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Archive for the ‘Magic Realm’ Category

Exploring the Realm

The TaoLing and I set up Magic Realm again and took two characters each. Setup wasn’t as bad — I’d sorted the counters from last time, but getting the treasures set up was annoying (since one large treasure got shuffled into the small stack, I had to undo and redo it). The TaoLing took the Captain (who has lots of friends and gets an extra phase in dwellings) and the Amazon (who gets good equipment and a free movement). I took the White Knight, (who has armor, better meeting rolls and a free rest, and is generally the easiest character). I took the Knight because my other character is the Elf, who has six magic chits (and rolls on the hide and missile table with a single die).

And off we went. After a brief round of trades to investigate what was available (the White Knight bought a healing potion, just in case) the adventurers headed out.  The Elf quickly went into the Ledges and the Nut Woods, then enchanted the tile (flipping it over) to provide gold magic (useful for either spell) and also to create a path to the mountain. The mountain contained the lost castle, with a vault and lair.

The Amazon and Captain teamed up (to use the Amazon’s move) and quickly went to the Boardlands, and just as quickly found the Lost City … and all the Dragons in the world. More annoyingly, the pool and hoard were in the same clearing, which means that you might get a dragon or the octopus, and basically nobody can deal with both of them. A few dragons showed up right away, so the Amazon and Captain hightailed it out of there.

The White Knight trailed the path the Elf blazed because of the prospect of slaughtering the Giant was too tempting. (The giant is slow enough to be an easy kill). In fact, the Giant should be practically an auto-kill for the White Knight. Unless you fail your hide (30%) roll.  But even then you’ll do fine as long as you play carefully and use your Move T4** so you can’t be undercut. You may get some armor damaged, but you’ll kill the giant next phase and (since it was Day 4 or so) you’ll have White mana to repair the damage later. In fact, the only bad result would be if the club matched tactics with you (a 1/3rd chance) and flipped over (a 30% chance).

Needless to say, all three events happened and the White Knight won, at the cost of a wound, some fatigued, and the destruction of his armor. Here we see the position towards the end of the first week.

The Initial Realm

The Initial Realm

The Elf meanwhile rather liked the Lost Castle, and basically went to the lair (and vault) and started searching (and hiding). A troll showed up, but the hidden elf could take a pot-shot (1/6th chance of a kill) at the 2nd round of combat and have no risk of counter-attack. Basically my elf got all my good luck, as he quickly discovered the lair (and the vault, but not having the keys or being strong enough to force open the door, that didn’t matter) and discovered the Lucky Charms.

According to the Book of Learning, that is “the best treasure in the game.”

But, to balance out the good luck, the White Knight went into the woods and …. failed another hide roll (30%). But the odds of a monster showing up are only 1/6….


The White Knight's final resting place

The White Knight’s final resting place, guarded by snakes

So, I started a second character. (We did decide to play with the optional rule that you need less VP if the game is ongoing, so my Berserker needed to allocate only 4VP. I took the Berserker because the Inn was a convenient starting place near the Borderlands, and he was a character who could handle the dragon(s) there, if he had some help.

Week two saw the berserker spend the first few days trying to recruit some help. Eventually he got three rogues and headed off to the borderlands — where Dragons and Octopi roam. Meanwhile, my Elf looted the ancient telescope (bonus peer roll) and a great treasure. He also found the Mouldy Skeleton, which cursed him but also gave more treasures … sadly treasures too heavy to be of value. The chest also showed up, so anyone who possessed the lost keys (or was tremendously strong) would have a field day there between that and the vault.

The Elf decided to leave since the site was mostly played out but he’d gotten the Dragon Essence great treasure. As he was leaving he stumbled onto the tremendous troll and three bats, so it was time for my first (non-Make Whole) spell — Control Bats.


Fly to me, my pretties!

(The magic chit on the bats indicates a spell).

This wasn’t a great success. I basically had to sacrifice a bat to keep the troll off me while I took a pot shot. I only lost a bat on a 1/3rd shot, but the bats couldn’t threaten the troll. In theory I should get around 9 shots at the troll (needing a one on a single die) but that troll was a bat-killing machine, taking out one each turn. So I had to slink away, my reputation suffering.

