Full disclosure: A review copy of Magic Fold was provided by Happy Baobab.
Now that I’ve been able to play games in person with folks again, I’ve been really able to hit a bunch of the Happy Baobab titles that I’ve been wanting to play for like, a year. I’ve covered Gone Fishing and now Magic Fold, and I’ve been able to play Alien Express, as well! Still looking out for the right time to try My Funny Dinos and 9 Figure, so, I’ll keep y’all posted on those. I love getting a chance to experience new games from outside the US, though, so I’m looking forward to whatever I’ll get to play next. Let’s check out Magic Fold and see how it measures up to the other games I’ve been playing, lately!
Magic Fold is, simply put, a flying carpet ride. Players are tasked with racing from the desert to the Sky Palace by casting spells and relying on the occasional assistance of the Djinn to keep their carpets moving as quickly as possible. The challenge is that players are all doing this in real-time, and the first player to take a Spell Card gets to use it! There are also some nasty Cobra tokens that can set you back, if you’re not careful! Will you be able to make it to the Sky Palace and victory? Or will you just end up in a whole new world of failure?
It’s not too bad. First, lay out the board:
Then, give each player a Magic Carpet:
Give them a Djinn token, as well, and place the others on the Djinn space on the board:
Give each player a player token and a meeple in their chosen color, and have them place the meeples on the starting line:
Shuffle the Cobra Tokens and place one Cobra-side-up on each Cobra space. The remaining tokens can be placed in the box.
Shuffle the Basic Spell Cards together to make a spell deck:
If you’re looking for a more challenging game, shuffle in the Advanced Spell Cards (or make a deck of just the Advanced Spell Cards):
Place the Initiative Tokens face-up in numerical order, and place one Spell Card face-down next to each:
You should be ready to start! Place the sand timer near the center of the play area.
Shadow Rider Setup
If you’re playing with 2 – 3 players, choose one player token and meeple that isn’t being used and place them in play as the Shadow Rider. More on that in Gameplay.
A game of Magic Fold is a magic carpet race. First to cross wins! However, in order to cross, you’ll have to cast spells to keep your carpet moving and rely on the help of Djinn. A game is played over multiple rounds.
To start a round, all players reveal the four spell cards simultaneously. Players then fold their magic carpet such that the visible pattern matches the pattern indicated on the spell card. There are some caveats to this:
- The carpet’s shape must be correct. For two or three symbols, the carpet must be in a straight line. For four symbols, the carpet must be a square.
- You can only fold on straight lines. No partial splits or diagonals or anything weird.
- If the image has no icons, only the colors matter.
- If the image has no colors, only the icons matter.
- If the image has a ?, any icon can be used in that space.
- A Djinn token may be placed on a carpet space to substitute for any color or icon. Note that you cannot use Djinn Tokens to replace every icon on your carpet; at least one must match the Spell Card.
- The ordering of the icons doesn’t matter. Only the color / icon pairs, if present, matter.
After you’ve completed some configuration of the carpet, take the Initiative Token corresponding to that Spell Card. If you are the first player to take an Initiative Token, flip the timer, as well. Other players have until the timer runs out to finish their folding. Then, resolve cards in Initiative order as follows:
- The card and the carpet match: You’ve completed a spell! Move as many spaces forward as indicated on your Initiative Token and your Spell Card. If you took Initiative Token 1, instead choose a different player and move them backwards one space. Also, if the card or token shows a Djinn Token, take one (or two, if they both show one).
- The card and the carpet do not match: You’ve messed up your Spell! Don’t advance, but take a Djinn token as a consolation prize.
- You did not complete your folding before the timer ran out: You ran out of time to cast a Spell! Don’t advance, but take a Djinn token as a consolation prize.
If you finish your move (or are moved as a result of Initiative Token 1) onto a Shortcut Start space, move your token to the end of the Shortcut. Similarly, if you finish your move or are moved onto a Cobra Space with a Cobra Token still on it, take the Cobra Token and apply its nefarious effect next round. These are bad, and you don’t want these if you can avoid them.
Once every player has resolved their movement, discard all the used Spell Cards, refill them, and start a new round!
The game ends as soon as one player crosses the finish line. That player wins!
Shadow Rider Gameplay
This works largely the same as the standard game, with one exception. The Shadow Rider always takes the lowest-value Initiative Token and applies both it and the corresponding Spell Card, so they move forward. When the Shadow Rider takes Initiative Token 1, they also move the player(s) in the lead back 1 space. If they are in the lead, nobody gets moved back.
The Shadow Rider may be the first player to cross the finish line. If that happens, the player farthest ahead on the board wins.
Magic Fold Championship
A Magic Fold Championship plays very similarly to the base game, except instead of winning as soon as you cross the finish line, you finish out that round and all players who crossed the finish line score:
- First place: 5 points
- Second place: 3 points
- Third place: 2 points
- Fourth place: 1 point
If you fail to cross the finish line, you score nothing. Play three games, and the player with the highest total score wins!
