Dale Yu: Review of Magic Money

Magic Money

  • Designer: Zack Hiwiller
  • Publisher: Indie Boards & Cards
  • Players: 3-6
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Played on review copy provided by the publisher

In Magic Money, Merlin the Magnificent has passed away and left behind a marvelous menagerie of magical monsters for adoption.  You bid against your fellow wizards to take home adorable critters of all shapes and sizes.   The game itself is a series of auctions, each having the same three phases.  There is a deck of 21 creature cards which is shuffled, and then 9-12 cards are dealt into a face down pile; the unchosen cards are not used in this game.  Each player also gets a marker and a Ledger with a public side that shows any winning bids.  All players can view this public side at any time.  The other (darker) side is where you write down your losing bids.  This information is always kept secret from your opponents.

The top card of the creature deck is flipped up and put on the table; this is the card being auctioned this round.  The active player makes the opening bid and writes it on their Ledger.  This first bid MUST be one tenth of the previous auction’s winning bid (simply remove the final digit from the previous winning bid and use whatever number remains).  This bid is recorded on the next open line on the public side of their Ledger.  In the first round, you can bid any positive whole number.  The minimum bid in any case is 1.

All other players now take a bidding token and secretly write their bid down on their token.  You can bid any positive whole number.  There is no upper limit to your bid.  You don’t actually have a bank account or a supply; you can bid whatever you like.  Of course, there is a penalty for high bids; this will be explained later…

All players hand their bid token to the active player.  That player looks at all the bid tokens and announces who won the bid (i.e. who had the highest bid).  The winning player records their winning bid down on the public side of their ledger.  They also take the creature card for the round into their area – there may be special abilities found on that card, and you would resolve those now.  All of the losers secretly record their losing bid amounts on the private side of their ledger.

The player who won the auction becomes the new active player.  He/she flips over the top card of the deck, makes the mandatory one-tenth bid to start the next auction and the game continues.  If the deck is exhausted, the game instead moves to the final scoring.

Players first total up all their money spent in the game (adding the numbers on both sides of their ledger).  If numbers have been crossed out due to creature special abilities, they are not summed up in this step.  The player who has the highest total is deemed to be the Greediest Wizard, and that player is eliminated from the game.

The remaining players now calculate their points.  Each creature card has a base VP value.  In addition, you can score for Horns, Wings and Hearts.  For horns, you score one point per horn if the total number of horns on your cards is ODD.  If you have an even number of horns, you score nothing.  Then, you score Wings – you get 1 point for each player who has fewer total wings than you.  Finally, look at your hearts, there are two forms, a left side and a right side.  For each pair of left and right heart sides that you have, score 2 points.  The player with the most points wins.  If there is a tie, the player who spent the most money amongst the tied players wins the game.

My thoughts on the game  

Magic Money is an interesting auction game.  Unlike most, you’re not limited by your actual holdings, you can bid whatever you want!  Of course, you will always be held back by the desire not to spend the most – because then you’ll automatically be eliminated from the game.   The scoring is easy to follow, and while much of the scoring comes from the base value of the cards themselves, the bonuses are large enough that they can’t just be ignored. 

As I play the game, I am constantly trying to figure out what other people are bidding so that I can have a lower total than them.  I generally try to have at least a few bids of “1” to keep my overall total low, though this doesn’t always work.  The catch is that you still have to bid high enough at times to win cards, because without any cards, you actually cannot win at all!  

I always try to keep an eye out for what cards my opponents have, so I can maybe guess what attributes or special actions will benefit them.  This helps me gauge how much I’m willing to bid on a particular card!  

The rules are a bit disjointed.  I’m not sure why, but the pages seem out of order.  The rules are a trifold brochure bit, and when you open the cover, page one is found on the right, and page 2 is found on the left.  I’ve never seen this arrangement before, and the first time we played the game, it took us a few extra minutes to get started because we completely overlooked the first half of the setup.  One could certainly argue that everything is contained in the rules, but the pagination is unusual to say the least. Read the rules carefully and completely before your first game, or you might end up playing with the whole creature deck instead of just a part of it!

