If the idea of playing out two centuries of history of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth seems something of an undertaking for a game, fear not. The Magnates is an accessible game in terms of how it plays, and won’t eat up anything over two hours.
The game is all about taking control of the areas on the board – Poland major, Poland minor, Lithuania and other supporting states. How this is done is all through card-play, and the game breaks into four reasonably straightforward phases, most of which involve hidden bids that are revealed simultaneously. Phase one: players use bidding cards to bid for the Crown cards: these allow you place estates on the board, and also give additional benefits which are clearly marked on the cards. Phase two: players bid on Privilege cards. Unlike the crown cards, these are different in each of the game’s four rounds. Like the crown cards, they both let you place estates (most do, anyway) and give you in-game benefits. Phase three: Combat cards are dealt out to the board: these represent invaders to the commonwealth, and the otherwise-warring players must now use whatever bidding cards they have left to see the invaders off. If they succeed, the player who used the highest card gets to place an estate. If they fail, the region becomes partitioned: players each lose an estate from the region. If three regions become partitioned, the players collectively lose!
Finally in phase four the Interregnum cards come to the fore, if players have them. These will be privilege cards the players bid for earlier in the round, and they will get you benefits as explained on the cards.
After four rounds (assuming players haven’t succumbed to invaders) the game finishes, and players with the most points wins. Points are awarded for amount of estates on the board, amount of territories your estates are in, control of territories (i.e. having a majority of estates there) and any additional scoring cards in your hand.
This is one of those games I can appreciate for a number of things. I like the canniness and potential implosions of bidding games, and I like the fact players have to balance an internal struggle (against each other) with an external one (invaders). What I don’t like is having to squint at cards every round to see what they do and how the game changes because of them – something that is purely subjective but equally, a thing I find slightly fiddly and annoying. So it’s not a game I yearn to play, but it’s a clever construction and for some will be a big hit.
It can feel quite Take That-y. Key to the game is how you play your cards and this will involve anticipating the other players bids too. It's quite possible to be outbid in everything!
First play high, regular play low to moderate. Players may want to take their time on decisions as the game reaches its finale.
Low to moderate. You don't have to calculate any heavy equations, but you do have to look at the other players positions on the board and factor in what they might be up to in this round. Second-guessing this can be vital.
If you like the bidding mechanics of it, Magnates contains a variety of Privilege cards and strategies. The strength of the invaders is also random.