The Captain and Amazon found the statue and started looting it — finding the Clover Hoof (which gives +1 to all rolls in the clearing). So the Amazon had to move away to get rid of the Hoof (and it’s penalty) so they could continue. The didn’t get much, but the Amazon discovered the lost keys and started high-tailing it towards the vault/chest. The berserker made it to the borderlands and (at the cost of a few Rogues) killed the dragon. Right now he’s searching for the pool/hoarde. The Octopus could show up, but the Berserker can just run away and sacrifice his last hireling. The elf was going to control the last three bats to fight the troll, but on one turn failed a hide roll (which meant that if he took the time to summon the bats, the troll might kill him) so he ran away to hide and try again the next night, but then bats disappeared (day 14 monster roll reset the bats).

And at that, we called it a night, 2 weeks into our game (out of four).

Thoughts — Even with setup, this was only a touch over two hours …. I did have to look up a few rules on magic, particularly reading up on the spells just to verify that I became unhidden when casting the spell, some time to read the details of the treasures. Much better than the first game, and that’s with the additional setup for the spells (and visitors). In fact, we’re playing with the complete rules. Having two sets of player aids helps tremendously, as well.

Written by taogaming

November 23, 2016 at 11:20 pm

Posted in Magic Realm, Session Reports

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A kinda good-news/bad-news thing

Everyone survived. The Amazon found a magic carpet and flew away from the vault but didn’t stick the landing. The swordsman spent a week trying to hire some Rogue, to no avail, and the Black Knight …. eh. The final scores ranged from -21 to -60, so in the end, nobody was really the winner but there was a Victor. (If only the Amazon had taken Gold, she’d have been fine).

To be fair, “Decide all your moves after you see the monster roll” is quite helpful. Now that I’ve played with the actual components, I’ll probably spend a fair chunk of the holidays re-reading the rules.

Written by taogaming

November 20, 2016 at 5:01 pm

Posted in Magic Realm, Session Reports

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Setting up Magic Realm

OK,  I am almost certainly going to be doing the majority of my M.R. games via Realmspeak. That being said, playing with a game on the board and puzzling out the setup and rules are giving me decent insight into the game. I do have some issues with the set — although it came with many laminated player aids, the aids do not exactly match the wording of the 1st edition rules or 3rd edition rules, so I assume they are 2nd edition. Still, the laminated cards that came with my used game were a pleasant surprise.(I’m going to keep my game in two boxes, so that I can have most of the items pre-sorted for next setup).

I’m almost certainly going to spring to print out a nicely bound copy of MR3.1 and/or MRIPE, and then laminate some new player aids. Also, the game could use a second box. And a second or third set of charts. Right now I have too many pages printed out and spread over. But once I get used to it, just a few charts should do.

After 3-4 hours the TaoLing and I have played 10 days controlling 2 characters each on total easy setting — You declare your turn during day (not birdsong) so we see the monster rolls. Still been some touchy moments, but nothing serious. We’ve worked together to kill the heavy trolls and raid the pool, but the Amazon has been running around looting other areas.

We will probably finish up tomorrow.

Update Jan 2017 — Actually, I’m playing most of my games on the board. I did spring and print out a lot of player aids and the rules.


Written by taogaming

November 20, 2016 at 12:15 am

Posted in Magic Realm, Session Reports

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Did I mention Magic Realm is unforgiving?

I think I did in my prior review.

White Knight: Day 1 — Try to trade with the rogues, get nothing of interest (Perhaps I should have hired some).

Day 2: Fail hide roll, go into the deep woods, fail search roll. Discover the lost castle and I’m standing on the shrine! But the monster roll is a two, and the prowling Winged Demon is too fast to run away from and easily dispatches me.

Even by my standards, that’s brutal. I had taken three steps. That game was last week.

Tonight’s game.

Random Fighter = Berserker.

Day 1 — Try to trade with the rogues, the treasure is the cloven hoof (+1 to all rolls in the clearing), so I fail. Fail my hide roll (thanks, cloven hoof) and walk to the next clearing. No monsters prowling, so OK.

Day 2 — Hide and walk three steps (success), no monsters.

Day 3 — Fail to hide and walk three steps, encounter all the wolves in the world (six, it turns out), get re-purposed as kibble (managing to kill three of the wolves, so um, yay!?)

Managed to get my physical copy, may try to set up an actual game this weekend on post-Turkey….

Also, my next game of Sentinels will be my 100th….

Update — Dwarf walks into the Borderlands and finds the lost City, so it gets replaced by 5 tiles and the Dwarf is standing on a flutter & lair chit, and the monster roll is a 1, so … Dwarf vs Huge Dragon and Tremendous Dragon. Spoiler Alert — This did not end well for the Dwarf, but it ended quickly.