The other thing is that I definitely noticed that this game feels a lot like Q.E., a game that I have played once before.  After reading the description of the game on BGG to re-acquaint myself with it – “Financial crisis has occurred. Sixteen “too big to fail” companies from four countries need bailing out. The central banks have unlimited financial resources, so lots of money is going to be printed, but the central banks also face disaster — print too much money and the country they represent goes bust. In Q.E., a term that stands for “quantitative easing”, you play the role of a central bank. You bid on different size companies to accumulate various levels of victory points. The amount you bid is unlimited since you are the central bank and you own the printing press! After the initial “open” bid by the lead player, the other players bid in secret. After the sixteen companies have been “bailed out”, bonus victory points are awarded for company sets of nationalization, monopolization, and diversification. Player markers on the scoring track now reveal which player has the most victory points, but this is not the end. Players must now add up the amount of money they printed and the player who printed the most money loses all their victory points!”

I have had some interactions with the game designer in the past, and he seems like an upstanding guy.  He did post an explanation on the Magic Money page on BGG – “

I designed what would become Magic Money in 2017 and sold it in the summer of 2018. While Q.E. existed in its wooden 200-copy form by then, I wouldn’t actually know about it until Board Game Tables did their Kickstarter at the end of 2018. I was gutted and assumed that IBC would just let it die on the vine, but they continued developing it. While the central bidding mechanic is pretty close to Q.E.s, the resulting game is significantly different.” 

At this point, I believe the designer.  I can attest that it is quite possible to independently design a game which is very similar to another.  Way back in 2000, I was at my first or second Gathering of Friends, and I was super excited to show off my first design prototype.  My local group had been playing it for a year, and we thought it was a solid game.  The first publisher that I had a meeting with was Hans im Glueck.  As I explained the game to Bernd Brunhofer, he politely stopped me about 90 seconds in and told me that he wanted to show ME a game.  He pulled out a copy of Attila, their newest release, which he had handcarried here from Germany.  And I swear to you, it was nearly exactly the same game.  You played cards, moved stuff on the board, and then changed your standing in the four different attribute tracks.  It was stunning how similar these games were.  And, of course, back in 2000, the internet was just a bunch of random text sites.  There was literally no way that I could have had any inside information about a game developed and published in Germany.  So I know it happens.  I believe the designer’s statement that the games were designed independently – and I am happy to play either game.  To me, they are different enough to stand on their own.

One of our 3p games ended up with a weird DEFLATIONARY valuation.  Given the rule for the automatic and mandatory 10% bid to start the next auction, our auction values quickly slumped into the single digits, and at that point, there wasn’t much motivation to raise the bids higher.  As the first round had bids in the 100 range, meaning that the starting bid for the second auction was in the teens – some of the players knew that they could stay with lower bids all game to avoid being eliminated.  It made the bidding super low, with bids of 5 and 6 often winning.  Now, this may just be a factor of that game only having 3 players.  I think that there isn’t enough unknown information at that player count to make it interesting.  When there are 5 or 6 players, you simply don’t get the chance to see as many of the bids in the game – and this will likely provoke higher bids fueled by paranoia.  As it was, in this particular game, players were able to pretty much know what everyone had spent at all points.   Everything was calculable – and it flopped, just like Chinatown flops when people calculate everything out.

Magic Money is an interesting auction game where you end up having to play the game system as well as your opponents.  It moves quickly, and with only 9-12 rounds, it does not overstay its welcome. It’s a fine addition to the auction genre, and one that can be a great filler or closer in our group.  It is a bit fragile though at lower player counts, so you’ll have to see how it works with your particular group…

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

James Nathan: The deflationary situation was an odd one, and for me, a deal breaker. In contrast to QE, where losing players in an auction don’t record their bids, It felt nearly impossible to get out of the lead in money spent, even if I spent $1 most rounds -as the other players didn’t seem to have an incentive to bid much more than the low teens. It also lacked the paranoia of QE in not knowing what the winning player bid, such that you drive your own inflation. 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it.
  • I like it.
  • Neutral. Dale Y
  • Not for me… John P, James Nathan

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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