Boardgame Reviews

Trickerion Review – One Hell Of A Magic Show

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Designed By: Richard Amann & Viktor Peter
Published By: Mindclash Games
Players: 2-4
Playtime: 60-120 Minutes

Review copy supplied free of charge by Mindclash Games

One of the most famous stage illusions of all time is that of cutting a person in half, seemingly sawing or slicing straight through their body, only for them to survive the ordeal and then be put back together. The key, of course, is that the audience never gets to really take a good look at the trick because if they did it would so obviously be nothing more than a fallacy. Indeed, we know it is. We willingly suspend our own disbelief, such is the magic of magic. Trickerion puts you into the shoes of a stage magician hiring his crew, honing his craft, building his tricks and then performing them on stage in order to become famous. So let’s cut this sizable game in half, shall we, but unlike the real trick we’re going to take a long, hard look at exactly how it’s done.

Let’s start with the basics; like any other worker-placement game you start with a couple of workers, namely your magician, an apprentice and one of the specialists you chose at startup, and you can place these around the board in order to take certain actions. There is just four locations, bur each of them offers a few different things you can do. Downtown plays host to the local bank, for example, plus a tavern for hiring new staff and a special place where you can learn new tricks to impress the audience with. The market, meanwhile, is obviously where you can spend cash to pick up components in order to perform tricks, plus you can order other components into stock and haggle with the seller.

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So far so standard, but then Trickerion alters the trick that we all think we know so well with a little thing called action points. You see, every action you can take at each location costs a certain amount of action points, and each worker you have on your playerboard also has a set amount of action points they can use when put to work. Your magician, for example, has the highest base amount of points available at three, but he is also the only one who can perform at the theater. Everything at the Downtown location costs three action points, so at first glance it would seem that if you wish to take an action there the magician would have to be used every single time. Ah, but that isn’t quite so because the on three of the four locations, the theater being the exception, the first worker to arrive receives two bonus action points, while the second and third get one and the last worker gets nothing. This means that if you send a lowly apprentice, who has just a single action point, to the Downtown area he can potentially get an extra two points to spend, letting you do whatever you like. But what if he doesn’t get those points? Well, there is an extra option in the form of Trickerion Shards, little ember gems that you earn a few different ways and that can be spent to gain extra action points.

But the trick isn’t finished yet because the game has one more thing to add as a final flourish. At the start of each round every player, at the same time, decides where to send their workers by selecting cards from their hand of assignments and placing them face-down below the appropriate worker. If you want to send your manager off to the market, for example, you’d pick out the market card and place it facedown below the manager token. Simple. Once that’s done everyone then reveals their assignment cards, sparking a frantic few seconds of players glancing round the table, seeing how everyone else’s plans will modify their own. Then, each player takes it in turn to place one of their workers.

Do you see the genius at work here? Suddenly it’s not just a question of where you want to go, but also which workers you’re going to send there and when to send them. An opponent or two might reveal that they intend on going Downtown just like you, so a decision needs to be made; do you move your apprentice first in order to rush Downtown and ensure you can take an action, or do you send your magician to the theater first in order to get dibs on performance times and risk an opponent taking those valuable bonus action points? Every round begins with players constructing their own plans and then attempting to work out what their opponents are most likely to do. This puzzle is what drives the game, and to me has proven to be vastly more interesting than the standard worker-placement mechanic.

With the foundation of the game tackled let’s get on with talking about how to actually win at Trickerion. Since you are a magician the primary goal is to perform tricks at various theaters in order to become famous, with the player who has the highest fame rating winning the game after seven rounds.

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Downtown is the most expensive area on the board in terms of action points, playing host to the friendly tavern, the bank and Daalgard’s house where new tricks can be learned. Interestingly what is available at all three locations is determined by dice at the start of the game, thus you may roll an apprentice and a manager for the tavern, while the bank might be offering four and six coins on its two dice and Daalgard could be willing to teach a new escapist trick as well as one of your choice, as indicated by a question mark, although a magician can always learn a trick from their own school of magic regardless of dice rolls.

Unsurprisingly the bank is a useful place since not only do yo requires coins to purchase the components needed to set tricks up but you also have to pay any workers you use at the end of the round because apparently those ungrateful sods don’t think themselves lucky to just be in your presence. Money also happens to count as bonus points at the end of the game. Interestingly it’s never made clear what you’re doing at the bank since it doesn’t seem like you’re simply withdrawing money, because once you take the amount shown on a die it gets turned to its X, meaning another player can’t use it. I can come to no other conclusion other than you’re robbing the bank using your awesome magic skills.

