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if no image probably out of print
Another of Stefan Feld's games which are driven by dice (Roma, Die Burgen von Burgund), but have much more going on afterwards, this one is set in the Chinese port during its 17th-century Portuguese period. Six dice in the same number of colors are rolled and each non-exclusively chooses which two to use, gaining cubes in that color equal to the pips and placing them along edges of their personal ship helms. The twist is that if the number is say, four, then the four cubes are placed four positions away, in effect four positions into the future, thus creating a nice tradeoff between quantity and timeliness. Each round then, a player may only use the cubes which have been placed for it. Activities include activating cards, buying properties to collect their goods, shipping goods to Europe, acquiring gold, improving turn order position and taking special actions.
Each round they also draft a card from those on offer, the deck of ninety-six including many different special abilities, many of them interrelating and mutually reinforcing, or at least should be if one wants to win. They are also priced according to usefulness. Over twelve rounds players earn points by shipping, buying, from card abilities and buildings. While all may sound attractive, in practice not all about this harbor is so fragrant. The chief innovation is the wheel of cubes tied to dice, but somehow it feels like it should have been easier to use. The presentation, from the box cover to the board to the components is rather attractive, but also unnecessarily difficult since the wares on the islands look too similar. In addition the card texts often give the names which are not printed on the board, rather than the icons, which are. Despite only supporting at most four players, this also requires a surprisingly large tableprint. There are also issues with the instructions. Somehow they seem to have been infected with acronymitis, annoyingly using terms like GC for gold or coin and AC instead of cube. They also refer to cards of a particular type and it's often not immediately clear what types of cards are meant. In German the equivalent terms for "activate" and "use" have very different meanings, whereas in English they're generally synonymous. The rules would have been clearer had a special term been employed for one of them. But the biggest objection is that at two hours this is unfortunately too random for the amount of time required. If due to bad luck of the dice one falls into a rut the cost is a three victory points penalty, meaning that now one is into the rut that much more. There just isn't very much catchup mechanism here – only the ships and player order; the districts which one might think could help tend not to be very significant in final scoring. The scoring itself is a bit strange in that it's so geeked out. One scores points for district sets as well as tokens taken. Then there are sailing points as well as purchasing points. Weirdly it seems a challenge to figure how to do something which does not score in some way (actually that might make an interesting game idea). But this whole pattern starts to remind of too many other Alea games which have been looking rather too similar lately.
MMMM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Stefan Feld; alea-2009/Rio Grande Games-2009; 2-4; 120 Amazon
Macher, Die
Karl-Heinz Schmiel game of German elections features very close measurement, relatively little luck and lots of planning. Original edition for four players; second edition for five cleans up and improves several game concepts. Appeals to those who like a more detailed sort of endeavor. By the way, Paragraph 218 which is one of the issues in the game, refers to the German law against abortion. [chart] [summary] [notes] [variant] [summary]
Mad Monks & Relics
Like medieval wine, a rich, but not smooth simulation of the attempts of medieval monks to travel around Europe and find valuable relics. Limiting their efforts are other players and historical events such as the Black Plague, heresies, bandits, storms at sea, etc. Several historical monks are included and each has a unique special ability and set of characteristics. Although the game accommodates five, it is probably best played with three to limit downtime between turns. Trading knowledge liberally is probably a good idea to keep the matters short. Most of the nasty events never take any effect as they cannot be played unless a player remains in the same city for more than one turn which is not that frequent. The Black Plague can be an annoying feature, particularly if it appears early in the game, as it must be rolled for and moved at the start of every turn. This is a lot of work for something which, in the way that it is implemented, can mostly be ignored and generally easily evaded. At least the map might have had printed on it the dice numbers which cause it to move in various directions. The Holy Grail, not surprisingly the most valuable of all artifacts, is probably tipped a bit too strongly toward history. This relic is no more difficult to find than any other relic, but if it is in the game, generally gives the finder the victory regardless of prior accomplishments. [Simulations Workshop]
Tile-placement game about placing musicians in mostly classical music concerts is similar to Café International and by the same inventor. What it omits in the strategy of side effects of placements, it gains in the difficult dilemmas of stocking the agency and how long to wait. Players of the later RA, will quickly recognize the system for determining the ending. All of the musical works look authentic, but in fact there are quite a few problems, including with the way the instruments have been depicted. This is detailed by musician Moritz Eggert in his German game report. [rules translation] [Frequently Played]
Rudi Hoffman;
Maestro Leonardo (Leonardo da Vinci)
This is a game of competing inventors in the overused setting of Renaissance Italy. I suppose an historical's greater likelihood of winning the Spiel des Jahres keeps these games from being about something more novel – this could have been about 21st century game inventors, for example – but then, this one was never going to win that award anyway. There are far too many moving parts. These parts include the items you would expect inventors to need such as consumer demand (cards), five types of raw materials, workshops, assistants, cash and advanced information about future demand. The means of acquisition is that form of rolling auction in which players take turns placing meeples ("assistants") on various items, à la Ys and Pillars of the Earth to name just two recent ones. The player having the majority on an item gets first draw – others paying for the privilege or taking nothing at all. The invention "contract" cards are sort of an auction as well since they are not awarded to anyone, but are laid out and available for all to target. All who succeed get at least some credit, but the first to finish receives more and if there is a tie it's resolved via blind auction. There are quite a few wooden pieces, but the publisher cleverly cuts costs by providing the gray "mechanical workers" who are fought over by all players, which adds another dimension to play as well. Production is quite good in general, though, featuring Leonardo-like drawings on the invention cards, an especially fine touch. Those who don't like a game safety net may be somewhat pleased here. At the very least a player can get considerably ahead of the rest, the only way to stop them being to concentrate bids against them. But by the time the need for this is realized it can be too late. It also seems that victory tends always to be found on a particular path. For example, a player starts with one basic workshop and has the option to stay that way, but it seems far more likely that the winner will not only upgrade this, but also buy the second workshop and buy that as well, the main issue being the timing. Overall, compared to other auction/evaluation games its thematic elements make it better than many, but really it does not exceed Pillars of the Earth (even if its random factors are better hidden) and is a middling effort in the German gaming scene. Games of the Italian Renaissance]
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Stefano Luperto, Antonio Tinto, Virginio Gigli & Flaminia Brasini; daVinci; 2006
Magellan (Pizarro & Co.)
Game of thirty-six auctions by kings of various explorers from Marco Polo (b. 1254) to James Cook (b. 1728). History becomes compressed; as individuals recede into the past, they become nearly planar. Probably if the competing alternatives had ranged from Bill Clinton to Sir Walter Raleigh, players would find it a source of humor, but their gap would be smaller than the one presented here. But even if the theme doesn't work – neither does that of, say, Pacific Northwest Rails, which works well – so the question is, how is it otherwise? It should appeal best, I think, to shrewd bidders who instinctively know the monetary value of everything and enjoy the clever little tactical moves. I like it better than an auction game like Das Letzte Paradies, but not as well as The Merchants of Amsterdam, which features more to think about outside the actual auctions. Another consideration is that like Modern Art is fairly fragile if players of unequal ability are involved. The fact that boards are back-printed with alternate versions of the game to increase variety is a nice touch which should be more practiced. It would have been nice had a way been provided to show which players have dropped out of an auction – especially in six-player games the not knowing can cause a lot of time to be wasted. May be better with fewer than six players in general. Maybe because of the prior title by Flying Turtle, the Rio Grande Games edition box keeps the same portrait of Magellan, but re-names it Pizarro – bizarro!
Magier von Pangea, Die
Game of magicians trying to collect five different amulets on a wraparound world where they can shift the continents as in prehistoric Pangea (properly "Pangaea"). Features a number of interesting tradeoffs such as choice of fortress location, how to best re-shape the geography, balancing production vs. collection, bringing in amulets early when it's easier but makes subsequent ones more expensive vs. waiting, etc. The rules are simple, the choices interesting and the best plans far from obvious. Each player has a unique set of forces, each being able to produce on only three of the five types. The nature of the race requires close attention to the activities of others and the ability to play joint defense. At times it may seem like final victory is only an accidental result, but it is probably more common that the seeds of that victory have been laid far in advance. Mechanics are very clean and the obstacles to non-German speakers acceptable, even if less than ideal as the terrain types are written on the counters, leaving it to the player to first match name to picture, then picture to tile. If only the counters featured pictures rather than names, this would have been avoided. For those interested in the practical forms that magic takes in games, here it is used either to bring on a new piece, shift a land or prevent a board segment from being changed. Recommended for alert players who enjoy a lot of strategic and tactical possibilities. Even works fairly well for two players since the absent players are still present as neutrals.
Magna Grecia
Board game of the expansion of unnamed Greek cities in "Greater Greece", i.e. on the ancient Italian peninsula. (A long time ago I had a game design prototype with this same title and was told by one of the playtesters that he wouldn't buy a game whose name he couldn't pronounce. Clementoni didn't listen to him and published this anyway so I am curious to see whether he will get this one.) This feels like another in the Tikal / Java / Mexica series by Kiesling and Kramer, but in fact is by Leo Colovini and Michael Schacht. The wholly original mechanics consist of expanding cities, connecting them to shrines and villages and buying markets. The primary strategy, primary in the sense that it does not depend on any other, is to influence as many shrines as possible, which itself depends on the city connecting to as many other items as possible. The secondary, dependent strategy is more obscure, involving creation of many markets in others' cities while they are still cheap, hoping to predict correctly which will become valuable. A mixed approach is also possible, but the best plan is probably to do what others are not. Although there are a wide number of options and plenty to understand about the dynamics of a hexagonal grid, the sequence of play is very straightforward, the players receiving new tiles and being able to play them at variable rates as given by cards. The tension of choosing two out of three possible action types – placing city tiles, placing road tiles, replenishing tiles – is there. Scoring rules are a little more involved, but not to the point of being overly taxing. The art design features a bright yellow board with tiles in yellow, orange, brown and red. At the time of this writing a graphic re-design is reportedly underway to address the difficulties this causes. The wooden shrine markers are very similar to the temples sported by Ulysses while hexagonal cylinders indicate markets. It would have been nice had the theme been grasped a little more strongly and sometimes there is some down time as up to six other turns are taken before you have another, but this is one of those more complex, mostly luck-free vehicles which are difficult to play well at first, but rewarding and ever-novel for those seeking more than the usual challenge.