Written by taogaming

November 16, 2016 at 10:07 pm

Posted in Magic Realm, Session Reports

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Comparing Magic Realm and Mage Knight, Part I

Fairly often — though less frequently than my idyllic youth —  I play a game that feels miserable, bewildering, or just plain bad.

Mostly I note the poor decision and never play again. The first board game I played in college? Terrible — It lasted from 10pm until 6am (not a mark against it) with bewildering rules including a bunch of exceptions. The game didn’t actually end at six, that’s just when I lost. The “graphic design” made following the rules difficult but even then it seemed to contain obviously bad features.

It wasn’t time wasted — gaming with friends rarely is — but I quickly moved on to better games including the murderer’s row of Cosmic Encounter, Illuminati, Bridge and some others like Junta.

I rarely revisit bad games. Who would? Still, sometimes my judgement gets called into question and so it happened that four years later I gamed with a group that loved this title. I played it again.

That game was Titan, which I’ve played at least a hundred times, probably closer to 250.

In the past I’ve had a few encounters with Magic Realm, none of them good. So I’d just ignored it. But reading a recent thread comparing Magic Realm to Mage Knight piqued my interest again. After all, I’ve played three hundred games of Mage Knight in the last few years — I’m slightly burnt out again, but I’ll pick it back up.

So I wanted another solo game and this seemed interesting. I started reading the “Book of Learning,”  basically a number of session reports that double as tutorials. Given the plethora of revised rules (I particularly recommend Magic Realm in Plain English) and the existence of Robin Warren’s brilliant Realm Speak program) the barriers to entry are much lower than they used to be the last time I tried to play.

Remember, my M.O. for the last five-plus years is to ignore new games unless it still had people playing a year or two later, then give it a try. I make exceptions, of course. For designers I like, or games that just seem like they are in my wheelhouse. Hell, I didn’t even try Mage Knight until it had been out several years. So sometimes I’m late on great games, but I save a lot of time in the process.

Magic Realm still has a dedicated following almost forty years after it’s arrival, despite such obvious warts as an Avalon Hill Rule Set that made Up Front seem simplistic. I began to think there must be something to it, so I dove in. This review is still preliminary, but I have put in dozens of hours on learning this and playing (solitaire, via Realm Speak). This is part I because its not complete; I’ll probably add more thoughts as they occur to me.


I don’t normally summarize mechanisms in games anymore, because plenty of places that do that and I’m not a bleeding edge reviewer, but sometimes you have to. Magic Realm’s basic ideas aren’t difficult (not that you’d know that from reading them).

  • The map is fully built, but you place hidden chits to indicate what appears where. So you know the entire layout, but the Lost City could be in any cave. A setup sheet lists which monsters can show up on which chits. Setting up the game is a huge time suck (the first time is about an hour, but with practice that comes down) which is why a computer moderator is such a godsend. One click setup.
  • Pre-programmed turns. Everyone writes down their turn and you resolve in random order. (Richard Hamblen also designed the classic Gunslinger, which shares this). Each player gets roughly four actions per day (only two if they are underground that day) to move, hide, search, prepare, enchant, rest, trade, hire followers, and the like. The planning phase is called Birdsong instead of morning (a lovely touch that feels out of place in the rulebook, like finding a colorful Monet print hanging in your IRS auditor’s cubicle)
  • You resolve turns (daytime) in random order. Most rolls involve throwing 2d6 and taking the higher number. Some things like hiding are simple — fail on a six — others involve charts (typically lower is better). Some monsters ‘prowl’ during a turn and prowling Monsters appear on the board based on the chits. Prowling monsters already on the board move if you end up on the same tile as them (unless they’ve already blocked another character).
  • After everyone has moved, you have evening — when spells are cast and combat occurs.
  • Each character has twelve action chits which are mainly used in combat/casting. Each chit dictates its use (Move, Fight or Magic are common, a few other rare ones exist) and a speed (a number, lower is better).

The rules for combat are … non-trivial. But at its heart, there’s some order.

Let’s take a simple “One Character, one Monster” combat. You get a pre-combat action (maybe running away, or casting a spell, or preparing a weapon). These typically take a chit. You attack the monster and it attacks you (if you weren’t hidden. If you were, you get one free attack). You set your tactic and the monster’s tactic, and your maneuver (defense).

What the rules don’t tell you — the monster’s actual tactic is random. You can set up which box its in, but it will roll randomly to move. It may also flip over (double sided monsters) which adjust its values. The faster attack goes first, and if it’s faster then the opponents defense? It hits.

