I spent 100 GG and all I got was this stupid overtext.....
Boring Intro and Background
I'm young enough that Magic Realm was produced almost a decade before I was born. So to say I missed the original "buzz" on this game is a gross understatement.
However, my father and uncle were both avid wargamers, playing numerous Avalon Hill titles such as Blitzkrieg, Third Reich, Tobruk, and Tractics to name a few. So naturally my older brother and I eagerly awaited our chance to play with the "grown ups". As a result I have many a fond memory of playing some War Game or another with my brother or father when I was growing up, many of them Avalon Hill titles.
Fast forward a few years and my parents begin to amass a decent sized collection of "Euro" games, hence the concept of a board game that was not Monopoly or Risk or a “War Game” was not new to me. However imagine my surprise when I stumble across an ad (a web banner ad I think) for World of Warcraft: The Board Game. As an avid video gamer and then player of that game I was intrigued. Here was a big flashy game with lots of nice components that attempted to capture the feel of the video game. Being quite intrigued, I ordered it (and Doom: The Board Game incidentally, the first to board games I ever purchased).
I was amazed. My search for information on both games prior to purchasing them had led me here to BGG. Not only did I greatly enjoy both games, but I found that there was a whole new genre of games (referred to by some as “Ameritrash”) that attempted to blend evocative themes with interesting strategy.
Thus my love affair with board games began. Doom led to Descent, and from there I amassed quite a collection of various games.
Imagine my surprise though when I heard tell of a seemingly ancient, out of print game called “Magic Realm”. It sounded like a blend of a war game (made by Avalon Hill which in my mind = War Games + its apparently ridiculously complex ruleset) and something of a fantasy adventure game. Being a fan of both Runebound and Mage Knight and playing both of them quite a bit solo I was once again intrigued. However, I was not nearly so intrigued has to pay ~$100 for a box of bits that had many pieces missing and looked like it had been driven over. Plus, people made the game sound quite challenging to get into.
Actually Trying to Learn the Game
More time passed. Then I heard tell of and found Realmspeak. I decided that since it was free I had no reason not to attempt to master this game. I liked fantasy adventure games and I even enjoy games with complex rule sets so it sounded right up my alley.
In a frenzy I downloaded RealmSpeak and every helpful piece of information I could get my hands on. “Magic Realm In Plain English”, “Magic Realm 3.1 Ruleset”, “Magic Realm Tutorial”, and more were soon happily placed into a “Magic Realm” folder on my hard drive. I opened the 3.1 Rules and started reading.
I lost interest before I even finished reading the description of the components. I discovered that learning a game without the physical components in front of you is very hard! A flurry of words spinning in my mind about chits, counters, charts, and cards was completely lost on me when I had nothing to refer to other than the limited illustrations in the rules. I then tried reading Magic Realm in Plain English. It was less verbose, but no better ultimately.
So I just opened RealmSpeak and started pushing buttons. And there were a LOT of buttons to push . After some fiddling I finally managed through trial and error to figure out how to start a new game and choose a character (my flagging will to continue was boosted by seeing all 16 character portraits and their stats in lurid detail, nevermind that I didn’t understand any of it).
I had managed to gather the basics of the game from MRIPE. So I set about choosing my VPs, setting up phases and just in general “doing stuff” (even though I was still clueless). I then started going back to the 3.1 rules as a reference every time I encountered something I didn’t understand (thank goodness for the log in Realmspeak that tells you what happened and search features in PDFs!).
Slowly, bit by bit, piece by piece, I started figuring out the basics of moving around and combat with monsters. I then proceed to die and restart.... alot. But every time I did, I made sure to check the log, then check the rules and figure out WHY it had happened.
As I put the basic pieces of the rules together though, I was.....disappointed. The game seemed so.....chaotic. Overly complex and needlessly cumbersome were both phrases that sprang to mind. So many chits, so many letters, numbers, phases, and for what? A seemingly dice-heavy random game that had little real strategy and was mostly luck.
Then there was, the combat where it all finally clicked.
It "Clicks" with me
I was playing as the Beserker (all my learning games were with him, he seemed straightforward enough and everyone said to avoid Magic when learning). The combat was with a Heavy Dragon. It had caught me un-hidden and without my Beserk chit Alerted. By now I thought I finally had combat straight in my mind.
“Okay Josiah, THINK! Everyone says this game is brilliant, think this combat through!”. I rapidly realized that if the Dragon hit me, I was dead (my helmet was already gone). But on the plus side, if I could hit him, he was dead. Consulting with the rulebook, I realized that I would always attack first (Length in the first round, Alerted Great Axe ties his speed and wins the tiebreaker in subsequent rounds). “I CANNOT be undercut.” I thought. “Well, then I guess I have to play one of these H4** chits then” (I still had no idea what the H or the “**” was for). “If I place it in *this* box and put my attack in *this* box, the dragon won’t be able to hit me without me hitting him first.” “Hmm, quite clever that.” At the same time though I was a little disappointed. I felt that I had "solved" the combat already.
The combat round proceed, the dragon moved out of the box where I put him and we both missed. Then it told me to “Fatigue a Move Chit”. More furious rules reading ensued. I came to realize that my H4** was the only thing capable of keeping me from being undercut, but it was tiring my guy out. Worse yet, the only was that I could actually kill the dragon was to have it line up exactly with my attack.
A scene suddenly flashed into my head of my Beserker dodging wildly, barely staying one step ahead of the dragon all the while looking for an opening to sink his Great Axe into. Would he find the opening? Or would he tire and succomb to the Dragon’s relentless attacks before his opportunity came?
This.....was.....brilliant. All my doubts about the game’s combat system were erased in that one simple moment. I was no longer playing a game, I was having an adventure. The game wasn’t needlessly complex or cumbersome once you understood it, it all fit together for a reason.
A flurry of playing followed (that game actually was going very well, I was even in positive VP territory before I discovered the dangers of....you guessed it, Bats). Game after game, I was determined to master it all. The more I learn, the more I come to love the system that Richard Hamblen has built.
I’ve now played as all the Non-Magic characters and have mastered all basic rules including hiring and fighting with natives. I even have a basic grasp of how Magic works. This game is so deep and there is so much to explore. I am having a blast and all I’ve been doing so far is playing solo!
Wow, sorry this got so stinking long. I guess I just wanted to write this to say, thank you Richard Hamblen for this game, thank you all the great BGG users who’ve worked so hard contributing to it with the great files and resources available on this site, and thank you to anyone who helped build RealmSpeak! It proved a great asset for self-teaching the rules since it knew and enforced all of them! I could then reference them whenever something happened I didn’t understand.
I also wanted to say if you are considering learning Magic Realm or are in the process, don’t hesitate! Dive in and enjoy the incredibly deep game that’s here. Most of what is hard to learn isn’t hard because it is complex, it is hard because it is so different from any other board game out there. I can honestly say that Magic Realm is a game unlike any other I have ever played. It is well worth the effort required to “get into it”. Now I just need to master Magic and then find other real people to play with .
Try using Realmspeak while listening to this play by play.
There are also some excellent videos of people playing MR via Realmspeak (and explaining what they are doing and why) on the Internet.
Thanks for echoing my thoughts. Absolutely amazing game.