- Considering that Megaland co-designer Ryan Laukat is most famous for creating at least midweight games like Near and Far or Empires of the Void and its sequel, this latest effort is among the most straightforward games you’re likely to play this year. With its twenty to thirty minute playtime and an overt video game theme, Megaland might be the game to tempt digital gamers to try a more analogue experience.
Overview and turn structure
Set in the titular world of Megaland, each player acts much as they would in a video game, exploring a level and attempting to gather as much treasure as possible. Playing as unnamed heroes, up to five players will begin a round by claiming a treasure card and placing it above their player board. A level card will then be drawn, depicting one of several possibilities, including the presence of enemies that might damage all of the players.
Regardless of whether damage is taken or not, each player will then decide whether she wants to remain in the level or not. If she does, she’ll draw another treasure card and place it beside the other. When all players have decided, another level card is drawn, which once again affects all players. Should anyone suffer more damage than they have health, then they’ll faint and be forced to abandon all treasures collected in that level so far. This push-your-luck mechanic is Megaland’s killer hook.
Assuming that one or more players come home safely, they’ll be able to spend their treasures on building upgrades, each of which offers a benefit to them either instantly or on an ongoing basis. Some buildings pay the player when another player beside them faints, whilst others bestow jump tokens that allow the player to “skip” taking damage on a level that features monsters. More powerful buildings require more treasure (sometimes up to six) and each treasure used to pay for them must be unique. These buildings are chosen randomly at the beginning of the game and a handful of them will be left in the box, so there is an element of variation with each game.
The game ends in whichever round a player is able to reach twenty or more coins, with the victory given to the player who reaches the highest before safely withdrawing from the level. Essentially, this makes Megaland a game of pushing your luck, upgrading your capabilities and total health, then repeating the cycle as many times as is necessary. Usually, there will be a minimum of ten or more runs before players begin to near their goal, but since each one takes just a couple of minutes, it’s not a major problem.
Of course, there are a few other rules to take into consideration including the need to discard treasures down to the number of buildings you have, or how it’s possible to purchase discreet heart upgrades based on an ever-increasing cost in treasure. All of these things boil down to supporting that core need to enhance your strength and target the necessary twenty plus coins run.
The components in Megaland are perhaps one of its standout features. Like all Red Raven Games products, Megaland comes with superb artwork across all components, although if I were being critical, I might suggest that the world of Megaland isn’t realised as fully as Laukat’s other worlds. It has a familiar visual style and a consistent colour palette, as well as a number of retro themed features that bring it together as a videogame theme, but it does lack some of the more creative elements that Near and Far has, for example.
Regardless of this minor quibble, I certainly can’t fault the quality of the components, which are held together by a Game Trayz, erm, box insert. This moulded piece of plastic is a marvel when it comes to not only storing Megaland, but also in setting it up for the next game and enabling rapid, clean teardown. The tray holds all of the building cards individually so that they can easily be retrieved and it has covered inserts for loose tokens etc – you won’t need a single baggy to store this one. More importantly, I should mention, is that the actual card stock is of the highest quality, as are the playing cards used in the game.
The manual is fairly good, offering a clear insight into how the game is structured and played, without overcomplicating what is a simple game. I did find it a bit of a pain working out how exactly the game ended, but as soon as I realised that it had nothing to do with cumulative wealth and that it was all about building the perfect run, then the video game theme suddenly clicked into place.
The overarching feeling you’ll get from Megaland is one of speed. It’s a fast paced, simple to play game that is easy to learn and relatively throwaway in terms of how much commitment it demands. With that said, higher level play is actually quite nuanced. The push-your-luck aspect is just that, but the level deck is small enough that as you play more and more, memorising the cards that have been and gone does become quite a factor. Similarly, there are certainly a number of different ways to construct a character based on the available buildings and how you invest in them.
As such, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to use the classic phrase “easy to learn, difficult to master” when it comes to Megaland. Whilst the video game theme sits sort of oddly between retro and modern, mixing styles like Simcity with Super Mario, Megaland does actually come across as having a video game inspiration that goes beyond pure aesthetics. It sort of plays like the kind of video games that even pre-date the NES and Master System — it has the same kind of brutal, sometimes unfair kind of feel to it.
On that note, Megaland is a push-your-luck game, so sometimes you’ll just have a bad string of treasure and level cards, leading to poor investment, leading to falling behind quickly. It helps that level cards affect everyone, but that doesn’t help if you’re already behind on health and your opponents can take an extra hit that you can’t, which puts them even further ahead. This kind of thing doesn’t happen too often, because even the single-treasure cost buildings do begin to add value and enhance your character sufficiently that you’ll gain ground — it’s only ever an issue if you make one or two mistakes and an opponent plays flawlessly.
I’m all for designers looking at ways of doing things differently and Ryan Laukat (in this case working with wife and co-designer Malorie Laukat) has a reputation for making the ordinary feel extraordinary. In Megaland, the husband and wife team have created an unusual, fast paced, innovative and fun experience that is presented at a very light weight, but with enough long term potential to interest more serious gamers, or even to promote a lot of gamesmanship between dedicated players in the same group.
Ultimately, the speed and simplicity that I keep returning to are what make Megaland a worthwhile addition to your gaming collection, alongside the video game theme if that appeals to you. This isn’t the most deep and meaningful game that you’ll ever encounter, but it is fast paced and fun. A worthy diversion from the usual fare of Red Raven Games I’d say, and more importantly, one that should appeal to a broader range of players.
A copy of Megaland was provided for review purposes. You can find out more about it on the website of publisher Red Raven Games.