Magnificent Race, The
Players engage in an around-the-world race via different travel modes. Features a circular spinning tray holding a dozen marbles, one of which lands in a depression near the center to determine the winner of the competition. One of the marbles belongs to a nemesis non-player. The gadget was the best feature as the rest had little strategy to offer. Nevertheless was said to have sold over a million copies. [Balloon Aviation Games]
Asian Rummy derivative featuring melding and discarding, often played for monetary stakes. However, is a challenging exercise without this additional drama. The traditional tiles provide nice tactile and even aural pleasures as they click, click, click along. Comes in Chinese, Japanese and American rules versions, with many additional variations besides. Those which do not use the flowers and seasons reduce the luck and are the most interesting for serious players. Probably invented around AD 1850 in the city of Ningpo, China, by two brothers from the earlier ma tiae. It was imported to the United States c. 1922 and in just two years became so popular that Congress had to enact a law regularizing the name under which it was published. Read more at or at Mah Jong Handbook: How to Play, Score, and Win the Modern Game [analysis] [scoring chart] [Buy it at Amazon]
Major Four of Heizei, The
The theme of this Japanese card game by the inventor of the noted Inotaizu/Kaigan and The Master of the Merchant in the Sakai is of contending Japanese politicians in the year 714. It's great to have this unusual theme, but probably no one will notice. What you will notice are cards in four suits and rules which specify how they are played and then drafted. Taking a turn consists of playing a set of cards in the same suit. These advance a corresponding token a number following the triangular numbers scheme. Then the player replenishes the hand using previously played cards, but sets these cards aside. The track should have been numbered to make it easier to use. The Japlish translation provided is just terrible. But the scoring system is a real innovation. The first time around it's fairly standard: you get three points for each card of the most advanced token, two each for the second most advanced and one each for the third most. But then the second round is played in the same way... with clever scoring rules. Now you must ensure that the cards you have most of are the least advanced on the track since they each count negatively, no matter how far the token has progressed, and now the range of card values is one to four. The eventual placements, being constructed by the cumulative efforts of all the players and constantly evolving, are difficult the predict and usually difficult to react to since one might not have the right combination of cards and/or the right cards are not in the display. There often tends to develop a groupthink which one can either join or try to go against. Cards showing busts of politicians are fairly attractive as is the board. Tokens are basic cubes. Simple rules, difficult decisionmaking and short duration make this indie production a major winner.
MLMH7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Kenichi Tanabe; Takamagahara-2009/Ascora Games-2009; 3-4; 45
Mamma Mia
Card game by Uwe Rosenberg in which players compete to complete the most pizzas. Initially seems like a memory contest, but since players may (1) supplement their orders with ingredients from their hand and/or (2) bluff about what they are building, is really won by having a sort of Zen-like feeling about the right time to drop an order. Also, putting yourself in the right situation for the next round also helps. Worth occasionally bringing out as a light offering.
Uwe Rosenberg; 1999 [Buy it at Amazon]
Economics-oriented game includes both managing a company and stock investment. Includes a clever gadget for simultaneous bidding. Does not work as once a player gets ahead of the others, it is impossible to stop him.
Mango Tango
This very simple auction card game has a theme – about dancers hoping to qualify for competitions – but it doesn't matter. What happens is that each player begins with ten cards from the nine suit, rank 1-12, 108 card deck. Of the undealt cards, the top one is turned up and each player chooses a hand card to make a closed bid for it. The highest card decides whether the card is selected or tossed. If a card is tossed each player draws a card to replace the one just spent. This continues until five cards have been selected (and each player is left with just five in hand as well). At this point, every hand card that matches a selected card in either suit or value scores its rank for its owner. The player having the most points after several rounds wins. The artwork, showing various numbers of anthromorophic mangoes, is colorful and fun. There's plenty of randomness in play and matters can feel unfair, especially as there's little value to low ranked cards. The only rule helping them even a little is that if there are ties for the high bid, all of the tied cards are ignored and the next highest wins. But even so, as in games like Drahtseilakt or Shit! the decisionmaking is challenging. Some examples of evaluative questions a player needs to resolve: what should be the ratio between card bid and value received? is it better to keep many suits or one card in each suit? Should one just always bid one's lowest card or when is it worth going higher? Beyond these kinds of questions, by watching the way in others act, one can make good guesses about what they are holding, which can also inform play. Besides the interest thus lent, play can move very quickly so that an entire match might finish in twenty minutes or less. This can work for younger players as well as for many players, in fact probably working better for a larger group.
Leo Colovini & Dario de Toffoli; Piatnik; 2005; 2-7
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7
Architects compete in skyscraper building. English edition is set in various districts of New York while the German edition is more realistic in setting it in the cities of the world. Competition is district by district and there is no limit on which district a player can enter, the only restrictions being the exact block available (due to cards and pre-existing buildings). This gives rise to perhaps too much table coercion/pleading and relatively little strategy, although there are plenty of tactics. May also give rise to kingmaker situations. The "Godzilla variant" requires adding a figure to represent the monster which is placed in the center of one of the cities, preferably Tokyo. Since there is no Tokyo, Hong Kong will have to do. Now each time a card is played it moves one square, orthogonally or diagonally in same direction as the card's activated square is in to the card's center (which can get tricky to calculate when moving between cities). If a center square card is played, the beast does not move at all. Should it ever enter the same space as a buiding, the latter is completely destroyed without chance of mitigation, its components removed from play. Not surprisingly, this is an event which occurs quite frequently. In fact, by the midgame monster moving dominates building placement as a card play consideration. In effect, this variant converts a German game of close measurement to an American bashing on a mostly empty board. It certainly does nothing to lessen the kingmaking. So this is a variant not for those who enjoyed the original, but rather for those who did not. This game has been re-issued by Rio Grande Games in 2008, sans Godzilla figure. [Spiel des Jahres Winner]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6
Andreas Seyfarth; Hans-im-Glück/Mayfair; 1994; 2-4
Logical deduction game in which players represent modern police forces trying to gain clues and thereby eliminate all suspects but one. Includes not one but two gadgets. One is the battery-operated box which replaces a spinner and gives the player's car its speed for the turn. Also has two other functions regarding gaining information, possibly from other players. This one is perhaps a bit too controllable by unscrupulous players. The other gadget box holds what is essentially a simplified computer punch card (if anyone remembers what those are) which goes into a slot in the box. When a player receives information he places a special probe into the holes at the top of the box. If the probe does not go through a hole, then the player has found which of four clues is true. He then looks it up in the information book and crosses off suspects accordingly. There is not much strategy, but some tactical possibilities in deciding whether it is better to get information from a crime site or simply to try to steal it from other players. [Pictures]
If Niagara is a Zoch game as its best, this one by Franz-Benno Delonge, being either too long or too random, is its opposite. It does feature an extremely attractive presentation including wooden barges that carry price charts and some of the best plastic coin pieces ever seen. But this last may relate to the fact that the supply of them may run out well before play is over. The subject is river trade in the Philippines, the mechanisms periodic major auctions followed by allocations to various opportunities (gambles really) or abilities which are ultimately dependent on just a few rolls of the dice. This is suitable for game inventors who could tinker with the rules or cannibalize the bits, but it's hard to see for whom else.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium
[Buy it at Amazon]
Card game by Günter Burkhardt on the unusual theme of American Indians hunting buffalo to get the most points. Players select seven cards with which to compete over the hunt. Hunters are numbered cards while warriors fight rival warriors à la Rock-Paper-Scissors. The tribe with the most hunter values will gain the biggest buffalo, the second the next, etc. Situation is really too random to include much strategy. (Mark Johnson writes in to dispute this, writing "A strategy that sometimes works is to mostly or entirely Great Warriors in the first round, crippling your opponents by capturing so many of their hunters. You don't win any hides (though even that you can fix by playing just one big hunter on a small buffalo), but neither will you get the -10 penalty. If it works, you might grab many buffaloes during the final round, easily overcoming the -10 you'll also take. You're choosing this strategy blind in the first round, but thereafter you begin to track the holes in your opponent's tribe, and plan accordingly. I also think this game has the best graphic design of any card game I've played, including the card backs.")
Mansion Murders, The
Standalone mystery-solving game is a spinoff from Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective. This time Holmes and Watson set you to work solving five mysteries, the first of which comes with an extra dimension of difficulty: it all took place in a many-roomed mansion – a major consideration in the investigation. Preserving all that was good about the original while adding another wrinkle makes this the perfect sequel for the many who loved the original, although it is not necessary to know it to play this. One instructional omission important for new players who are probably being very careful not to cheat by reading ahead: before starting the case it is okay to read the list of personalities and rooms on Casebook page 11-11 as well as the mansion description on the next page. The cases are still difficult. John, Phil and I sat down to play and solved the first case in ten clue points only to discover to our chagrin that Holmes needed less than half that. The third case is something you'll want to have a computer nearby to solve. In addition, for the 4th case it really seems that not all the info you need to solve it is present.
