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Players compete as wizards in the valley of Magalon. Each player becomes a magician with multifunctional cards directing the players' moves. The object is to find the Stone of Wisdom, the Ring of Immortality and the Amulet of Power. The first player back to the starting point wins the game.
Can you traverse the mysterious forest of Magalon in search of the Amulet of Power, the Stone of Wisdom, and the Ring of Immortality which will enable you to achieve entry into the prestigious Council of 11?! This is the dramatic fantasy premise behind the Ravensburger board game Magalon. Unfortunately, the story has no real bearing on the game. The actual play of the game essentially consists of two to four players racing through an ever-changing maze to retrieve three items, and whoever returns to base first wins. However, that concise description does not do justice to the great fun of this game.
Magalon contains a beautiful map board accompanied by high quality playing pieces and an identical set of cards for each player. Each turn the players select a card from their hand, which determines what specific actions they may make for the turn. This can range from moving obstructions (these walls are incredible), moving the Imps to attack other players, put up a defensive shield, or replenish your ever depleting 'magical energy.' This important decision, along with some strategic maneuvering is the crux of the fun. You are trying everything in your magical power to hinder the other players while clearing a path for yourself. Of course all of the other players are also trying to do this, so a grand chaotic revenge-filled 'take that' attitude permeates the game. Priorities and informal alliances change every turn, and the merriment just rolls along. The three and a half pages of the English rules translation is the typical 'What does that mean?' variety, but nothing unfathomable.
The only detriment to the game is the somewhat anticlimactic finish, where players are sometimes put in a bind as to who to let win. You can't hold off everyone by yourself, so someone eventually slips through the cracks. Since player interaction is the mainstay, the two player version is not as fun, but for three or four frustration mongering players, you could not find a more colorful and entertaining game.
This is a game which seems to divide gamers into two distinct groups, nothing special about that except in this case there is a clear geographical (cultural?) distinction between the two opinions: the English speaking gamers are almost unanimous in their dislike for the game -- some even to the point of setting it below Edison & Co. -- while Germanic gamers seem to like the game.
Magalon is a racing game. As wizards, the players must visit 3 sacred spaces (the only safe areas on the board) to collect 3 Amulets before they return home. The players may use the whole board (16 by 22 grid) and this is often necessary as a range of obstacles is laid out to hinder their progress.
Each player has an identical hand of 11 cards (numbered 0-10) which are use in El Grande style. Highest card moves first, lowest card is the first to play a card in the following round. The card number determines how far a wizard moves but each card has also a secondary action and it is these actions that makes the game.
Sprinkled around the valley are a series of energy spaces, 6 movable ruins (L-shaped blocks) and 3 black pawns (2 gnomes and a giant). Finally, each player is equipped with a shield.
A player-turn is divided into 4 phases which may be performed in any order: move wizard, move shield, spend 1 point of energy and do the card-specific action. Some of the phases may be partly done within another phase making it possible to move your wizard a few spaces, move a blocking ruin, let the wizard pass, before finally returning the ruin to its original placement.
There are 5 distinct card actions: 4 cards let you move a ruin, 4 cards let you move the gnomes, 2 cards boost your energy, plus two special cards: one protects you from the 3 black pawns and the other lets you pick up all your used cards.
Energy is important. Each wizard begins with 10 points and uses 1 point each turn, but to win the game he must have at least 16 energy-points. These are accumulated in two ways: the 1- and 2-card give 8 or 4 points of energy respectively; or a wizard may end his move on a energy space to receive 3 points of energy. If the wizard prefers he may alternatively use the energy space to move 3 extra spaces, but in that case he will spend a point of energy as normal. As several of the energy spaces are conveniently placed 3 spaces away from the amulet boxes it is a common strategy to go for these energy spaces.
This is where the shields come in. While they can (and will) be used to block a wizard's move it is also common to use them as a means to secure a space for future use -- as in making sure that an energy space is available by placing ones own shield upon the space in the previous turn.
The two gnomes are mostly used as blocking devices (only one item is allowed in any one space at a time -- and it is not possible to jump over blocking items), but once in a while is it possible to move them into another wizard. This scares him a little bit: ie. the attacking player may move the wizard 5 spaces in any direction.
The giant performs a similar action, but he isn't moved by cards. Instead he is the only random element in the game. The last player in any turn (the one with the lowest card) throws 2 dice as his final activity in that turn. This is the number of spaces the giant moves. Every wizard he meets flees 10 spaces in the direction determined by the attacker. Neither the gnomes nor the giant may "attack" the active player's wizard, so it is not possible to use these as a means of moving extra spaces, and as to not make these 3 pawns too strong any particular wizard may only be moved once per turn as a result of meeting either of them.
The game is clearly one of resource management. But exactly how much effort should one spend on stopping the other players? Difficult to say. One thing is clear, it is of no use spending your turns hosing the leading player if that means player number two wins instead. Some critics say that the end game drags on. We haven't experienced this. From the very beginning this game is about stopping the leader, which makes for a very competitive game where no one is left behind. All our games have been a battle of fierce combat where no player has been allowed to get ahead. While not outstanding, it is a good solid game without flaws -- and much better than its reputation. The design looks very drab with dark and murky colors, but it works very well and it makes all the important features easy to see even when played under artificial light. The only drawback is the rather steep price, but as so many seem to dislike the game you might be able to find a second hand bargain.