figured I’d just hand make them for practice). Had a relatively safe, boring game of -6 (elf) and -9 (dwarf) game. Jr’s, Witch found the Altar right away, Absorb Essence’d the Demon, and then used that to a) defeat a bunch of creatures with little/no risk and b) read runes and search the Enchanted Toadstool with no chance of a curse. Actually, the latter part may be wrong. I should check.

Then finished the day spending a few hours exploring the post-launch part of Factorio. Aidan enjoys managing this (although he mainly just sits and offers advice), and had been asking to continue past the launch. I’m personally more fond of the mid game (the first 10% of the game is pretty much hand-crafting). I’d already built a logistics network (in my first, 35 hour launch game), but now I’m going to try the blueprint system and modular armor and possibly start a mega-base. For a while. I actually took a screen shot of my launch at the five hour mark (T-7H) and then another screen shot at the T+2H mark. They are remarkably similar.

Base at the Five Hour Mark

Base at the Five Hour Mark

Base at the 14 hour mark

Base at the 14 hour mark

They are remarkably similar.The main addition was the intermediate + advanced circuit production (and speed modules) that were added in the gap above the copper smelting. A lot of expansion happened outside the main base — improved steel production to the north east, a new oil field to the south west (plastic production was my bottleneck and I probably lost an hour before I realized that) and a giant (post launch) solar field to the north west that you can somewhat see. I’m going to test my blueprints out on that and deforestation (to get to more oil).

I mainly put these pictures in to see if anyone else thinks they look like circuits.

I also managed to knock a few games off my “Games you should play soon” list, including my first game of Phoenecia in over a thousand days. It turns out that the GYSPSTYO list is a Top 20 list, so I guess there will always be twenty games on it. But I’ll just try to get the number of games with 1000+ days to zero.

And after a week’s respite, I’ll probably get in a few games of Jump Drive soon.

Written by taogaming

February 5, 2017 at 12:14 am

Posted in Magic Realm, Session Reports

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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. Or in Go — 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 has entangled systems (and single system games like Chess and Go entangle the pieces in a position). 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 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 — 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.

Written by taogaming

January 21, 2017 at 6:51 am

Posted in Magic Realm, Ramblings

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A Dark Day in the Realm

The Witch, Pilgrim and Captain had teamed up to go into the Borderlands to the Vault. There was a Demon and two vipers lurked in the Vault, and also the rotting corpse of the Sorcerer. The Witch had been cursed by the Imp to Ill Health, so she couldn’t rest. For a spell caster, this was devastating, so she’d offered her services to any group that could get her to the Chapel, but that required going through the Borderlands.

And the Borderlands contained the Lost City, which meant that (in addition to the aforementioned monsters), there were already Dragons present, and possibly other things.

The Pilgrim had the cloak of mist so he had an extra hide. The Captain had gotten the Living Sword, so while he couldn’t deal with tremendous (or heavy and armored monsters) by himself, the vipers were slow enough to pose no threat. At least, not a single viper.

It was a good plan. Certainly better than the original Druid’s plan, which involved risking his life on a single hide roll.

A 1/6 chance of death in Magic Realm is closer to 50/50. That Druid died on day 3.

But this plan was good, The Witch and Captain recorded “Follow Pilgrim” and the Pilgrim recorded.

Hide — Hide — Hide — Move — Move. We’d end on the Shrine hidden. If nothing untoward happened, the Witch would absorb the demon’s essence and the pilgram and captain would each ambush a viper.

No risk combat. If another monster appeared we could decide to risk it or just leave on the next turn. But that wasn’t a massive risk, because the Pilgrim had cast Peace with Nature. Most of the chits would not trigger.

The monster roll meant the Shrine’s guardian (the Troll) would appear. The Vault and Shrine were on the same space. That put a wrinkle into things. Failing all three hide rolls put a massive wrinkle on them.

New plan — panic!

Second plan — The Witch lured the Tremendous Troll. It was slow, so she could cast her spell and absorb it. The Captain lured a snake and the Demon and the Pilgrim lured a snake. The Demon’s curse thankfully only hit the Captain, rusting all his armor (ugh), so the Witch was free to absorb the troll. The captain and Pilgrim killed their vipers (as planned) and then the Captain had to dodge the Demon which was on him, hoping the Troll could grab the Demon.

