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Subject: Where The Magic Happens - Review rss

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Brian Johnson
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The Institute for Magical Arts is the newest game coming from Dr. Finn's Games. Steve Finn recently asked for some volunteers to receive the PNP files to write a review of the game prior to it's Kickstarter campaign which I believe should start later this month.


As a huge fan of Dr Finn's games, I jumped at the chance to play The Institute for magical arts early and the game did not disappoint.

Overview
The Institute for Magical Arts is a 2-player dice game in which both players roll 4 dice at the start of each turn, then each player simultaneously assigns 4 of their 6 action cards to the resulting die rolls.

The available actions are casting 2 power stones on a location, casting 1 power stone on a location (x2), and taking stones (x2).

When you place a 'take stones' cards under a die you simply add stones to your supply based on the number of pips on that die. When you 'cast stones' you will place a power stone from your personal supply on the card under the matching location (1-6).

At the locations where you will be casting your stones you will find character cards which grant victory points only, however, the more character cards you gain the greater number of victory points each subsequent character will give you. There are also items that will give victory points as well as various powers to use. The final card which is always at a location is the portal that will let you send your power stones to other locations.

The first player to gain 20 victory points wins.


example of setup


Gameplay
Placing your power stones is how you will be competing with your opponent. Each card, with the exception of the portal, has a cost printed on it you will need to meet or exceed to gain the card along with the victory points and any powers associated with it.

Simply beating your opponent to the cost of the card wouldn't be very interesting however, and that is where the first clever twist comes in. In addition to a base cost, all cards you will be trying to purchase also have an exceed cost. You will not only need the power stones for the purchase value, but you will need to have a number more stones on that card greater than your opponent has based on what the exceed cost is.


to purchase the potion you will need at least 5 power stones on the card but also 1 more than your opponent has there as indicated in the upper left

Some cards only have an exceed cost of 1 and may not increase what you need to spend unless your opponent is matching you stone for stone. However, the exceed cost can be as high as 5 on some cards and can really force you to pay more with even a couple of stones placed by your opponent.

The exceed cost really makes competing for cards more strategic when even if your aren't directly competing for a card, just a few well placed stones can really slow your opponent's progress.

Next comes the powers you will use. Each player will start the game with a random power from a collection of pairs of 3 cards. Also, as you acquire more cards by spending your power stones, your abilities will increase.


example item cards


There are powers which are triggered as soon as your acquire the card, cards with powers you can use once and are deactivated (though you still keep the VPs) and powers that are permanent but you have to pay a power stone to use. The cards also have a number printed on them to indicate which phase they can be used in.

Powers include being able to move stones, remove stones all together, make your opponent re-roll, deactivate an opponent's card and more.

The Portal and Ethereal Realm


where the real magic happens


The last card which will always be at one of the locations is the Portal. I love how the portal is used in this game. It's part wild card location, an entirely separate way to gain victory points and other bonuses via the ethereal realm, and part bluffing mechanism.

In it's simplest form, after stones are placed, all of the stones you have on the portal can be moved to another location. This is great in itself as it lessens the randomness of the dice a little.

The portal also gives you access to the ethereal realm. The ethereal realm is essentially another way to compete for victory points and special powers, but it plays by different rules. First, when you move from the portal, you can only move one of your power stones to the ethereal realm regardless of how many power stones are on the portal.

Also, there is no purchase/exceed cost like the other locations. If you and your opponent have power stones in the ethereal realm, power stones are removed until only 1 player has power stones remaining.

Finally, you do not simply get the reward once you reach a limit. You choose when to cash in, with the reward getting greater the more power stones you have on the ethereal realm. This adds a neat push your luck element to the game. The rewards range from 1 victory point for one power stone to 4 victory points and a free card for 4 power stones so there is a lot of incentive to go for more.

The bluffing comes in if both you and your opponent place power stones on the portal during the same turn. When this happens you each secretly select where you will move your power stones, opening the opportunity for some mind games.

Final Thoughts
I absolutely love this game! Like many of my favorite games it's simple to teach, plays quickly, and is a lot of fun with 2. I've played it 10 times so far and have no intention of stopping.

There are enough cards and powers to make each game feel different. After a few games I began to feel there weren't enough character cards for them to impact the game, but in a later game a lot of them showed up and I got blown away for ignoring them.

The exceed cost makes for an interesting battle, balancing going for the cards you want while also giving you a way to slow your opponent down even if you don't want to buy the card they are going for.

There is also a lot of interaction from the cards which will allow you to move stones around, deactivate opponents cards and block their powers.

The portal though is what makes the game really shine. Just being a wild card is great, but bluffing your opponent is so much fun. So many times there are conversations of 'you may as well not move your stones there, I'll do the same and beat you' and then you place yours somewhere else to get a lead at another location, and pick up the contested one later after your opponent decided against placing there just to lose if you actually did move yours there.

Many people say dice games will be too random, but I've never felt at the mercy of my die rolls in this game. You should be going for multiple locations anyway, and with the addition of the portal which will let you pick where the stones go, cards to move stones, and 3 re-roll tokens you'll have plenty of options to improve bad rolls.

I will be backing this on day 1 of the Kickstarter and I encourage anyone who is looking for a great 2-player game to do the same. One of the biggest praises I can give the game is my PNP version looks absolutely horrendous due to it being the first I've ever made but I will still keep it and continue to play it until I can get the retail version.

Kickstarter tip: previous Kickstarters from Doctor Finn's games gave the option to buy his previous titles with the game you're backing. If you're interested, my favorites in order are Biblios, Scripts and Scribes: The Dice Game, Capo Dei Capi, and Gunrunners but honestly they're all fantastic, so if you get the chance why not get them all!?

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ozzy perez
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This is a really good review, good job! I got this and Capo dei Capi a few days ago, already own Gunrunners (like it a lot). Played Capo last night and it might become my favorite push your luck game ever. The game really handles that aspect quite brilliantly, push all you want essentially.. But don't go too far or it'll be for nothing. Institute I am even more excited for because it feels like a gamer's filler.. Very clever diceplay with a lot of ways to mitigate the randomness. I love the bluffing for area control, the varied cards and their powers and the portal is also my favorite aspect of the game (based on what I've seen). I suspect it'll most likely become my favorite Finn game... Can't wait.
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Brian Johnson
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Thank you!
I'm still playing this game and loving it. The portal is just a stroke of genius.
Agreed about Capo dei Capi, there's a lot more to it than I think most people expect at first glance. It has the added benefit of being easy to teach and play with anyone, which is always a huge positive for me.
I always kind of feel Gunrunners was a victim of the success of Dr. Finn's other games for me and I don't think I gave it enough of a chance because I always want to play his other games.
I think maybe I'll try to get Gunrunners to the table a few times while I wait for Biblios Dice to arrive.
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