I should start by saying that I immediately fell in love with Trickerion when I first played it, shortly after its release in 2015. It very rapidly became a favourite game and remains in my top three to this day. It has a delightful blend of theme and mechanics, an awful lot of choices to make, and a variety of difficulty levels right out of the box.
It can seem a little overwhelming at first, especially since the player aid is a 12-page menu style booklet. But give it time, and it can be a really rewarding game, when you see it all come together, and the points roll in off one weekend of performances.
In Trickerion, players represent stage magicians. Each round (there are either five or six rounds, depending on if you play the easy or experienced version) represents a week in the life of the magicians, who are learning, designing, building and performing magic tricks for an audience at the end of the week. Staff can be recruited to help build, learn or stage the performance.
This was the first game where I encountered a real integration of the theme of the game and the actions that you take as a player. In fact, each time I have taught it, I have found it easier to explain the process of the theme, then attach the mechanics to that. The theme really delivers the mechanics. There are very few games I can say that about, and this, for me, is what makes Trickerion so special.
Trickerion is a worker placement game, with an action point allowance system. There are other game mechanics in the mix, such as resource management and programming, but worker placement is where it is at. Each player starts the game with three workers - their magician, a specialist (one of three different types) and an apprentice, with three, two and one action points respectively.
Actions are selected using cards, which, when revealed, send the different workers to different locations on the board. In this way, the game makes use of a simultaneous action selection/programming mechanism. However, if an action location is no longer available, or if a player decides they do not want to send their chosen worker to perform a selected action, they do not need to (and therefore save on their salary, at the end of the round). They cannot, however, change the action selected.
Each action around the board costs a different number of actions points, and can be executed more than once, if the worker placed in the action spot has enough action points. The different actions that are available are located in different locations on the board and knowing each of the locations helps to make the available actions make sense. The locations are:
- Downtown - Here, the players can visit Dahlgaard (an old stage magician, around whom the game is themed) to learn a new trick, hire a new character (a different specialist or an apprentice) or get money from the bank.
- Market Row - This is where players can purchase building materials to use in assembling a new trick, or they can order the materials to be purchased in a later round. More exotic materials require more action points.
- Workshop - This is an off-board, personal area, where players can build the tricks they have learned and have the resources for. They only have space to build a limited number of tricks, although one of the specialists can help with this.
- Theatre - This is where the tricks are performed at the end of every round. Different specialists can assist in performing the tricks, and can help to earn extra money, victory points or trickerion shards.
Trickerion shards are a rare resource in the game. Whilst they may be worth victory points at the end of the game, they can be used to make an extra action point available on different locations, so they can prove to be quite precious. Earning them in the theatre can make all the difference to success in the game.
Performances in the Theatre
The performances which occur at the end of the round are where the points, the money and the trickerion shards are earned, although bonuses can also be earned by setting up a rather well-themed performance. Each trick (as shown on its wonderfully illustrated card) will earn a combination of points, money and shards - more impressive tricks require players to be already well established - shown by ever increasing amounts of fame (victory points) - but they reap greater rewards.
Performances take place over four successive nights. The first night of performances is less demanding (perhaps because there is less of an audience), so fewer action points are required, but the bonuses are reduced. Performances on the last night are much more difficult, requiring more action points to put on a show, but the rewards from doing so are boosted. An entire evening’s performance can comprise of tricks from any or all players/magicians - magicians do not even have to place any workers in the theatre in order to earn performance benefits.
The theatre performances are what Trickerion is all about, and, for some people, this is where the game falls down. Whilst there can be a huge amount of joy is seeing a trick you have set-up earn a load of points, a load of money and a handful of trickerion shards, that isn’t enough for some.
There is no elaborate show, no big bang, no drawing back of the curtain to reveal a floating magician. Instead, some cards are selected, some tokens are removed, and some points and resources are earned. Functionally, the tricks which can be performed are not distinct - beyond the card art, there is little to separate them (unlike a card game). For me, that is enough - this is a game, it isn’t a real magic show. It would be great if some of the great magical stage tricks could be genuinely emulated in a game, but alas, if you want to be able to carry this box to game night, you must accept some compromises.
In the Box
Speaking of the box, there are several ways to play Trickerion, without the use of an expansion. The most basic form of the game, which is enough for most people for a few plays at least, features five rounds, and only two tiers of tricks. But the more advanced game (using the in-box “The Dark Alley” expansion) plays over seven rounds and encompasses a third tier of more expensive tricks. This version of the game really gives the feel of building an engine - as you progress through to higher tiers of tricks, you need to purchase more and more rare - and expensive - resources from the marketplace. These tricks can only be performed by an expert (measured in fame/victory points) magician.
Speaking of the magicians, The Dark Alley expansion also provides magician powers - abilities which are unique to each of the eight available magicians.
Another element of the Dark Alley Expansion is the special assignment cards. These are functionally the same as the action selection/programming cards used in the base game, but they also carry an action specific bonus, and can be purchased by visiting a new location on the board, the eponymous Dark Alley. The Dark Alley also features a fortune teller. This section of the board carries a series of Prophecies, which provide a bonus for specific actions in each round. Visiting the fortune teller allows players to influence the order that these affect the game.
For a first game by the designers/publishers, Trickerion was well received. It was published alongside a small, but not insubstantial, expansion. Publishers Mindclash Games recently successfully launched a second, larger expansion (with several goodies) on Kickstarter - this is due to reach backers around mid-2019, so you can expect to see a lot more attention for Trickerion around then.
Final Thoughts on Trickerion
Trickerion is a fairly heavy, involved thematic worker placement game, in-which the theme helps to deliver the mechanics.
With several degrees of complexity which can be introduced to the game with more experience, and with other players interfering with the game state by making different resources available in the marketplace, every game feels different enough for it to have sufficient replay-ability. The additional features introduced by the in-box expansion, The Dark Alley, however, really make the game shine.