Depiction of the track and field event employing a simple track and ordinary decks of cards. Rules appear more interesting than the game actually is. Drawing the best cards dominates any possiblity for strategy or tactics and those who have not so done will sit and watch in helplessness. There is something to be said for giving a player difficult choices, but it is possible to overdo this concept so as to reduce rather than increase fun. The way that this game reduces hand size as the game goes on is a canonical example. [6-player Games]
Marchands d'Empire (Himalaya)
"Merchants of the Empire" is a traveling merchants game set in a ficitonal empire. Each turn players secretly program a combination of six moves and/or transactions which are played out in interleaved fashion. Items in five varieties are there to be picked up and contracts specifying unique mixes waiting to be filled. A prohibition on taking more than one item per city per turn keeps players moving while a rule forcing a player to take the least valuable item available makes timing a delicate issue. There is a nice attention to balance in two ways. First, players going earlier have the advantage in filling the contracts while players going later have the advantage in picking up items. Second, while players who fill contracts get points, those who do not are more likely to get the "most items" awards that pop up every three turns. Having something meaningful to do with earnings is in my opinion the chief challenge of a traveling merchant game. Here it is nicely solved by permitting players finishing a contract to invest in two of three forms of power: money, religion or politics. While the first two are more or less straight races, the third is a more nuanced region dominance subgame. This all culminates in one of the more byzantine victory determination schemes yet devised. First the player with the least religious influence is eliminated, then the one with the least political and then finally the one with the least economic. With elaborate tie-breakers backing it all up, a winner is eventually determined, but he may be as surprised as anyone at the result. Innovative, yes, but is it good? Overall, this should satisfy most fans of the category and as it can be finished in less than an hour, others as well. One shouldn't try to make the theme work too hard, however. And there are a few glitches. We tossed the rules requiring that programming be completed in under a timed minute and the need to memorize electoral placements, just making them open. A further modification might be to address the luck in having valuable items or contracts show up exactly where one is standing, or, contrarily, only at the far end of the board from one's current location. An ability to look ahead to see where, say, the next three contracts will appear, even if their details are not known, would certainly permit better planning. It might also be good to permit contracts and items to appear at the capital. The power of this centralized venue could be weakened a bit by, say, only allowing one action there. At the time of this writing, only available in downloadable form at Hexagames. Himalaya is the fully-published version which transports the setting, losing the central capital city somewhere along the way. Happily the rules which we tossed in the previous version are gone, but unfortunately nothing has been done about the possible imbalances. The presentation, including a wonderful box cover and cute plastic pieces, is impressive. The board is just a little less exciting, but quite serviceable. There are now advanced rules in the form of three tokens held by each player permitting blocking a road or taking a more valuable cube. Unfortunately the situation of a player being caught on one side of the board while all the awards remain on the other still obtains. When it comes to the first elimination rule, a player can see the end of his chances long before it arrives and this seems to happen to someone in every playing. [Traveling Merchant Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Régis Bonnessée; Web-published/Tilsit; 2002; 3-4
Nicely-presented, colorful game puts players in the simultaneous roles of both shop owners and tour guides in Morocco. Has a strong element of team play, but also blackmail since players will tend to evade making a defensive play until the last possible moment, leaving the dirty work to the unfortunate player to the right of whoever has a big play coming. Will take a complete game before players truly form a good idea of what things are worth in the auctions, so be sure to play at least twice before deciding what you think. Includes optional cards which do not really seem to add anything. Fairly straightforward rules mean accessibility to many players. Worth an occasional try with the right group. [Tourist Games]
Stefan Dorra;
Haba game about camel racing for children six years of age. The broad course is contructed from several narrow cardboard strips which fit together reassuringly well. A couple such – the oasis and the sandstorm – have special functions. Upon these strips race largish wooden camel figures, four per player. The means of locution is drawing chits from a blue cloth bag, most of which propel the camel of the player's choice a specific number of spaces forward. Others work like a virtual rubber band, either snapping one's own camel to the same space as an advanced one or snapping an opponent's back to a trailing one. Finally there are chits which cause the last strip to be removed from behind the camels to a location in front of them. Any camels actually on this strip when it happens are removed from play. Upon reaching the goal there is a small probability subgame as the player gets to draw a chit from one of four stacks. Each stack contains one chit hiding a high value while the rest are inferior. All of the chits are attractively illustrated, as is the board which shows busy cartoonish desert scenes that kids can study for a while. The rules book is a plain, black-and-white affair, including an English translation which is sometimes a bit vague. The German version reveals that the intent of the oasis space is for camels landing there by exact count to move three more spaces. There's not much here for adults, but kids can enjoy the camels, the luck factor that doesn't give anyone an advantage and the tension in choosing a prize chit. Previously issued by Ravensburger as Up the River (1988) which used dice rather than chit pulls.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 4
Manfred Ludwig; Haba; 2002; 2-4
Marrying Mr. Darcy
Jane Austen might be surprised, were she still alive, at just how pervasive her works have become. Not only are adaptations for stage and screen abundant, but an enormous genre, the romantic comedy is owed largely to her (with a generous tip of the hat to Shakespeare). But how well a story can fare in the world of games is another question; many do not lend themselves to the kind of competition that games demand. Mark Twain, who designed his own games, was no Austen fan and might have been a naysayer. Born on the frontier where men of great gumption took matters into their own hands, he could never understand how Austen's women could spend all their time waiting for something to happen, rather than taking some, any, kind of action. His favorite character might have been Mrs. Bennet, who at least tries to make things happen, even to the extent of sending her daughter out for a visit in the rain, hoping she will catch a cold and be forced to stay with a suitor for a few days. But Mrs. Bennet as painted by Austen is a ridiculous character, and hardly typical; thus, the apparent inaction of most of Austen's characters would seem problematic for a game.
In this one, each player takes the role of one of the women, anyone from the five sisters of Pride & Prejudice to acquaintances like Charlotte Lucas, Georgianna Darcy and Caroline Bingley. The goal is not just to make a good match with one of Darcy, Bingley, Fitzwilliam, Denny, Wickham or even Collins, but, and this is a canny observation on the designer's part, also to develop themselves in the areas of Wit, Beauty, Friendliness, Cunning and Reputation. A player turn consists of resolving a random event card that closely mirrors one in the novel, usually by drawing and playing character cards, but sometimes by rolling a die to see what happens to each player at a party or having a teatime where all players may trade cards. Each character card increases one of the attributes by 1-3 and is played face up, except for the competitive Cunning cards, which determine who has the first chance at the suitors and are thus competitively played face down. The weakest Cunning cards have a second option, which is to remove another's most recently played card in a category. Each of the ladies also has a special advantage or ability, such as being able to draw from the discard pile instead of the deck, most of which come into effect during this stage. Upon exhaustion of the events play continues to the second stage, which consists of each lady determining which suitors like her (each has his own prerequisites) and then one by one rolling the die for a 50% chance that they will propose. Each lady has a schedule indicating the points she receives for each suitor and must decide whether to accept a proposal or irrevocably turn it down in hopes of a higher-scoring one which may or may not come later. Ladies not finding a suitor share the Old Maid card and roll a die for one of six outcomes; this is actually not all bad and we have already seen one player win with this status. The final score comes from the sum of the marriage score and her character points (omitting Cunning), the latter tending to contribute about two-thirds of the total.
Suggested Variant: before play begins let each player choose a favorite suitor. Remove all the others from play. This creates a more tense and competitive situation.
The Mr. Darcy card
Erik Evensen's period and cartoon artwork looks just great. Each of the sisters, for example, has her own look, which is just what you would expect of her, but they still all look like members of the same family. The fonts, color scheme and everything are very appropriate for the topic (and thankfully not the cliched pink one might expect). The system itself is a "take that!" with a twist at the end, but mild, as the hits are neither frequent nor devastating. For those playing the more sophisticated games that are coming out these days, this lacks the novelty and number and intricacy of decisionmaking that those games have. Generally one just strives to reach the minimum requirements of the favored suitor – not difficult – and play some insurance on top of it. From there one could try to match the maximum number of suitors or the maximum number of points, but the two goals are often the same. For such players this is probably a one and done. It's not really a gateway to German-style games either for this level of decisionmaking is atypical of the genre as well. But this is also an "experience game" and your enjoyment will track your knowledge of the novel, your ability to enjoy the topic of Regency romance and to let these 43 types of event cards weave for you an entertaining narrative. To this extent, and probably for the non-gaming Austen fan, this very faithful-to-its-topic effort has the chance to work quite well. For more information see and, at this time, the Marrying Mr. Darcy Kickstarter campaign.
LHLL6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6)
Erika Svanoe; (self-published)-2014; 2-6; 60

A complimentary prototype copy of this game was received for purposes of review and some game aspects may yet be tweaked before publication.
Marvel Heroes
American-style game by Fantasy Flight based on the super heroes created by Marvel Comics. Up to four players control one of the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Avengers or a miscellaneous group of loners including Spiderman, Dr. Strange and the Daredevil. Crimes pop up around the map of Gotham in the form of cards and are classified by type, e.g. rescue, investigation, etc. Players tend to send out heroes in pairs, mostly trying to match their abilities with the requirements of the crime, which reduces risk. Combat is basically a single hero against a single villain, the latter played by an opponent. In a Rock-Paper-Scissors mechanism, each side chooses whether to mostly attack, defend or use mental/other abilities (e.g. flight, magic). These choices provide the number of dice each player rolls in each combat round until one side or the other is vanquished. Each side also has a super-villain antagonist (Dr. Doom, Red Skull, Kingpin, Magneto) who can come into play to provide a bigger challenge. But just like in the comics, nobody ever dies permanently. Winning combats, somewhat prosaically, just provides points on a track which eventually decides the winner. Fundamentally this is for fans of the comics rather than those looking for an innovative, exciting challenge. There aren't really any new or particularly challenging features or decisionmaking, but there are a lot of little numerical details and modifiers to track. One particular botch was to place a "scheming" modifier on the supervillain cards – one must remember to apply this thing long before the card comes into play. Speaking of long, that's how it is for the other players when two others are engaged in a combat as it really has little to do with them. On the game's plus side, the Marvel aficianado can enjoy the very attractive, multi-colored plastic figures that remind of his favorite tales. It's probably also interesting for him to try the matchups normally forbidden by the comics, i.e. hero vs. hero to see who is really stronger. But this might not be that satisfying since environment doesn't really participate in the equation and you might want to compare how they fight in a city vs. Central Park vs. underwater, etc. (there is a Sub-Mariner card as well as cards of the most popular villains). Another possibly fun activity might be to draft heroes to create your own team. But unfortunately team actions don't tend to happen much as heroes mostly act in pairs whcih seems a great shame as teams against teams have made for some of the most exciting comic tales. Another shame is that there's a city map of New York which doesn't really serve any practical purpose as one can basically move anywhere instantly. So while this could work for two comics readers, it's unlikely to do so for larger audiences.
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Mary Dowser
Obscure multiplayer game of dowsing for water in the American West. Two layers of vinyl rollup form the map, one showing a grid with regularly spaced holes. Placed under the holes are large squares, one of which is magnetic. In one of the most unusual game implements ever, players employ a two-handled metal dowser to test the squares for magnetism (water). This is trickier than it sounds because the magnet is very weak – you might even find it and not notice. On the other hand, this does make it easier to fool the opposition who will be scrutinizing your dowsing very closely. But talk about assymmetric forces, one of the players knows where the water is! However, "Mary" is not allowed to bid on cards at that location, which reduces most of the advantage and may even give others a clue. The goal of the card game is generally to collect pipelines from adjacent territories which one hopes will eventually connect to water. This is made easier by the possibility of multiple water sources: when a player guesses the location, he is allowed to also place water at another location. Auctions use an innnovative mechanism in that the current player, the auctioneer, receives an ante each time a player decides to stay in for another round of bidding. Naturally this has interesting dimensions when the auctioneer himself is bidding. Card trading is also possible and makes a lot of sense as players buy large lots of randomly assembled jumbles. A further oddity is that there are virtually no milestones until the game is entirely over. Often only then are all the water sources revealed and each player's relative success known. This will probably put some players off, as may the difficulties in the magnet, but this is so weird that fans of the exotic and obscure should be well pleased as it's not often that something of this type actually works. Heavy experimentation with the dowser seems to indicate that the best way to use it is not to hold a handle in each hand as in real life dowsing, but instead to hold it perpendicular to the table with one hand on the top handle. This gives a lighter touch making the magnetism more palpable. Package also comes with a companion game for children, Little Mary.
