In Magnum Sal the players are competing against each other to be appointed Royal Steward by the Polish leader Casimir the Great. To do this, you must extract salt from the mine!
The main board shows the town of Wieliczka, and below this a series of tiles are laid face-down, representing the as-yet-unexploited mine. Players begin the game with a little cash, and five miners in their own colour.
Play progresses over three weeks (or phases) during which time players can take a number of actions. On the board players can pay money to remove water from the mine at the pump (making extracting salt cheaper), buy or sell salt at the market, buy tools to improve the productivity in the mine, hire more miners, or fill an order by delivering salt to the castle.
But of course it’s a mining game, so much of the action happens in the mine itself. You can place or move a miner in the mine, and you can also use an action to extract salt: however many miners you have in a section of the mine, less the amount of water present, equals the amount of salt you may extract. You can use other players miners to transport it to the surface, but you have to pay them 1 money per salt cube for the privilege. Additionally, miners in the mine have to make a continuous chain; you cannot move a miner if doing so means you break the chain! The deeper the mine is, the more likely it is you’ll get the purer, more valuable salt.
Extracting salt means filling an order, and gaining money: which ultimately is what decides the winner. After 5 orders have been filled the current phase ends: all miners return to the players and any used tools can be flipped over, ready for reuse.
After the third phase is complete, players receive money for any remaining salt they own, plus a certain amount depending on how many tools they have in their possession. Most money: wins!
I enjoyed Magnum Sal just fine, but with four of us it felt a little bit long. The not-breaking-the-chain-of-miners rule makes the shenanigans in the mine interesting, but there are games it reminds me of (Giants, for one) that I would probably choose to play over this. I’d imagine the game’s sweet spot is with 3 players.
There's actually a fair bit of Take That in Magnum Sal: not only can you nab salt before someone else (who was clearly planning to) does; you can also beat them to the punch by delivering orders sooner. And the bucket tool allows players to throw water into each other's section of mine shaft. Although extraction enforces some co-operation on the miners, they are a sneaky bunch.
It's one of those games that can move along at a fair lick at some times, but can also slow to a momentary halt, as players have to readjust plans.
There's a bit of calculus involved; how much money you have to pay (and to whom!) in order to get salt out the mine can take a bit of thought. After the first turn of each round players can take one or two actions on their turn, so factor this in.
There's some variety in how the orders and the tool cards come out, and the mine set-up has variability too. The game encourages you to go deeper into the mine, but the deeper you go, the more costly everything becomes.