Dale Yu – Review of Bellum Magica

Bellum Magica

  • Designer: Frederic Guerard
  • Publisher: Blue Orange
  • Players: 2-5
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Played on review copy provided by Blue Orange USA

bellum magica

In this game, players are evil lords who have somehow simultaneously discovered the recipe for riches and power – they will compete with each other to become the most powerful evil lord by collecting resources, recruiting evil creatures and finding treasure chests.

Each player starts the game with a castle board and 2 goblin cards – the goblin cards can be put under the right side of the castle if you want better fighting stats or under the left side of the castle for better production.  A Human Kingdom deck is constructed with Town cards at the bottom, then Village cards on top of that and then Farm cards on the very top.  The special Tavern card is placed face up on the table and then cards are flipped from the Human Kingdom deck, one per player in the game. The Evil creature cards are shuffled, and two cards are revealed from this deck.  The same is done for the Most Evil Creature cards – such that 4 creature cards total are face up.

bellum magica evil lord

The game is played in rounds, each representing a day.  The game will continue until at least one player has 10 chests at the end of the Attack phase.  In each round, there are 6 phases, always played in the same order.

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1] Choose an active horde – the Captain (start player for the round) rolls the die which specifies which line on everyone’s castle card will be active this turn.  Each player has a unique castle card, and the attributes of each line are further modified by the cards placed underneath the castle card.  When the die is rolled, each player (starting with the Captain) has the option to spend a Barrel token to force the Captain to re-roll.  The Captain can also use a Confusion spell to trigger a re-roll. When the die is roll, each player again has the chance to force a re-roll. Once the roll is accepted, play moves to the next phase

2] Gather Resources – using the number from the accepted die roll, look to the left side of your castle card in the corresponding row and take all the food and glyphs you see in that row. 

3] Treasure Cards – the player who has the most treasure cards in their active row to the left of their castle gets a metal chest (all have the same back, but varying values on the reverse – players can look at the value of their chests but should keep them secret from everyone else).  If there is a tie, all tied players get a Wooden chest instead.  In the unlikely case where no player had a Treasure card in their row, no chests are distributed.

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4] Attack – starting with the Captain, each player has the chance to attack either a Human location or an opponent’s castle.  Either way, look at the number of magic shields (red) and regular shields (Gray) on your target.  You must have at least as many red magic swords to defeat the magic shields and as many of any type of sword to defeat the regular shields.  

If you beat a human card, take the spoils as shown at the bottom of the card – barrels, chests or resources.  You can never have more than 2 barrels.  The card you defeated is discarded, unless it is the Tavern – this card is never discarded and everyone can always attack it on their turn.

If you chose to attack another player’s castle, you not only have to have enough swords to overcome the defenses of the castle, you must also have thieves (eyemask icon) in your active horde.   Each thief icon allows you to steal one chest of any type.  If you have at least one chest stolen from you in an attack, you get a shield icon as consolation which makes it harder for your castle to be attacked in the future.

When all players have had a chance to attack, quickly check to see if any player has triggered the endgame by having ten or more chests.  If so, move to final scoring.  If not, keep playing!

5] Recruit Creatures – Spend your food and glyphs to buy new cards.  Evil Creatures cost 2 Food, Most Evil Creatures cost either 1 glyph+4 Food OR 3 Glyphs.  Take the chosen card and then immediately assign it to either the left (production) or right (attack) of your castle.  Overlap your cards so that the icons line up and it is easy to see how many and which icons are in each of the six rows.  Some creatures also come with bonus icons that will allow you to add Shields or Confusion tokens to your castle.

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6] Reset the table – flip up new Human Kingdom cards to bring the total back to one per player (in addition to the Tavern which is always visible). Pass the die to the left, that person is the new Captain.

End of the game

Again, the game ends at the end of any round where at least one player has 10+ Chests after the attack phase.  All players now flip over their treasure chests, and the player with the highest total treasure wins the game. Ties are broken in favor of the player with the most Chests.

My thoughts on the game

Bellum Magica is a light engine building game of a sort.  As you go through the game, you continually add cards to your castle, hoping to improve your scavenging skills, your attack attributes or maybe making your castle defense a little bit better.  Of course, no matter how good your engine is, you have to have luck on your side as you need to have the right number come up on the die (and have than number accepted!).  It’s always good to have a strong attack as you can pick up chests in plunder, but don’t underestimate the scoring contribution of the chests that come from the maps.

The die roll is maybe my least favorite part of the game – I really like the randomness that it brings in to the game, causing you to try to build up the six lines of your castle evenly.  But the whole process of forcing re-rolls is cumbersome and time-consuming.  For me, it adds too much fiddliness and time to what might otherwise be a snappy quick game.  There are times when a player will take a second to try to figure out if he wants to trigger a re-roll, and then after determining that he wanted to do so, the die is rolled again and the same number comes up.  There went 60-90 seconds of your life to end up in the same place.  Sigh.  

There is a bit of luck in the Chests as well.  You know in general what a chest is worth; but luck of the draw can have a large determination in your final score..  Wooden Chests are worth 1 or 2, Metal Chests are worth 2 or 3 and Gold Chests are worth 4 or 5.  So, sure, there is some variation in value based on luck of the draw, but you always have a decent idea of what is there.  And, this scoring breakdown makes it simple to decide what to steal.  Always steal the highest class of chest.  This helps keep everyone in the game because if you get lots of chests but you leave yourself open for attack, you will guaranteed always lose your highest valued chest…

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In my first few plays, it does seem like that there is some advantage into producing Glyphs early.  You need Glyphs to get to the Most Evil creature cards, and the advantages of these can be great.  Many of the enchanted weapons and enchanted shields are found on these – and for instance, you can often buy a few rounds of being invulnerable if you’re the only person to have enchanted shields on your castle (before anyone else is able to get enough enchanted weapons).

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Other than the die rolling, the game moves pretty quickly, and it can be a challenging task to get cards that work for you.  If you are strong in the re-roll game, you might want to focus on just a few number lines and then try to get the die roll to end up with one of your strong numbers.  Otherwise, maybe you go for a more balanced strategy, and you don’t need to spend any energy on getting barrels, and instead focus on using your resources to get treasure chests.

If you’re in the market for a nice light mini-engine builder with a slight emphasis on luck, this could fit the bill for you.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Steph H
  • Neutral. Dale Y
  • Not for me…

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.
This entry was posted in Essen 2021, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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