Master Labyrinth
Very attractive entry in a series of Labyrinth games. Players wander a labyrinth collecting tiles of increasing value in order. Each player also have a secret goal which yields extra points. The scoring does not seem to work all that well and there is considerable, almost mind-numbing, lookahead required, but there is plenty of challenging fun in just trying to decipher the maze and figure out what one can do, so much so that the scoring is perhaps just an unimportant side concern. Should be popular by anyone enjoying a puzzle; strategists may wish to modify the scoring to make it more of a balanced game.
Actually a solitaire game that needs two as one player uses deduction to guess about the nature of a set of pegs while the other gives clues about how close one has come. Ideally a computer game and in fact one can write a computer program which can provably solve any setup in at most six tries. Mostly of interest for developing logical thinking.
Mauer, Die
Boardless game of erecting a Mauer or wall. Players each hold an identical set of parapets, gates and walls of varying lengths and attempt to be the first to get rid of all of these pieces. The mechanism is one of blind bidding attempting not to match or not match the opponents. Generally fast-moving, appeal will depend on one's taste for psychological games as there is relatively little other context. Those who fall behind early can catch up fairly quickly as no one else holds their pieces. A good tactic is to notice which piece the player to the left of the Master Builder reveals as that may well be the piece revealed when he becomes the builder. Components come in two forms, one a rather expensive metal set by the designer and the other an affordable, yet still attractive wooden set. Reminiscent of Würmeln and Karawane without reaching quite the same level of excitement.
Mauer Bauer (Masons)
Leo Colovini game of wall building and house placement. It shares with games like Colorado County and San Francisco the idea of creating particular board positions to score. (Didn't the publisher realize there are still western place names ending in "o" available? Take Idaho, for example, please.) Here players take turns placing a wall along the edge of any of the triangular spaces. They use special dice to determine the colors of towers placed at either end of the wall and also of the two houses placed in the two spaces that the wall separates. When a new area is enclosed, a scoring round ensues, during which players reveal secret cards, scoring points for various arrangements of walls, towers and houses. While there's little scope for long-term strategy, there are plenty of tactical possibilities. The most interesting decisions are probably where to place walls – considering the relative unknowns of what will be rolled and the generally opaque opponent goals – and also how many cards to use on each scoring. In this regard the model should probably be Golf in that the player needs on each scoring to achieve a number of points equal to the scoring track maximum divided by the number of scorings. Also interesting is the chance to remove a wall adjacent to a just-completed section, thereby creating a much larger one, as well as likely lengthening the game. Although thematically there's not much to work with, the materials in colored wood are attractive and easy to use. The cards lack text, but are generally straightforward once one gets accustomed to them. (I could recommend a few improvements. The most dangerous thing of all are cards that appear obvious, but are not, because then one does not bother to look them up until it's too late.) The game usually moves along well enough to finish in forty-five minutes which is the right amount of time and does offer the ever-changing collaborative experience which can be great fun.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
[Buy it at Amazon]
Auction plus region influence game ostensibly about the construction of the Mayan pyramids at Tikal, Chichen-Itza, Copan, Uxmal et al. The first structural element is a many-round blind bidding system which generates special abilities and cubes for the next round in ways reminiscent of Keydom. The resulting cubes represent stones placed in successive levels of the pyramids which are really a series of area dominance contests. Besides points, also at stake is opportunity since absence from a pyramid level precludes participation at the next. Wisely a cube of each winner is always removed so there are openings each round. A lot of Germans travel to the Yucatan and they will no doubt be attracted to this game where a lot of intriguing things happen, and have happened. Unfortunately they won't find such here because matters begin with the always frustrating blind auction mechanism and are not saved by the desultory, almost predictable placements. It's even sometimes the case that a player is forced to give away points due to the "level building" requirement. Only barely connected to its theme, Maya feels like a throwback to the near-abstract German games of a decade ago (i.e. the early 1990's), re-using ideas that have been applied much better since. At least the artwork and graphics are nicely realized, right down to the Mayan numbers.
Mbogo cards
I am unable to find the rules for this card game actually, so in the meantime invented my own. But if you happen to have a copy of the original rules, please let me know. My recollection is that it was not much of a game. One would think that with so many people putting information out on the Internet that someone would know about this game, but apparently I am the only one. [rules]
Three years after Modern Art, Knizia returned to the perceived value problem with this 1995 title. Moved to the Renaissance period, the theme is weakened a bit and been shorn of some its fancier mechanisms. However, what remains is a delicious essence of the bidding and collection mechanism all ruled by the terrible tyranny of the deck. It is Modern Art-lite, but also just as entertaining and even more accessible, though perhaps a bit more random. Games of the Italian Renaissance] [6-player Games]
[Buy it at Amazon] On-line version by Milton Soong.
Medici vs. Strozzi
The possibility has been out there for a decade to make a two-player version of his 1995 hit Medici, but it took Reiner Knizia himself to figure out how to boil down the essence of his own design. Its success depends on two alterations. First, hearkening back to Modern Art, all auctions are of the fixed-price variety with one opponent setting the price and the other deciding whether to accept it (shades of San Marco). Second, the on-board contest is transformed from a race to a tug of war, i.e. purchased cards move a marker to one's own side rather than toward the absolute top. But there are tactical wrinkles too. A player receives three ships, all of different sizes (reminiscent of the Coloretto two-player variant) and they can go to one of three different ports. The opponent may draw more cards than any of your ships can carry. Even more threateningly, the opponent may get all three of his ships in, ending the round. Ultimately though, it's about the combination of cards that come up – different every time – and correctly pricing them. This would be a fascinating one to program for the computer – deciding how to weight the intangibles a real challenge. Tactically, at least starting with the smallest ship and working up seems advisable. Rightsizing the price is a big challenge and there is really very little guide, but one can start by computing the maximum gain each player would receive and the averaging. Production is good, the only possible complaint being that some of the product illustrations look a bit too similar as their colors are muted. Overall it's another good production by Abacus which continues to stride forward. Appreciation of this one depends on a strong interest in accurate pricing, a bit on psychology and only secondarily on tactics and theme. Games of the Italian Renaissance]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6
Stefan Dorra-designed game of constructing the medieval Arabian city. Borrowing liberally from both Torres and Big City, could serve as Exhibit A for the case that today's German games fail to break new ground and are content to merely feed upon one another. It doesn't help either that rather abstract rules result in a cold, silent atmosphere devoid of excitement. A failing in perhaps my eyes alone is the utter lack of any historical reality, save one: by the end is constructed a kooky, colorful patchwork of a Medina that resembles the real thing better than any artist could contrive. But the amount of mileage one can take from this purely visual will vary widely. Speaking of graphics, the usually sure-footed Hans im Glück have here made an annoying mis-step, coloring red the tile meant to match the brown buildings.
Simple bluffing game for exactly three is reminiscent of Rock-Paper-Scissors, but offers more interest as score is kept and points awarded based on the numbers chosen. Playable using the Ace-2-3...10 cards from a traditional deck of cards, it has the charming goal of being neither the highest or lowest, but just the most mediocre. Perhaps it should have been called the Antonio Salieri game after the composer who so envied Mozart. Invented by Douglas R. Hofstadter and published in Metamagical Themas. O
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Reiner Knizia invention is not about cheaply-made jackets, but rather the silly predilections of upper crust (or crusty) London clubs. Players make bets one at a time in five categories of events, but simultaneously also play a pair of cards that help determine the actual outcome. The more extreme the bet, the higher the payout. But as there is no telling what cards others are holding and since some special cards actually remove cards, predicting is a very murky affair. Another layer is added by the fact that one can only gain up to ten points in a category, making it often necessary to rely more on what others do than on one's own hand in the latter stages. This outing is simpler than the inventor's Modern Art as there is no exchange of funds, even though the motif of gradual card revelation is shared. There is also a strong similarity to Titan: the Arena although here all of the competing choices are always operative. Finally there is similarity to Palmyra in that the decision of which cards are not played – here only one – is often the important one. Of the four, this is the shortest and most straightforward. It offers scope for bluffing, outguessing, timing and risk. It can also sometimes feel like it has a life of its own – especially with five players – and it might be useful to see whether having one or two more cards to not play would help. One valuable tactic: when one is down to only two betting pieces, feel free to make more extreme bets because even if they fail, all the pieces are returned. Another idea to play with is looking for outlying extreme bets and making the bet which is just inside it. At the end of the day despite less availability in the English-speaking world, this realization probably has the more staying power than any of its relatives, even if its understanding of English clubs seems to be out of date. As I understand it, they are more organized around professions these days while this depiction, although mentioning Prince Charles by name, would seem to correspond more to the Victorian era.