Nope. The demon killed the captain and next turn grabbed hold of the troll, which meant that the result was a forgone conclusion. The Pilgrim ran away to avoid seeing the horrific final death.

Chance of failing three hide rolls = 11/36 ** 3 = 2.9%

Chance of failing three hide rolls and having a monster appear = 3% * 1/3 = 1%

So, it was about fifty-fifty.

One of the faster games of Magic Realm (for me, anyway).

Written by taogaming

January 16, 2017 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Magic Realm, Session Reports

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The Magician’s Final Day

As the Magician spent the last day of the month meditating to prepare his Remedy spell (which would be used to lift the disgusting curse he’d gotten the prior day), the sounds of Dragons — plural — announced a problem.

He was hidden, but casting a spell would alert the Dragons to his presence. On a normal day, he’d just run away. But today wasn’t normal. Tonight he needed to cast a spell to finish his triumphant month in the Realm.

It was time for a risk. The Magician snapped the Withered Claw in half and asked for a wish, despite knowing a twinned curse would come. There was a risk since he could lose all his magic, but he Wished for Strength and the curse had no effect — he couldn’t be more disgusting than he already was. That was why he needed to cast Remedy in the first place.

The Magician quietly Transformed one Dragon, using his final purple essence in the process. If he transformed it into a squirrel (say), then he could quickly stab the other Dragon and kill it — thanks to his wish. Then the magician would finish off the squirrel (or not) and cast Remedy in peace. A triumphant end.

Sadly, the transformation turned the Dragon into … a lion.

(Lions are basically faster Dragons).

The Magician did kill the (untransformed) Dragon but that used up the wish and he did not escape from the Lion.

In hindsight, I should have cast Remedy on Round 1 to remove the curse. I would have become unhidden, but I could have used my purple magic (which I spent on the Transformation) to power the flying carpet and escape before melee in Round 2.

I missed that option. And honestly, once the wish roll worked I had something like a 75% chance to kill both Dragons and then remove a curse in the final night of a combat.

On a side note — I’m watching The Magicians on Netflix and (apart from being totally unrelated to Magic Realm) its pretty good. I liked the first book by Lev Grossman, but haven’t really gotten into the second. Probably read it during my beach trip later this year.

Written by taogaming

January 15, 2017 at 11:18 pm

Posted in Magic Realm, Session Reports

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Got in another game of Magic Realm

That seems to be standard for the TaoLing and I during a long weekend (he has Monday off of school, and some appointments, so I’m taking Monday off, too. My arm was twisted).

It was an interesting setup: Wood’s Girl, Druid, Elf and Wizard. The Girl and the Elf both took Peace with Nature as their starting spell, and the first turn the Druid enchanted a wood and both characters cast their spell, so suddenly 3/4 of the characters did not summon monsters (except from treasure chits).

But the treasure chits were brutal. The Wood’s Girl died to the Demon (she could have run away, but we had a mental error and didn’t notice until later). (Since it was early, the TaoLing took the White Knight as a replacement). The Druid should have had an easy time with the Imp, but he got hit with a Wither curse, which fatigued something like eight or nine of his chits, including his auto-kill. He managed to kill the Imp, but multiple Dragon’s had shown up so he had to regroup. The Wizard took a risk going for the Alter in a Cavern and got murdered by a Demon for his trouble. (No replacement).

The Elf had a slow start, he went to the Cairns but left after the Spider showed up, then went to the Altar and worked around the Demon, but for little gain). Eventually he sold the White Knight some information for gold, and then went off and cast Persuasion (his other spell) to befriend the King’s Guards, whom he hired in the last week.

This let him go back to the Cairns (since the Guardsmen could lure Tremendous Spider and actually kill it, which they did), and I got a few more treasure, then raced to the Wizard’s resting spot and killed the Winged Demon and managed to loot a treasure right as the game ended. The combined gain from the final kill and treasure meant I eked out a score of +1 VP. The White Knight wound up with zero, but then realized that not selling a few things would mean losing 1-2 gold VP but gaining more fame/notoriety. Since he’d looted a ton of stuff, he ended up with around 5 VP.

