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Magnates – greatness in simplicity

At the end of 2014 Phalanx published its first crowdfunded game – The Magnates. Polish gamers backed it 236%, i.e. almost 500 boxes sold on the first day. Unfortunately it was a few weeks after Spiel at Essen, so international buyers couldn’t catch it on those hot days. Many guests of Spiel had occasion to play Magnates at the fair, and opinions were usually very good.

At the beginning of 2015 Phalanx is ready to sell new boxes of Magnates, but there are not so many reviews as we wish. This is my try to write some words about this very good game.


History fans – just for you, but not only!

There are many games with strong theme about historical events. Most of them are about Rome or ancient world, First and Second World Wars and of course history of such great nations like France, Germany, Italy or Great Britain. From time to time fans of historical games can find something very new and fresh. A game about a not so known history like the very complicated history of Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania. Those nations were the main power in central Europe from 15th to 17th centuries. But a strange fate of private ambitions and national weakness leads this great country to a bitter end – partitions at the end of 18th century.
While playing the game you can look at faces and read short notes about 52 noble people from those times. Additionally you can learn about 12 Polish kings from these times. Also a great and big map – which is the board – can help to understand how powerful was Poland… During the game players also fight in wars, and all conflict cards represent real historical events!

If you know something about the history of central Europe, you can find familiar faces and places. If you don’t know anything, this is an opportunity to learn something. But it is not an educational game.


Do you like negative interaction?

The game shows how personal interest can ruin a state’s existence. In each age (there are 4 in the game – Golden, Silver, Bronze and most bitter – Iron) players fight for most honorable and very influential state offices, for special privileges and at the end fight indeed with armed raids of hostile neighbors.

Where is this (so liked by me) negative interaction? Each player has the same deck of cards (same values, persons are very special and they are members of greater families – similar to Scottish clans). 13 cards (values 2-14) are completely used in each age. So you must very carefully and wisely decide when play strongest cards, and when weaker. In this game you can talk, negotiate with other players – magnates! Or you can silently stay alone and realize your own plan.

‘This is my homeland, I must defend it!’
One of the greatest thing in this game – for me – is the change of feeling depending on the players. Especially with Poles it could be a not so rational game… This is my homeland, I must defend it! When I was explaining the game at Essen, players didn’t care about provinces. But at home, that is a very important aspect of the game.


First you must choose 3 of 4 state offices on which you are playing your cards. In a 2-player game, this means the second player can gain one office using their weakest (2) card! The player whose card was strongest has this office for this age, and of course its special power. The Primate can resolve all ties. Sometimes he has not so much work. But often he must decide which player wins a tie. What is more, you can try to bribe him. The Hetman (supreme commander) and Chancellor can strengthen you at conflicts or voting. The Treasurer is most perfidious one – he can replace someone’s estate into yours! Each win also gets you estates at one of 5 provinces of Poland. These estates are (at the end of the game) victory points.

The second part of using your people (cards) is Sejm. Half of your cards (5 of the remaining 10) you are placing (in kind of blind auctionning) on known privileges cards. These cards have two functions. If they have the same symbol as the current king, you can place one more estate on the map. And of course they give you a very special power. 25 cards and each one is different. Some help you at war, others at voting. Some can give special estates, and so on.

The third and final time to use cards is resolving conflicts. You must reveal 5 conflict cards (if any stayed from last age, you draw up to 5). Each province can be attacked by 0, 1 or 2 enemies. And all remaining 5 cards you must direct to these conflicts. In this situation you all are trying (you are patriot, aren’t you?) to defend country. If you succeed, whoever plays the most powerful card gains a great prize – a new estate in this province (or at fief). But, and here is most obvious negative interaction, if you lose… all players must reject one of his estates in this province. Do you feel it? If you have any… So, it is of course antipatriotic, if you have no estates, you are not playing strong cards… Ha, let others’ dreams and estates burn… And we have a repeat of history – the partitioning of Poland…

Four ages of the game allow you to plan ahead some strategy. Leaders are highly visible – there are plenty of their estates on the board. So other players can easily decide to not engage into defending such provinces. But it no easy decision – many conflicts applies to more than one province.


But if you don’t like to see other player winning the game there is something for you. If there are 3 partitions, all players lose the game. So you have some arguments to convince other players to get you chances to establish your own estates. If they don’t understand such simple message…


Some case study

I played Magnates many times. There were 2-player games, when we almost cooperate. And the last age was key to victory. There was a 3-player game in which my weakest card gain to me Primate! (Opponent played also 2, but I was last player so in this case I resolve tie!). There was a 5-player game, in which I lose everything. Even my strongest cards fighted with other were loser by Primate decision. Other games with great patriotic players were easy and light. But there were some games when our private interests toppled Poland in the first age…
You can talk to other players, especially if you have the privilege card – Veto! Yes, you can block one decision of other player. But which one? Very annoying against others. You can promise everything. And look at surprised faces.

The rules of this game are extremely simple. You can start to play after 5-10 minutes. And lose in the next 15 minutes. But if you like such a little dirty and unfair game, you should play Magnates. But be aware – some friends will not be the same after game. It’s a bit like Diplomacy or Game of Thrones, but with rules for specific Polish history. Much faster and so close to real political life.


A few words in summary

The board is huge, with great art based on a historical map with magnificent artwork of Piotro. Cards are high quality (after Essen cards were still like new!).

