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Subject: Impressions from a 4-player solo Introductory Game rss

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Brent Johnson
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Fleeting memories rise | From the shadows of my mind | Sing "nonomori" - endless corridors | Say "nonomori" - hopeless warriors | You were there | You were there
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As a long-time fan of Magic Realm, which I got back in its first-edition days, I was intrigued by what I read concerning Return of the Heroes. So I ordered the game, and after it arrived I set it up according to the Introductory guidelines for four players and gave it a run-through.

Now, I never understood why everyone criticized the Magic Realm rules so much. For some reason, I never had that much of a problem with them, even in the first edition. Admittedly, I was used to reading rules - although to be honest I read far more rulebooks than I played games, given the difficulty in finding opponents. But of course it's one thing to read rules and it's another to try to apply them in the context of a game. As it turns out though, Magic Realm was a game I actually played - mostly solo, to be sure, but fortunately it did have a bit of appeal to my victims that (alas!) my hex-and-counter wargames lacked.

I say that to provide some context for my observation that the rules for Return of the Heroes are the most incomplete and absurdly organized(?) rules I have ever encountered. I am accustomed to the necessity for frequent rules referrals during familiarization with a game, but never before have I had so much difficulty finding answers to questions, and never before have I had so many questions left unanswered. This is remarkable considering the relative simplicity of the game.

My play-through was marred by some rules misunderstandings, the main one being my assumption that roads leading off the board wrapped to the other side. When I started the game, I had not given the Glossary a thorough reading, being under the mistaken belief that the Rulebook would present the necessary fundamentals for game play while the Glossary would elaborate on individual tiles etc. This turns out not to be the case. I had searched fruitlessly through the Rulebook for an answer to the question of whether the map wrapped or not, and only discovered midway through the game that I had guessed wrong, when I stumbled upon the answer in the Glossary. By that time, I figured it was a bit late to change, so I continued to play with a wrapping map. Obviously that has a significant impact on mobility, but I don't know how much of a difference that might have made in the pacing issues I encountered during gameplay.

The Rulebook suggests that you may want to build your character a bit before completing the first part of your Heroic deed. This turns out to be important, because the game changes significantly as soon as anyone does this. For one thing, the Nameless goes into the bag (and is this supposed to happen before or after the player draws a tile from the bag to replace the one taken from the map? - the rules don't say...). But for another thing - and in some ways more importantly - no other tiles (except later the Servants) get placed back in the bag after that point in the game. One of the ways main ways players get gold during the first stage of the game is by recycling monsters with gold rewards. Once this gold source dries up, you are severely limited in what you can do. You can't buy equipment, you can't pay for instructors; there's basically nothing you can do except complete unfinished tasks and pick over what random encounters are left sitting around on the board, and hope that you can scrounge enough gold to do whatever you might need to do in order to make your character viable in the fight against the Nameless. If you're too far behind at this point, you may just be stuck. This almost happened to the Dwarf in my game. The first part of his Heroic deed required him to spend four gold, but he had already spent his starting gold on a cart and at the time the Wizard put the Nameless in the bag, he had no gold at all. He managed to come up with three gold by completing tasks, but he never would have gotten the fourth one if he hadn't managed to collect a commission on a Market visit. He would have been completely out of the game.

Compounding the problem was the fact that by the time the Nameless went into the bag, the bag was already empty (hence the earlier question about whether the Nameless goes in before or after the tile draw). Because you draw not only when you remove a tile from the board, but also when you complete a task; and because many tiles are not supposed to be put back in the bag, the out-go from the bag exceeds the in-flow. It doesn't take too long before you end up with just a few monsters jumping in and out of the bag. Now, because I was following the Introductory Game setup, this happened earlier than it would in a normal game, so it's likely that the pace is better under the standard rules, but I'm still a bit concerned about this. Without considering other potential effects on play balance, I would have liked to have seen a lot more tiles in the bag, and possibly a more balanced flow of tiles on and off the board.

Once the Servants come out (which in my case happened immediately, since not surprisingly the Nameless came out of the bag on the very next player's turn after going into it), the game becomes something of a Servant-hunting frenzy, since they offer marvelous experience rewards and they don't recycle. This means that if you let someone else get them first you are out of luck forever. And in fact, this makes the prospect of dying much more fearful that the Rules suggest, since once you lose your gold and experience, at this stage of the game you have no way of getting them back, ever, unless you camp outside the Tower of the Nameless and repeatedly throw yourself against the regenerating Guardians to gain experience. (Of course, you probably won't have time to do that before someone else wins the game.)

If I sound like I think the game is seriously or fatally flawed, well...I'm not at all sure. One (solo) play with Introductory rules is not an adequate basis for such a conclusion, although it was certainly enough to demonstrate that there are a lot of interesting strategic options and tradeoffs to consider in the game. I found it pretty entertaining, actually. And despite the fact that I was controlling all four characters, their stories played out quite differently, even without me making consciously different strategic decisions for each of them. I just went with what seemed to follow naturally at the time.

The Dwarf ended up winning the game. He had some lucky combats early on, and fairly quickly picked up the Cart, which probably made the most important difference. Although he never augmented any of his skills, he maxed out his close combat experience and he managed to pick up the Magic Sword via fortunate and judicious selection of tasks. This was enough to beat the Shadow quite handily, although the first Guardian he tried to go through was magical in nature and he had to back-track and try a different way. He actually had quite a bit of experience in all three combat skills by this time.

