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Subject: Serious Miner? rss

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James To My Friends
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Magnum Sal is game for 2 to 4 players that takes between 1 and 2 hours to play depending on the number of players and is published by Gry Leonardo.

Just another please the medieval King game?

Magnum Sal first showed up on my radar when I saw the artwork during lead up to Essen 2010. The beautiful artwork of the main board shows the mining town at the centre of the game. It looks like an idyllic place. All that was missing is a churchyard by a river. This and the mining theme were both very appealing to me. I like mining, it sounds like it could be a pickup/deliver kind of game. Then something in the description of the game irked me. It was all about placing some workers and pushing some cubes around to earn a title from a medieval king. Noooooooooooooooooooo. Can a game get any more dull than that? The cover art just drove the point home, the king stood there, with his smug smile, knowing he was about to bore you to death. So it dropped off my Essen list. Then a few weeks later on a trip to Essen I saw a crater in the sun, but also at the Gry Leonardo booth Magnum Sal was a mere €25. Sold. It was worth a punt for that price.

We plonked the game on the table as part of our post-Essen new game blitz. A hasty reading of the rules made a lot of sense on the first read-through. Which is always a good sign. The rules are clearly laid out and follow a logical flow with some nice examples and diagrams. Though maybe it made sense because the game seems to cover some fairly standard fair. Two actions per turn, place a worker, visit a building, get a benefit, buy/sell some stuff at a market, buy some rule-breaking cards, and fulfil a contract. Woo hoo!! Let's crank this out and get onto the next one of our Essen loot.

A game of three weeks in two halves.

The game itself plays in three phases, thematically representing three work weeks. During that week a player allocates their workers and performs actions to deliver salt to meet contracts offered at the kings whimsy. The work week ends once at least 5 of the Kings contracts (in a four player game) have been fulfilled. Up to that point there is an indeterminate number of turns.

The game board is split into two halves. The 'above ground' area is shown on a medium sized board that is illustrated by the artwork that first drew me to the game. Below ground, in the mine, there is a cardboard mine shaft that lays below the bottom edge of the main board. Branching out from either side of this shaft are face-down tiles that form represent chambers to be mined. These form three separate levels of the mine. A player's workers are mostly used down in the mine, with some exceptions. Therefore the player acts a manager, directing workers but also ensuring water is pumped, the market is utilised as needed, hire new workers, buy new tools, or just take 1 cent for the fun of it.

Digging yourself into a hole.

In each week the next level deeper into the mine, is accessible by your workers. Each level of the mine has several chambers to dig out in search of new salt deposits. Naturally there can be an amount of water in the chambers. This means no salt can be extracted until the water in that chamber is removed. The amount of water varies from chamber to chamber, but as general rule there is more water in the mine the deeper you go. So by the third and final phase, where the chambers at the bottom of the mine are dug out, there is plenty of water to pump or move.

The miners themselves work in chains, stringing together to reach the salt and move it to the surface. Your own workers need to extract the salt, but other players workers along the chain can also be used to get the salt out. Using another players worker cost 1 cent per cube per worker. It makes for some interesting decisions, put all your workers at the rock face to extract salt and you'll pay a hefty price to your opponents for moving your freshly gained white gold. Put most of your workers in the tunnels and you'll have fewer guys at the face. There is some very interesting dynamics as the miners jostle about for position. For instance, the chain of workers cannot be broken. If you share a space with another players worker you are still free to move your worker, doing so gives up the chance to possibly gain 1 cent per cube as comes through, but it pins that players worker in place, they can not move it or the chain is broken.

A rested flexible miner is a happy miner.

One of the cunning innovations in Magnum Sal is that the miners become tired. They will move around the mine, and carry salt without fatigue. But extracting salt is tiring work. One they've extracted salt then the miners used are laid down. While in this state they can't move or extract more salt until a player skips both their actions in their turn. Then all the player's laid down miners are stood back up and are ready to work again.