The Druid had managed to learn 5 spells, because he had to (he’d put Spells as VP condition) and lucked out because he got the Good Book, which had Exorcise, and he had a source of White Magic. The net result meant that the 3-4 curses the Druid took could be easily removed. We’ve started to realize that reading runes is something non-spell casters should probably do a bit more of, at least if they have a source of the right color magic. The Druid really missed his gold requirement, and ended with -20 points in Gold, so finished negative (but not as much as you might expect).

We may very well play another game this weekend (since the set is out).

Written by taogaming

January 14, 2017 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Magic Realm, Session Reports

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The Magic Realm Daily Newsletter Headlines

Some headlines and selected pull quotes. Please attribute Magic Realm Press.

Dec 1st — “New Batch of adventurers promise glory and gold for all!”

Dec 3rd — “Body of young Amazon found in the Deep Woods, autopsy reveals bats to blame!”

Dec 4th — “Noble Pilgrim rids world of horrific troll!”

Dec 5th — “Pilgrim killed by ‘massive swarm of bats,’ Swordsman says.”

Claiming to have witnessed the encounter, the Swordsman said that the beloved Pilgrim, who just a day earlier slayed a might troll, was attacked by a ‘massive swarm,’ of bats. Biologists at MR University are now investigating if the Pilgrims actions upset the Deep Woods ecosystem. “Perhaps trolls keep the bat population in check,” speculated an un-named graduate student ….

Dec 7th — “Area wizard summons ‘impressive’ lightning bolt before being clubbed to death.”

Man this is a brutal game (in general, and this one in particular). After the third death we called it a night, and we’ll resume tomorrow.


Written by taogaming

December 30, 2016 at 10:10 pm

Posted in Magic Realm, Session Reports

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Random thoughts on Magic Realm

Since every treasure appears in each game, the designer can plan for interactions between them. So you can have two treasures that are a key and chest, or map and destination. Whereas if you had a “Key” card in a game like Runebound or Talisman that only was useful if you drew another (specific) treasure, it would be a dead draw. It still could be, if your map to the Lost City got drawn a) on the other side of the board and b) the week after it was looted, but it may not be. And a few cards are likely to be out, since the Scholar won’t show up most games.

Some scenario games do this by having generic cards in the game and having the scenario define the meaning, or you could have a game with “core” cards (always the same thing) and “rare” cards (the few rare cards in the main deck let you draw from another, larger, deck). I do think Magic Realm’s consistent treasures allow for some nice features, and may even be needed to balance (somewhat) the characters, but I think a “core/rare” card deck may be more interesting. (Even strat-o-matic has a rare-events table! In a recent solitaire play a batted ball struck the mound).

Our games take 4-5h, with some setup (we’ve been leaving it out over the holiday between games). That’s two players, two characters each. Although our last game took <4 hours with setup and teardown, that’s because 3 characters died the second week and we didn’t restart, so the last two weeks took almost no time.

There are some clunky combats where one character is immune or useless. That doesn’t bother me — although I may eventually try the Advanced Combat rules — but I imagine that polarizes opinions about the game. Some characters are totally untroubled by situations that would destroy other characters. Since not all characters are equal, why should all monsters be?

I’ve finally won a game, with the Berserker. Selling the Sacred Grail to the Order for 50 Fame is huge, although I would have won without that bonus. I now see how slaughtering or hiring the Order — so that the leader is not available to buy the Grail — is one way to mess with people. Interestingly, the super amazing Amazon (see below) only squeaked by with +1 VP, but just one gold shy of a few more VP.

Right now I think both MK and MR can be played three ways: Co-operatively, Competitively but without PVP, Full competition. (There’s no distinction in the rules, but you could simply disallow PVP).

I found the following quote by the Designer (Richard Hamblen) describing his four requirements: Variety, Detail, Creating a Fantastic World, and Surprise. Surprise relates to my prior thoughts, in particular:

“A game that entertains like fantasy each time it is played must therefore be able to surprise its players with unforeseen developments even after they have played it many times and have become familiar with its mechanics.”

Full marks for that.