Merchant of Venus
Train-style or through-trading game in a science fiction setting. Actually, apparently originally about East Indies spice trade until the theme was changed by the publisher. The early going is a nice exploration game and a chit draw demand system works well throughout. However, there is a great deal of chaos including a luck-based movement system, an unbalanced set of artifacts to find and fortuitous, essentially private trade routes. Worse, it is nearly impossible to slow down a player in the lead unless the combat rules are used, but these are rather too strong and turn a trading game wholly into a combat game. Purchase of factories and space stations is too automatic – it would have been nice if deciding to buy them were more of a tradeoff between cash and victory points, but as they are, they count for both. Upgrading a ship is a tradeoff decision, but only once a game or so. The interested audience will be science fiction fans who are close planners, but these same planners are destined to be disappointed in their results by the heavy, though perhaps inobvious, influence of luck. [6-player Games]
Abstract placement game by Leo Colovini. Longitudinal lines create board zones on which towers are placed – the zone to use being chosen by randomly drawn card. But victory depends not on lengthwise considerations, but on majority control of islands which straddle several zones crosswise. Towers are stackable and within each zone all towers must have different heights, and each player may have only one. In addition they may bump opponents to the next island when placing. Players instinctively concentrate on the central high point islands, trying to win as many as possible by the barest of majorities. But such an approach may beat itself because the ratio of pieces to islands is rather small. Instead, a player who manages to be the only one on several, smaller outlying islands may well coast to victory. As players gain experience with the system, middle paths emerge and luck of the draw with the cards gains importance. Despite all the oceans, this is a rather dry affair that can act as a bridge between fans of abstracts and the rest. Those for whom theme is vital will be left cold, despite the plastic tower bits resembling upside-down flower pots.
box cover
Is it okay to choose a title having nothing to do with the topic so long as it sounds good? Apparently so, for this one about Hamburg merchants has naught to do with the Flemish geographer. Instead it's a seventeenth century pickup-and-deliver affair by the inventor of Le Havre that works in an unusual way. At its heart are contracts requesting delivery of various goods. Contracts come in eight levels of difficulty/reward and each player begins with one from each of the five lowest levels. On a turn the player picks up and places the one travel token in the game onto any of the map locations, which stretch from Sweden to Italy, Russia to Newfoundland, and picks up the cubes which have accumulated there. Each color of cube represents one of two commodities; the player decides which by placing them on the personal board. Then new cubes accumulate at nearby locations. If the player can expend cubes to satisfy any personal contracts at that location, the result is not profit, nor loss of the contract, but only receipt of the top contract of the next higher level. Locations near Hamburg give players a time chit, but those far away cost one or more; disappearing chits form one timer on the end of play. After a player has traveled, other players may state that they will go along too, by paying the main player in time chits. By the start of the player's next turn, any contracts in excess of five must be sold for coin, the money being used to buy from the cards currently on offer. These are either production cards which give two extra cubes for visiting a location or victory points cards, for example, points for having seven time chits at the end of play. What's makes a good challenge is figuring out how to synthesize one's cards, trips and extra points cards to get the best effect. That map location having a ton of cubes will tempt in one direction, the new contract that matches existing ones in another and satisfying a points card requirement in a third. Then there is also the question of how much a trip might be helping others by affording ride alongs. On the downside, at least for some, will be that there is no way to affect others except by taking or purchasing what they also want. Probably more serious is the randomness in one's starting contracts and in the points cards, particularly the latter as maybe only a third of these ever even appear during play. If, for example, these are mostly the cards related to time chits, that's great for the player who has collected a lot of them, but not particularly fair for others. In a quicker game this level of randomness would be fine, but it doesn't fit with this more thinky effort. But these are relatively minor problems easily solved with simple variants. In terms of presentation, there are many cubes, in eight colors, representing the commodities. During play they are stored in small cardboard boxes which are distributed in square holes distributed around the board. This was a nice idea, but in practice getting cubes out of the boxes becomes difficult; it's easier to simply store them in the more accessible holes. The abstracted map works well, though the geography arranges places oddly; here the Dutch Republic is a lot further north than Hamburg, for example. The contract cards have their locations clearly labeled which is important for being able to discern what other players are holding. This should work well in the two player setting because the game system offers so much to work with while the ride along feature help the four-player version work faster and more smoothly.
LMHH7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Uwe Rosenberg; Lookout Games-2010; 1-4; 120 Amazon
Mermaid Rain
In 1984 Prince had Purple Rain, in 1989 arrived the yakuza movie Black Rain and as of 2003 there is Mermaid Rain, the Japanese board game. Players represent mermaids traveling the seas collecting five types of items for a witch who will transform the most successful to human form so she can marry the handsome prince. (What is he, mermaidaphobic?) Turns are in three parts: (1) card melding for points or abilities, (2) tile placement and (3) movement and collection. This structure is somewhat similar to Elfenland, but avoids most of its negative play by opening everything up. In particular, the map is no longer a network, but a hexagonal grid permitting more degrees of freedom and the targets of travel offer more options and unpredictability. These smart ideas fall down slightly in the execution. It's likely that points gained from a melding strategy are too easily had compared to points from a collection strategy. It's also too easy for the start player to keep this role throughout the game. But the strongest impression here isn't any of that, but the very attractive and shiny rendering of board, cards and pieces. Unexpectedly for a small press effort, there is no compromise, apart from a slightly "tight" board, and most generously, there is even support for up to six players, with all the extra counters, cards and board space that that entails. The look appears to be right out of Japanese animé which being unusual for board games is most welcome. This hits the right spot between difficulty and strategy and so should appeal to most players – especially Japanese animation fans – and is worth multiple plays. With some rules changes, e.g. having the melding tie-breaker begin with the player to the start player's left, this probably becomes very good. Certainly this early effort is a positive harbinger of things to come from the Japanese board games world which with maturity promises to produce wonders even more special.
Game for up to four by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, inventor of Carcassonne, who here shows his versatility with a heavier, logistical game. Likely antecedents appear to be (1) Tikal, as players turn up hexagonal tiles to discover the world and (2) the logistical games from Splotter like Roads and Boats and others (e.g. Neuland). Here resources are not always available, but appear when particular tiles are revealed. In the latter states there are more sites than resources to appear atop them, so the player has choices about where. A turn consists of expending movement points on one's pieces and then performing an action. Probably in recognition that one does not always finish in position to actually use an action, a draw from a deck of special cards is also available, which adds a dose of luck, especially as some cards are completely useless if drawn too late. Another antecedent must be Carcassonne itself – the game is probably the result of a starting idea like "place tiles and now let the pieces move around on them" – and like its parent there is plenty of luck too in what one turns over. In particular, stone is vital, but if it shows up too far away, one expends too many movement points to stay in contention. The theme is sort of about ancient fertility, but is damaged by the inclusion of out of place volcanoes (more shades of Tikal). Production is quite attractive including genuine white stones and tiles which fit together like puzzle pieces. How nice the latter would be for The Settlers of Catan! One very annoying misfeature is that early editions did not permit these tiles, once punched, to fit into their insert. Caveat emptor! Beware too the mistranslation in the English edition which falsely says that delivered stones leave the game. Overall this is for logistics experts and tacticians, but the only thing really new is inclusion of considerable randomness in the context of a logistical game, indicating the young and less hard core as likely audiences. Something for those who have cut their teeth on Carcassonne and are ready to graduate to more?
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High
Seminal game about city planning and building by famed designer Sid Sackson is the predecessor of 1999's city building games Big City, Chinatown and others. Players compete and negotiate over who will build what, always being limited by what cards they hold. The game graphics and components definitely look like they come from their time which could be viewed either as obsolete or nostalgic, depending on one's taste. Instead of its "Shining City of the Future" look, it would also have been interesting to design the buildings to resemble those of the 1927 Fritz Lang science fiction film Metropolis. The game play is not bad, especially for fans of negotiation games, although one's freedom of action seems to narrow precipitously in the later stages and play may become a bit stilted.
Meurtre à l'abbaye (Geheimnis der Abtei, Murder at the Abbey, Mystery of the Abbey)
Bruno Faidutti-invented logical deduction game uses the setting of Umberto Eco's intellectual novel, The Name of the Rose. Good innovations on the genre are the open-ended possibilities for interrogation, the continuation of the game after a failed accusation and, most impressively, the ability to score points for making successful predictions. For this devotee of the novel, the application of the theme, including the cartoonish monks, is very satisfying. On the other hand, there are some quibbles about the way the players must remember a number of rules exceptions as well as take a lot of notes. One of our players who is just fine for other European games couldn't be bothered to make any notes at all, and your group may have players like that as well. Curiously, he came in second place anyway by use of successful predictions. To digress a bit, one of the little-realized excellences of Die Siedler von Catan are the minor rules that eliminate a whole host of rules inelegances. For example, players must finish trading before they can build. Seemingly banal, yet it is easily-remembered and really does prevents a lot of problems and rules exceptions about players using the things that they build in trading. (Unfortunately, Mayfair didn't understand this and undid some of Kosmos' excellent work in this area.) Anyway, some of the same kind of thinking could be applied here. For example, if it is a bad thing for a player to go from one Confessional to the other in one turn, why not simply place them far enough apart that it's not possible instead of creating a rules exception to the effect? If each player can only use one Library card per game, why not deal out only as many of them as there are players? And why constantly distract players by forcing them to keep track of the current game turn? I'm sure that occurrence of the Mass could be driven by some other less-obtrusive mechanism, e.g. some kind of event card or dice roll. As the mass of players move away from conventions of wargames, they are getting less and less tolerant of having to do turn tracking. (Yeah, it tends to break the theme for mass to occur randomly, but does it really matter when so much else has already been abstracted?) In some ways then, the design is somewhat out of date. There are also some ambiguities, an example being the "De Alchemia" card which specifies that a player does not participate in card passing, but leaves unclear whether the player is treated as if he does not exist or whether the player to his right simply does not pass and the player to his left simply does not receive. A case could be made for either interpretation. The information tracking sheet is a clever, two-layered affair, but the top layer might offer a bit more information. Strategically, asking questions is rather a difficult matter. Early in the game, useful questions are difficult to come by, unless one is lucky enough have a collection of all but two of a set. Then a useful question which is still vague enough not to give away the answer can be asked. Late in the game, questions can be very useful, but by then it is too dangerous to answer. The Library cards are quite powerful and this feature should not be ignored. In terms of notation, I think what players really want to track is not just whether they have seen a particular card, but also who is holding what card at the moment, and who has seen what card. At least this helps in giving your downstream opponent as many already-seen cards as possible. (So I recommend just writing a sequence of letters for each monk where each letter represents who has the card at the moment.) Overall, quite fun for fans of logical deduction and the novel who can get into the medieval spirit of things – there is even a party game-ish event card – but quite possibly disappointing for others who may feel treated unfairly by bad luck and overwhelmed by the notational demands. For fans of this sort of game, there is a lot more atmosphere than most, albeit less elegantly. Originally published in French by Multisim, web-published in English for a short time in 2002 by the inventor and re-issued 2003 by Days of Wonder as Mystery of the Abbey, which takes some of the above advice to heart. Confessionals are placed further away. De Alchemia is clarified. The information sheet offers more information. Unfortunately turn counting is still required, but it's at least made easier by a special counting card and an actual little bell, with which the monks are called to prayer. This realization is quite lavish throughout, but the board shows a Latin preference for art over communication. There is no information printed in the rooms themselves, even though there would have been plenty of space. This causes a lot of annoying cross-referencing, especially for new and returning players. It's fortunate that the game play is so fun that such matters don't linger overlong. Update: The card which permits two players to swap hands may be unduly powerful. In both of our last two playings, one of the players involved in the swap proved the eventual winner. [6-player Games] [summary] [Holiday List 2003]
MHML7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Bruno Faidutti & Serge Laget; Multisim-1996/web-published-2002/Days of Wonder-2003; 3-6 [Buy it at Amazon]
Card game follow-on to Verräter sees the traitor going to sea and becoming a mutineer. The ideas in the original game are realized much better and the decisionmaking made much tighter. In this excursion new twists force players to consider even more possibilities. The only objection seems induced by the publisher whose packaging limits the number of cards. If the ratio of weapon cards to the hand size had been larger, conflict would be a less certain endeavor, and thus less subject to simple luck of the draw. As it is now, with only six weapon cards in the deck, if one's hand of five includes three of them, one can be fairly sure of winning a conflict. Inclusion of both more weapon and non-weapon cards would have helped. Although relatively simple, has appeal for the wargame crowd as well as for Poker players. Card art is quite nice, especially so because of the consistent look across all of the cards. [Victory Point Board] [Pirate Games]
Marcel-André Casasola-Merkle; Adlung; 2000; 3-4 [Buy it at Adlung]
Fourth in the series of action points oriented games from inventors Kiesling and Kramer is set in the lands and lakes of the Aztecs. But instead of fighting as in The One World and Azteca, players struggle to construct the most and highest pyramids to dominate districts that they themselves interatively create by digging canals. Players train new brain synapses as they learn how to section off districts in the various exact sizes that the randomly drawn tiles specify. The pawn's ability to travel unhindered over water from bridge to bridge, penetrating the interior here and there over and over also makes for a challenging set of options. These many options can make the game last too long however if players get too involved in their analysis. For this reason it may be best to have at most three players. Somewhat annoying are the petty plays in which players steal one another's bridges and it can be rather repetitive as well since they continually return to the most valuable regions to take back dominance again and again, which will remind some of Manhattan. The ability to save unused action points is a rather handy feature previously seen in An den Ufern des Nils. An interesting tactic can be to try to expend pyramids quickly and thus end the game, catching opponents with several unplayed. Of about the same complexity as Torres, it is less difficult than Java, but more so than Tikal. Overall, fans of what is now becoming a genre will probably like this one as a change of pace from the others, but for those coming to them for the first time, this is probably not the place to start. Thematically, the bridges seem to behave a lot more like canoes.
