Board Game Review, Previews

To Build Utopia… (Magnate: The First City Preview)

Imagine a utopian society: a superb economy, excellent job market, all companies succeed… The economy is booming, land prices are fair, houses are affordable and the world is happy. Sound like a far off dream? It isn’t. And no, this isn’t the mid-70s, it’s the micro-economy you’ll build in Magnate: The First City. At least, it will be until you crash that economic masterpiece straight into the ground through your own corporate greed! This game has been coined as the game Monopoly should have been, but we disagree with this. It isn’t. It’s a tremendous amount better for all the right reasons… Hear us out!

What Is Magnate: The First City?

Magnate: The First City is an economic, push your luck city building game. It is based around the changes and impact buying low and selling high has on a property market, and emphasises an understanding of what impacts value and desirable real estate. The game is centred around you developing a city by buying land, building properties, attracting tenants and selling for a profit, all before the inevitable price crash!

It has many mechanics with in it, but runs a smooth and understandable system, allowing players to approach the game fresh with an experienced player leading easily. Once the economy has developed to a point where land sells high, players are encouraged to sell profitable properties at the latest possible moment, and make risky decisions sensibly. When the market crashes, the game ends with properties being sold at the post-crash price. The player with the most cash then wins!

How It Handles

Oh man, oh man. This game is an economist enthusiast’s dream and a tactician’s heaven. Now heed that with a warning. If you don’t have patience, have little understanding of cause and effect, or can’t forward plan, this game may not be for you. No offence by any measure, but it’s a game that will be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a pay off after an investment, not for those who like a gamble! I went in as a non-patient economic gamer, and learned quickly that the game needs a bit of tact… You can read about that later on!

Magnate runs a wonderful sequentially understandable game. You’re never left questioning what’s next and can plan accordingly. You bid for first player, attract tenants, collect rent, then take action! When you’ve taken an action, you know everyone else gets one and then it’s you again. What you do will impact everyone in some way, so it’s important you’ve got a plan of sorts. Three actions later you’ll run through the property market and do the standard checks. Because this lets you know how soon the market will crash, you’re aware of how close you are to the end game. From this, you’ll be able to know when to sell and how worth it is to purchase or build. It also tells you what tenants are available, so what you build can have value to the current market. There’s always clarity in what you can, should, and need to do to score big.

The game allows you to play advanced and “simple” variations, but simple is nothing more than terminology. There’s nothing simple about the game; it still allows you to demonstrate your economic prowess! The only thing simple about it is there aren’t any variations of tenant types. All home tenants are simply that, without any bonuses themselves. This was lovely for a more friendly and easier accessed game, but once we’d gone advanced we couldn’t go back! The extra layer of complexity having variation caused made the game more tactically approachable and meant our decisions mattered more. The simple variation was still enjoyable, but we’d honestly implore you to use it to introduce Magnate to others. Magnate’s true majesty is in its advanced play.

Magnate almost has an element of semi-cooperativeness to it. I mean, it’s by no measure a cooperative game, but there’s a trust between all players not be brash. Pushing your luck too far will result in an early economic downfall, and no one wants that without a payout first! You have to manage the economic balance to prevent panic. Every round someone will need to sell something… but not too much! Someone will need to advertise… but not too much! Everyone needs to be reserved with finding tenants… It’s a delicate balance, and maintaining that balance will result in a longer game. Although, it won’t get you masses of cash. Sooner or later you’ve got to push that luck and take the reins of chaos. Sell, advertise, acquire. Ride the lightning to many, many risk cards, all of which will bring the crash closer and closer. Not everyone wants a crash at the same time as you, so ensuring it crashes when’s best for you is important. And trust me, being the architect of that chaos is lots of fun, especially when done correctly!

Depending on how many players you play with will change your experience with Magnate. When we played as a duo, we found the game was tremendously quick-paced! Not having extra interference allowed us to take one another down a notch with mean plays but it also meant we had more awareness of what was happening on the board. That might seem like a massive positive, but the unexpected player decision is what makes the game a great economy game! If you know every move that’s going to happen there’s no luck to be pushed, nor are there any opportunities to play to the spur of the moment. However, four players was a completely different kettle of fish! For context, we all knew the game relatively well and were never stuck for the “next happening”, but our plans were harder to make happen. The fruition of any big play was dependent on a strong awareness of what all players would do. It only takes one person to act out of character to have your dreams of a retail empire buffing itself shattered. This did result it many more impulsive plays, and in effect made the game more realistic to any land grab situation. Real estate developers rarely check with the competition for the next big thing, and in Magnate it results in more competitive play.

My Personal Experience

I love economy games, but I’m not a patient player of them. I quickly found I needed to learn patience with Magnate, and it forced me to take my time with it. That’s no fault on the game, the issue was my manic play-style: I love going full aggression with economy games, but I was forced to slow down and consider the effects for later. I honestly found this difficult. Initially, I wasn’t a fan of knowing I wasn’t going to get short term boost quickly – I’m used to quick gains and short term cash boosts! I enjoy the wild attacks, cheap shots and fast money. Watching others play slowly and receive masses of money all at once seemed alien to me: they’d gain next to nothing all game and win by a big margin! I knew it couldn’t have been a fluke due to their consistent confidence with their purchases, builds and dice rolls. I bit the bullet and did it their way.

Magnate made me slow down, consider, think and plan…. Something I can do, but not something I wanted to do. But oh my days was it worth it! That huge payout at the right moment was such an incredible feeling! There’s a true beauty in the tactical plays available. You’re able to set yourself up well based on who you move in when, and where. If you manage to acquire a lot of land adjacent to other bits you own, you’re on to a winner! By the time I’d learnt a hard lesson in being cool, calm and collected, I’d gotten a good grasp on how the game went and even had preferred tactics! My favourite play was moving in a lot of professional couples into houses and slapping a mall into the middle of them. Then filling that with general stores for the boosts to the housing. Instant bonuses and a mass of cash when selling them all! Of course, being a one-trick-pony wasn’t a good idea, so this forced me to consider how other buildings, residents and locations affected the selling values. And eventually I was clocking changes, planning accordingly and may have even done well at the stock exchange. All without losing my cool!

How It Looks

The visuals of the game are gorgeous too. Although we only had the prototype of the game, it’s clear to see the vision of the designer. What we received was a surprisingly polished set of components with an excellent aesthetic to them. The buildings are easily identifiable from one another and look progressive in their developments. Houses into apartment complexes, retail units into shopping malls, small office blocks to superior offices. The names give it away, but the components clearly show which is which. There’s also an attention to detail in both their visual details, and their functionality. The larger buildings have slots for player’s markers, making them easy to spot in what can sometimes seem a busy play area! The end game will look like insanity on a board, but it will easily tell your company’s story of economic success. Every building will tell you who owned what, when, how it impacted the surrounding area, and how profitable it was… All whilst looking stunning!

Final Thoughts

Magnate: The First City is a a game I’d easily say is on par with some of my other favourite economy games. If not beating them! It won’t result in a lot of jump up and down moments, as economic games aren’t won until the last second. What it does do is give you a feeling of strong success when things go right, you’ll identify things that go right, wrong and disastrously, and you’ll adjust future ply accordingly. When you do make that solid play, you’ll then be hoping for a close to the game and that results in people going from true order to utter chaos, and it’s how far people will push that chaos before the game ends that will determine the true winner. Magnate is a game that really scratched the economy game itch, and having it centred on real estate and an economic crash gives it a real edge on similar games. It’s suitably weighty, well structured, aesthetically beautiful and excellent fun.