It's such a great mechanism. Firstly because it fits the theme perfectly. It genuinely helps immerse you in the world. Secondly it makes you plan a bit more, extracting salt is more expensive than just taking an action, there are repercussions that you need to deal with. It stops players just hoovering up any old salt they come across.

There is something I've also noticed with a few of the Polish titles including City Tycoon and Prêt-à-Porter. There is that great mix of tense co-operation, doing your own thing, or really messing with other players. There is a lot of freedom within the systems to see what works best for you. For instance, in Magnum Sal the water from a chamber is only cleared once (unless someone moves some water in from an adjacent chamber), so if you spend an action clearing the water then the other players in the chamber do have to on their turn, instead they can just take what is left of the available salt. Time it wrong, and you could end up with no salt at all from a chamber. It's a great game of indirect, but very real conflict. It is really quite a cut-throat game.

Another subtle area for diplomacy is where salt is transported along a chain through a space where you don't have a worker but there are two or three other players workers. In this case you choose who to pay. It's a nice little mechanism that can just eat away at the friendliness between the players. Alliances can appear. It reminds of Steam where you have a choice over whose track to use.

Rough or finely ground, is this salt worth staying on the table?

Overall though this is one of the best and most thematic worker placement games I've come across (read my review of Arriala: Canal de Garonne for another example). It has a couple of nice mechanisms that really make it work. First is the use of the miners, you actually feel like you are managing a workforce and putting them to work. When you hire a new worker it isn't something that gives you an extra action, but means you have an extra pair of hands to transport or extract salt, or someone to stand in line at the queue for the contracts. That leads neatly into the second mechanism, the contract queue.

It takes a couple of turns from joining the queue to choosing one of the four open contracts to fulfil. Although it mostly removes the straight forward 'stealing' of a contract that someone else wants, it provides some more subtle nuances. For instance, it allows you to adapt, you can see a player is ahead of you in the queue, and what cubes they have. Also, if there's a lucrative contract you really want but don't have all the salt you need then you can jump into the queue and push your luck and try to get what you need with the actions you have remaining (the market can be very helpful with this). Be careful though, there is a penalty, paid in cents and salt, for wasting the King's time and not having the precise salt he needs.

Ultimately everything is geared towards completing contracts. They are the major source of money in the game. You can put workers as 'assistants' for most of the above ground buildings where they earn 1 cent per usage, but this won't be a major source of income and is 1 less miner. Likewise, being in positions in the mine to transport salt rather than extract it will earn you a little money, but not enough to win. Therefore you have to concentrate on the bigger picture and not just make the 'best' maximizing move on each turn.

Also, just on a personal note, I am so pleased that the games win condition is money and not prestige points. It again helps the game feel more 'real' and less wussy.

The box says a 1 to 2 hour play time, but even with a full game of slow players 2 hours and reading the rules is the very upper limit. During downtime you can look at the board and make decisions about what to do from a strategic point of view. The two actions per turn is nice and limiting and means you are using them to execute your plan, or make minor adjustments.

This one has hit the table a few times and has turned out to be one of the better Essen 2010 titles.

(Images courtesy of other BGG contributors)
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Arthur Rutyna
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Have only played once, but also found it to be a very enjoyable and solid Euro game.
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Marcin Krupiński
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Thank you for your review. I'm glad that you liked the game And the expansion is coming in 2012
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Fabien Ducat
Canada
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I definitely agree with your nice review that sum up the plus that made me buy Magnum Sal this Essen and look closely to their new baby Mare Balticum...

I reallty like it. :D
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Andy Andersen
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Picked up this game and need to play it. Thanks.
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Dave K
United States
Austin
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Love 'em even if a few games get scuttled from time to time.
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Thanks for the review! I read up on about Magnum Sal after seeing some info about it and it sounded like something I'd enjoy quite a bit. This review really got me interested in taking the plunge and acquiring it. I managed to get a copy a week or so ago and we finally were able to play it tonight.

