This past weekend, 4 of us sat down to play our first complete game of Magnates. It was the first game for all of us, with me having read the rules.
Magnates is an Area Control game (control of regions in Poland yields victory points) but the engine that sets this up is an intriguing bidding mechanic through the phases of the game.
The game has 4 turns, each comprised of 5 phases. In layman's terms, these are Monarch, Senate, Prestige, Conflict and Turn End. (the game itself uses different terms that are theme based)
During the Senate, Prestige and Conflict phases, each player will blind bid (others can't see what you play) one of 13 cards that represent your family. Each family member card has a value of 2 through 14 which represent that cards strength. (with the exception of the 10, which is a woman and only has a value of 1 during the conflict phase...hey, this does represent the late 1600's.)
During the Senate Phase, each player bids on 3 of 4 positions. These positions give bonus's for the following phases, with the Primate breaking ties. (A really important ability) During the Prestige phase, players bid on 5 prestige cards that each give a bonus throughout the game and during the conflict phase 5 conflicts will start and require the players to join together to fight off the threat. (or choose to *not* support by sending a low value family member).
Through each of these 3 phases, players will have to choose which family member will be used. Players can watch and try to keep track of what other players are playing, have played or might play. Its a simple mechanic - which is heightened by the fact that if three conflicts go unsuccessfully resolved, the game could end prematurely with no victor.
When each card is awarded, players will be allowed to build zero, 1, 2 or 3 estates on the board. These estates function as how control is determined. (the cards are 0 thru 2, but if the monarchs symbol matches a card, a bonus estate is awarded).
Victory points are given to players who dominate, control or have presence in a territory - plus another for each estate on the board. With several players, it can be hard to get estates, which is why the game is so elegant. It's easy to lay out a card with a number...it's hard to ensure that you are winning enough estates to play into the area control portion. If there is a criticism, it is that you can have a horrible turn where nothing goes right, leaving you in a worse position than when you started the turn, but the game isn't long enough for this to be a worry (for me).
Advertised at 90 minutes, we took 2 hours, but it was our first game. We absolutely think it will be quicker next time. And we are most certainly looking forward to next time.
It's a great game, elegant, fun and steeped in the Polish history and theme. We very much enjoyed it!
Thank you for the review! I am glad it was written by someone, who understood the game dynamics.
A hint: player, who is unlucky in Turn 1, will be most probably the last one in the next Turn order. This is a balancing mechanism, use it to your advantage
Also, players, who are losing the game, will naturally form the opposition, not interested in preserving the Kingdom, while those in the lead are natural 'patriotic' faction. Having a player in the game, who doesn't care and has no chance to win, might be risky for those who still have the chances.