If it’s not faster, then it hits only if the defense used fails against the attack. If you ducked when the attack was a downward smash, no help there.

So — there’s a Rock Paper Scissors aspect, but intuitive: Faster attacks hit. Equal (or slower) attacks hit if the defender dodged into them. Should have jumped aside as that warhammer came down.

Attacks (and weights) are rated on a scale of Negligible, Light, Medium, Heavy and Tremendous and if the attack is greater than or equal to defender’s vulnerability — dead. A character who takes a hit less than his defense may wound a chit.

Also, each chit you spend has an effort (0-2) and if you spend two effort in a round (the max) you fatigue. Wounded and fatigued chits are out of play until you rest them.

If nothing important happens for two rounds of combat, it ends, otherwise you keep going.

Now — combat can get much more complicated. You can have multiple monsters, followers, weapon sharpness and armor, multiple characters, PvP, spells, horses, missile attacks, armor, weapon length (which changes the order of attack in the first round only, and is a tiebreak in later rounds), special rules for tremendous monsters (which grapple when they hit and then autokill the next round unless they are defeated first).

Even getting the basics down is taking games (see my note on messing up in this post). I forgot another few small points last night. I don’t really understand followers and magic, yet. You can play the game using only movement and combat (for some characters).

Simple combats aren’t devoid of strategy, merely simple. Your main questions are which chits to play (can I guarantee a kill? Do I want to run away? Do I want my attack and defense to line up, so that if the monster hits me I know I’ll hit him. Can I prepare for the monsters to flip over (an 11/36 chance). While setting up one monster is effectively rock-paper-scissors, setting up multiples can get quite detailed. And it’s not R-P-S in the sense that its truly random. It’s just one (interlocking) system. One character may be hopeless versus a monster, when a different set of chits (or manuevers) would give you a shot or a guaranteed victory.

Advanced combats can be planned out, but I’m still not able to see things … like “Oh, if I do this I can probably kill Monster A but in the next round I’m going to die no matter what.” There’s a backgammon-esque quality to combat — strategy but you have to play the odds, either relying on some lucky die rolls in bad situations or defending against bad rolls in good situations.

With experience you’ll learn to not get into bad situations. (He said, as his latest game had one character trapped between three unbeatable clearings and another character died to a group of angry natives). Right now I’m applying a maxim of Go to Magic RealmLose your first fifty games quickly. I’ve survived two games, mainly due to luck and playing the easiest character. To be fair, that’s how I learned Titan and 1830 (although those losses take more time).


Most importantly, Magic Realm is definitely a lifestyle game. It does not shine out of the box. There are warts, and I’m not just speaking of the rules. This is not a game to pull out once every five years (unless you burned out and put it away for a while).

Secondly, Luck in Mage Knight is card luck. If you draw a hand full of movement cards, you know the combat cards are lurking in your deck (or vice versa). If you fail a roll in Magic Realm, you can fail again and again. Very small hurray for dice!

Third, Magic Realm and Mage Knight differ in scale and narrative. In Mage Knight, you start off as a minor demi-god who can defeat tribes of Orcs, raze villages, plunder monasteries for mystical artifacts, and two days later you are taking out a fully defended city in a quick siege. You are Jason Bourne, Lizard God-King. Encounters ramp up until the climactic battle vs Volkare or Capital City, as you grow in power.

In Magic Realm you could stumble into the boss monster’s lair on day one and die. Over the course of the month you may get some followers or cool new stuff, but you won’t really level up. (There are optional rules for that). Typically you kill a few monsters, loot their stuff, sell it and try to find a lost treasure. You can fail harder, faster. You may find a great site on day 1, loot it, and then die because you weren’t hidden on day 3 (of 28) and some bats pecked you to death.

I happen to enjoy ambiguity and atypical styles of narrative that embraces failure, but its definitely not to everyone’s taste.

You can easily spend half a game in MR doing nothing but rolling two dice, failing, and going onto the next day. In Solitaire, this isn’t a big loss. If it were a 4 player game? Could be very frustrating as you roll two dice and end your turn, and the next player has an epic turn, then a great/interesting battle, then gets all the loot as gaming groupies swoon and applaud. Then you roll two dice and fail again.

It makes Mage Knight seem Euro by comparison, which is an odd thing to feel.

