A few years ago I found a game called Rise of Augustus (some markets know it as simply Augustus). It’s a little hard to explain to people in a way that sounds attractive to new players, but it’s very similar to Bingo. I was very much hoping that the new implementation Via Magica could help with this, and it seems to do a good job.
There are some extra rules that make Via Magica different to ‘just’ Bingo. Rules like one-off bonuses, permanent upgrades, set collection, and scoring objectives. It sounds complicated but is easy to play once you get your head around it. We very much dropped Rabbit in the deep end thanks to some Discord mishaps while setting up. Even with minimal instruction, Rabbit got the hang of Via Magica quickly.
During the game, a player known as the Catcher pulls out tiles from a bag. In Via Magica, these tiles represent different elements. Players then place a crystal from their stockpile onto a ‘portal’ (bingo card) matching the element. When you complete the card, players call “Incantantum” (bingo) and complete any bonuses. These bonuses could be immediate, or end-game scoring. Once this is complete, they pick another portal.
When a player completes 7 portals, the game ends and final scoring takes place. The highest score wins. See what I mean by Via Magica is hard to make sound appealing? It sounds like a very dry bingo variant with extra bookkeeping, but it’s far from the case.
Via Magica benefits from streamlining and a new theme, and appeals to me in a very similar way to Century Golem. Even though the gameplay is almost identical to Rise of Augustus, the theme upgrade makes a huge difference. Via Magica’s elementals are far more interesting to look at than Roman districts.
There are also some quality-of-life improvements on the cards themselves. In Via Magica, the elements are shown on top of the card, meaning you can see everything easily. Compare this to Rise of Augustus having the components required down the side of the card. Couple this with meeples blocking your view, and a players life is instantly improved.
There is one aspect of Via Magica I wish was bought across from Rise of Augusts – tie breakers on completion. In Augustus, each card has a number on it. If more than one player completed a card on a round, the player with the lowest number resolved bonuses first. It is a clear rule that stops arguments in their tracks.
In Via Magica, it is whoever first yells ‘Incantantum’. This can lead to arguments, especially amongst younger or more competitive players. I can’t see my group having an issue here, but when playing with others I prefer the clear ruling.
Either way, after winning three straight games, I don’t know if Alpal and Rabbit will want to play Via Magica with me again anytime soon. I hope so, it would be great to play every now and then!