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[Review] Magic Hill

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tomvasel
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Joined: 03/23/2011

A time of wonder and fantasy seems to await one when they see the box of Magic Hill (Ravensburger, 2001 – Ruediger Dorn), for the box is almost shimmering with wizards and magical goblins. Upon setting up the game, the visual effect is rather appealing, and it looks like a lot of fun. All of this helps ignore the fact that Magic Hill is basically an abstract game. It’s lauded as a good family game, because children can play it easily, which doesn’t bode well for serious players.

But the game play works surprisingly smoothly, and I think that despite its innocent looks, Magic Hill has a lot of strategy in it – and that adults can play it and enjoy it just as much as a group of children. There are random elements in it – the tiles – but they remind me of the random spaces in Hare and Tortoise – the carrot spaces. Both of them can be ignored, with a fairly high success rate. But to ignore them would be to ignore some of the most interesting things that can happen in the game, and I feel they add a lot of flavor.

The theme of the game is basically each player being a young wizard, intent on getting one of their goblin servants to the top of a “secret” tower at the top of a mountain. (How the tower is secret is beyond me, it appears as if everyone from miles around would be able to see it. Maybe it’s invisible.) Anyway, a three dimensional board, with four concentric paths, is placed in the middle of the table, with the tower at the top. Each path is slightly higher than the previous one, with the tower standing on the fifth level. Nine glass stones (“magic” stones) are placed on corresponding spaces on the four paths, and a village tile is placed at each corner. A pile of action chips is shuffled, with one “secret passageway” chip being set aside. Each action chip is randomly placed on corresponding magic spaces on the first three levels. The remaining two chips are shuffled with the “secret passageway” chip, and then randomly placed on the fourth level. Each player takes five goblins (round tokens with a number of holes in them) of one color and places them on three of the four villages. A deck of cards is shuffled, and three are dealt to each player, with the remainder of them forming a draw pile. The oldest player goes first, and then play proceeds clockwise around the table.

On a turn, a player can either play 2-3 cards, or exchange as many cards as they want with cards in the draw pile. When playing cards, the first card a player plays determines which of his goblins moves (from one to five) and the second card determines how far the goblin moves. Cards are numbered one through five, with joker cards acting as any number. If the player plays a third card, they can again move the goblin (switching direction) if they want. Depending on where the goblin lands, different things could happen:
- If they land on an empty space – nothing.
- If they land on a magic stone, the player removes the stone from the board, and puts it in front of them. From this point on, the player has an extra card in their hand. A player can have a maximum of two stones.
- If they land on another goblin, the player can either stay there – trapping the goblin underneath it from moving, or move to the next level by playing their third card (only if they hadn’t played it yet). On a future turn, if the goblin is still on top of the other goblin, they can move off with their second card.
- If they land on a stack of two goblins, they push off the top goblin one space in the direction of the moving goblin. The moving goblin now is on top of the other goblin.

If the player lands on an action chip, the chip is revealed and followed:
- Crystal ball chip: The player can turn over three other action chips, which stay upright until another player lands on them. The Crystal ball chip is discarded from the game.
- Trap chip: The goblin “falls” to the corresponding space on the next lower level. If there is no lower level, the goblin falls into any of the villages. The trap chip is then turned back over.
- Shocking ghost: The goblin must return to one of the villages. The ghost chip is then turned back over.
- Secret passageway: The goblin immediately moves to the corresponding space on the next higher level, unless it is blocked by another goblin. The tunnel chip is then turned back over.
- Raven chip: The player places this chip in front of another player. This person must then give the active player one of their magic stones. If they have no stones, they keep the chip in front of them until they get a stone, at which point they give the stone to the other player.
- Storm chip: All face-up chips are turned back down, and the mountain is rotated 90 degrees in either direction. The storm chip is then turned back over.
- Flying card: The player may immediately draw and play an extra card. The flying card is then turned back over.

