Megaland is a push-your-luck style game for 2-5 players designed by Ryan Laukat and Malorie Laukat. Your objective is to run a Super Mario-like video game level, collecting a variety of treasures without running into the vicious monsters that will hamper your progress. Whether you stay in for the chance at one last treasure is up to you but fail and you will lose everything you've acquired! Players who beat the level can then use their treasures to construct buildings, granting special abilities to aid in future level runs. The first to 20 coins is the winner!
Set-up & Gameplay
Begin by selecting your buildings for the game. Place each of the six-star building stacks in a row in the centre of the table, these are used for every game of Megaland. Then select seven of the remaining 17 standard buildings and place them in a row below the star buildings. These will be your available supply for this game. Place the resource tray and heart cost card in the centre of the table where all players can access them, as well as the shuffled deck of treasure cards, the level tile and level deck.
Players now take one player card and four heart tokens and place them in front of them with the hearts on the left side of their board. Players may then select one of the five standees to represent them during the game, and place these on the level tile. Finally, give the first player token to the player who most recently played a video game.
A turn in Megaland is split into three phases: The Run the Level phase, Buy phase, and Night phase. In the run the level phase, players use the level deck and treasure decks to decide how far they wish to push their luck in the current level. At the beginning of this phase, every player in the level simultaneously draws a treasure card and places it above their player mat. Then, the first player draws the top card of the level deck and places it next to the level tile.
If the card is blank, nothing happens. However, when a monster appears each player takes damage equal to the number of skulls showing on the card, moving that number of hearts from the left side of their board to the 'injury' side of the board. It is then up to each player to decide whether they wish to stay in the level and risk further injury or return home with the treasures they have already gathered. If a player returns home, they take their character standee from the level tile and place their acquired treasures below their character card. For every player that stays, they draw one extra treasure card and then draw the next level card. Play continues until all players have either returned home or fallen from taking too much damage. A fallen player also loses all treasure cards acquired during that level.
In the Buy phase, players may use their acquired goods to buy buildings from the supply, starting with the first player. Each building has a cost in the top corner which must be paid using entirely unique goods. For example, I can use a fish, gear, egg and carrot to buy a four-cost building, but I cannot buy the same building with two stone and two crystals. The building is then placed in the player's play area, and the player may gather any coins associated with the building. For example, a Sandwich Stand gives one coin when purchased, while an Arcade gives three coins when purchased.
Buildings may also provide other effects outside of the Buy phase, such as providing bonuses when certain criteria are met. Players may also buy additional hearts for their character. Contrary to building costs, these require multiples of the same resource to purchase. Any purchased hearts go immediately on the healthy side of the player's board. Each player buys as many buildings or hearts as they like on their turn but may not buy multiples of the same building in the same turn. Players then pass after purchasing everything they desire until all players have had an opportunity to purchase.
In the Night phase, any resources that are not used are discarded, but players may choose to store one remaining resource of their choice under each of their buildings which they may then use on future turns. Any buildings with the moon symbol now trigger, and players reset their hearts, passing the first player token to the left. If any player has reached 20 coins by this point, the game now ends. If not, shuffle the level deck and return to the Run the Level phase.
Thoughts on Megaland
Megaland is the latest game from designer Ryan Laukat, with an art style familiar to those who have enjoyed games such as Above and Below and Near and Far. However, where those games delve into the story-driven universe Laukat has formed, Megaland takes a different tact, with a game that embodies the themes of these earlier games in a new, streamlined form.
There is no encounter booklet here, only the tools required for a 20-minute romp, boiling the essence of Laukat's lovingly-crafted universe into a succinct and easily enjoyed experience. It is rare to find a game designer that can also provide unique illustration, and for me that is the special quality that Laukat brings to all his games. Every experience is uniquely crafted, measured and precise while being flexible and organic, and though the gameplay is nothing we haven't seen before in terms of mechanics, Laukat expertly ties together his mechanics with wistfully-crafted theme and world-building.
To me, Megaland sits at the intersection between Incan Gold and Machi Koro. It combines city building and treasure hunting into a delightful marriage of themes, while perfectly evoking the feeling of a Super Mario-style 2D platform game from the 90s. While Goombas are non-existent here, each evoke a familiar creature from popular culture, and whether you are still haunted by Castlevania's bats or you underestimate the faux-Rabbit of Caerbannog, the nods to popular culture are plentiful.
Megaland isn't incredibly deep at first glance, but the 17 alternating building cards do give value to multiple plays. It's the kind of game where I could see an expansion giving some added replay-ability, but to be honest I'm not convinced the game needs it. After half a dozen plays, it still surprises me with combinations to discover, and it always leaves myself and my fellow players wanting, often leading to an hour's worth of sessions leading nicely into longer experiences later in my game nights. One caveat here is that there is very little player interaction between games, other than buying up certain buildings before the last player has a chance to buy them. Sometimes games can feel like you're woefully behind, but the push-your-luck element can often be the equaliser, and the fortunate use of a jump token to avoid a hefty swath of damage can be the difference between coming out of a level with three treasures or seven.
Component quality is remarkable for something of this price point. The Game Trayz insert is a wonderful addition, holding everything perfectly (unless you are an obsessive sleever like myself). Everything can be sorted into easily-filed partitions and hidden pockets of space, making perfect use of the box size. Tokens are thick and durable and come with their own removable tray for easy set-up and return, and cards shuffle well with no significant signs of wear.
If you are looking for the story-driven elements of Ryan Laukat's other games, this game will leave you wanting. However, if you're looking for a short game with plenty of value, I can't recommend Megaland highly enough. It's a game perfect for filling time before and after longer games, while still giving something to the family gamer with its straightforward and concise rules set. Whether it will dethrone Diamant and Incan Gold in the future is undetermined yet, but I can see this being the strongest contender to these two for a long time to come.