This blog post’s intended audience is for those who are veterans of the board game Magic Realm, and who have gotten some amount of enjoyment out of it, and are interested in getting something more from it. Everyone else won’t really care.
Yeah, I know, this is sick. Only a sick person would think of making an expansion to a niche board game that hasn’t had a reprint in nearly 35 years. Then again, they say only sick people enjoy the game in the first place. So let’s get down with the sickness.
Why make an expansion to Magic Realm? For the same reason anyone would make an expansion to a board game. To milk that cash cow and make some money.
Wait, that’s not right. This isn’t a cash cow game, and I don’t intend to make a profit out of this labor of love. It’s for the other reason. To expand upon the gameplay to offer more variety, and to improve upon the gameplay overall. But how does one improve a (considered by some to be) masterpiece? By going off of ideas that the game’s creator, Richard Hamblen, hinted upon himself, in an e-mail exchange done between him and Steve McKnight (I think it was in 2001, but don’t quote me on that). After working on it on and off for about 5 years (more for fun as a part-time hobby than anything else), I believe I’ve finally succeeded in accomplishing the core of this vision. Aside from a perfected rulebook with no typos and a complete index (Christ, completing the rulebook index would be as daunting as coming up with this expansion itself; it’s no wonder the first edition of the game didn’t have an index, and that was less than 50 pages), the expansion still needs graphical touch-ups on monster/native counters and the Appearance Chart. But other than that, as-is, it’s ready to play.
What does the Super Realm add to the game? Well, several things.
- Double the number of monsters from the base game (including new monsters and extra old ones).
- Double the number of natives from the base game (mostly new ones, but also added a few to existing groups from the base game).
- Double the number of spells and treasures (all new spells, mostly new treasures [some duplicate potions]).
- Double the number of map tiles (including a river that is interconnected between 9 tiles, introducing a new water type clearing), all new and unique.
- Double the number of red site/sound chits, and double the number of warning chits.
- New dwellings.
- 8 new characters.
- 2 new missions, 4 new visitors, and 6 new campaigns.
- New combat sheets to replace the old ones (makes combat more streamlined, more tactical, and in some cases more dangerous).
- New rulebook.
The rulebook is one of the more significant additions to the game, mainly because it’s intended to replace the base game rulebook entirely (whether it’s the 1st, 2nd, or unofficial 3rd edition). When analyzing the differences between 1st and 3rd edition rules (2nd edition is equivalent to 3rd), I’ve come to discover that the 1st edition rules are more compatible with the Super Realm than the 3rd edition is. This is for a number of reasons, the main one being that Hamblen indicated he designed the 1st edition rulebook with the potential for expansions in mind (in case Avalon Hill would allow that to ever happen, which they didn’t). 2nd and 3rd edition were designed under the mindset that there would be no expansions, so the rules should be set under the restrictions of the 20 tile size.
One of the main consequences of this is the end-of-week regeneration (3rd edition), as opposed to start-of-month regeneration (1st edition). 3rd edition makes it standard to have a 28 day game (4 weeks, 28 days) as the general time limit for the game. Because the game only lasts 1 month in a standard 3rd edition game this makes end-of-week regeneration a necessity because, well, what’s the point of having regeneration at the start of a month if it’s never going to happen in a standard game? Of course, nothing is stopping players from opting to play a longer game that can run up to 8 weeks, or even longer (the 1st edition game with Personal History Pads that indicated a 2-month game would be standard). But that’s when the problems become pronounced. On the one hand, regeneration makes enemy appearances a bit more unpredictable, and natives that were killed could show up again. On the other hand, this is entirely dependent on the monster rolls, and it’s possible that the same row could be regenerated for the entire game (meaning nothing may ever get regenerated, or everything gets regenerated every week). Makes things more luck-based. The biggest failing of this end-of-week regeneration become apparent if playing a game with a large number of players (let’s say 8 or more), where a good portion of them are fighters who want to go out and kill monsters (or even team up to kill natives). Let’s assume every monster somehow managed to appear on the map over the course of the game. What are the odds all of them will be regenerated by the end of the game? It would take 6 weeks minimum, and that’s assuming the monster roll wasn’t the same for each regeneration day. Not to mention how difficult it is to plan a strategy around this.
End-of-month regeneration, while gamey and exploitable (plus more time-consuming, given that EVERYTHING would regenerate, though this happens less frequently overall), is more fair. It takes longer for things you kill to show back up (unless killed near the end of the month). It’s more difficult to kill natives off multiple times. Requires a timing strategy that may end up backfiring. It feels more natural in spite of it’s exploitable potential.
Doing end-of-month regeneration also streamlines another process. In the base game, there are Missions and Campaigns, which may or may not show up in a game. Missions could be useful if they ever showed up, especially if someone could use some more gold for completing them (they’re “Escort” missions, take them from point A to point B, get a reward in gold). But campaigns, those are never taken by players (despite what anyone says, I do mean never), at least not in single-month games. The requirements for completing those are ridiculous, and damn near impossible (exponentially more impossible than winning the game). As if it wasn’t bad enough that they rarely showed up to begin with. You pick up a campaign (assuming you can pay the cost), you set some native relationships to different levels (making some easier to hire, while others become your enemy), and then you have a time limit to kill all foes listed on the campaign. In the base game (2nd/3rd edition), you get 14 or 28 days to complete it.
In the Super Realm, you just have until the end of the month. None of that X amount of days. You have until regeneration happens, then that’s it. It’s streamlined in that way. The rules for completing a campaign are more lax as well. 3rd edition, you had to kill all foes that are both on the map and on the appearance chart, meaning there’s a chance the foes you need to kill won’t ever show up on the map, meaning it may never be possible to complete the campaign due to poor appearance table rolls each week. Super Realm (and 1st edition), you just need to kill all foes that are on the map, and that’s it. Considering that the size of the realm is doubled in Super Realm, this is a necessary rule rollback.
On top of that, campaigns don’t appear the same way they used to. A random campaign card is placed at the bottom of each treasure site pile, and with each native group. This creates an arc to the game, a flow. You start out with no campaigns on the map. But the more sites you start looting, and the more natives you trade with, the more campaigns will start to show up. The idea being that by the time the 2nd month comes around, there should be enough campaigns on the map to plan around them (and you’ve hopefully acquired enough fame and notoriety by then). Since campaigns last until the end of the month, characters can decide early on if it’s worth traveling to a clearing on the map that has the campaign, with the intention of picking it up and taking advantage of the native relationship changes. The subtle story idea behind this being that characters have built up enough of a reputation during this time period that now they will do more than just dungeon-crawl and slay monsters. They can lead a group of militants against others, and achieve glory in another way. Particularly useful if they want to acquire notoriety (and possible some extra gold and treasures, such as treasures that had been sold to these native groups by other characters up until this time). The campaigns make the game well-rounded in a long-term way, so long as characters stay alive, and so long as players are willing to invest that much time into the game. The more players in the game (especially the kind that cooperate early on), the more likely this is all to take place. The Super Realm having a system that more reliably brings out campaigns allows for this.
As for missions and visitors, well, a 3rd set of map chits are made for them. Travelers. Just as every hex gets a warning chit, every hex gets a traveler. A traveler may be a mission, visitor, blank (ie does nothing; thematically an insignificant nobody), or a nomad (a new type of, eh, realm occupant). Visitors work the same as before. Missions cost 10 Notoriety to pick up instead of 5 (as in 1st edition); the larger map and higher likelihood of acquiring 30 gold for completing a mission justifies this change. Plus missions end at the end of the month rather than 14 days (again, because a larger map makes this more necessary, plus it makes it more likely characters will utilize missions on the 2nd month rather than the first; though 1st month completion is still possible). Nomads offer a way to pad out travelers more, and offer an alternative for spending gold if you have no intention of hiring natives. Spend 1 gold at the start of a phase to hire a nomad, they remain hired for the rest of the day, granting you an ability for that day. The ability usually results in an extra phase (move, search, trade, etc), or even a table roll modifier.
Regarding the new natives, there’s 2 significant types that have been added: magic natives, and roving natives. Magic natives can cast spells and provide color magic to the character who hired them (the color type depends on the native group, and each magic native can only provide their color magic once a day. Roving natives, well, there’s 4 of them (they’re localized in hex types, such as the mountain set, cave set, etc). Unlike other native groups, they default to Enemy relation status at the start of the game, with the exception of characters who are Friendly to them at the start (as listed on the character card; all character cards from the base game have been revised in the Super Realm to account for some of the new native groups). In addition, roving natives appear in 6 clearing hexes rather than at a random dwelling in the 3-4 clearing hexes. They appear in isolation, which means you only have to worry about them and what the warning chit on their tile brings. If prowling, they will move to connected clearing where a character ended their turn (unlike monsters, they don’t walk the woods).
