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Magic Realm» Forums » General

Subject: First experience from a new player... rss

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Artaterxes
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Hi everyone. It’s my first time posting here, as I just began to play the classic, beloved game of Magic Realm. I was born after its prime, so I thought I would get to learn it via the wonderful Realm Speak program. (If I like it enough, I might buy a secondhand copy.)

Unfortunately, I’m not having a very good time with this game, and maybe some veterans can help me. It’s not due to the rules; I’ll play a game with complex rules if I like the experience. (Note I have not introduced magic yet). It’s the dice rolling that’s bothering me.

Several important activities involve dice rolls, especially hiding, discovering, and looting. I think without aid, hiding has a probability of 70%, discovering a treasure site 22%, and looting depends on the pile size. (Those numbers might be wrong, but it’s what I think.) So, if you want to guarantee success at those activities, you would have to plan multiple instances of the same activity during Birdsong. (Which makes caves challenging.) That seems OK; although it’s disappointing to succeed on the first roll only to have your other instances of the activity become redundant and wasted. You can imagine perhaps an overprepared character spending more time than needed, I suppose. I think if it stopped there, I would be fine.

I think I started to dislike the game because the monster roll comes after activities are decided. First, I have to plan my route and day’s activities, and stick to them, which is fine. If I plan to end my route in a potentially dangerous tile, I will have to incorporate some hide activities. That’s fine also. But after I plan my activities, I roll the monster die, only to find out that my feared monsters are dormant today, and my hide activities – which I can’t turn into something more useful – are pointless.

I can understand the importance of hiding at the beginning of the game, when everyone is still gathering clues about which tiles contain which monsters. But once that information is revealed, I can decide which monsters I fear and which I can kill. While it is indeed realistic that I must spend a large part of the morning planning to avoid monsters that I still fear, it’s quite disappointing to be told, “No, those scary monsters are sleeping today, but you still have to hide from them.”

Like I said, perhaps a thematic interpretation exists for assigning multiple identical activities for worry of a failed die roll (an overprepared, cautious character). But adding a monster roll on top of that really stretches the thematic justification, and magnifies the degree to which this game seems to expect you to plan activities based upon having dice roll against you. Those hide activities – of which I may have assigned two already, to beat the odds – are all useless.

To put it another way, one of the key strategies seems to be knowing the probability of a die roll and assigning enough identical activities to mitigate the risk. The reward for being overprepared is usually nothing except a wasted activity (no additional loot due to the pile getting smaller, no additional paths to discover, no additional hiding to be done). The punishment for being underprepared is usually severe.

I think that’s why Magic Realm is rubbing me the wrong way. I feel like the game doesn’t reward me for understanding its probabilities; I just waste activities. It enjoys punishing me for being too risky, but not rewarding me for being prepared (unless not being dead is its own reward).

So I thought I would just share this experience. It’s quite an interesting game otherwise, but at the moment I’m not enjoying this particular aspect of the strategy. If veterans would chime in with their opinions about whether they felt the same way or not, I would appreciate it. Thanks for reading.
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Rob McArthur
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Regarding the thematic-ness of the monster roll - there is no way your character would know if a dangerous monster is prowling and their hide action is ‘wasted’ or not. If you’re going into the tile that you know the dragon sometimes prowls, then you better over-prepare. Now what sometimes happens is you hear rumours that the dragon has shown up elsewhere on the board and now is you chance to loot its hoard. Except sometimes you get unlucky and that’s just when the dragon comes back.

Magic Realm is a bit brutal when it comes to actions - you have to decide how much risk you’ll take. And if you’re wrong, you’ll die and have a good story out of it.
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Quantum Jack
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In a standard 28 day game you get 112 actions. You csn think of it ascan elaborate "push your luck" game. You can hide less and get more done, risking being killed. Or you can hide more, moving around slowly and never get any good rewards (treasure, gold, fame). Somewhere in the middle is the optimum strategy.

And, yes, not being dead is its own reward.
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Sean Franco
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If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?
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Iron Gates wrote:
I can understand the importance of hiding at the beginning of the game, when everyone is still gathering clues about which tiles contain which monsters. But once that information is revealed, I can decide which monsters I fear and which I can kill. While it is indeed realistic that I must spend a large part of the morning planning to avoid monsters that I still fear, it’s quite disappointing to be told, “No, those scary monsters are sleeping today, but you still have to hide from them.”