Magic Realm has a large number of house rules? I’m playing a few:

  • You can sell stuff at the end of the game (instead of having to take time to rush back to sell stuff). Better experience (no having to rush back to the valleys in the last few turns) and makes sense. (You could just sell it tomorrow). You can’t sell it and get the Fame/Notoriety Bonus for possessing it. Either/or.
  • Watchful Natives (so if you attack a group it can attack you back right away) and a ban on attacking friendly (and possibly even neutral) natives without a Casus Belli. The “Sell your stuff to them, kill them, and loot your stuff back” strategy is powerful and a-thematic. Exact rules TBD, but probably Protected Natives I (barring campaigns) from the variant list.
  • I’ve proposed a house rule to prevent you from being able to freely fling minions/controlled monsters at attacks/traps that curse instead of wound.
  • Right now I’m playing the character restarts (after death) have to bid on less VP per full week passed. (So, 4 points instead of 5 if one week has passed, etc). That seems better for learning games, but in my current game the information revealed after dying in a week was valuable in character selection. So that’s why experienced players increase the VP requirements for restarts.
  • The Knights’ Adjustment — (Both Knights start “Friendly” instead of “Allied” with the relevant groups).
  • I might play with serious wounds (if you take a wound that would exactly kill you based on your vulnerability), you don’t die but take a die roll (2d6, higher) of wounds. Also probably good for learning games.
  • I think I’m going to add caches, since it makes sense (you hide stuff to find later, instead of just abandoning it).

Characters played so far, in rough order of number of plays: White Knight (often), Berserker, Wood’s Girl, Amazon, Elf, Black Knight, Captain, Witch.

Spells Cast: Absorb Essence (on the Octopus), Broomstick, Control Bats, Make Whole, Peace with Nature, Talk to Wise Bird (wise, my ass). The TaoLing collapsed a roof.

Most amazing Combo (TaoLing): Belt of Strength combined with Garb of speed to turn any of the Amazon’s fight** chit into a T3 attack, which can basically kill anything. (I think Bats and the Octopus are still faster). Makes a Berserker feel inadequate, truly. Controlling six bats was pretty good, though.

Things I wish I’d known my first time and suggestions for new players.

  • Think of monster numbers as “Seconds.” Faster is better. (A T3 attack takes 3 seconds to resolve, so it goes before a H4 attack. If it’s attacking a H4/4 monster, your attack (T3) is faster than the monster’s maneuver (4) … so it hits. If it was an H4/3 monster, your attack is not faster than the mosnter’s defense, so you have to match maneuvers to hit.
  • Solitaire (with a single character) is challenging, but two or three characters teaming up can do amazing things.
  • Technically you could just deal out the Treasures within treasures, then shuffle the six site cards in the great treasures and start. Just deal out treasures into locations as needed. (Ditto spells). Start playing and finish setup as you go. That reminds me of a mantra I may not have mentioned on this site (at least, not recently)

Game First, Rules Later” — I’m personally one of those people who don’t mind getting a rule wrong or not knowing everything before I start. Here I Stand I learned despite an excruciating 2 hour rules explination. When the Bridge Club started, I showed up late. The club president (good guy, but over-enthusiastic) had corralled the new players and spent an hour explaining the game. Since I was late, the VP gave me five minutes and tossed me into a deal.

I don’t think any of the others showed up next week. (I would have, since I’m a gamer…)

The point of this is that if you are a “Rules First, Game Later” type  (instead of “GF;RL”) then MR is going to be much more difficult for you to get into.

I suspect I could teach MR and be started in 15 minutes before starting, using the following ideas:

  1. Praise the Maker, have the game setup before hand or do it while you explain. Pick your character from the lesser (easy) offerings. No Enchant phases or Hiring, but maybe an odd spell. Everyone puts one point in each (non-spell) VP category (or just ignore VPs and say that whoever gets the best story wins). Let them take Amazon, Berserker, White Knight, Woods Girl. I disagree with Steve McKnight (at my peril) by thinking that you should avoid giving new players the Dwarf and swordsman, because players won’t enjoy them as much (and the Swordsman’s bonus won’t work as well with the modified game).
  2. When explaining rules, only broad strokes, no minutiae.
  3. Go over the daytime phases (Move, Hide, Search, Trade,Rest, Alert,Follow). Cover prowling and blocking.
  4. Don’t spend more than a minute on combat. Just explain harm/vulnerability and undercutting vs matching. Don’t elaborate. Skip it for a few days. (Try to get your character into a reasonable combat and go over it slowly).
  5. Have multiple copies of useful charts.
  6. Play your turns normally, but new players get benefits.
    • For the first week let them free-form actions (as per Timeless Jewel). Point out situations where a player may be blocked or is walking into a deathtrap.
    • Second week have them write down their actions after their activation draw (so they don’t get to see their hide/search rolls, but do know which monsters are prowling, and their current locations).
    • Third week write down actions after monster roll but before activation draws (so they have to worry about prowls from other players moving monsters).
    • Fourth week normal.
    • If they are thinking about going to fight something (especially in week 1), let them play out a combat to see, then cancel it when they die horribly. This also teaches the combat rules.
  7. Mention spying and information secrecy when it first comes up.
  8. By all means, don’t feel compelled to play four weeks, but if you are playing a shorter game make sure you’ve gone to ‘normal’ turn order before the end.
  9. Maybe show a spell (from one of the artifacts/spell books) and explain how reading runes works.  Awakened spells are fun, because anyone can cast them. Maybe seed the deck with only generally useful spells, discarding weird/useless spells.  The first time it comes up you can go over spells quickly, and just summarize what it can do.


Written by taogaming

November 27, 2016 at 9:34 pm

Posted in Magic Realm, Ramblings

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The presumably final realm game of the Thanksgiving weekend & Colony

Saw the following things happen:

  • The Witch’s familiar (which cannot be attacked or targeted by spells or monsters) almost died when he happened to be watching the Wizard at an underground Shrine when a demon appeared and the Wizard collapsed the entire roof on everyone. He tendered his letter of resignation at that point.
  • The Amazon died the same night while scavenging at a temple when the Winged Demon appeared and rent her asunder (failed hide roll combined with the only monster roll … 5% chance, so not too unlikely).
  • The Witch almost absconded with the heaviest treasure in the game, despite not being able to carry more than a few trinkets, but she ran out of time.

A few rules questions based on this are being debated. I hope.

Also got in two games of Colony, which works much better multiplayer (IMO). Still not great, but acceptable.

Written by taogaming

November 27, 2016 at 6:59 pm

Posted in Magic Realm, Session Reports

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Puzzlement and Wonder, Comparing Mage Knight and Magic Realm, Pt 2

(If this were a book I’d throw a colon in there. ‘Tis all the rage in publishing).

As I mentioned, Mage Knight & Magic Realm have little in common except theme. Thematically they aren’t even close, Tolkeinesque fantasy versus a high power-gaming bash fest.. While exploring the Realm I pondered the differences between them.

I call the first the Combinatorics of World-Building.

Enter a Dungeon in Mage Knight and what will you face? A brown monster. No exceptions.

You can analyze how many you can defeat and weigh that risk versus the 2/3rds shot at an artifact and 1/3rd shot at a spell. A simple enumeration will do. Can you defeat the Gargoyle? the Shadow? the Hydra? Medusa? Crypt Worm? Etc? You can’t? Check again. Have you missed some trick?

A puzzle, to be sure, but a well defined puzzle. One monster, one reward — each have a parameter. You may get the one monster you can’t beat. You may get the easy monster. You may get the Horn of Wrath, or your choice of two dud artifacts to choose from (I’m looking at you, Banner of Fortitude and Banner of Courage), but there you go. You knew the risk/reward ratio.

There are 8 brown monsters, 30-ish artifacts and 30-ish spells, but the numbers don’t multiply. You can assign an approximate value to the artifacts and calculate what percentage of the monsters you can defeat, and solve.

Now Imagine that each artifact had a small box on the bottom that modified the rules in the combat when you gained them. Most of them don’t do much, but you may go down and face a Whatever and draw your artifact and peer at the bottom and it says “The narrow walls prevent ranged attacks….” and your plans are out the door.

What if every card did that? If you face a Crypt Worm, you weren’t going range attack anyway, but if you faced a Medusa, you most definitely planned on it. If you’ve played two dozen games of Mage Knight, you’ve likely faced every brown creature in a dungeon setting. But with combined effects — No way I’d have encountered all the combinations in my 300+ games.

I’m a fan of combinatorics.

I’ve already seen several interactions messing with people in Magic Realm, and that’s before you even get into players deliberately messing with you. You search for a treasure and get it, but boom! Curse. You start to buy something and boom — there’s a modifier that makes a combat likely to break out right away! These aren’t even interactions, just single cards, but the systems do interact. In my current game, I searched and found the black book, which provided black mana. The sudden influx of mana turned on a spell I had inert and — boom, I’m suddenly a giant octopus.

