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Subject: Who wants to live forever? A review of Magnum Opus... rss

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Scott Sexton
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Magnum Opus: A deck building game, for the deck building aficionado.

The Elevator Pitch: Magnum Opus is an alchemy themed 2 to 4 player deck building game that builds upon the tropes of the genre and introduces a novel approach to victory determination. At its heart, this is a game of pure efficiency engine building and action selection. Once the game gets past the first few rounds, players will have multiple actions they can choose from during the three main parts of their turn, however, they will be limited to only choosing one or two actions out of many desirable ones. This creates an interesting, although somewhat solitary play experience where the true fun and joy of playing the game lies in exploring the games' mechanisms as much as it is the thrill of chasing a win.

As a fan of the deck building genre, let me be the first to say that many deck builders have grown stagnant in recent years. There are plenty of games out there that operate off of the basic Ascension/Legendary/Thunderstone model where you are shuffling currencies to evolve an ever growing deck of cards as a direct means to generate victory points. Some noble efforts have been made to incorporate deck building into other genres such as area control and set collection. Rare though is the game that genuinely feels like it is taking deck building in an innovative direction. Magnum Opus is one such game.

The most noticeable thing that MO does differently is that the game is goal based and does not track victory points or HP. The first person to create a Philosopher's Stone wins. Simple right? Not so fast, lets work that victory condition backwards. To create said item, you must first discover its secret recipe (which is unique to each player and variable in each play). To discover the secret recipe you must conduct extensive research or build upon the discoveries of other players. Discoveries are made by exploring a 4 x 4 grid of hidden cards called the discovery matrix. Think of this as a simplified Mendel Table. Each hidden discovery can be revealed by mixing ingredients from the axes of the discovery matrix (I know this is a goofy description, watch a gameplay video). In order to successfully mix ingredients, you must efficiently seed your deck with ingredients, money generating cards, and luck mitigation cards (hence the game's deck building).

What was that about luck mitigation? Yeah, about that... This game uses d8 rolls to check to see if you are successful in mixing ingredients, HOWEVER, the key of this game lies in how you develop your deck and tableau to handle these die rolls. Many of the games cards you pick up during the game help to mitigate your luck. Towards the end of the game, you will have so many modifiers that you'll likely have to try to fail in order to do so. Even if you fail, you still gain valuable experience tokens that you can use to further modify future rolls. On top of the chaos of building your deck to make new discoveries, you also are faced with a robust economy in the game. Playing cards that generate gold give you coin tokens that stay in your tableau until spent, and there are OH SO MANY wonderful things to buy. I always find it a hallmark of a good game when you must struggle to not spend all your money, and this game does that in spades.

Regarding theme, yes this game has a theme. You are an alchemist trying to be the first to create a philosopher's stone. The mechanics are highly tuned to the theme and you do feel like they exist harmoniously, however, the theme itself is so dry and lightly developed that you can easily forget the almost non-existent story unfolding. Simply put, even though the theme is beautifully merged to the mechanisms, this is a game about gameplay elements and not storytelling.

Regarding the card layout and art: The card art/layout is simple, clean, and functional. Cards have a sufficiently thematic feel to them, but there isn't anything here to distract you from the gameplay. While the design & art isn't as minimalistic as something from say Carl Chudyk's game library it is quite sparse, without being lazy like the Pathfinder ACG.

What is the feel/fun of this game? If you are a fan of deck building games, you already know what this game will bring to the table. Much of the game's fun comes from constantly tweaking your deck's engine. Your deck will reach a decent momentum pretty early in the game, however, as you succeed, your deck picks up a good number of cards that seriously degrade its efficiency. This clog can be combated to some extent simply by being careful about what cards you obtain (easier said then done) or by taking valuable actions to sell off extra cards or play them to your tableau (both of these actions though prevent you from taking other actions you may want to take though). There is a constant struggle in this game once you get enough ingredients to start doing some serious exploration. You'll be able to conduct experiments every turn, however, conducting experiments means you won't be able to thin your deck or add very specific cards you may need to add to your deck for long term gains. The right move is almost never obvious.

If you've ever played a video game with crafting elements in it, you already have the basic idea of how mixing ingredients (experimenting) works in this game. This game banks on the players enjoying that type of discovery process. This is also a game that truly thrives off of the basic ideas of deck building as a game mechanic. The game runs long, but not in a bad way. You will have lots of opportunity to revise your deck over the course of the game and never feel that it has been perfected. Once you've accomplished a short term goal, you are immediately on to the next task, and you are back to square one with your deck needing serious overhaul for the new task.

This is a gourmet meal game for deck building enthusiasts, brimming with solid strategic and tactical choices. Until the players are familiar with how the game plays, games should run 90 minutes or longer although with a bit of luck, games can run quickly. Players familiar with the game can get it moving VERY FAST and a typical game should run around 60 minutes. If you are a fan of deck building, the time in this game moves quickly. You get to savor the nuisances of superb design choices made by the development team. There really isn't a deck building game out there that offers such a rich and satisfying mechanical experience. Many deckbuilders are built for speed. They are glorified fillers and play wraps in under an hour, just as your engine gets going (Ascension, Legendary, Star Realms). Other deckbuilders can run long, but you never feel that the emphasis of the game is on the deckbuilding mechanics (Core Worlds, A Study in Emerald, Pathfinder). MO is a truly unique beast in this regard. It is a 1 to 2 hour deck building fan's delight. The deck building experience is rich, savory, and thanks to its novel victory condition set up, it feels unique.

Where does this game fail? MO's shortcomings extend from a dry theme and what I suspect may be a lack of variety. You would think that only having a 4x4 grid of discoveries would be repetitive, but the research/discovery cards do offer plenty of incentive for replay and do a good job of keeping the game fresh. The ingredient cards (reagent cards in game terms) however are going to be the same 8 cards in the same 8 combos every game. The only real change each game is what research and rewards are revealed in the game. There seems to be room to expand the ingredient cards in future expansions. I should mention too, that there is a mini expansion included in the game giving players the option to have asymmetrical starting powers. These seem like they may offer some life to the game, but it doesn't strike me as necessary. Some players will be turned off by inclusion of die rolling to check the success of experiments, although I feel that there are enough counterbalances to the game's luck to satisfy my taste. Other players will be turned off because this game (like many deck builders) is a largely solitary experience (although I would argue that a player is heavily effected by the choices other players make).

A brief note of "fidliness". This game requires some set up and tear down time due to the specific organization necessary for the game's cards. I don't find that it is particularly excessive given the overall weight and experience offered by the game, but keep in mind that the set up curve is roughly on par with Dominion or Thunderstone Advance.

Final Thoughts:

For me, as a huge fan of deck building and card games generally, Magnum Opus is a resoundingly satisfying gaming experience. Fans of the deck building genre should consider this game a must own. Magnum Opus takes deck building as a mechanism and ramps it up to 11. This is deckbuilding enriched, but also reinvented by taking a new approach with a goal based victory condition.

Further, something gamers should consider is that this is possibly one of the heaviest games I've seen that I think may be spouse friendly. This game plays very well as a 2 player game and is interesting enough that it may work well for a typically non-gamer spouse.
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Starling Games
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Londonderry
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Thank you for your very positive review, Scott - we're delighted that you enjoyed the game so much!

- Michael
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Scott Sexton
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Game Salute wrote:
Thank you for your very positive review, Scott - we're delighted that you enjoyed the game so much!

- Michael

No problem! Just doing my part because I'd love to see a future expansion that plays with the possibility of new reagents.
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Dan Helland
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FWIW, I've found the game very family friendly and found both my kids happy to play it. You will need to teach your young ones pile shuffling.

Set up is a bit easier than Eldritch Horror, IMO.
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Ian Stedman
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Phoenix
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INCOMING TRANSMISSION on KickStarter now!
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Magic Meeple...the boardgame people! MagicMeepleGames.com
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scottatlaw wrote:
Game Salute wrote:
Thank you for your very positive review, Scott - we're delighted that you enjoyed the game so much!

- Michael

No problem! Just doing my part because I'd love to see a future expansion that plays with the possibility of new reagents.

Awesome! Thank you

(I am working on expansion content currently, in fact)
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Russell Howell                (What's Right?) (What's Wrong?)        
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Endymian wrote:
scottatlaw wrote:
Game Salute wrote:
Thank you for your very positive review, Scott - we're delighted that you enjoyed the game so much!

- Michael

No problem! Just doing my part because I'd love to see a future expansion that plays with the possibility of new reagents.

Awesome! Thank you

(I am working on expansion content currently, in fact)

Though the game has a great amount of re-playability in the discovery matrix, I love the thought of additional cards or actions. I am eagerly anticipating seeing what you come up with.
 
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Don Burns
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Love the game. Would love to see expansions!
 
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Yours Truly,
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Raleigh
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There must have been a moment at the beginning, where we could have said no. Somehow we missed it. Well, we'll know better next time.
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scottatlaw wrote:

Further, something gamers should consider is that this is possibly one of the heaviest games I've seen that I think may be spouse friendly. This game plays very well as a 2 player game and is interesting enough that it may work well for a typically non-gamer spouse.

Interesting that (so far) this seems like it might be a minority opinion - the player count vote is at 50% not recommended for 2-players. Admittedly small sample size, only 6 votes, though.

Otherwise I think this game might be a game my wife might enjoy.
 
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