Combat has been given some alterations as well. The combat sheet has been changed.
- No longer a 3X1 grid where you position denizens before dice reposition them. It’s a 3X3 grid where each denizen is rolled and positioned randomly from the offset. This roll also takes into account tactics changes.
- In the base game, you could attack denizens in the same row where you would maneuver, ensuring a predictable defensive strategy. Not anymore. You attack via column, while denizens attack via row. Now you can’t attack where you maneuver reliably.
- But there is the Parry column which can allow you to do something like that. You attack the target denizen’s attack, rather than the denizen itself, giving you a chance to cancel their attack. Makes some characters more capable of evading certain denizens than they were in the base game. So now players must decide if they want to take a chance with attacking. Armored characters are more likely to take that chance (armor plays a more significant role because of this).
But the biggest change of all is to the victory requirements. Now, technically, nothing is stopping anyone from playing the game with the same victory style as in the base game. But I’ve implemented a Questing the Super Realm system, as I call it (inspired by this Questing the Realm variant in Realmspeak, which utilizes the Fan Expansion #1, an expansion made by others prior to this expansion attempt). Each player is dealt a number of Quest cards (dependent on their character level, which is usually 4 unless playing a development game that alters the starting level). You must distribute a number of VP based on the values at the bottom of each quest card; they are distributed as they normally would be in the base game for great treasures, fame, notoriety, etc, except you distribute more on average. Each quest card has some condition that must be met in order to score victory points from it. When you score VP from completing a quest (or from discovering sites, completing campaigns, or completing missions), you deduct a distributed VP, so that you require less overall (example, if you complete a 2VP quest, and reduce your VP distribution on Fame from 5 to 3, you now only require 30 Fame instead of 50 for victory). In addition, you could swap out quests during a trade phase with a native group (each native group will also have a quest card). This system encourages exploration, and offers more replayability than the game had before. It also encourages variety in play-styles for achieving victory.
From my experience with this system, and the base game VP system, I consider this a definitive improvement. In the base game, unless you play a more passive character like the Druid, experienced players tend to distribute VP across Fame and Notoriety, often ignoring the other options, because it’s a lot easier to acquire points quickly by going on a killing spree (often from selling loot to hire natives to assist you in this) than it is to learn spells, acquire great treasures, and sell loot for gold. Especially with games that have a 1 month time limit. With this new system, the amount of VP distributed can be more than doubled compared to the base game, which I find to be a necessary equalizer for those who go for the killing spree route (you would be amazed at how quickly someone can rack up a respectable amount of Fame/Notoriety under certain situations). So if they want to go this route, no one is stopping them, but they need more points than normal to achieve victory in this way.
Example: in a standard base game 5VP game, you would often do 3 points to Fame, 2 to Notoriety, requiring 30 Fame and 40 Notoriety by the end to win. In the Super Realm, where a standard game can range from 8-16 VP, depending on what quest cards you start with (it tends to be 11-13 VP on average), this normally means distributing 7 points to Fame and 5 points to Notoriety, give or take a point from each, thus requiring 70 Fame and 100 Notoriety to win.
While this seems excessive, keep in mind some characters are able to gather this much within 1 month just playing the base game (like the White Knight, Witch King, Black Knight, and Berserker, just to name a few). And this is assuming the player doesn’t opt to put a couple points elsewhere (Gold, Great Treasures). Plus, each time they discover a site that reduces the overall requirements. If they complete a quest or campaign, even more-so.