Now, I’d planned on being a giant octopus later that day, so no big deal. But if I’d been planning to try to hire some helpers it would have seriously cramped my style.

The book of learning has an example of the Elf controlling all six bats with magic, a feat the author says he’s never seen in 200+ games but happened in a solo game he set up to demonstrate, with no cheating. Amusingly, I did it in my first game with the elf. But it does take some lucky chit interactions and some lucky rolls, as well as having the Control Bats spell.

I like my puzzles, but have I been surprised in the last hundred games of Mage Knight? Not that I recall. Nor possibly the hundred before that.

Can I be surprised by Chess? Yes. The unexpected move. The deep brilliance. These are usually based — again — on some combination (Chess even uses that phrase). Mage Knight has that; the core of the game is manipulating your hand of card to get the most oomph. So I’m not sure why it doesn’t surprise me that much. Then again hundreds of games is a lot. It may be that you always (always!) control your hand of cards. No monster shows up that says “Oh, discard one card before combat.”

To be fair to Mage Knight, The Realm extracts a high price for surprise. Gameplay suffers under randomness. You see ‘unfair’ results. Nobody would say that Mage Knight is less fair, I think.

Unfairness has its charm, in a way.

I like puzzles, but I also like puzzles where you can’t enumerate the possible outcomes. (Even with full knowledge). Approximation and intuition are skills like any other. I don’t care for Tales of the Arabian Knights and I’m not sure it’s a game, but its a hell of Story-telling engine. Combine that potential with something that gives me some actual decisions — even if the results could just be “lose a turn” — and I’m intrigued.

Magic Realm drips with combinations — Each map hex has a few chits that define what’s there. While you build the map in MK, once a tile is up its fully known. Until you know the chits on a tile in Magic Realm, it might contain treasures, or dragons, or spiders, or an Octopus Garden. (Also, the tiles can be flipped over, so its not as static as you think).

You play your twelve chits, but only two points of effort per combat round. Your items can combine. You may have one thing you can’t use at all, but if you get that second (rare) thing you’ll wield a powerful combination. Any Mage Knight can cast any spell. Any Mage Knight can get use any other’s skill, although Goldyx will get Goldyx’s skills the most often.

In Magic Realm, the White Knight will have a tough time learning spells the Witch can learn. (I’d say never, but …)

Jay Richardson has a review comparing Magic Realm to RPGs that’s worth checking out. One interesting (to me) point he makes is: Because the characters don’t level up, this makes the game less grindy and more interesting. That’s a novel point. You get better be looting good stuff, or working together with others. An interesting dynamic.

OK, so combinatorics. What else?

Magic Realm contains more hidden information (and randomness).

Part of that was discussed before — you have face down chits and monsters that can appear and disappear, and the treasures are put into piles but that’s really not that different than randomly drawing them (like in MK). But the hidden information causes a novel effect.

In Magic Realm, you make (some) decisions with incomplete or even wrong information. You plan your turn and then roll for monsters. This gives you — in effect — a huge fog of war effect. Do you hide before you move? Well, there may have been no monsters prowling the Deep Woods this turn. Was your hide wasted?

There aren’t any monsters on your path, but other players may move and monsters may follow.

You have to decide on much less information. But each sub system you base your decision on is understandable. Most characters fail to hide 11/36th of the time. The monsters appear on a known system (if you know the chits). Knowledgeable players can quickly determine if a monster is safe or deadly or risky (I can do this for simple battles, now). You can guess the price range an item will cost you, based on your relationship with the seller. You go first 1/n times (n= number of players, ignoring hired helpers) at which point the game state will match.

Each of these systems are calculable, but the overall impact provides remarkable breadth. From a game play perspective there’s a lot of “Why this” but it has a certain logic. The rules read weird, but feel right. In the real world if you were hiding from monsters, could you ever be certain you were successfully hidden?

Only in the negative and only too late.

I was trying to think of an example. Consider a game of chess where you wrote down your move and only then did your opponent reveal his prior move. (You’d have to cover White’s first turn advantage, perhaps they wrote down two moves and the opponent got to pick after he wrote his first move, and you’d have to deal with issues of failed pawn captures, etc).