Player Count Differences
So the major mechanical difference in this one is the Shadow Rider, or the fake player who takes the lowest-ranked Spell Card every round. That’s generally fine, as that character tends to only pick on the winner, so I wouldn’t worry about that too much. That said, the game is very different at higher player counts, specifically because you don’t often have time to check what your opponents are working on. This means, with more players, there’s more contention for the same Spell Cards, if you’re not careful. If you’re playing against someone a bit faster than you and they beat you to the punch, you risk being unable to score in that round, especially if you’re playing the Advanced Game. So that can make the game a bit swingier, especially at higher player counts. I wouldn’t say that that negatively impacts my perception of the game, but it does make me a bit more nervous to play Magic Fold with more than three people. I have quite enjoyed Magic Fold with two players, though, so I’d probably keep my recommendation at two unless you’re looking for a highly chaotic game. That said, if all players have roughly equivalent skill / experience with dexterity games or you’re playing on the Basic Game, you’ll probably be fine with more players.
- Try to avoid landing on the Cobra spaces. This isn’t the biggest problem, per se, but you can end up getting pretty intensely clowned if you get the “one hand only” token. If you can avoid that, you can avoid particularly painful setbacks. That said, if you can push other players into the Cobra spaces, that might work out pretty well! The one worry is that you might put the work in, only to have the Cobra effect not actually affect them in any meaningful way. That’s more of a bummer than anything else, but sometimes you can get rid of other players’ Djinn tokens (or block them from using them!). Both are helpful, but if they don’t have any Djinn tokens, these effects don’t actually do anything.
- Note that the shortcut spaces are often pretty helpful. Especially later in the game, the shortcut spaces can move you a lot farther than the initial ones. In fact, the initial ones may not be worth it if it ends up putting a target on your back for the other players. Nonetheless, it’s usually worth trying to get ahead when you can.
- If you’re playing with fewer than four players, the Shadow Rider can be manipulated to your advantage. This part is pretty fun. You can use the Shadow Rider, if you’re in the lead, to move yourself backward onto a shortcut space that you missed, or potentially use the Shadow Rider to force an opponent backward onto a Cobra space that they thought they had avoided.
- If you’re not the fastest, you may want to try for Spell Cards that nobody else seems to be going for. Ideally, you’re not going into contention with a player that’s faster than you. If you do that, you’re basically going to lose until you get enough Djinn tokens to win. Generally, the cards that aren’t used persist from round to round, so you can get a sense of what other players aren’t interested in! Or the cards that stick around that won’t necessarily move you as far.
- In general, you don’t always want to go the most spaces; keep an eye on the board! There’s a real temptation to just always pick the spell card + initiative token combination that results in you moving the most spaces possible. If you’re not paying attention, you might miss easier combinations that can move you onto shortcut spaces, or you might take the perfect combination of tokens that move you directly onto a particularly nasty Cobra space. It’s hard to keep track of in the moment, but try to figure out where you’re going to end up! Also, consider what happens if you get moved backward a space before that, because an opponent who goes first can do that! Real-time games; they can trip you up.
- You can only hold three Djinn tokens at once, so, might as well make use of them. I usually try to keep one or two around for emergencies, but if I have a third I’ll almost always burn the third quickly because then I can gain more. There aren’t many opportunities to use three Djinn tokens in the same round (since you can’t substitute all of them), and having three means you can’t gain any more, so it may be worth not hoarding them.
- You can technically play adversarially, but I would strongly recommend banning that as a legitimate strategic play. Since there’s no penalty for being wrong, one could, technically, under the game’s rules, just take any initiative token of their choice. If you don’t think you’re going to make it in time, you might as well take the one that your opponent is working on, so that you can ensure they won’t score either. That seems to be allowed under the game’s rules. I would strongly recommend not allowing that? If you see it happening, it’s likely bad sportsmanship and the player doing that shouldn’t get incentivized for that behavior. I think you’ll have a more fun game if you choose not to allow that.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Really fun concept. Folding isn’t something you see in a lot of games (other than Fold-It, I suppose), so it’s nice to see it being explored in more depth. It takes the original folding concept and adds a fun racing game element to it, which I appreciate. I always like iterations on a neat concept. It’s sort of like how ClipCut Parks is an interesting game of cutting up squares, and I’d love to see what an iteration on that could look like (though that might be Cutterland). This is pretty innovative, though, and I hope more folding games become a thing.
- The folding works pretty well, as well! The carpet is thin enough that the folds don’t get too out of hand and, at least for the Basic Cards, it’s decently easy to see how to connect the folds to get the image. It’s also a fairly novel like, gameplay technique? As long as nobody tries to get you to play a real-life legacy mode where they trick you into folding their laundry.
- It’s interesting how much more challenging the Advanced Game is, in terms of folding. It’s hard. Some of the cards are just unintuitive and I kind of love it. Really makes you think about how the carpet is double-sided and how to use that to your advantage. Plus, it slows down the first part of the game nicely as players are fumbling with the carpet to try and get a super-challenging configuration completed.