Mexican Train
if no image probably out of print
A new version of Dominoes may seem a questionable choice, but a game championed by Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz is worth at least a look, n'est-çe pas? Like most Dominoes scenarios, this is a shedding game of playing tiles to clear one's hand first. In this version, each begins by working on one's own line, the first tile of which must match the common starting tile. From there tiles must be chained as normal by matching numbers. Adding to tactical considerations is that each player places the tiles to be played face up and in order for others to see, though without being required to follow the thus-created plan. From turn to turn a player adds a single tile to the end of his "train" or to the end of the Mexican train which is available to all players. Those unable to play must draw another tile and a marker is placed on their train which means that from now on anyone can place a tile there, until the owning player is again able to place there (and remove the marker). Double tiles (having the same number on each side) create special problems because they require the player to immediately add another tile and if unable to do so, force the first able succeeding player to, possibly disrupting their plan. At the end of each round each player is charged points for tiles left in hand. As should be clear, there are not a few tactical and strategic considerations. Sometimes diagnosis of the hand and the table will indicate it's best to deliberately stop the train fast and get help; at others to work alone. Deciding on which opponent train to play a tile is a vital consideration, as is how to use any doubles that come your way. Of course there is no real theme, but usually this should be a fast moving, yet decision fraught endeavor likely to please, and one that still works well for large groups. Each round is independent of the last so it's easy to set the number of them to match the amount of time one wants to play, usually forty-five minutes or so. [vote the next review] [Top 10 Games for 7 or More Beginners]
MLHM7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; High: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Roy & Katie Parsons; (many)-1994; 1-8; 6+ [Buy it at Amazon]
Simplified card version of Mah Jongg accentuates the game's worst excesses, making it more chaotic. A funnier title would have been Your Jongg. [6-player Games]
Tile-placement game for two. The ostensible theme is high energy physics, but unfortunately there is little in the rules which develops this background and I'm not personally qualified to evaluate its appropriateness. In terms of play, the readiest comparison is with Carcassonne, a version adjusted to introduce more planning. Players now control a hand of tiles, variable in size, as well as a second, hidden hand which supplies the first. By wise tile placements they cause these tiles to eventually flow to the hand. Probably to keep the larger handsize from unduly slowing things down, Carcassonne's several ways to score is reduced to one: owning completed groups of like tiles. Tiles appear to be generally balanced so it's unlikely a player will feel slighted by the draw – it's less about what you draw than what you do with it. The rules governing placement are a bit tricky and take some getting used to. Overall this is not bad and it wouldn't surprise me to see it professionally published, replacing the bland artwork and either elucidating or changing the opacity of the theme, which are obstacles at present. Currently this is available as Print-and-Play with the option to order a pre-constructed set. Those wanting a sturdier specimen may consider mounting the tile images on pieces from a Travel Scrabble set.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low
This area-control game features a Norse setting, but only mildly so. The board consists of three named countries and within each are several provinces. Each player has a ship on which are loaded some of his pawns. Cards will later allow the placement or replacement of these on individual positions within the provinces. Pawns may also go to Asgard, Vanaheim, or if killed, to Valhalla. Card distribution is via a passing mechanism reminiscent of games like Die Sieben Weisen, Fairy Tale or Notre Dame. That is, each player is dealt, say, six cards, keeps one and passes the rest left. Receiving five new cards, one is kept, the rest passed on and so on, eventually forming the hand. From there turns are taken to play cards which control pawns. At the end of each round scoring is based on the number of areas a player dominates, the more the better. Asgard and Vanaheim offer fixed scoring rates. Then certain pre-determined areas suffer plague where their pawns die, scoring two points each. They then score an additional point since all pawns in Valhalla also score a point each. At the end there is extra scoring for having had more or less equal presence in all three countries. A good point here is that the concepts are readily assimilable and it plays fairly quickly. On the downside, many of the cards are strangely uninteresting, most of them being pretty much the same, usually just permitting a placement or replacement in a particular country. The valuable cards, like Viking Horde, are too rare and it's quite possible that a given player never acquires a single one throughout the game, a distinct disadvantage. There are gold cards that constitute a special class, but there are not enough of them to matter. As a consequence, the card passing decisions are not nearly as agonizing as one might like. The game makes a mistake too in punishing the player who has the best gold card. These cards are simply not powerful enough to justify forcing their owner to act first, which is usually a disadvantage. Really it should be the player with the highest score who deserves such treatment, and the entire turn ought to be played in score order, not simply clockwise. Partly as consequence, it's not unusual for players to take a big lead in this game and for no one to be able to catch up. As for theme, one hardly notices it and the artwork tends to the garish and not appealing. The "cards with majority control" genre has been visited many times already and the only particularly new feature here, the card passing, doesn't work as well as it should. Folks will probably be much happier with Web of Power (or its new incarnation, China). If one is still tempted to try it, it's probably best not to exceed three players, the number of countries.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 4
Eric M. Lang; Z-Man Games; 2006; 3-5
Mille Bornes
The Edmond Dujardin adaptation of Touring adds more strategy with the Coup Fourré cards, which are more valuable if saved until the problem which it fixes comes up. For serious players there are not enough interesting choices here, the most significant determinant of success in the game appearing to be luck of the draw. [Take That! Card Games]
Business/auction game by the inventor of Railway Rivals/Dampfross. Players represent mine owners in a nineteenth century American setting, trying to make the most money. Each initially drafts a mine which is rated for annual overhead cost, working capacity, working cost per ton removed and number of tons to remove. Each turn after ore is produced and sold off a new mine appears and is auctioned off. Ore prices are fixed based on the number of players and following the law of supply and demand, adjusted up or down depending on how much the number available differs from that of the previous turn. Also having an effect are event cards, one of which is drawn each turn and "engineering report" cards that each player may purchase each turn. Some games engender a discussion whether they were produced on a Macintosh or not, or using Illustrator or not. With this one the question would be if it was Word or WordPerfect; the look is that primitive, being mainly monochrome images printed on colored paper. Even worse, a lot of materials such as money and ore markers need to be cut out by hand. But the presentation is not the most serious feature that's no longer state of the art. Some of the trade cards affect all players, but the rest have a negative impact on only the drawing player. In what possible universe is this fair? The same thing applies to the engineering report cards, only some of which are beneficial. In terms of decisions, most interest revolves around the simple auction for a new mine as the decision about how much to produce each turn is rather straightforward: unless there is some negative event, produce as much as one can afford. Like all of Mr. Watts' games, this one is educational and, if not all that entertaining, might work well in a classroom situation, demonstrating how OPEC works, for example.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
David G. Watts; Winsome; 1993; 3-5
Ming Dynastie (Ming Dynasty)
if no image probably out of print
Ostensibly this is about recovering 14th China from the Mongols and becoming the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty, but the map and mechanisms are so far off topic that it's best forgotten. The map is a highly abstract one of six areas, each subdivided into three smaller areas which all have a portion of the city at the center of the area. Each player controls a pawn which moves from small area to small area by playing a card matching the symbol which joins the two. Before all of this happens players take turns placing five tokens against any of the larger regions. As a player's pawn moves through the region, he may teleport the corresponding tokens in. They are generally placed into the area's countryside, but one may be placed in its monastery, kicking any other piece already there into the countryside. At the end of two rounds of this, a scoring round occurs. The most and second most numerous tokens in each smaller area get to move into the city of their color and each one of these earns the player a tile of that color. Each time a player can turn in a set of all six colors he earns 24 victory points (decreasingly less in the two subsequent scoring rounds). After this, players having tokens in cities each choose simultaneously whether to have them go back to the countryside or leave the game and score 4 points each (3 for the second scoring and 0 for the last). Then each piece in a monastery earns 4 points, a rate which remains the same over all the scoring rounds. At first the system can seem slushy; nearly everything seems to score points no matter their state and no action seems particularly decisive. It can be difficult to even affect the opposition apart from the fact that two pawns cannot co-habit, a situation which comes up more by accident than by design. But eventually a few strategic paths arise. One is to collect as many tiles as possible. While only one set of six is possible for the first scoring round, two, three or more are theoretically possible in subsequent rounds and doing this well can score large numbers of points. Alternatively, a player could theoretically put ten tokens in monasteries for the first scoring round and if all stay, earn 40 points. Subsequent monastery points could reach a theoretical maximum of 72 points per round. Much easier said than done, however. And, of course, a mixed city/monastery approach represents a third path. But how, you're asking, do players get those movement cards in the first place. Here a leaf has been taken from the book of Elfenland as the cards are drafted, but in an unexpected way. When pieces are placed on colors, one card each is placed next to each color. The usual plan would be to draft a card at that time, but this is not the case. Instead, after all of the tokens have been placed, players may draft a card from any of the places where they have just placed pawn. When a card is taken, a new one replaces it. As players are trying to draft cards that describe a path, à la Thurn + Taxis, this can often be frustrating if the card one wants is not available. The system tends to encourage players to diversify their piece placements, which in turn encourages longer trips. A player who simply must have a particular card can instead purchase a wild card at the cost of a token. Despite relying strongly on color differentiation, all the communication design seems to work quite well – there is a green, but no true red area. Board and cards are nicely realized, some of them generously provided even though they're not even really needed (the removal cards can be handled just using tokens). The movement card/icons show various modes of old-style transportation such as river barge, junque, palanquin, etc. The unique wooden tokens are topped by curved inverted U shapes and can be laid on their sides, which is convenient for helping to remind which are in monasteries. Overall the game by the born-in-California but now German resident, Robert F. Watson, whose prior efforts are all meant for children, succeeds as a mostly strategic affair with a few tactics, but not much theme. Duration may be a little long until players become experienced. Hmm, yet another recent game set in China; one would almost guess there's something major scheduled there at the moment, like a major sporting event or something.
Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Robert F. Watson; 2007; Hans-im-Glück/Rio Grande; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Mini Inkognito
Deduction card game based on the Venice-in-the-moonlight setting of the earlier board game Inkognito. Basically the game is the same, but all the movement and geography issues have been removed. Setting and game play are generally fun, but luck in what other players tell you and with the ambassador can give the game away rather easily and without the player needing much skill at all. The board game is a bit more chaotic, atmospheric and fun. [Two vs. Two Games]
Alex Randolph; Venice Connection; 1996 [Buy it at Amazon]
Rudi Hoffman game of politics in which one tries to become chancellor by game's end, i.e. election day. Although the design dates back to 1975 and the basic mechanism is the chaotic one of rolling the dice, there tend to be quite a few rolls so in most games they should even out over the duration. More importantly, right up until the last 20% or so players will feel that they still retain some chance to actually win. This plus the drama of the rapidly-changing cabinet situation somehow keeps everyone interested enough to make an hour and a half long game feel like just forty-five minutes, which is always a good sign. Not without some strategy and tactics, and definitely a good one to be played with non-gamers. The miniature plastic busts used to represent office holders are a unique attractive touch. By the way, the rendering of the scandal portion of the game is apparently a reference to a German slang saying about putting one's foot into a bowl of grease.
Game about sailing North America's greatest river is designed for children, but of interest to adults as well. In attractive water colors, the board is formed by a large matrix of hexes, the river flowing in boustrophedon fashion (as the ox plows). Riverboats are represented by hexagonal wooden pieces, each side having a different numeral imprinted, from 1 to 6. Akin to Hare and Tortoise players burn logs to move forward and regain them by moving backwards. In addition, when they come adjacent to another boat, the move forward the amount determined by subtracting the other ship's number from the one being touched on one's own. This can lead to some surprising results, sometimes including a very long series of consecutive moves which may involve other boats along the way. This unexpected behavior can be fun, but those with a good ability to look ahead will probably be the most successful.
Mississippi Queen
Intriguing concept has players racing paddlewheeler boats on the Mississippi River. Each game is different as the layout of the river is determined randomly as the game goes along. Players must also manage two slowdowns to pick up belles before the end. Rules are elegant and easily grasped, but pales somewhat after a few plays as there is too little strategy and decisionmaking. The key skill is to find ways of traveling efficiently through parts of the river where others may spend a lot of time and a willingness to expend coal to be able to do so. Often escaping the crowd is the best means for doing this. Actually reflects rather well the steamboat races described so memorably by Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi. [Spiel des Jahres Winner]
Mississippi Queen: Black Rose
Expansion kit adds the possibility for more players as well as a non-player boat to help the players at the back. The general effect of all of this is mostly to increase downtime and cause possible endless loops at the finish as non-player can easily prevent anyone from gaining victory. [6-player Games]
Mit List und Tücke
Above average trick-taking card game using a specialized deck. [more] [6-player Games]
Mitternachtsparty (Midnight Party, Ghost Party)
Children's game which is nevertheless of some interest to adults. Atmospheric plastic men and women who look like they are from the 1920's are promenading around an upstairs balcony when Hugo the ghost suddenly charges up the stairs! Hide! Oh no, someone is already hiding there! Run! There is not a great deal of skill, but there are some interesting choices to make and a rather satisfying theme helps. [6-player Games]
The Pacific island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) has long been a puzzle to scientists. Why did this society collapse, despite an almost total lack of external enemies? In this scarcity game by Swiss inventor Adrian Dinu (Aliens), players need to provide enough food each turn to feed their people. This involves playing enough of their markers numbered 1-3 onto the finite and dwindling supply of farming spaces, which is supplemented by the occasional fishing boat. But the glory, i.e. victory points, of the islanders comes from the famous stone statues they build. The more the better and quality counts too, the latter depending on the number of workers on the project. But each statue, and each boat for that matter, depends on having a wood token, and these are also scarce. This is historically accurate since de-forestation was a major problem on the island. The game simulates this well by use of programmed decks of cards in which most of the wood-bearing cards appear in the first one and only a very few in the last. But there's a subtle problem with the way that wood distribution works. There are four slots in which wood appears and players fight over these via the mechanism of placement and majority control. For example, consider a three-player playing. Slot 1 always has wood; slot 2 usually does; slot 3 has it about half the time in the first half of the game only and slot 4 about a quarter of the time in the same period. As a consequence only slots 1 and 2 are really of significance. The other salient fact is re-deployment of pieces is generally not allowed – perhaps Moai's greatest innovation. One can use cards to permit more of it, but this usually results in an overall lessening of position as one tends to lose farming slots which leads to deaths, etc. As a consequence, the all-important wood gathering positions tend to be set in stone, more or less. This means that there is always one slot that tends to be best, which one it is depending on the number of players. In the three-player situation two fight over slot 1, each probably winning about half the time, but the third player generally wins slot 2 every time. There are similar dynamics for other numbers of players (except two). As this has no real thematic connection, a more equitable wood distribution system should have been found; as it is, it's quite possible for a player to take a big lead early and never look back. Moai also includes blind bidding for cards and some of these are of the "take that" variety. While normally this would be cause for concern, with one exception neither is much of a problem in the context of this game. The bidding works out because the cards to buy tend to be quite balanced and the amount one has to bid with is anyway minimal. Zero bids are common. The "take that" cards are not too serious in their effects except for the ones that destroy another's moai (statue), which is okay as long as all players know about these cards before play begins. If they do, they'll take care to buy one or more cheap statues which can then be the ones chosen for destruction when the time comes. The game materials ought to do a better job of helping first time players realize this in order to avoid the "I hated my first playing of this and will never try it again" syndrome. Production is nicely realized. Early misgivings about the cylindrical pieces rolling away proved unfounded; except for the very start of player, usually one doesn't have many unallocated to hand anyway. Cards are large and thus hard to hide when bidding, but players learn to simply hold them under the table. The instructions tend to be vague on certain minor issues, as if this never received the benefit of blind testing. Having such a nicely thematic treatment, it's unfortunate that this mostly tactical game cannot be highly recommended.
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Adrian Dinu; Face 2 Face Games; 2007; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Modern Art
Fascinating auction game is a Knizia study in group think and perceived value. Theme fits like a glove – the trendy, murky, quirky world of modern art. Equally interesting to play with three as with five. Always includes all of the players, even when it is not their turn. Comes in two different rule sets, the original German and the Webley/ Game Cabinet English version later adopted by Mayfair. Strategically, players should always remember that even though they may make a profit in selling a painting, they are also swelling the coffers of the sellers. It is prudent to think about who is earning more. Of course, if the seller has been overspending on paintings for most of the game and is probably not doing well, it is okay to buy for a high price, but if the person has been holding back and never buying but selling at good prices, then let the buyer beware. Players may like to experiment with open money holdings to remove the memory element as all of the financial information is ultimately trackable. This can help to fix the inexperienced player problem. A Deutscher Spielepreis winner. [Buy it at Amazon]
Moderne Zeiten
Auction and shares game set in the large construction world (trains, planes, automobiles, telephony and skyscrapers) of the 1920's. Players bid for a set of randomly turned up shares, and for the right to act first. Similar to Traumfabrik, the winning bid is distributed to the other players. Then each player either draws two shares from the deck or plays any number. If the latter results in the player showing more shares in the industry sector than any other single player, he moves his unique zeppelin piece forward on the spiral track to the next space showing that sector. This space also names a city (New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Chicago, New Orleans). Sector and city are used to index a location on the clever central board matrix which the player now marks. At the end, points are granted for dominating rows and columns of this matrix, as well as for having the most shares in each sector and the most money. As shares appear, they are counted and once they hit a limit, whichever sector has the most shares out crashes and they are all lost so this is one of those games where it is a good idea to aim for the tricky goal of being in second place. Strategically, with a full complement of five players, it seems that a lot of points can be earned by being diverse in holdings and conservative about spending, but it's hard to advise since maddening ambiguities in the instructions seem to ensure that there is no consensus about the correct rules of play. If one can somehow get over this, "Modern Times" is an appealing construction which because of the variable starting and appearing shares should have plenty of replay value. Fans of the somewhat similar Union Pacific should enjoy this as well, but those who didn't care for it should like this even better as what happens on the board matters more. The look reflects the interesting theme very nicely, even though the artwork feels a bit bland. One wishes for a bit more quality in the flimsy play money which sticks together too easily and is difficult to count. [Balloon Aviation Games]
Michael Schacht invention is an auction game on the topic of historic American railroads. A card is turned up and those who have matching cards earn a victory point. Plastic chips are then used to conduct a curious form of auction in which players take turns either contributing a chip to the pot to stay in or take everything there and drop out. The eventual winner either takes the card or wins the right to sell one he already has, the second place finisher being able to do the other. Selling value is equal to the number of shares of that type currently being held by all players. The system is easily understood, play clever and tricky to navigate. There can also be quite a bit of angst deciding whether to put in a chip hoping to get more later or in a mano e mano competition, wondering when the opponent will be forced to fold. Although it's almost all auction, it proceeds so quickly that one doesn't mind. As it accepts the relatively rare six players as well, this small package should find appeal to just about everyone. One cavil is the small board which has a difficult time accommodating the scoring markers when many are tied. Along with with Crazy Race and Station Manager, part of a trio of railroad-themed games. [6-player Games]
Michael Schacht; Spiele aus Timbuktu;
Mole Hill
Reiner Knizia game for two about one player, a furry mole, attempting to hop around a grid as long as possible while the other player, a perplexed farmer, places one fence per turn attempting to block him in. In a brilliant insight, the center space permits teleportation. Very simple rules provide a most accessible vehicle, yet there is enough tactically to keep things interesting for quite a few plays. In terms of tactics, the farmer player should paradoxically not place too close to the mole initially, but rather imagine the larger area in which to trap it and place about two moves away. The mole player cannot afford to be leisurely and should always be moving with a view to keeping his options open.
