The Magnificent (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designers: Eilif Svensson & Kristian Amundsen Østby
  • Artists: Martin Mottet
  • Publisher: Aporta Games & Jumping Turtle Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 60-90 Minutes
  • Times Played: 3

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge.” The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn.” The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige.”

  • Cutter from The Prestige

As players of board games, theme is something that we often talk about wanting in our games. If you are like me, though, that theme is usually lost in the myriad of mechanisms and iconography and soon you are replaying a game that you have played before. With the subject of the game lost, no wonder it all seems so similar. The theme is the first thing I noticed about The Magnificent, from designers Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby. The Magnificent is a euro game, where players are drafting dice and taking actions in hopes of attracting the most visitors — aka tickets — to their circus-like performances. 

The Magnificent is played over three rounds and in each round, every player gets four turns. To set up the game, you roll the set number of dice, in the colors noted. Each player is gets a player board, which is where they are going to be putting on their shows, building their Camps, storing gems, and keeping their Trainers and Master cards. 

The first thing you are going to do on your turn is select a die from the Main Tent area on the game board, and place it on any of your vacant Master cards in your play area. On each of those Master cards, there is a top half and a bottom half. The bottom half is possibly used at the end of a round, the top half is a power that may be activated when you place a die on that card. After you have chosen a die and possibly taken the bonus action on the Master Card, you determine just how much power you have this turn. You will add the value of the die that you just chose, to the value of all the dice of that same color that you have taken previously in the round. If you have gems stored on your player board, you may also discard gems of the same color, or the wild clear gems, to increase your power of your action by two. After determining your power, you choose one of the three available actions — Build, Travel or Perform. 

Based on the power of your dice, when you build you will gain a given number of tiles of a given size. There is a chart for this on the left hand side of your player board. When building your Camps, you choose tiles of the same color as the dice that were used to take the action. The first one you choose in the game can go anywhere in your Camp area. After that, you have to build adjacent to another, already built tile. The Camp tiles come in three different sizes and six different shapes. When you place a tile in your Camp area, any bonus items that are covered are gained immediately. 

The Travel action takes place on the main game board. There are three circular paths in the three colors, Green, Purple, and Orange. When you choose the Travel Action, you will move your wagon around one of those paths in a clockwise direction, a number of spaces up to the power of your chosen die. The Travel Action is the predominant way to gain Tents, which are needed for the next action. Each Gem or Poster symbol you pass over while traveling allows you to gain those items. If you land on a Tent Token, you also gain that Tent Token for your performances. You have to land on the token to gain it, not simply pass over it as with the other symbols. If in gaining gems, you run out of storage space on your player board —  you can only hold three of each gem — you gain a coin instead. Each time you gain a poster, you can either take from the offer of face up poster cards, or you may draw from the top of the pile. You may at most have five posters in your player area, so if you were to end up with more than five, you have your choice of what to discard– or simply not take a poster. When you gain a Tent, you place on any vacant space in your Tent Area on your player board, you have five spots for Tents, but one is permanently filled and cannot be replaced. When you place a Tent Token in a space, receive the benefit of the items that you covered.

The final action you can take is to put on a performance. There is a track on the main board that you will move your top hat token up to the number of power for the dice you are using. This power will tell you how many performances you then can complete. The space you move to on the Performance track does have to be vacant, however. If another player already occupies the highest spot that you could occupy, you will drop down until you hit a vacant spot and carry out the shown number of performances. In order to complete a performance, you must have two things, the requirements to complete the poster — which are tiles of certain colors and sizes in your Camp area — and you need to have a Tent token below the poster. If you complete a poster, you will gain the benefits shown on the Tent token — points and coins. Some Posters will also require you to discard gems from your player board, clear gems can be used as any color. After completing a poster you may rearrange your poster row any way that you like, moving posters around, but leaving the Tents in their chosen spots. 

Throughout the game, you also have the opportunity to earn Trainer Tokens. These Trainer tokens can be used throughout the game to help gain you added bonuses to your actions. There are five pre-printed Trainer actions on the main board, but through the game you are going to gain more personal Trainers that you have on your player board that only you can use. If you have the Trainer Tokens to use, you simply place them on the Trainer Action that you want to use and you gain the benefit. Those Trainer tokens go to the Main Tent area on the main board after using them. 

After each player does this four times, the round itself ends and you have a few things to do. First, you have to be able to pay for all of the power you used. So hopefully, throughout the round, you collected enough money to do so. To determine your payment, you simply sum up the most valuable color of die that you chose that round, and add the sum of any clear gems, and that is what you have to pay. If you cannot pay, you lose one point per coin you cannot pay in the first round, two points per in the second round, and three points per in the third round. 

Next, if you have more than one hat token on the performance track, you remove the lowest one and then in order from highest to lowest, you choose a new Master Card and a new Trainer Tile. The choices for these are pre-determined at the end of each clean up phase. Each player chooses one combination of Card and Tile. 

Photo courtesy of Ransom sans Cheese

Next, everyone is going to choose one Master Card from the five that they currently have, and they are going to score points based on the lower half of that card, and then discard it out of the game so that they have four Master Cards to start the next round. 

If this is not the end of the third round, players will replenish the Master Cards and Trainer Tiles, return all Trainer markers that are in the Main Tent area to the correct players and all of the hat figures will move down the Performance Track, with the player occupying the one space being the first player the next round. Collect all of the used dice, re-roll them, and place the in the Main Tent area, and you are ready for the next round. 

If this was the end of the third round, the players will score all of their remaining Master Cards at half value, score coins at a ratio of one point per five coins and score four points per completed nine spaces, rectangular area in the Camp, using any remaining gems to fill in empty spaces,  and the player with the most points is the winner of The Magnificent.