By the end of week 1 or 2, you should have a good idea of where many of the sound and warning chits are. From there, you should see what monsters could show up at any location, depending on the monster roll each day. If you don’t want to “waste” actions hiding, then just generally avoid locations that you would have incentive to hide in and focus on locations that you wouldn’t mind getting into a fight at.

Hide actions aren’t wasted actions, especially since they have (as you observed) about a 70% chance of success — good odds if you dedicate just a single action, frankly (although I wouldn’t rely on just one all the time...). However, the value of hide actions jumps considerably in multiplayer games when you are playing against opponents who have ability and incentive to attack you. You should get used to hiding for more reasons than just monsters.

Finally, you might complain about “losing” a few actions to hiding, but it’s worse to lose all your actions to moving into a new hex and getting blocked by a monster, be it one you can easily fight or not.
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Daniel Goddard
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Iron Gates wrote:
If veterans would chime in with their opinions about whether they felt the same way or not, I would appreciate it. Thanks for reading.


Well, thank you for your post, by all means. I think you relate a lot of frustrations that can plague a Magic Realm player. And maybe there's no really logical explanation as to why we players love the game.

Certainly, any good game must be challenging, and we can all agree that Magic Realm is challenging.

One thing that I did not note in your post is the character, or characters, that you have tried to play. Some of the characters are so darn fast, there is only rare pertinent occasions that they need to exert an impulse to really be sure to get hidden. This is because they can just run away (with some possible exceptions that need to be noted).

Therefore, I may suggest that you try playing the Swordsman, the Woods Girl, or the Elf (you can ignore the magic capabilities of the latter two and still play successfully).

Well, perhaps you would prefer to learn to fight, face to face, with truly threatening beings. If you follow the character-selection suggestion, just be thinking that you will only be postponing that heavy battling aspect of the game, and, if you get to a point to hire a following of natives, that will begin to happen anyway... Meantime, you will gain some successes and some deeper understandings along the way.
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James Dean
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Arteterxes, I can relate to the sometimes tedious aspect of needing to ROK multiple times to achieve an action like searching, or trying to hire a native, for examples. I find that searching in particular can get, frankly, boring.

I think that the way the probabilities for succeeding at any given action are an abstraction of how difficult the action is. So, finding a secret stairs up to the top of the cliff is not easy, and if you decide to spend little effort trying (I.e. spend few phases) then you are unlikely to succeed. But if you spend much effort (I.e. spend multiple phases) then you almost certainly will find the way. So, at the beginning of your day, you decide how much effort to spend on finding that secret stairs. You allocate three phases, and have a good chance of finding it. In the game mechanics, yes you might succeed in your first roll, but thematically you succeeded because you spent so much effort looking.

The same is true for hiding. If you REALLY need to conceal your movements, you might spend three phases on a Hide roll and move once. Thematically, this reflects your character’s exercising extreme care to move silently and to constantly observe his surroundings, thus causing him to move very slowly. In the game mechanics you might actually succeed on your Hide roll on the first phase, but thematically you’ve succeeded because your character is taking so many precautions.

The issue is partly that the game mechanics are trying to create an illusion of simultanaeity Of action. In other words, when you plan three Hide phases and then one move phase, thematically your character is not hiding in the bush, hiding behind a tree, hiding in a ditch, and THEN moving. Thematically your character is taking great care to move unobserved during the course of the entire day. Many of your planned actions are ocurring at once. This is not always the case, but often. Another example might be the use of a phase to alert a weapon. Thematically, this means your character is moving a bit more slowly because he’s taking care to remain alert to any enemies and is constantly keeping an arrow notched and checking all the shadows in the deep woods. It makes for slower movement, but your character is better prepared to respond more quickly with deadly force if necessary. But, the “alertness” of the weapon is a constant condition that in game terms uses up omen phase.

I think the need to plan out your day, and this potentially have “wasted” phases, is also a game mechanics attempt to create the illusion of simultaneous action. In reality, all players take turns moving one at a time. But thematically, everyone is moving all at once. And so, your character cannot change his direction of travel mid-day because the White Knight two tiles over has managed to pry open an ancient vault. You the player knows the Vault has opened, but your character doesn’t know it. Planning your day ahead of time also creates a sort of hidden information in the game. Your character won’t know ahead of time whether or not the howling echoing through the caves means the giant bats are coming his way or not. Maybe the bats are flying out to another direction. Or maybe they’ve spotted your character and are hungry. You won’t know until you get into the caves.

I see the planning part of the game day as something I, the player, do. It’s an abstraction if everything my character will do throughout the day. But my character isn’t necessarily planning his day in four steps.