The first player to have one goblin reach the tower, by either a secret passageway, or by climbing on the head of another goblin, wins the game. They do not have to get their by exact count.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The game looks really good when laid out on the table. The game didn’t HAVE to be three dimensional, but it adds so much to the board. The plastic tower is a crowning touch to this “mountain”, and again is a nice visual aid. The goblins are not little plastic fellows, sadly – but the game really is much more manageable with the round tokens. Not only do the number of holes in the token tell you what goblin number it is, but they stack well, and happen to be the exact height of one level, again helping the visual effect of the game mechanics. The cards are small, about half the size of a typical playing card, and have nice artwork on both front and back. This same nice artwork spreads onto the village tiles, and further onto the box – which is a typically sized, sturdy Ravensburger box. Everything fits fairly well in the box, and I really enjoy how it looks on my shelf.

2.) Rules: The rulebook is in several languages, each offering three pages of rules. The rules are VERY clear, and explain everything several times. I wasn’t always sure of why a rule was in existence – like why rotate the board, who cares? – but the rule was still easy enough to understand. The game is really easy to teach and learn, so easy that some may think the game is just a kid’s game, or light family game, with a lot of luck and not much strategy.

3.) Strategy and Luck: Yet the game is much deeper than it appears. Yes, there is luck in what cards you receive, but with skillful card play, a player can best utilize the cards they receive to move their goblins higher. The tiles are lucky, and can give big payoffs and/or big losses, but a player almost never HAS to land on one (unless they are bumped off another goblin onto one.) One prevalent strategy is to immediately head for as many magic stones as one can get – to get the maximum hand size of five cards. Five cards really give a player that many more options for play, and a huge advantage on his opponents. Sometimes good strategy is to sit on another player’s goblin as long as you can, and sometimes it’s best to just use other’s goblins to catapult your folk to the top.

4.) Time and players: With the way the rules are written, I fully expected a game to take a while, but the game play really moves rather quickly. Even with a full complement of five players, the game moves at a good clip, and there is very little downtime between turns. In fact, I think the game, while okay with two players, is really at its best with five players.

5.) Fun Factor: The game is fairly fun. Even without the action chips, it would make for a thoughtful and engaging abstract game. But, when the action chips are thrown into the mix, even with their randomness, they really add some thematic flavor to the game. Everyone had a great time playing, and when I played with youth – the excitement ran rather high at points, especially when a daring lad put a goblin on an action chip at the top level, and it turned out to be a ghost! Everyone, including him, had a good laugh, and great fun was had by all.

Do not allow people to tell you this is a children’s game, for it is more than that. It is a fun game, to be sure – one that will surely be enjoyed by youngsters, but even in a group of serious gamers, this game can make a big splash. I enjoyed it the first time, but in subsequent playings, found that the game is at its best in mixed company. Young people can effectively challenge their elders, and that always makes for an enjoyable time. If you can find this game, I encourage picking it up, for it is certainly worth it.

Tom Vasel

Yekrats
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Joined: 08/11/2008
[Review] Magic Hill

Hi Tom.

As always, great review!

phpbbadmin
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Joined: 04/23/2013
Yes!

Greetings Tom, I always enjoy your reviews on the board game geek. I'm glad to see your have expanded your 'presence' to us as well. I too own and enjoy Magic Hill, although I have a tough time getting my friends to play it because of its perceived 'kid game' factor.

As for the rotation by the storm token, I think this serves two purposes: The first is that all face up tokens are turned face down and the second is to rotate the board. Basically, this is supposed to disrupt the 'memory' aspect of the game (IMHO the memory aspect of the game is the only thing that really puts it in the 'kid game' category'). I too had a problem with this tile because I couldn't figure out what purpose rotation really served. It would have made sense if you rotated just one level of the board, but rotating the entire board doesn't really throw off my memory, although it might to a child.

I agree the game has some really neat aspects, my favorite being climbing on the back of your opponents goblins obviously. I really think this game could get really nasty (and by nasty I mean cut throat) with people who really understand the rules and and know how to implement them effectively. I just wish some of the other gamers in my group were more open to this sort of lite strategy type of game. If you liked Magic Hill, another good game along those same lines (family light strategy game with beautiful bits) is Skyrunner also by Ravensburger I believe.

-Darke

tomvasel
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Joined: 03/23/2011
[Review] Magic Hill

Well, I'm implementing a house rule that one level - that person's choice, can be rotated. It seems like that would be more fun and have a greater impact on the game.

Tom

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