As a wannabe game designer, I've had many ideas for novel mechanics over the decades; being a fairly indolent person, these have all come to nothing, but I find it interesting when similar ideas pop up in new releases. One mechanic I'm fairly sure I would never have dreamt up is folding. I heard about the original Fold-It (Goliath Games/Happy Baobab) back in 2016, though Battlefold (Happy Baobab) passed me by a year later, while its use in Keyper (R&D/Huch) did catch the eye then. In 2018, Magic Fold joined the, er, fold.
This time around, Bruno Cathala co-designs alongside Yohan Goh, leveraging its predecessors' main mechanic into an out-and-out race game. The whimsical art by Christopher Matt and coordinating magic carpet theme clearly mark it as a family-friendly game from publishers Happy Baobab and, in case you hadn't guessed by now, the main activity is literally folding a piece of cloth to show patterns which match objective cards. Complemented by a clever initiative track and some stumble-the-leader tokens, the game eminently succeeds at parlaying the base mechanic into engaging game play.
Each round sees 3 or 4 initiative tokens paired with magic spell cards which, when simultaneously revealed, show patterns the players can match with their silky square cloth: the harder the pattern to puzzle out, the greater the movement and reward. The initiative tokens, too, offer differing rewards: movement, nobbling a player or gaining a Djinn token. The Djinn tokens can be placed as wilds when you either can't figure out a pattern or when you need to finish quickly because - with a limited number of spells on show - another player may nab the one you were going for, starting a timer that pressures you into a different fold in less time.
Which spell you go for depends on the game state: the race track has bonus movement spaces to jump ahead which are worth targeting; and Cobra spaces which inflict a penalty of moving backwards, discard or not using Djinns, or even one-handed folding next turn. While that is about as deep as the tactical thinking goes in Magic Fold, it fits the game well and rarely feels punitive, while slowing down a flyaway leader if they happen into those spaces.
Magic Fold takes up to four players but at two or three, a 'Shadow Rider' is introduced who takes the remaining magic spell and always targets the current leader. It's a simple bot which works well and, given that it always succeeds in its puzzling, never misses a turn, making it a worthy competitor.
Issues that might arise include new players failing to correctly interpret the spell cards' requirements. Tho' this is something that will alleviate over time, it is worth bearing in mind when introducing the game to younger players or non-gamers. Similarly, with the speed puzzling element so central to play, the game could be a turn-off for some. Failing a turn completely is quite punishing, with no movement gained and just a Djinn as scant consolation.
With a fantastically tactile main mechanic powering the thematic flying carpets, Magic Fold is an engaging and eye-catching race game that will probably be like nothing else you own. With players of similar ability, the contest will likely be close every play, delivering a satisfying family race game in a bright and breezy timeframe.
(Review by David Fox)