Finally, adding in magic and natives (if you havent already) adds a lot of richness to the game, giving you many more decisions to make if you use a magical character or get a magical treasure, and adding a lot more theme, like when the cut-throats at the Inn try to murder you after you’ve revealed you have a piece of treasure of great value that you’re looking to sell.

Definitely lots of dice rolling though, and I do hate getting stuck, unable to find that secret stairs.
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Artaterxes
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Thank you all for your insightful and detailed replies. I shall take your advice to heart and continue to play the game. I'm only doing the Treasure Hunt (first encounter) so I have yet to introduce combat. In fact, I have yet to achieve 5 VP in 28 days via treasure hunting alone.

I appreciate the "simultaneous activity" theory to thematically explain redundant actions.

I'll add new questions and updates to this thread as they arise!
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Vaughan Edge
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Magic Realm is first and foremost a multiplayer game.playing with more players brings in the option of co operation to reduce risk and increase success and then when you have hit the jackpot do you actually trust each other. No other fantasy game does co-op, betrayal, rivalry like MR, not even RPGs.
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Daniel T.
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James gave a great answer but I would like to add a mechanical bonus to it. All the limitations you complain about are mitigated through the use of various treasures/spells/abilities.

For example the PROPHECY spell and TIMELESS JEWEL treasure allow the character to ignore his/her recorded phases and choose what to do on a per-phase basis. The fact that characters normally can't do that leaves room for a spell that allows it and confers advantages. The names of these two also gives a good sense of what thematic element the writing down of moves portrays.

Also there are many ways of getting bonus phases conferred to your character. If, for e.g. the HIDE activity always succeeded, then there would be little point in getting extra HIDE phases.

Lastly, in essence you are absolutely correct. The game's incentives are designed to encourage players to take risks despite the danger. It does this by obfuscating the benefits of caution and providing rewards for brash action, except in the rare case where it punishes such action mightily.
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Artaterxes
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Well I have played some more, and I have now quite a deep understanding of the combat system, and a rudimentary understanding of the magic system.

I think the game is absolutely wonderful. (I’m using the 2nd Ed rules as my only resource.) But I fear I will not find a group in real life who would play this with me...
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Artaterxes
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Played some more, and now I think I understand all facets of the game except the magic system. I've learned a lot about the native groups and how combat can quickly escalate to exciting battles involving multiple parties and monsters. In particular I think the deployment part of the encounter step is quite brilliant, as it seems to break each combat up into little battles.

I can see why having a larger group of people would make this interesting.

I'm glad I spent the time to learn the rules. Even if it's just a personal accomplishment to understand and appreciate one of the classic games. I doubt I will be able to engage my real life friends into Magic Realm, even if I manage to explain the rules well, so I will leave the already-scarce secondhand copies available to people who may actually have a suitable group.

EDIT: But I extend my gratitude to Robin for making RealmSpeak, as in the absence of a human mentor it was the best way to check my rules knowledge.
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Andrea Fantozzi
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Tiddleydwarf wrote:
Magic Realm is first and foremost a multiplayer game.playing with more players brings in the option of co operation to reduce risk and increase success and then when you have hit the jackpot do you actually trust each other. No other fantasy game does co-op, betrayal, rivalry like MR, not even RPGs.


I think that Magic Realm needs to be played with full rules to be appreciated. Tresure Hunt can indeed be pretty boring. You need combat, Natives, Trading, Magic to appreciate it fully. As others have said, it is best played multiplayer. Cooperation can play an important role. And every charachter has its strenght and weakness that he must know and exploit. For example, the Swordsman is not at all worried by a Tremendous Dragon.. the Dragon is too slow and he can escape. You must carefully choose which tiles to explore and how much risk you are willing to take. You can choose to cooperate with other charachters or not and you have also have to remember that your friend might become your foe if you are doing too well. Or you can try to get some trasure early and spend some money for hiring Natives...
I generally prefer to play it with victory based on reaching an amount of Victory Points rather than set a specific length. Also, I prefer having charachters entering from the board edge rather than starting at the INN. If playing solitaire, there is a lot you can do to enhance your play. When I play solitaire I always use a couple (or three) characters that act as a company. I also like the idea of Quests. In this case I set a time limit (usually a couple of month... I like relaxed play) and then I have my carachters continue their story from playing to playing.
For example I had designed some house rules of this kind:
1) At the end of a game the character can keep 10% of all gold (including treasures) and this can be used in the next playing.
2) Every 100 Fame points a charachter may roll on a special table and obtain some advantage for his next mission...
...and so on
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