Indeed, I thought it was excellent! We played with 4 - including a person who rarely plays eurogames with us - and everyone enjoyed it thoroughly. There was a general consensus that the mechanics worked well and there was a good balance between inter-player tension and individual planning.

The only thing I came away wishing the game had a was few 'extra' pieces - that is, maybe some extra orders, mine tiles and tools. I'd like that so that you don't have the same things show up every game. (For example, the third level of the mine is going to have the same rooms every time - they'll be in a different order, but they're going to be the same tiles.)

Not a big problem though. I'd still rate the game 9/10 after some thought. We'd all like to play it again.

yosz wrote:
Thank you for your review. I'm glad that you liked the game And the expansion is coming in 2012


Hurrah! I'm very interested in hearing what will be in the expansion. I'm also hoping more people get a chance to play the game.
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Marcin Krupiński
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In expansion you'll see new orders, new tiles, new tools and some new mechanisms (like digging tunnels). More info soon (I hope )
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Dave K
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Love 'em even if a few games get scuttled from time to time.
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yosz wrote:
In expansion you'll see new orders, new tiles, new tools and some new mechanisms (like digging tunnels). More info soon (I hope )


Very delayed response from me here, but thank you for the information! I'm really looking forward to the expansion!
 
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Simon Barnes
United Kingdom
Leigh
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voynitsky wrote:

In each week the next level deeper into the mine, is accessible by your workers. Each level of the mine has several chambers to dig out in search of new salt deposits. Naturally there can be an amount of water in the chambers. This means no salt can be extracted until the water in that chamber is removed.


A few points to note:

(1) You can go to any level in any phase (week) of the game (don't worry it's a mistake a lot of players seem to make)

(2) Salt can be extracted from chambers with water.. it just means you need more workers/get less salt.

Great review by the way.
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Wouter B
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voynitsky wrote:

The box says a 1 to 2 hour play time, but even with a full game of slow players 2 hours and reading the rules is the very upper limit.[/size]


Well I actually played this game a couple of times and never came out under 2 hours. Last game actually took us 4.5 hours. From this I concluded it can be hard to see this as a short to medium length game and so I haven't played it anymore (well actually there were just other interesting games on the horizon, I buy too many games...).
 
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Russ Williams
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datiswous wrote:
Well I actually played this game a couple of times and never came out under 2 hours. Last game actually took us 4.5 hours.

That's bizarrely slow. Your group is an outlier for some reason.
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Wouter B
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russ wrote:
datiswous wrote:
Well I actually played this game a couple of times and never came out under 2 hours. Last game actually took us 4.5 hours.

That's bizarrely slow. Your group is an outlier for some reason.


Well after some rethinking of the event I gathered we had massive AP. If players calculate every move to have the best outcome in the end (playing first game) and nobody is complaining about the pace of the game, this can happen.
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M@tthijs
Netherlands
Venlo
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This user is outstanding in mediocre videogaming
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Did you visit my www.kobudovenlo.nl? It has game info
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simon_j_barnes wrote:
voynitsky wrote:

In each week the next level deeper into the mine, is accessible by your workers. Each level of the mine has several chambers to dig out in search of new salt deposits. Naturally there can be an amount of water in the chambers. This means no salt can be extracted until the water in that chamber is removed.


A few points to note:

(1) You can go to any level in any phase (week) of the game (don't worry it's a mistake a lot of players seem to make)

(2) Salt can be extracted from chambers with water.. it just means you need more workers/get less salt.

Great review by the way.
I bought this game (2nd print) yesterday at Essen. In the new rules there's a FAQ explicitly mentioning this "You can go to level III in phase I"

I think it would've been a good move to name the phases A,B,C, and the levels I,II,III, instead of using Roman numericals everywhere. Then that mistake would be a less obvious one to make, I think.

And yes, great review!
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