The people you can hire not only offer up the chance to do more on the board but also bring handy bonuses with them, the exception being apprentices who have a single action point and no extra abilities. Basically, they just bring you coffee. Engineers, for example, provide an extra slow for tricks so that you can have four at a time instead of three. They also add an extra preparation token to any trick residing on their part of the playerboard, and finally earn you a Trickerion Shard if they are behind the curtain during your magician’s performance. The manager, meanwhile, has slots for two extra stacks of components and will provide a bonus component for each stack. They’ll also give you extra cash when behind the curtain. Finally, the assistant provides a space for an extra apprentice who does not need to be paid and boosts fame when used in the theater to setup tricks.

You also get to select one of the specialists at the very start of the game, at which point they’ll offer an extra bonus, like a second starting trick, more resources or a second apprentice. This initial choice can help shape your early strategy.

As for learning new tricks this is controlled by how famous you currently are. At first you only have access to basic tricks until you reach at least 16 fame, at which point you can visit Daalgard’s in order to learn more advanced stuff which offers much better monetary and fame yields when performed. You can, however, opt to spend cash equal to the difference between your fame level and the required level in order to gain access to tricks early, which can be a smart move sometimes. The key here is knowing when to move on to the more advanced tricks because if you already have a lot of basic tricks and the stuff needed for them it can be worthwhile sticking with them for a little while. Once you have a trick on your playerboard you assign it a token based on card suits. These are used to identify the tricks later on.

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All tricks need components in order go construct the required mechanisms and gizmos that make them work so a visit or five to the market will be needed to gather up supplies. At the beginning the market contains basic stuff like glass, metal and fabric, each of which costs a coin to purchase. On that topic, a single buy action lets you grab up to three of the same resource at once. The more advanced tricks, though, require more expensive components like padlocks and giant saw blades and to get them they must be ordered in, taking the place of existing stock at the end of the round. But if you don’t have time to wait around then for a heftier price one item can be ordered in immediately for that round only.

Once you have all the necessary stuff listed on a trick’s card it’s time to prepare the trick, done by sending a worker to your workshop which is located on your playerboard. You then place a number of trick markers on the card that match the symbol you chose previously for that trick. This marker indicates how many times it can be used in performances before a prepare action has to be taken again, and the amount of markers placed down varies from trick to trick, so sometimes it can be worth learning a trick with lower fame and cash yields if it needs less preparations in the long run.

With tricks prepared and ready for the public to enjoy it’s time to head to the theater….but we’re going to take a slight detour first into the Dark Alley, because venturing down pitch-black streets is always a stellar plan. This location is the most interesting because it contains two very important things; the first is a circle of prophecy tokens, and at the end of every round a new token is added to the circle while the leftmost one is brought into play, altering the rules for the next round, sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a bad way. Keeping an eye on these is vital, but you can alter by taking an action. It’s in this dark side-street that you’ll also find one of the most useful things in the entire game; special assignment cards. These act like normal assignment cards in that you place them down to assign workers to locations, but they also offer powerful bonuses to those workers that can make a substantial difference when used well.

Now we finally get to the main goal of performing on stage. The theater is divided into four columns of three worker slots each, with the front slot being reserved solely for magicians. The columns representing Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and once a worker is placed in a column no other player can occupy that column.  This is important because opting to perform on Thursday results in lower yields but gives you a bonus action point for setting up the tricks plus first call on which playbill to perform, while going on Sunday equals better rewards thanks to larger crowds but you pay for it with an action point being taken away and last call on the playbill.

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I’m getting carried away, though, because first you need to know how to set the tricks up. By placing a worker on the back spots of the theater you can spend an action point to take a trick marker from any of your prepared tricks and place it on one of the playbill cards at the top-right of the board. These playbills are sort of like a band’s playlist for gigs, and offer bonuses in terms of fame, cash or Trickerion hSards when a performance uses them. At the end of each round playbills also get shifted to the right so that a new card can be added. Trick marks also happen to have the symbols of the four magic schools on their corners, and if you manage to join two tokens up using these symbols a link is formed, earning the creator an extra fame point and also adding another point of fame for the performing magician.

Speaking of which, let’s get to the actual performance phase of the game which occurs near the end of the round. Each performing magician, going in order from Thursday to Sunday, gets to pick one playbill and performs every trick on it, including any of the opponent’s, who are then classed as a supporting act within the show. It’s in this way that you can get your tricks performed and thereby earn fame and cash without actually sending your magician to the theater. But why would somebody use a playbill that has tricks other than their own on it? Simple: while a supporting magician does earn the fame and money listed on their tricks, they don’t earn the extra bonuses that a performing magician does. These include extra fame for every link on the playbill, plus bonuses for workers placed behind the curtain in the theater. An assistant, for example, earns an extra two fame, while a manager nets extra cash. Furthermore, the playbill itself offers a bonus, too, and only the performing magician can claim the fame and money that Sunday offers. Finally, when a playbill is performed all tricks are removed from it, and thus you can essentially sabotage another player by ensuring their tricks get less than they potentially could have. There is an entire game’s worth of though in the theater alone as you debate whether to perform, whether to simply setup tricks for the next round.