The Fighter got off to a very slow start, losing every single fight she essayed - even the ones she should have won - and spending a lot of time running back home to lick her wounds. However, in the mid-game she ended up gobbling up Servants to a degree that all of her combat skills were nearly maxed in experience, and somewhere along the line she had managed to upgrade all of her skill ratings as well. WIth a staff, bow, and shield she was ready for anything! But what she kind of forgot to do was to pay any attention to her assigned Heroid deed, and as such she was ready to tackle the Nameless before she had completed even the first part. Oops!

The Wizard became a quite potent magical combatant, but never managed to upgrade her other skills in any way, which turned out to be a serious problem. With her low hit points and her somewhat low movement rate, she wasted a lot of time getting into fights with enemies that couldn't be attacked magically, and then running around looking for healing. She was the first to finish each step of her Heroic deed, and with a staff and the magic cloak she might very well have been able to take out the Shadow if the Dwarf hadn't gotten there first.

The Elf ended up with only a few experience blocks, and did not complete the last leg of her Heroic deed. She had spent most of the game running errands, with the result that she ended up with both the Yew Staff and the Magic Bow. She had also picked up some armor, and she had managed to enhance her magic rating, so that except for a complete inadequacy in Close Combat, she was actually doing reasonably well in combat situations. But despite having a horse, the time she spent running around the map turned out to be too much.

To me, the differences in these stories highlights the diverse approaches possible in the game, as well as the necessity for finding a good balance. It's got a light feel with quick-moving turns, but it is clearly a game with intriguing potential. I'll have to give it another try.
 
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Werner Bär
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Brent Johnson wrote:
My play-through was marred by some rules misunderstandings, the main one being my assumption that roads leading off the board wrapped to the other side.

That's a variant rule that shortens the game.
We use it when we play with the expansion.

Quote:
For one thing, the Nameless goes into the bag (and is this supposed to happen before or after the player draws a tile from the bag to replace the one taken from the map? - the rules don't say...). But for another thing - and in some ways more importantly - no other tiles (except later the Servants) get placed back in the bag after that point in the game.

That is either a rule change in the english version, or a translation mistake.
In the german version, it was only after the nameless was drawn and the bag was empty, that nothing returned.
But that wouldn't have change anything in your game.

Quote:
One of the ways main ways players get gold during the first stage of the game is by recycling monsters with gold rewards. Once this gold source dries up, you are severely limited in what you can do. You can't buy equipment, you can't pay for instructors;

Thus it's important not to spend too much on equipment. You need to pay the trainers later.
We never had a serious gold problem after the first game, when we realized that the gold is limited.

Quote:
This almost happened to the Dwarf in my game. The first part of his Heroic deed required him to spend four gold, but he had already spent his starting gold on a cart and at the time the Wizard put the Nameless in the bag, he had no gold at all.

This quest is always avoided in our games.
(with the normal rules, you get to choose one out of two quests. With some rule changes from the expansion, you select one at the capitol)

Quote:
Compounding the problem was the fact that by the time the Nameless went into the bag, the bag was already empty

Part of this problem is that you played with the introductional rules, where some (10?) counters are removed.
The other part is that you might have waited too long to start your quests. When you have the third die in your main ability, you're ready. If a fighter gets a sword, he may even start with two dice.
And the third part is that you played with 4 characters. With 3 characters (or 4 when playing with the expansion), you'll probably never draw all chits from the bag.

Quote:
And in fact, this makes the prospect of dying much more fearful that the Rules suggest, since once you lose your gold and experience, at this stage of the game you have no way of getting them back,

If you die that late in the game, maybe just sit back and wait for the game to end. But normally you don't die that late, unless you take a risk knowing that you're running out of time.

Quote:
[...]unless you camp outside the Tower of the Nameless and repeatedly throw yourself against the regenerating Guardians to gain experience.

That isn't possible. If you win the fight against a guardian, you have to fight the nameless one in the next turn.

But when the other sources of experience are gone, what do the other players do? Wander around trying to max their third skill? This kind of problem only occurs when you're just having a good time building up your characters, and fight the boss monster when anything else is done.

But the game is a race; a race to be the first to be able to challenge and defeat the nameless one. With more experienced players, this will be done before the bag is empty.
 
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Brent Johnson
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Fleeting memories rise | From the shadows of my mind | Sing "nonomori" - endless corridors | Say "nonomori" - hopeless warriors | You were there | You were there
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Thanks for the careful response, Werbaer! I've read several times through the rules and the glossary and the faq and the posts in the rules forum here, and I've done the same with the expansion. I've got several of pages worth of questions collected already, some of which I've found answers for (including conflicting answers!) and most of which I haven't. At some point during the next few days I hope to assault the Rules Forum with them...

Incidentally, your point about being obligated to fight the Nameless after defeating one of his guards is yet another example of the perils of reading just the rules. The Book of Rules addresses this situation by saying "If you beat him, then you can continue on to the Nameless and do battle with him in your next turn." It is only in the Glossary (under "Nameless") that it says "It is not possible to win against a Guard and not move on to the Nameless."

The Glossary also says under "Guards of the Nameless" that "If the Guard is overcome, the hero instantly moves on to the Nameless." To me this implies that the battle does not wait for the following turn, but of course both the "Nameless" entry and the Book of Rules itself declare otherwise.

Arrgh!
 
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Andrew Clarke
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The rules are indeed truly horrible. The worst I've ever seen, I think. *Most* common situations are covered *somewhere* but in no sense always in the most logical place. And quite a lot of more complicated ones are never covered at all. The translation, while not terrible, is occasionally not perfect. And the so-called Glossary is an essential part of the rules. As is the introductary setup, as it is the only place that really explains what an "open counter" is to any satisfaction (and it doesn't even mention the phrase; one is left to deduce what it's talking about).
 
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