Board Game Reviews: Magnum Sal

Magnum Sal

    Overview:

Magnum Sal is a worker placement and resource management game for 2 – 4 players, that lasts about 90 minutes. In Magnum Sal players play the part of a head foreman of a mining team who are extracting salt in order to fulfill contracts for the King to earn money. The winner is the player with the most money after three rounds of play, with one round lasting until a certain number of contracts has been fulfilled.

    Components:

The components are of very good quality, with a gorgeous board in the same vein as those in Stone Age, Pillars of the Earth and A Castle for all Seasons. There are a number of wooden cubes and wooden meeples for the player pieces and then cardboard tiles used to set up the mineshaft and tiles used to give player bonuses. The money is also cardboard and more than adequate.

    Rules:

The rulebook seems quite thick but this is because it has three different languages inside – the actual rules are not too long and are printed on nice thick glossy paper. They are also easy to understand and have explanations of each of the different locations on the board and the different actions available so that after one game everything should be pretty clear.

    Gameplay:

The game is played over three rounds, with each player taking it in turns to perform two actions until a certain number (determined by the number of players in the game) of contracts have been fulfilled at the palace.

Each player starts with one brown salt cube and either four or five miners (depending on the number of players). The starting player is randomly decided and they receive 10 cents with each player then receiving 12, 14 or 16 respectively going clockwise around the table.

Seven of the 21 tool cards are randomly chosen and placed on the workshop, with three then turned face up and placed in the appropriate spaces.

Cubes are added to the market on the marked spaces to seed it at the start of the game.

The Round 1 contracts are shuffled and placed in a stack at the palace with some then turned face up (depending on the number of players). These face up contracts are available to be fulfilled.

The mineshaft is placed at the bottom of the board and the mine tiles are shuffled and then placed face down in the appropriate spaces leading off from the mineshaft.

The game then starts with the first player taking two actions, and continues until a certain number of contracts (determined by the number of players) have been fulfilled. The current round ends at the end of the final player’s turn (the player to the right of the starting player).

The possible actions are:

1) Placing or moving a miner
2) Extracting salt
3) Placing a miner as an assistant in a building
4) Visiting a building
5) Pass

1) The player places a miner onto a space in the mineshaft or into a chamber leading off from the shaft. The restriction here is that there must be a chain of miners leading back to the surface from this miner (the chain can consist of any player’s miners). If a miner is being moved he cannot leave a gap such that an existing chain is broken.

2) When a chamber is revealed it will have a number of salt cubes of different colours and possibly some water cubes. When using miners to extract salt the player adds the number of miners, subtracts the number of water cubes, and then can remove the resulting number of salt cubes from the chamber. Then the cubes must be transported to the surface, so for each cube that passes through a space that the player does not have one of their own miner’s, they must pay one of the other players (who does have a miner in the space) 1 cent. The extracting player then lays his miner’s flat to indicate that they are fatigued and may not be used in any way other than transporting salt until they are rested.

3) The player takes an unused miner, or one from the mine or board (providing it doesn’t cause a gap in the chain as before) and places them in the appropriate space next to one of the buildings. Some buildings can have no assistant and each building that can, only has space for one assistant. When any player subsequently uses that building the owner of the assistant earns 1 cent.

4) Visiting a building does not require the use of a miner (except the palace), the player merely states that they are visiting the building and takes the appropriate action. Each building may only be visited once per turn by each player (they cannot use both actions to visit the same building twice). The buildings have various effects such as allowing the purchase of tools (which give once per round abilities), removing water cubes from the mine, buying and selling cubes at the market, hiring more miners, and of course going to the palace to complete a contract. When going to the palace a player returns the desired cubes to the supply and takes payment from the bank.

5) Pass. In this case, all of a player’s fatigued miners are rested and stand up again.

At the end of the round things are reset (the unfulfilled contracts are removed and replaced with the contracts from the new round, the unbought tools are removed and seven new tools added, the market is reset if necessary, all miners and assistants are returned to the players, used tools are reset and the contract track is reset to zero. The starting player token passes clockwise to the next player.

Play then continues for the next two rounds and at the end of the third round the final scores are tallied. Players sell unused cubes for 3 cents each, add this to their total money and then get bonuses depending on the number of tools they have acquired during the game. The player with the most money is the winner.

    Review of Gameplay:

The game is quite interesting in that it mixes the worker placement mechanism with a more tactical element of placement in the mines and salt extraction.

The turns play very quickly and smoothly with only two actions per player. It’s rare that a move by a previous player will drastically alter your plans and so there isn’t a huge amount of analysis paralysis.
The variety of buildings and the placement of miners needed to extract salt means that there are always lots of things you want and need to do, but you are forced to prioritise and it makes for interesting decisions each turn, which should appeal to gamers, however the gameplay is simple enough that it shouldn’t be overwhelming for non-gamers.

    Overall:

I like the combination of worker placement with the tactical miner placement as it makes for some good strategic options. Do you place miners in the deeper chambers to obtain more expensive salt but then pay the other players when you extract, or vice versa, earning money through the endeavours of others. Or a mix of the two. The tools are useful and worth money at the end put they cost money and actions to obtain. Do you place assistants and leech extra cash from the other players that way. I think this is a great little medium weight game that offers interesting decisions and looks great with the artwork on the board. Having played it once at Essen I was happy to buy copies to bring back for the store so that everyone else could experience the game early, before it inevitably gets picked up by one of the North American publishers.

    Scores:

Components: 9/10
Rules: 10/10
Fun: 9/10
Overall: 9/10

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