Marcin Krupiski &
Filip Milunski


No. of Players:
2 - 4



Okay, let's first face the basics: what we have here is a worker-placement game, coming with the needed meeples (representing miners or workers), a nicely drawn gameboard, wooden cubes of four colours to represent three different qualities of salt and subterranean water, markers, tool cards and order tokens. However, The locations shown on the gameboard show only a part of the possibilities where the players will be able to place their meeples, and so the lower part of the gameboard is continued by a mineshaft, going down for three levels in which face-down mine chamber tiles will be placed during setup.

It is the aim of the players to take the role of foremen who are competing to become the Royal Steward of a new salt mine. To reach this privilege, the players have to prove themselves most efficient in extracting salt from the mineshaft found in this game, and after a duration of three weeks (rounds) the richest player will have won the game. Salt cubes coming from the mine can be sold for varying prices at the market on the gameboard, but to gain as much income as possible the players need to keep an eye on the King's salt orders which are going to be revealed at the Castle on the gameboard. The King will richly reward the player who first brings him enough salt cubes of matching quality to meet one of his orders, and whenever five orders have been served by the players a week (round of play) is over and the following week will start.

At the beginning of each week the players take back all their meeples from the gameboard and the mine, and everybody once again readies any tools which have possibly been used in the previous week. Taking turns, the players then are allowed to perform two actions each, beginning with the starting player and going clockwise around the table until the turn in which the King's fifth order for the current week has been served. As it is custom in worker-placement games, the players perform their actions by the placement of workers (sorry, silly pun…). Most important here is the action in the mineshaft, since this is the place where the players will gather the needed salt.

Placing one meeple per action, the players first will go down the shaft itself, and then turn left and right into the unrevealed rows of mine chambers. However, meeples cannot be placed freely in the mine, but instead they can only be placed into new spaces if an unbroken chain of meeples goes back from the newly occupied space right to the surface. However, these meeples do not necessarily belong to the active player, but instead the meeples of all players are considered valid when it comes to uphold the unbroken-chain-rule. In this fashion the players slowly will use their meeples to populate the mine, and whenever a new chamber is reached it is turned over and the meeple is placed on the chamber's revealed side, together with the salt and water cubes indicated on the chamber tile.

This brings us to the question of how the salt can be mined. Here the rule must be followed that a player may use one action to mine as much salt from one chamber as he has own meeples present in that chamber, but he has to substract the amount of water cubes in that chamber from his total sum (ground water makes mining more difficult, especially on lower levels). However, it is not just sufficient to have miners in the chamber, but it must also be guaranteed that the mined salt is directly removed from the mine. Due to the unbroken-chain-rule there is a standing connection from any chamber with meeples right to the surface, but if the player performing the mining action needs the help of other players' meeples to transport the salt back to the surface (because he does not have a self-owned meeple in every space on the way from the chamber to the surface), the owners of meeples used for transportation will receive a fee of one coin for every salt cube the active player moves through such a space. This transportation mechanism is a bit similar to the transportation of the stone Moai in Giants, but only salt cubes for which the active player can pay all transportation costs can be removed from the chamber and placed at the player's stockpile.

The meeples who have worked in the chamber will get exhausted from mining salt and they will be turned to their side. A player will need to spend his whole turn to refresh all his tired miners in the mine, and then these miners either can mine salt again (if there should be cubes left in their chamber), or they can be moved within the mine at a rate of one meeple per action, provided that the unbroken-chain-rule is observed.

The outside world shows the Royal Castle where the King's orders wait to be fulfilled. A player ma place his meeple(s) in the waiting spaces outside the castle, and on every successive turn the figure(s) will move one step forwards, reaching the castle two turns after the player has made the initial placement. In the turn in which a meeple reaches the castle, the player either will have to deliver salt cubes matching one of the King's orders, or he will have to pay a fine if he is unable to fulfil any of the available orders. This actually may happen because the delayed arrival of the meeples leads to a waiting time of two turns in which earlier placed meeples may arrive at the castle and perform one of the desired orders. An interesting way to hamper an opposing player, since all personal stockpiles must be kept visible for everybody.

However, the player's even have the chance to acquire a salt cube needed for an order at the Salt Market. This market operates on a fairly straight system of availability and demand, but nonetheless it may be sensible to send a meeple there in order to buy a high priced salt cube which then may be used to fulfil an even better-paid order. In most times this will seem more sensible than taking the penalty for wasting the King's time.

Other locations available on the gameboard are the Inn and the Workshop. At the Inn additional meeples can be hired, and they will join a player's team for the rest of the game. The Workshop on the other hand offers privileges which will help at the Salt Market or the Castle, or tools which come in quite handy when working in the mine: a pickaxe strengthens a team during a mining action, a bucket can be used to move water cubes from one chamber to the next ("oops, I didn't know that someone was planning to mine in there…"), food helps to recover some meeples without spending a player's whole turn etc… All tools and privileges can be used once per round of play, and so they have a maximum of three usages if they are bought during the first week. This number of usages seems a bit unprofitable in consideration of the tool's prices, but game balancing seems to demand a restrictive use of the tools. However, especially on the lower levels with lots of water tools may offer the decisive edge, since they are cheaper than meeples and the pure white salt cubes which may be found down there are worth a fortune!

Water also can be removed from the mine using the Pump House. A player who sends a meeple there may remove a water cube from a chamber containing his meeples for free, and if money is paid even more water can be removed during the same action.

Apart from selling salt to the King and the Salt Market, players also gain a coin for sending a meeple to the Town Square (that's where the miners go for a game of dice), and they may also generate an income by sending a meeple to the Workshop, the Pump House, the Salt Market or the Castle to become an assistant. The assistant's owner will receive one coin from the bank whenever any of the players uses this particular location, and this will happen as long as the meeple remains in the assistant's position. To be honest, this last part with the location assistants first seemed to be a bit out of place in a game which concentrates on salt mining, but as playtesting showed the assistants are a sensible inclusion because they add another element of speculation. Thus, it may really pay up to remove a meeple from the mine to put him into an assistant's position when a few players (possibly including the assitant's owner!) are deemed to make a visit to that particular location.

As it seems Magnum Sal has been created and edited rather affectionately. All rules seem to be weighted well and thoroughly tested, and so the different elements of the game fall together to create a quite nice final result. While it is true that the one or other gamer may ask himself whether he really should buy another worker-placement-game, Magnum Sal offers some really nice ideas which make the purchase worthwhile. The game has enough unique rules which make it stand apart from the other products crowding this market segment, and what I like most is the rather nice implementation of the whole mining business: new chambers are discovered step by step, teams are sent in, tools can be used to enhance working efficiency, and even ground water needs to be taken into consideration. All in all a really nice simulation of the whole process, and much closer to the real thing than the "place a meeple - get a stone / wood / grain / sheep / brick / gold / victory point…"-mechanism found in many other games.

To my great delight Magnum Sal also offers wooden playing pieces and a graphic design which can keep up with any product coming from a major publisher, and so the game does not need to fear a comparison with high-standing award-winning titles like The Pillars of Earth. It is a strong and worthy contestant on all grounds!

[Gamebox Index]

Google Custom Search

Impressum / Contact Info / Disclaimer


Copyright © 2010 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany