Magic With Family and Friends
Today’s blog is, of course, about magic. But only in the mist circuitous of ways. Really it’s about a game about magic.
I have a regular, monthly show at d20 Board Game Cafe. It’s a board game cafe and, for those of you who don’t know, this is a place where people can go to hang out, have fun, and play games, as well as enjoy a drink and some food. It’s an interesting mix of clientele, with family groups, casual gamers, and people who play games regularly all mixing together. Even if you were to remove everyone from the cafe and just leave their game choices out, you can normally guess what kind of group they are. So a family will often pick games like Buckaroo or Hungry Hippos. Casual gamers usually go for games they’ve played in the past and many of us have on a shelf somewhere. Monopoly, Ludo and, interestingly, Guess Who is popular amongst couples. The more avid game players will often pick something that is far, far more involved from the vast, ecletic mix of games on offers. You can find games where the players are competing in the competitive world of quilt making, or asking each other if they’ve got wood. You might be trying to thwart Jack the Ripper or developing species that are working their way up the evolutionary ladder. Or, you might be taking on the role of a great, 19th century stage illusionist, determined to become the most celebrated magician in the city. This is the game Trickerion – Legends of Illusion, and its what I’m writing about today.
I often get to try out different games at d20, and it took a surprisingly long time for me to give Trickerion a go considering the game itself. The first thing that happened when I opened the box is that I was utterly blown away by the look and feel of it. It is just sumptious. With art reminiscent of music hall posters of the 19th century and attention to detail that is utterly staggering, this is a very pretty game.
The rules, I'm afraid, are the biggest hurdle. With any game, clarity is key. Even games which are relatively straight forward often have rules that are overlooked or misunderstood. Monopoly is perhaps the ubiquitous dice board game that doesn’t involve reptiles and portable steps, and yet a little while ago twitter user AskRubenHow2Bet caused a sensation when they posted this tweet:
Apparently many people had been playing Monopoly wrong for years and, if you look at the retweets and replies, some of them were freaking out. But it’s right there, in the rules. People just hadn’t noticed and then had taught people who had never even read the rule book. And don’t even get me started on the Free Parking. If this can be the case with a straight forward game then it behoves the makers of more involved ones to keep instructions clear and logical and, as I’ve said, though Trickerion isn’t the worst for this, it’s certainly not the best. Occasionally you’ll find things that don’t make sense, often half way through set up, and you can struggle to dig out the answers. This alone might put novice gamers off. Having said that, once you have played through the game a few times these niggles work themselves out. And, partly to combat the complexity and to make the game more accessible to new players, there are two skill levels; Base and Expansion. If you’re not brand new to board gaming then you probably don’t need to play the Base game. It’s fine, but Trickerion is so much more fun when playing with the Expansion.
Slightly fuzzy rules are about my only real gripe, and it’s a minor one at best. Remember when I said this game looks fantastic? That quality is true throughout. It’s a real, tactile joy to handle the different parts to Trickerion and Mindclash Game, who created the game, have hit a lovely balance between quality and keeping the cost down. But how does it play? Really very well. I’m not going to bother using phrases like ‘resource management’ or ‘worker placement’ because if you’re into games enough to know everything that implies, you also know about BoardGameGeek. But the game itself is actually very simple. You and your little group of helpers need to buy bigger and better illusions as well as recruit a larger team to help you put on the most impressive shows. Then you have to get together all of the different components you need in order to construct the illusions (whilst you can buy mirrors, smoke is not an option), which you or one of your team put together back in your workshop. Once your trick is ready it’s off to one of the theatres to set it up, and then perform. The only thing left is the applause of the audience.
Each of the magicians you can play has a distinctive look and feel, and will be instantly recognisable to anyone who’s seen any kind of magic. Something I really like is that the team, which has different types of specialists such as ‘Manager’ or ‘Assistant’, are presented in a way that allows each player pick if they are male or female. This evenness of gender isn’t quite as balanced with the main characters, but still, a ratio of five male magicians to three females is still better than any magic show I’ve ever seen.
Trickerion has very little down time. With the toughest decisions being made by all players at the same time, you don’t have to wait around for ages for your turn. Compare this to a game like Risk, where I have often seen players getting up, going and doing something else before returning to take their turn. This is not a sign that people are engaged! There is also a large amount of involvement with other players, in multiple ways. You can bluff and double bluff each other, try to pre-empt what people will do, and even go out of your way to thwart vital plans. Yet there is still enough scope for personal accomplishment as you build your own sets of illusions that even when everything goes wrong, you will still enjoy this game. You may not ‘win’, but simply by completing and performing something like your grand, vanishing elephant routine you still have a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
The final thing I love about this game is that, once you know how to play it, it doesn’t take that long. You’re looking at an hour and a half to two hours. That’s doable midweek, after work with a bunch of friends and no worries about getting home before midnight. Nor is it hugely expensive. Though the Mindclash site currently has it listed as ‘unavailable’, you can pick it up on Amazon or, EVEN BETTER, why not find out about gaming stores or board game cafes close to you and go and support local business?
Next week I’ll be back to talking about magic again, but for now, that’s my blog. I’m off to get ready to perform at tonight’s Magical Mischief at d20 with the dapper and talented Joseff Badman.
Paul's Edinburgh Fringe show “Illusions of Depression” will be showing at Tollbooth Market, Gladstone’s Court, EH8 8BN from the 15th August to the 25th August.