It really seems that I can describe any game, and make the theme just instantly disappear into the background. Sometimes that’s completely my fault —  I’m always a mechanisms first kind of player. Sometimes though, the theme really doesn’t help to describe or tie together any of the action that the players take. It’s simply there to give you something to look at that isn’t just a boring beige play area. I’m happy to say that for once, I’ve found a game where the actions somewhat help describe what you are doing. You are building a Camp for your performers much like the travelling circuses of old, now the shapes and what you are building in the Camp area is kind of nonsensical, but it is there. The Travelling you have to do to go from town to town, picking up new ideas and resources along the way make perfect sense, if not a bit overpowered. The performances requiring the correct camps, or people in them, to make the people line up and pay for their tickets to see The Magnificent. Well, maybe I’m stretching it a bit, but I like it, and it works for me. The theming here is not just a glossing. It still, however, doesn’t change the fact that I don’t use it in the game description, sorry fellow players. 

The very first thing that folks were noticing about The Magnificent leading up to Essen this year is the dark colors contrasted with the bright colored gems and spots on the game board. It makes for a very striking presence on the table, nothing looks quite like it. Graphic design wise, it works really well. Once you go over iconography a bit with your fellow players, it’s easy for them to understand what it all means and what the scoring on the Master Cards will do each round. It’s not perfect. Everything is really crowded and real estate is at a shortfall. For a game that is kind of encroaching on that table hog status, this is a bit of a letdown. Things will get bumped, you’ll have to move your player board around to accommodate your Posters and your Master Cards, but it does work.

The Magnificent really is kind of that “kitchen sink” kind of design, right? It has dice drafting, hand management, action selection, polyomino tile placement, and even some variable powers with the Trainers. Everything works smoothly here, it doesn’t feel “kitchen sink”, it all manages to make sense in this package. The need to pay for the actions that you have taken at the end of the round ensures that most folks won’t just focus on one color die each time they choose, as money can be tight, especially at the beginning of the game. It really is fun to see the actions cascading and becoming more and more involved as the game progresses, sometimes even as the round progresses.

I love the end of round scoring of the Master Cards, you have to maximize them each time and plan ahead. Each round you have a choice of five, crunching numbers to see which one gives you the most points now may seem beneficial at the moment, but ultimately you want to maximize those in the future as well. So it’s not always as simple as taking the card that will give you the most points at that moment. Add on top of that the fact that the remaining cards are valued at half at the end of the game and you can see some really nice point swings if carefully plotted out.

Photo courtesy of Ransom sans Cheese

There really isn’t a lot of interactivity among the players, and that’s always a bit of a downgrade for me. Sure, you can pick up a Poster Card that you know another player would want, or draft a certain Master Card/Trainer combo that you could see beneficial to your opponents, but ultimately if you are hate drafting for interaction, you are hurting yourself. The Magnificent is very much a hands off game in that respect. There can be a bit of a race for Tent Tiles in the Travel areas, but the Tents are balanced well enough that I don’t know that any one is absolutely more powerful than another.

At its core, The Magnificent is a really well put together mid-weight Euro game that has a wonderful look and feel to it. It’s a bit of a point efficiency, spreadsheet kind of game, which will appeal to a lot of players. It’s an interesting puzzle to try to complete and put together each time you play it. I absolutely will be watching out for games from this design group from here on out after the enjoyment that we have gotten from The Magnificent, not to mention previous group favorites, Santa Maria and Capital Lux. Fresh eyes on familiar gaming mechanisms can really make for some stylish gaming.

Thoughts from The Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (1 play): My play of The Magnificent was reasonably pleasant, if not particularly, well, magnificent.  But worryingly, I probably enjoyed the game the _most_ of those at the table – and for me it’s just a would-play-again.  I am not terribly surprised to find that, in just over a month, I have almost no specific memory of the game itself, other than the theme – which was a bit different, and probably helped with my non-negative reaction.

Patrick Brennan: Eerily similar to The Princes Of Florence in concept. Instead of the auction and 2 actions to get resources and put on works, you get three actions each round. The strength of an action is dictated by the dice you choose – either place polyomino pieces on your board in different colours and shapes, collect gems and work cards, or put on works by having the right polyominos and gems. There’s a bunch of bonus actions to make things easier – some common, some you own. There’s end-of-round scoring mission cards to choose and aim for. it’s quite easy to put on works, and lots of them, but that’s probably why it fades in comparison – lots of options to consider and do, but it’s all an attempt to obfuscate the fact that there’s not a lot of tension in the doing. It’s enjoyable enough in its own right though, working it all through, and making the best of what’s on offer.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it. Steph Hodge – “One of the best games of 2019”

I like it. Brandon, Patrick Brennan

Neutral. Joe H.

Not for me…

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3 Responses to The Magnificent (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  1. Pingback: The Magnificent (Game Review by Brandon Kempf) – Herman Watts

  2. Barbasol says:

    Interesting you emphasize the theme on this one as after being intrigued by the theme I had watched a run-through and shrugged it off as a fairly abstract “just another euro”. The traveling in a circle I particularly found themeless. Maybe because I have dreamed in the past of a similar idea that used a map. I’ll take a second look at this one though. Thanks for the review.

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      I think a map idea could be a fantastic, if a bit more of an undertaking to fit on the board. I think the circular travel can abstract travelling pretty well though.

      It’s weird to me that the theme stood out, I honestly would not have guessed it just from looking at the game. But while playing it, I definitely could see how it helped tie everything together, even if it’s all a bit nonsensical.

      Thanks for reading, hope you give The Magnificent a try!

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