But if there’s one VP area in particular that is often disfavored, that would have to be the Spells area, where each VP assigned to spells requires the player to have their character learn 2 spells. This is the most difficult thing to do in the base game, especially when considering the risk of getting cursed. I’ve been pondering how to improve the spell learning system, or if it should be improved at all (ie just leave it as is and have some veteran magic users use up 1, maybe 2 VPs for spells). Then I finally thought of something someone ingenious yet simple method that fixes this problem. It’s not altering the number of spells that need to be learned per VP. It’s that those rolling for Reading Runes now take the results of both dice instead of just one (aside from characters whose ability only lets them use 1 die, in which case nothing changes for them). Except for getting a 6 result which will negate both dice results, this will improve the odds of learning spells dramatically. But it also keeps curses as a risk. It’s possible to get a curse, and learn a spell, all in the same roll. Single die rollers are the safest spell learners, double die rollers have a higher risk but higher likelihood of learning per roll attempt (6 results aside, which a few of them don’t even have to worry about). It improves the speed of learning spells, and now makes spell learning a more viable strategy, yet not without risk.
A few rules that were once optional have been incorporated into the main game itself, such as Watchful Natives and Native Blocking. Primarily ones that give greater defense to the natives. As in inhibiting the overly exploitable strategy of sell-kill-loot, where players would loot treasures from a site, sell those treasures to a native group, then kill the native group, then loot the belongings they drop from being killed the next day (or two), then going about the realm visiting each native group to repeat that tactic over and over again. It’s an unfortunate thing that Hamblen himself expressed disapproval of. But it’s also something I aimed to rectify. The main rule addition that addresses this, aside from the aforementioned ones, is the Clan system. If you kill an unhired native, you not only become an enemy of that native group, you also go down a relationship point with other natives belonging to the same clan. In addition, any native groups belonging to the same clan who are also in that clearing will fight you too.
The odds of groups of the same clan being in the same clearing as each other isn’t exactly guaranteed. But lowering relationships with others, combined with the Native Blocking rule (make a meeting table roll for each Enemy/Unfriendly group in the clearing you end a phase in unhidden), at the very least adds a hindrance towards one’s progress. Add in that horses can’t be abandoned (in that if they’re not cached instead, they are removed from the map; this means workhorses normally dropped by a dead Rogue HQ would instead be removed from the map), plus a couple optional rules indicating that natives drop caches containing their loot that must be discovered first before looting them (as opposed to just dropping loot in the clearing altogether), thus ensuring separate loot piles for each native leader killed, makes it more difficult to loot so much. I also threw in an optional rule stating that native leaders can’t be targeted unless all other members in the group are also targeted, so you can’t just go in to assassinate the leader so he can drop all his stuff, and hope to hide-loot the next day. This alleviates an exploit among characters like the Elf and Woods Girl who do missile attacks from hiding (ambush).
There’s more to the expansion than this, but that’s about as much of an explanation as is needed before any veteran player would decide it’s worth trying out this expansion (which I hope improves the game in every way). If there’s any downsides to this expansion, possible broken combos I haven’t seen yet aside (whether it’s character abilities, certain natives, or certain spells/treasures that I missed through all the playtesting), it would probably be the consequences of doubling the size of the map. It would take up considerably more real estate than the base game if a PnP version of this was ever made. But there’s also the fact that one is likely to be doing more exploring trying to find sites, to the point where that would most likely be primarily what happens during the first month of the game. It would take longer for significant events to occur on-average in a playthrough. It’s also unlikely that a large player count would happen to take advantage of this very much expanded realm (it’s hard enough finding anyone to make this a non-solo play, imagine trying to get 24 people together to play this, which has become the new max player count thanks to the 8 new characters, all of which seem to be balanced enough from what I’ve tested so far). So that the likelihood of interesting stuff happening happens sooner. Personally, I’d be happy if I managed to play an 8 player game with players who all knew what they were doing from the get-go.
One can dream…
Well, currently, this is on Tabletop Simulator (via Steam) if anyone is interested in trying it. It’s perfectly playable as-is. Just could use a stylistic improvement for the Chart of Appearances, and the combat sheets. Preferably for the denizens as well. But, as-is, it works. And I enjoy playing it. As do others I’ve introduced it to.
PS: I can’t claim credit for creating all of this. Had a little help here and there with some of the concepts (that blueprint stated in The Once and Future Realm interview with McKnight and Hamlben aside) by various individuals mentioned in the credits in the rulebook (a copy of it is within the TTS game itself). And the game definitely wouldn’t look as good as it does if not for a graphic designer who has his own youtube channel.
Edit (9-12-2021): Altered and added notes regarding VP distribution and quests. Also added a note about how Reading Runes table rolls have been altered.