On a related note, The Magic Realm feels alive and real. On one level it is merely a collection of places to loot and monsters to murder, but the environment changes. In Mage Knight, you find an artifact and add it to your deck. In Magic Realm, you may find an artifact and keep it, but it may alter the entire rules right around you. It can affect everyone on the tile its on, from the instant its discovered. You plan your move out, but searching may disrupt your plans, literally warping reality. It hasn’t happened often in my game, but it’s amusing. Perhaps this is part of the appeal of legacy games. It feels like literally anything can happen as you rip open a folder with new cards. I guess I understand that now.

Fourth, characters in the game feel different. Mage Knight packs a hell of a lot into 16 cards and 10 skills. Each character starts with only two variant cards, but leveling up and taking a critical skill and those cards mean that Goldyx is distinct from Tovak who differs from Norawas or Krang.

But at the end of the day they all do the same things against the same things. They all cast spells (if the take a Mage Tower to earn them). They all have the same victory conditions (based on the scenario). A Lava Dragon poses the same number of wounds to them — assuming they cannot block. Etc.

In Magic Realm, the White Knight’s a dragonslayer. If you tell him Dragons are over yonder, then a-yondering he will go. Terrified of bats, though. His armor slows him down. He’ll kill some, but they’ll tired him out. No killing blow, just death of a thousand cuts. The Wood’s Girl may be able to kill a Dragon with a lucky shot (missile damage is a random modifier), but she’ll take her shot from the bushes then run away. Unarmored, she can’t risk getting hit. Plays totally differently. Two different equipment chits, a few different special abilities (skills in Mage Knight) and a different mix of starting chits play totally different. I grok (somewhat) the White Knight. He’s very forgiving against huge monsters.

He just gets nibbled to death by bats.

Characters play differently, despite their similarities. Some have their own rules. The Witch gets a familiar that can move separately around the board (to spy on other players and examine the realm’s secrets). The White Knight can cast a single (white) spell, but he’s not able to cast anything the Witch knows, even if he learns the spell. He’s never getting a familiar. The witch can’t just put on the Knight’s Armor (should she get it). She’s too weak.

While there’s an elegance to having each spell’s rules on a card, Magic Realm’s spells feel Tolkienesque. Some of them move and attack and block and influence, but you can transform yourself into a toad (who can quietly hops away from battle, usually) and then wander the forest ignoring the roads. You can curse others. Some spells affect only specific monsters. Some last for combat, or a day. Some are permanent. It feels much more lived in.

Short form — Magic Realm feels more like an experience than a winnable game. I suspect that the long term strategy is deeper, there’s a similar puzzle like aspect to combat although Mage Knight is a more satisfying system. In fact, MK is generally a better system overall. But Magic Realm has its charm. I imagine that an update that tried to streamline all of the Realm’s byzantine experiences into a simple core ruleset would fail, the same way that civilization does not compress. But if someone could convert this (or perhaps another genre that felt as lived-in), they’d have a huge hit.

Magic Realm isn’t a great game. But it’s a great experience. I’m enjoying my time exploring it.

Written by taogaming

November 10, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Posted in Mage Knight, Magic Realm, Reviews

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Like a Lovecraftian Tale

I feel that I am learning deep knowledge, and yet the price I am paying is great.

After downloading rulebooks, tutorials, and Talmudic commentary totaling a thousand pages, I’ve spent dozens of hours pouring through them, searching for arcane knowledge long forgotten by the Modern World — a world which no longer believes in section dot subsection dot subsubsections, a World which demands games be approachable and simply provide knowledge and confess their secrets.

Lo! They are fools who have forgotten the old ways and no longer fear the unknown.

So I struggled through the Lemarchand’s Puzzle known as Magic Realm, cross referencing apocrypha with novitiate commentary and eventually stumbling onto Realm Speak and poking at it (carefully… oh so carefully). And I can now report that after playing through several fast games, I may have a basic grip on the first two encounters (Movement, Hiding and basic Combat).

I died fighting two trolls.

Still, I would have won if I hadn’t gotten confused by the the GUI and inactivated my sword, and then later misread a chit speed. With my sword inactive, my first killing blow found me hitting with …. a dagger. After a hasty fumbling I offed the first troll and would have killed the second, except for being undercut by speed (my armor having already been destroyed in prior rounds).

At no point did I gibber maniacally, aware of the drip drip drip of my sanity leaking away.

Realm Speak makes the process of learning much more enjoyable, not least of which because it does the entire setup process (which I will have to learn once my set gets here).

Written by taogaming

November 6, 2016 at 11:22 am