This game would most definitely not be chess, even though it used a lot of the mechanisms of chess. You could make theoretically horrible chess moves that could work quite well.

Chess feels like chess, not because knights move two in one direction then one in an orthogonal one, or because of castling or en passant. To be sure, Chess has all that but if you switched how the pieces move you’d be a smilar game (like Chinese Chess). Chess feels like chess because it is a complete information game with alternating moves. Chinese Chess and Shogi feel closer to chess than my invented game which uses the exact same rules, but doesn’t reveal the moves right away.

Magic Realm feels like my chess analogy, a little. You don’t see your opponents move until after you’ve declared yours. In order to simulate this, MR uses lots of charts and randomness. At it’s heart, Mage Knight feels like a ruthless rush to exploit a world, and Magic Realm feels like avoiding the onrushing of a ruthless world.

Written by taogaming

November 25, 2016 at 8:28 pm

Exploring the Realm, Part II

When last we left our intrepid quad-ro of adventurers, they were halfway through the month.

On one side of the board the Amazon met up with the Elf and they bypassed the Tremendous Troll to go to the Vault. The Amazon used the the keys to loot the chest and open the vault. Another monster roll brought bats, and the Elf took control of them. The Elf and Amazon searched the vault and found a few other treasure-within-treasure site. At this point one single clearing held half of the game’s treasure.

The elf then did the following: Order all 6 bats to search four times each every day, then re-cast control of them. By my reading of the rule the bats could give anything to the elf that they can’t carry (since you only need a move chit to carry stuff between clearings). The bats rolled two dice, but were immune to curses in the Crypt of the Night or Enchanted Meadow. The elf had to spend actions to rest (and sometimes alert) a magic chit to recast the spell each night, but since he had the dragon necklace, it wasn’t an onerous cost to get practically a full week’s worth of searching.

And then the Elf got the Tremendous Warhorse.

The Elf's Moving Van

The Elf’s Moving Van

Suddenly the Elf could now carry everything he looted and would be basically immune to small beasties. With that the Elf took a few more turns and loaded up a truly impressive haul. The Jade Shield, Silver Breastplate, Gold Helmet, Bane Sword, Truesteel Sword, and a few other treasures. The Amazon wasn’t getting left out either, getting the Golden Icon, Sacred Grail, and the Enchanted Meadow’s Pony, which basically doubles all the Amazon’s move actions.

(Rules question — You can do that to do one phase MM to start a mountain move and a pony phase MM to finish it, right?)

At this point the Elf followed the Amazon and they hightailed it back … the Elf planned to trade the armor (and Bane Sword) to the Berserker in exchange for the great treasures he looted from the pool. After getting hit with the Flowers of Rest the Berserker had quite a haul. But I had forgotten one point.

If I rolled a ‘3’ to summon the octopus, it would also let the axe goblins already on the tile prowl … and move to fight me. Dealing with an Octopus with a fodder — survivable. Adding in six goblins? Not so much.

Ruh roh!

Ruh roh!

Thus ended the berserker. He actually managed to kill the Octopus first (since the rogue lured it), but too many goblins. At that point I didn’t bother to start a new character and we just finished out the game. The Elf and Amazon high-tailed it back to the Chapel, where the Elf sold the Golden Icon for 100 gold and the Sacred Grail for 50 fame.

Delivery for you, sir!

Delivery for you, sir!

At this point we headed back to the borderlands but the Elf broke away to slaughter the realm’s guards (who had no real hope once their leader was slaughter, as he was the only one who could deal with the Elf’s warhorse). As a bonus, the friendly woodfolk appeared, so I could sell everything on the final turn. (I think I’ll play the house rule that you can sell everything for gold at the end of the game from now on).

As for the Captain, he’d wandered alone and found not much of anything except danger. In his defense, he survived. But he had a pretty terrible score. The Elf and Amazon both almost won, ending with -1 point each. (If I — as the Elf — had put 2 VPs into gold and 1 into Great Treasures instead of vice versa, I’d have won with 12 points.

And after that we cleaned up (but left the game set up for another game, which has already borne some strange fruit).

Written by taogaming

November 24, 2016 at 11:37 pm

Posted in Magic Realm, Session Reports

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