Interview & Overview of Magnate: The First City - A Kickstarter Highlight

Kickstarter Highlight Magnate The First City Building Board Game

Magnate: The First City is a Polyhedron Collider Kickstarter Highlight.  This means that from what we know of the game, we reckon it’s pretty bloody great, just how pretty, bloody or great is subject to change as games are want to do when they go through the Kickstarter process.

In this new look Polyhedron Collider Kickstarter Highlight, we take a close look at a current campaign, peeking behind the curtain to discuss the design and development of the game with the designer and publisher; James Naylor of Naylor Games, as well as giving you an overview of the game itself too.  

I’ve had my eye on this game for a good while and I’ve been fortunate enough to have played two demos, one at Dragonmeet at the end of 218 and one at the UK Games Expo in 2019 with Andy (that you can listen to us discuss here).  In short, Magnate: the First City is an absolutely belting city building economic game.  

It manages to be clever and simple in the simulation of the property market all at once and it’s just one of the aspects of the game I’ve enjoyed so much.  Now, that could have been because we had James Naylor, the game’s designer, was sat in the driving seat as we played, but, as rules and mechanics were unfolded and explained they simply made sense.

Kickstarter Highlight Magnate The First City Building Game


When talking about Magnate, it’s hard not to also talk about the elephant-in-the-room-influences to the game, namely Monopoly and Sim City, and say what you will of Monopoly (and/or Sim City) it (they) is a cornerstone to board games about property development.  The theme isn't the only thing to link these games together, but they are about as similar as an elephant and a mouse: plastic building, cash and dice vs four legs, ears and tail.

Over the course of the game you buy plots of land, you’ll develop those plots by adding small buildings, you’ll attract occupants, earn rent and continue to grow.  Eventually, you’ll want to think about re-development, or selling the property off completely.  You’ll become more and more concerned with how the city is being collectively developed.  Neighbouring buildings and neighbourhoods impact how successful any building (and thus how much rent you can hope to gain) will be.

Kickstarter Highlight Magnate The First City Building Game - Town Hall


Then you have the really, really, Clever ThingTM with Magnate.  The thing the whole game is aimed squarely at and is the reason I’ll be backing this Kickstarter campaign and why it will keep hitting my table is the market crash.  Every choice that a player makes affects the market, pushing property prices up and up.  Every plot bought, every building constructed, each piece of marketing material further inflates the proverbial property bubble.  

And we all know what happens to bubbles that get too big... 

Magnate brings players together to tell a gripping story, involving them it the exploration and the building of the tension before the game’s climax when the market crashes.  The game is designed to crash, players work towards this goal, like it or not (but you will) with a sharp eye on their “exit strategy”

Kickstarter Highlight Magnate The First City Building Game - Shopping Mall


Even after demonstrating this game to me twice, James was still kind enough to subject himself to some questions about it:

What inspired you to start designing your own game?

As a child, I loved board games and designed many of my own. But when I became a teenager - I think like many people - I left them all behind, thinking computer games were just better, that boardgames didn’t have anything to offer anymore. When I re-discovered modern games at university, I realise how wrong I’d been. That passion from childhood returned very quickly, and I simply felt compelled to make my own. I’ve always been that way. If I enjoy an art form, it feels so natural to me to try to create my own example of it.

What was it about the city building experience that drew you to it as a theme for Magnate?

For me, the city building element seemed to me to be a self-evident necessity of Magnate’s property theme. Quite unlike the impression that computer games like SimCity give, cities are more made by private interests than anyone else. It is developers deciding this or that space would be a good place for housing or an office block. It is market demand that shapes why some kind of buildings are built in one place or another - not an omniscient mayor. There is something so compelling about seeing a city emerge (which is why those games animations of a steadily building city are so satisfying), it just had to be this way. 

Kickstarter Highlight Magnate The First City Building Game - Deep Thought


What aspect of the theme was most important for you to capture and is there anyone aspect of the game that epitomises this for you?

An incredibly tough question! Its been two things: First the essential “3D-ness” of the experience. Hopefully, without sounding too pretentious, we are very aware of the three-dimensional qualities of buildings because of the way we encounter them at a human-dwarfing scale. So the components should be same - having buildings as two-dimensional will always feel more distant than say, a two-dimensional coin or banknote because, in real life, we think of two of their dimensions as relevant. Second - the idea of an inevitable market crash that will shape our decisions (and for the player, victory). There will always be a correction because in the boom our optimism will always cause us to overestimate the value of things (not just property). The land price track is a single component that conveys that - as well as being a kind of uncertain timer for the end of the game. 

You've been chronicling your journey in designing, prototyping and into fundraising is this a process you aim to continue?

I would love to do that. I enjoy the writing process whenever I feel I have something concrete or thought-through to share.  It’s always difficult finding the time though, because, by necessity, it’s never the most important task on any list when your goal is to publish a game. I would do it much more if I didn’t need a day job to pay the bills and could live off Naylor Games

Kickstarter Highlight Magnate The First City Building Game - In the Beginning


You’ve been developing and “touring” with Magnate for quite some time now, what is the biggest change that has come about via this process?

At its core, it’s not actually changed too much. It is fundamentally the same game it was 2 years ago. But in terms of refinement and streamlining, it has come on leaps and bounds: not just balance or game arc, but down to graphical presentation - a much-underrated element of the game development process. It is simply on every level a better game than it was. 

What type of gamer and game collection is Magnate for?

At the risk of sounding like an over-enthusiastic and naive new creator, I genuinely believe Magnate is a game for most kinds of gamer and most game collections by extension. I have a few reasons for thinking this: Its familiar theme and (hopefully) intuitive mechanics have been designed to be accessible and enjoyable to more casual gamers. Choices are varied, but not overwhelming at first. Anyone who already feels comfortable with the level of complexity in Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride or Catan is completely ready for it. But - from what I have observed in many, many repeat players - the more you play, the more it reveals hidden depths; depths that should be hidden at first. When played with its advanced rules and mini-expansion content (launching with the KS) it’s a game that provides players with a vast array of strategic options and many thorny, almost painful, play decisions. Gamers who just play the heaviest of heavy euros and nothing else might fail to get a big kick out of it. And, at the other end, if you only ever party games and social deduction because everything else is too heavy, Magnate probably isn’t for you. But I think almost everyone else will have a good time with it.

Kickstarter Highlight Magnate The First City Building Game - Andy Scheme

Magnate: The First City is live on Kickstarter from Thursday 21st November 2019

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