If you want, you can find out many interesting facts about the historical persons used in the game. Many wooden markers give joy to fans of eurogames. The rules are very clear with many examples. So you can start to play in less than half hour after opening box.

But most important is the joy of the game. You can focus on different ways to build up power of your family. By offices or war victories. You can disturb other players’ actions with your privilege cards or by treacherous agreement with neighbors.
If you know your opponents, you can use this knowledge against them. So there is also time for bluffing and a kind of cooperation.
I think, that Magnates deserves to be known better by geeks. It’s just an amazing game.

PS.
Thanks to
Russ Williams
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for some help with this English text.
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Tom
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"You can start to play after 5-10 minutes. And lose in the next 15 minutes."

/chuckle
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Proper reaction ;)
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Geoff C
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Primate? Really??

An enthusiastic review and a promising one at that, even if it didn't really give me a good feel for the actual game mechanisms.
 
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Russ Williams
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Talonz wrote:
Primate? Really??


As the sage once sang, "You know sometimes words have two meanings"...

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/primate
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primate_%28disambiguation%29
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Talonz wrote:
Primate? Really??

An enthusiastic review and a promising one at that, even if it didn't really give me a good feel for the actual game mechanisms.


That feeling when you surprise a native speaker, priceless whistle
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Talonz wrote:
even if it didn't really give me a good feel for the actual game mechanisms

I ussually try to write about feelings and cases. Rules are ready to download, so mechanism is easy to know.

Just ask what is interesting for you, I'll try to explain.
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russ wrote:
Talonz wrote:
Primate? Really??


As the sage once sang, "You know sometimes words have two meanings"...



Amongst the modern non-catholic population? Not so much.

Heck I imagine most catholics don't know that alternate meaning either...
 
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Talonz wrote:
russ wrote:
Talonz wrote:
Primate? Really??


As the sage once sang, "You know sometimes words have two meanings"...



Amongst the mordern non-catholic population? Not so much.

Heck I imagine most catholics don't know that alternate meaning either...

FWIW I've known this meaning of the word for as long as I can remember. Out of curiosity, I just googled the 2 words "primate" and "church" together (which makes virtually all the hits involve this meaning and not the biological meaning) and Google reports 734000 hits. Google news reports 10000 hits in a variety of current news sources (e.g. "declared Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Irish primate", "Primate wants to see end of entrance exams for Catholic schools", "Primate Elijah Ayodele Babatunde, has urged Nigerians to pray", etc). It honestly doesn't seem that obscure to me.

In any case, if a game or article is dealing with a specialized historical religious/political theme, it's not surprising that it might use some special terminology related to that theme. The person being talked about is a primate, so what else should he be called?

I'd bet that more ordinary English-speakers know this meaning of "primate" than know the words "hetman" or "sejm", for example.
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I think 'imam' might be getting popularity recently or 'caliph'

ouch, ouch gulp
 
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russ wrote:
I just googled the 2 words "primate" and "church" together (which makes virtually all the hits involve this meaning and not the biological meaning) and Google reports 734000 hits.


And googling primate brings up 16.6 million hits.

I stand by my hypothesis.
 
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Talonz wrote:
russ wrote:
I just googled the 2 words "primate" and "church" together (which makes virtually all the hits involve this meaning and not the biological meaning) and Google reports 734000 hits.


And googling primate brings up 16.6 million hits.

I stand by my hypothesis.

Oh, if your point is just that the biological meaning is much more commonly used, then sure, of course I agree! (Was that all you were getting at?)

Just like the "60 seconds" meaning of "minute" is much more commonly used than the "very small" meaning of "minute", but that doesn't mean there's anything weird/inappropriate/wrong with saying something like "minute traces of the chemical were detected".
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Let's go back to the game ;)
Talonz wrote:
even if it didn't really give me a good feel for the actual game mechanisms.


In few words about mechnanics:

So, how do you play?
First you must decide which 3 of the 4 state offices you want to pursue – and bid for it, playing your Family cards. Player which highest card wins the office and gets some special abilities. For example, the Primate resolves all ties. Sometimes he may have not too much work, but often he would decide which player gets something really valuable. He can be bribed however and you may want to figure out how.
The Chancellor and Hetman (supreme commander) may increase your card value during voting or conflicts. The Treasurer is the most perfidious oue – he can replace someone’s Estate with his own!
Each office gives you also and Estate in one of the five provinces of the Commonwealth. These Estates will produce Wealth, and whoever gets the most Wealth at the end of the last Age, would win the game.

Another step in the Age is the Parliament (the Sejm). You are now down to 10 cards (3 were spent bidding for offices). You would now place another 5 cards, bidding for Privilege cards. These cards have two functions. They grant Estates but also, give special abilities to the players. Also, if they bear the same symbol as actual King, their value is increased. There is 25 such cards in the game each one is different. Some would help at war, other during voting/bidding.

Third and the last time the cards are used to resolve conflicts with Commonwealth’s neighbours. This times, value of cards played by all players is combined and compared with the strength of the attacker. If you succeed together, the player with the highest card gains a reward – new Estate in just defended province. Or sometimes an adjacent fief. It’s good to be patriotic.
But, and here is most obvious negative interaction, if you happen to lose, then every player will have one of their Estates in the province removed. Provided there actually have one.
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