Whet. That’s a lot of explainin’ I’ve done, so now let’s take our sawn in half game and put it back together again to the amazement of the crowd. For many people learning the secret behind the “magic” spoils the fun, because it’s that willing suspension of disbelief that lets them become so absorbed in the act. They know it isn’t real, but choose to believe for a short while. For me, though, even when I was young, learning the real magic behind the magic only ever made me appreciate the trick more. Discovering how simple it was to create the illusion of a person being cut in half brought an amazing elegance to the whole thing.

That’s how I feel about Trickerion. I’ve taken it apart and examined it as best as I can and gained a deeper admiration for its beautiful design, for the way everything comes together to create a compelling puzzle. So let’s put it back together and view it as a whole. What I love so much about this game is that everything comes down to planning, and because of that Trickerion doesn’t keep much information from players. To this end there’s even a Magician’s Handbook for each player that lists every trick in the game and the component’s needed so that you can begin planning early on, focusing on what components you’re going to need for the tricks you plan on acquiring later. The special assignment deck faces up toward the sky so you can always see what is available and what it can do. The prophecy wheel lets you see three rounds in advance, too, and luck is kept to a minimum. Yup, planning from the very start is massively encouraged, and thanks to that spectacular worker-placement mechanics and the way performing at the theater works the game is immensely satisfying and engaging. Every round is a puzzle; what components do I need to start ordering in for that level 16 or even level 36 trick? How much money will be needed for those components and for paying staff? Should I acquire a new specialized worker this round? Is it worth grabbing a special assignment or two? Am I looking to perform this round, or should I focus on setting up for the next one? What are my opponent’s going to be doing, and how might they effect where workers need to be sent? Wait, where should I send the assistant? When should I send her?

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It’s just so pleasingly taxing on the ol’ grey matter. It’s almost too much because the wonderful artwork and lovely theme get pushed aside, so focused are you on puzzle laid out on the table. Trickerion really does sport some great art on its cards and boards, so it’s worth taking a moment to make oohing and aaahing sounds over it before getting back to figuring out if you want that awesome trick about breaking out of a wolf cage or the spooky one with the mirrors.

No game is perfect, though, so let’s talk about the flaws Trickerion does have. First and foremost it doesn’t work anywhere near as well with two players, largely because there’s a lot less room for creating chains and a reduced amount of intriguing battling over the playbills. With that said there is an expansion called Daalgard’s Gifts which includes, among other things, a two-player variant that introduces playbills with printed trick markers. I’ve not tested this myself, though, so I can’t comment on how good it is.

Another problem is that arguably Trickerion is too restrictive for some people, especially compared to something more sprawling like A Feast for Odin which provides multiple routes to victory with a legion of actions to pick from. Trickerion opts for a much tighter focus, with players having to follow the same general path until the very end. However, what this means is that it does feel even more skill-based because with everyone concentrating on the same goal it comes down to whoever plans out their turns the best and reacts to what the other players are doing. Personally, I tend to prefer this tighter style, but for some it could be a problem.

Finally, it’s a bit of a table-hog. Not only do you have a regular sized board, but then you also have substantial player boards that then get augmented by each specialist worker having an extension board that adds to it. By time you toss in the tokens, decks of cards and other stuff Trickerion takes up a lot of space.

At least it comes with some nice components, though. Reasonably chunky wooden workers give the game some nice tactility, the cards are all made of nice stock and the plastic Trickerion Shards are also a nice touch. My only gripe is that the playerboards could have been a bit thicker.

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I also need to mention the fact that there is two versions of Trickerion; a basic side and an advanced side. I’ve been reviewing the advanced side of the board, so let’s quickly chat about the basic version. By flipping the main board and a few other things over you can revert to a simpler form of Trickerion that takes away the Dark Alley, gives you three theater assignment cards instead of two and that takes place across five rounds instead of seven. It also removes the level 36 fame tricks, because obviously with fewer rounds the chances of getting them in time is much lower. The basic version also doesn’t include magician specific abilities, something I didn’t talk about in the review but that’s simply because we’ve already spent enough time yabbling.

I’ve hardly been subtle about my feelings toward Trickerion throughout this review, but in case you somehow missed it I really, really like this game. Released back in 2015 I can’t help but feel like it got overlooked as you don’t see it get mentioned too often. It has some of the best worker-placement mechanics I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing to date, mechanics that make you consider every choice carefully while also attempting to plan for an opponent’s moves as well. Every time I played I was so mentally engaged with it and every decision felt vital to success. The theme is just the icing on the cake for me. Do yourself a favor and buy it. Don’t cut it in half, though.

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