- The Shadow Rider is fun, as far as dummy players, go. I like that it’s possible to manipulate the Shadow Rider into helping you out, if you’re in the lead (or if you’re hoping to pull another player back to a Cobra token). I wouldn’t necessarily see the Shadow Rider as a challenge, but it is nice that if the Shadow Rider reaches the end, the game ends and whoever is farther along the track wins.
- The art is also great! Very colorful, which I like to see. It also works nicely on the carpet. The board looks great, the whole thing is just a nice color. I particularly like the dark purple of the box, as well.
- Plays pretty quickly. It’s a speed racing game, so, those tend to play pretty fast. Adding the Shadow Rider helps make sure that’s the case, as well, since they always advance. Just an all-around speedy game, I’d say. There’s still a lot to do, but it happens quickly. If you’re playing a 4-player Advanced Game it might take a bit longer, just because there’s no Shadow Rider to move things along and the wrong configuration of cards might stymie players for a bit.
- Not too complex to pick up, either, once you get past the folding thing. The mechanics of the game are simple, but the challenge of folding can be complex. I think that’s a nice tier for games. It reminds me of Celeste (a challenging platforming video game), in a way, in that you can see what the outcome you want is and that there is a path to that outcome, but the execution of the required steps for that outcome is where the fundamental challenge of the game lies. I like games like that, but they also work really well in the dexterity space. Adding a timer just makes everything a bit sillier.
- The Cobra tokens can be kind of swingy, depending on player state when they get one. There are “always bad” Cobra tokens (the one-handed one, in particular) and then “usually bad” (can’t use Djinn tokens in the next round) and then “sometimes bad” (lose X Djinn tokens). That sort-of badness variance makes for some slightly swingy outcomes, as a player with no Djinn tokens may experience no real consequence. That’s fine and all, but it definitely is annoying if one player loses Djinn tokens they don’t have and the other player has to play one-handed.
- Given that being moved backwards can result in activating a Shortcut, it would make sense that the first player in initiative order should be allowed to move themselves backwards, as well. This is a very mild complaint, but there was definitely a time I would have liked to have moved myself backwards so that I could sneak onto a Shortcut space, but I was the player who got the first Initiative Token, so it was not meant to be.
- If another player beats you to the Spell Card you were eyeing, you’re basically hosed. The timer is almost unforgivingly short, which is funny for a speed dexterity game but can lead to some frustration. I think this is softly mitigated at two players, since it’s less common for players to select the same card, and the Basic Cards are straightforward enough that you can usually recover in 30 seconds. The Advanced Cards, however, aren’t going to be as forgiving.
- The cloth is kind of slick, which can lead to dropped “carpets”, missed folds, and bad fortune. My nightmare is dropping the carpet mid-fold and having to start from scratch. My brain doesn’t quite have the “fold like this to produce this” part memorized (especially not for the Advanced Cards), so I’m mostly kind of winging it and if I’m incorrect then I’m just hosed. Make sure you have a firm grip on the carpet. It’s a nice texture to hold, but it can slip out of your hands if you’re not careful.
- This is probably on the more challenging dexterity end of dexterity games. It’s really just getting your folds consistent on a timer, but if you have players that struggle with dexterity challenges, you may want to figure out some ways to make this more forgiving, for them. Longer timers can help or a better tolerance on “acceptable” folds. Up to you, but this game can be very frustrating for players if they end up being consistently locked out of movement because they can’t quite fold well enough quickly enough.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think Magic Fold is a blast. If you’ve been reading this site for a while it’s pretty well-known that I’m very into dexterity games and games with some sort of uncommon application. I also like racing games! So a game that challenges players to quickly fold a sheet to meet some criteria is absolutely up my alley. So much fun. I think it’s partially because pretty much everything feels like it works, here. The folding mechanic is excellent on its own, but applying it to a timed challenge between players allows for collisions and players upstaging each other and quick mistakes, all which make the game more exciting. Adding a racing element to the game gives players a sense of urgency to motivate them taking Spell Cards that help them, rather than just the easiest one. And, in a particularly smart design move, making the various spaces potentially better or worse than others complicates the decision space for players, so they can no longer just rely on whichever card will end up taking them the most spaces forward. I think those are all solid bits of design, and when added together they produce a game that’s certainly more than just the sum of its parts. Also, adding an Advanced Mode with more challenging cards is great, as it gives the game some room to expand and grow with players. I think the Basic Mode is sufficiently challenging for new folks, but players with experience should definitely start mixing in the Advanced Spell Cards. It’s a lot of fun, even if it’s much more challenging. My one gripe might be that the carpet’s texture, while nice, makes it decently easy to drop? And dropping the carpet is terrible, so, not ideal when that happens. This is also going to be a challenging dexterity game, and that may not land well with everyone. But if you’re excited about folding, racing, or the combination of those two, or you just want to plumb the depths of dexterity games, I’d definitely recommend trying out Magic Fold! I had a lot of fun with it.