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Magical Athlete

August 28, 2010

Last night, a couple of friends of mine and I were at the gaming store we frequent. We usually stop off there before grabbing a bite to eat and heading over to another dude’s place to hang out and do some gaming. I was looking through their selection of new board games and came across a game that I’d heard of a few months back: Magical Athlete.

What’s kinda unique about Magical Athlete is that it’s a translation of a Japanese board game, and because of that it has cute super-deformed character art. I had no idea if it was any good or not, having only heard of the game and having not read any reviews or whatever, but I snatched it up anyway just because I dug the cutesy art.

Quick note: Y’all may not know it, but there’s an entire sub-hobby of gaming that’s all about board gaming. Once you get past the stuff you see in the toy aisles, like Monopoly and Risk, there’s a hell of a lot of board games marketed at peeps that are really into this stuff. Some of them are the sort of games a table top RPGer like myself would play, since they take ideas and themes from RPing and turn them into a board game that’s easy to play and doesn’t require thinking up adventures and stuff like that. Then you get into what peeps call “eurogames,” which tend to be analytical, low-luck (usually meaning no dice), abstract-ish games. If you’ve ever heard of Settlers of Catan, that’s a eurogame.

So, yeah, board games are kinda “hot” in the gaming universe, and my friends and I have been caught up in them for a while. It just so happens that there are Japanese board games as well, and they’re slowly started to get translated and released by western game companies. Magical Athlete happens to be one of these games.

These “geeky” board games can range from all day affairs to ones that take maybe 15 minutes to play. Magical Athlete is one of the shorter ones, since our first game took about 20 minutes to play. The game boils down to two phases. The first phase is the draft phase. In this phase you basically bid on characters in a quick little auction. Five character cards get laid down on the board on the spaces labeled 4 through 0. The card on the 4 costs 4 points, the one on the 3 costs 3, and on down to the one on the 0 that’s free. Each player (you can play with up to 5 players) gets 8 points to use in the bidding. Starting with whoever the first player is, each person buys one character by spending however many points that character is currently worth. When a character is bought, you shift all of the remaining cards down one spot, making all of the remaining cards one point cheaper. You do this until everyone has the number of characters required to start (5 characters in a 4 player game, 4 in a 5 player game. Yeah, the game’s rules only allow for 4 and 5 player games.).

Once everyone has their characters, everyone secretly picks one characters to race in the first race. Once everyone’s picked a character, they reveal the character and the race starts. The race is pretty straightforward: roll a die, move that many spaces on the board. Whoever gets to the end of the track first wins, whoever gets their second gets second place. Once two people have crossed the line, the race is over. First and second place get X amount of points, with first getting more. The points earned for winning increase as the game progresses. In the first race, first gets 3 points and second gets 1. In the second and third races, first gets 4 and second gets 2. In the fourth and fifth races, it increases to 5 and 3 respectively. And that’s it. You race until you’ve used each character once, and each character can only race once.

That doesn’t sound like much, and it really isn’t for the most part, but there’s one quirk in the system: Each character has a special power that either helps him in the race or fucks up another racer in some manner. This is where the game’s personality comes into being. Some characters basically get to faster than others, like the Ranger who moves 4 spaces when he rolls a 1 or a 2 on the die, or the Amazon who never has to roll because she can automatically move 5 spaces on her turn. Other characters get bonuses when another player does something, like the Bard who moves 1 space when another player rolls a 6, or the Druid who moves 1 space when someone uses their special power (So if the Amazon doesn’t roll and moves 5 spaces automatically, the Druid also moves 1 space at the same time.). Other characters have quirks that let them break rules, like the Conjurer who can reroll a die roll (keeping the new roll, even if it’s worse), or the Martial Artist who, when moving, doesn’t count spaces opponents are in (If he moves 3 spaces this turn, and there’s an opponent in one of those three spaces, he basically moves 4 spaces this turn.). Other characters are of the “screw you” variety, like the Troll who pushes anyone in his space 1 space backwards (He doesn’t like to share.), or the Necromancer who can choose to only move 1 space on his turn in exchange for forcing another player to move backwards a number of spaces equal to his die roll that turn. All of the powers are pretty flavorful and fit the respective characters, like the Pirate who kidnaps another character on his turn, forcing them to move to his space regardless of where they are on the board, or the Cupid who moves 5 spaces when a male and female character land on the same space. How romantic.

My gaming friends thought it was a cute game, but in comparison to some of the games we usually play they thought it was pretty simple and devoid of any real strategy. They did think it’d make an awesome drinking game. It’s a pretty accurate take on the game.  I doubt we’ll be playing it a lot, but I’ll have to pester them about it so I can get my money’s worth out of the game. It was only $25, which is pretty damn cheap for one of these geeky board games. I’ve spent as much as $100 on some games (And more once you take into consideration expansions and the like.). Granted, said games are far more elaborate and in-depth than Magical Athlete, but Athlete’s on the low-end of the price scale.

But damn, the art’s just too damn cute. Even the fugly Ghoul’s cute and cuddly.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2010 7:25 PM

    This post makes me wonder about the Japanese design philosophy when it comes to board games. American games tend to be fairly conflict oriented, Eurogames, like you said, are more abstract, skill-based fare that doesn’t rely too much on die rolls.

    Anyhow, good to see that a few are making their way over here though I probably won’t be picking this one up. My group is still heavily addicted to Agricola, so I doubt any of them would want to take a shot at this one.

    • Landon permalink*
      August 29, 2010 10:59 PM

      Yeah, I don’t see Magical Athletes going over well with eurogame crowds. My friends are firmly entrenched in the Ameritrash mindset and love conflict and dice rolling and they weren’t big fans of this.

      Not sure about trends over in Japan. The same company that released Magical Athletes has released a few others and they seem all over the board. Quickie card games, a cooperative narrative game, a dexterity game– sounds like there’s no real trend, although I haven’t heard of any hardcore analytical games.

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