Card game of the "fishing" variety where cards are played to claim others lying face up on the table, this time about sheep. They come in four colors having values two through four. Players try to be the first to collect a full set of six by swapping with a pool of five face up cards. To keep things from being too sedate, if not pastoral, some of the cards show sheep which have already been sheared. These are worth negative points and must be swapped for a positive card of the same color, which might not always be available. Two other types of cards round out the specials: Benny the Dog clears out the entire pool and Tim the Shearer forces the downstream players to take negative cards. A hand can be as quick as five minutes and rarely more than fifteen. Players must deduce which color the downstream players are collecting and not give them what they want as well as choose carefully what to collect. The card fronts showing various silly sheep and backs showing the company's mouse logo are all quite cute. Overall, probably best appreciated by those wanting a not too-taxing experience. Title is a made-up word for sheep (singular Mömm), possibly derived from the sound a sheep makes in German, "ma-a-a" (and too many games of Die Siedler von Catan?) [Die Wuselmäuse]
This is a tile-laying game and yet also something more as the little wooden monks run around on the tiles of the monastery. Each player controls multiple monks who move according to action points and whose goal it is to be sitting on the maximum scoring tiles at evaluation time. This is not as easy as it sounds since the monastery grounds are large in comparison to the movement rate, it's often not possible to create efficient paths and tiles get used up. A special mechanism attempts to encourage players to cooperate, however. Certain tiles need two, three or even four monks at once to complete them, which in the early stages is more than any one player fields. So a player is to grab one or two of these spots, probably the lower-valued ones, and hope that others will fill in the gap. Trouble is, if others have been fortunate enough to draw tiles which don't require cooperation, the poor volunteer stands out there with his cake in the rain, scoring nothing. (This mechanism works in Blue Moon City, but was not implemented well enough here.) But gaining points are not the end of it. They are but a way of buying letters (yes, not just vowels, but even consonants) to cover the designated spaces on the front of one's cardboard player shield. Some letters are unique, but many are shared and even though there are multiples to go around, the first purchaser pays the lower price. In this way the rich monks – the ones who earlier drew the good tiles? – get richer. On the other hand, it is not in any way a word game. Just to spice things up more, several tiles have special effects. The library permits switching a couple of letters; the workshop permits drawing a new tile; the prison cell even lets the abbot player imprison a monk. While these are fun, it's hard to tell from the tiles what they do and players need to constantly check a reference sheet. (There are a fair number of rules exceptions that pose a similar obstable as well.) Otherwise, however, the artwork is quite nicely realized. The cute monks can be placed both in standing and prone praying positions. The thematic elements feel nice as well. However, the fragility of play can lead to unfair results, frustration and being left out of the running rather long before it's over.
Phil & Steve Kendall & Gary Dicken; Ragnar Brothers; 2008; 2-4
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Knizia card game is reminiscent of Boneyard and also Lamarckian Poker. Here players use cards to simultaneously bid for more cards, representing various currencies, trying to collect a matched set. Some play fiendishly trying to prevent others from completing theirs, but often it seems that a more generous approach that allows completing one's own goal more quickly is more effective. A quick, elegant game.
Monopoly (Billionaire)
Game vaguely about real-estate was seminal for its time, although that time, the 1930's, is now considerably past. One of the first, perhaps the first to combine cash, pawns and cards all in one setting. Set in Atlantic City, and since in countless other places around the world. In fact it is possible to purchase a "create your own" set to place the game wherever you like. For some reason, seems to be played more incorrectly than otherwise, including the placing of tax funds in the center of the board to be claimed on Free Parking and the omission of the auction rules for unpurchased properties. These regular changes probably reflect mass market tastes. Unfortunately, this dumbing-down of the rules also greatly lengthens play which does not help its reputation. Even if played correctly, however, has a great deal of luck, not enough strategic paths and some players may be eliminated before the game is over. After all these years, the game which became popular simply because the victims of the Great Depression enjoyed the fantasy of playing with huge sums of cash, it would probably be in the long term best interest of the hobby today if it went out of print since its bad features are giving games and gaming a bad name. Who doesn't know at least a dozen people with bad memories of bitter, interminable playings that have left them never wanting to play any other game ever again? After seven decades, it's high time something better took its place. The Settlers of Catan, Bohnanza and Carcassonne are just three of many possibilities, but it's very difficult to see how it can happen, especially in America, with so much advertising money and short term profit involved with Rich Uncle Pennybags (the mustachioed character often pictured on the game). But short-term greed has always been connected with this game, in more ways than one. Not only was Elizabeth Magie's 1904 original patent shorn of its anti-capitalist second half, but its very invention was conveniently attributed to one Charles Darrow, who had merely appropriated the idea. Some of the background on the true origins of the game are described at the Anti-Monopoly website; more is presented in The Oxford History of Board Games by David Parlett and The Billion Dollar Monopoly Swindle.
[10 Most Famous Board Games]
Billionaire is a quite similar Chinese-language game which renames all the spaces and modifies some rules, also including cartoon illustrations on the board. The dice are replaced by a plastic spinner giving numbers 1-12, thus changing the landing probabilities. Includes large, clear plastic pawns.
Another game of the Raj type in which players start with identical sets of cards. Here each is randomly given a subset and adds one card each turn. The theme is ostensibly around the very first hot air balloon flight and in a very pleasant presentation, players attempt to fly higher than any other. The higher the card played, the more likely one is to move up, but there are other interesting plays such as grappling onto another balloon, using soporific gas on lower balloons or storms which defeat the leaders. It can be especially interesting to compete against the non-player Black Baron who has been known to win the game from time to time, even playing randomly. A more recent design of similar type is Sky Runner (not described here). A light psychological battle not requiring a great deal of thought or effort. We have successfully added to the strategy, especially with respect to cooperative play, by simply having the full deck of cards available from the outset. [Balloon Aviation Games] [6-player Games]
The follow-on to Isi which changes the game from squares to hexes and from two players to up to four is just as enjoyable if not better due to the greater variability introduced by having more players. Works better if the board is made in a slightly triangular way and three more or less regularly-spaced "holes" are created. This tends to prevent the "star network" strategy from dominating and the first player from regularly winning. [Cwali]
Morgenland (Aladdin's Dragons)
A re-working of Keydom with theme translated to an "Aladdin's Lamp" setting. There have been quite a few changes in this version. The family businesses have been changed to competing gangs of thieves and in game terms the family affinities to places removed. Several of the destinations such as the midwife, thief and soldier have also vanished. The game is no longer a race to acquire the four treasures, but to have the most of them when all have run out. The results are that the kingmaking and long endgame problems have been fixed and the game length probably shortened by about an hour. On the other hand, the theme no longer seems to fit as well. It made more sense that one always got trees in the forest, but now why does one only find one kind of treasure in the each dragon cave? Some of the intermediate destinations do not seem strongly themed either. And although I am usually a huge fan of Doris Matthäus art, for some reason it doesn't really work for me here. Thus the game is still interesting, particularly in the bluffing and mind games of placing pieces face down, but somehow at the end of the day does not strongly appeal. I would suggest playing with public tiles as well since that information is fully trackable. Strategically, the "3" Thief chit seems to be the one most worth acquiring.
Mouse Trap
Racing game whose main attraction is a Rube Goldberg device which does not always work that well. There is not much to the game, but operating the device is fun for a while. Children's fare.
Mr. Jack
Two-player game of logical deduction set in Victorian London. But this is deduction of the Scotland Yard sort rather than that of Sleuth, Code 777 or Black Vienna. That is, the deduction part is rather elementary, as Sherlock Holmes would say, and issues like movement and position take the featured roles. Holmes is in the game, as is Watson, but not Moriarty. No, here in a mixture of fiction and reality, the villain is Jack the Ripper (though actually Arthur Conan Doyle did have some involvement in solving the Ripper case). Mr. Jack is never shown on the map, but is secretly one of the eight characters, all of whom are moveable by both players. The goal of the Ripper player is to last eight turns without being discovered and caught or to escape the board before then. The Scotland Yard player attempts to prevent that, of course, and is helped greatly by the rule forcing the Jack player to every turn state whether he is standing next to a street lamp or other character, or not. By this means is the Ripper's identity slowly deduced. But this is not all. Each character also has a special power which comes into play each time he moves: Holmes reveals one of the innocent. Watson acts as a portable street lamp. Lestrade moves the barricades that block exits. Sir William Gull swaps positions with another character. There is a character who relocates the lamps and another who does the same for the sewer covers – sewers permit "teleporting" across the board. Online play at reveals that Jack is probably easier to play – he wins noticeably more often – but on the other hand, performing the deduction is probably more fun, so there's a kind of balance there. Actually everything here seems both balanced and completely developed. Every character has a specific purpose and affects a different game feature. Neither side can generally get a great advantage very quickly, but both, by careful analysis and a little luck (in which characters are drawn to act in which order) can build up small advantages that lead to a win. An illustration of this is that the Ripper only rarely escapes – the fast Miss Stealthy character being something of an exception – but the fact that it could happen has considerable influence on play in both the bluffing and the worrying aspects. The presentation is quite attractive and the characters are cleverly depicted on double-sided round tiles which are flipped over to indicate their status. One point of slight cheesiness is that one of the characters has been given the sobriquet "Jeremy Bert" in a sort of tribute to the late actor Jeremy Brett, who portrayed Holmes in the very popular and very good British TV series. While I liked Brett a lot too, but would have preferred an historical name for this character. Overall though, it was a great idea to combine a Verräter / Citadels- style game with logical deduction and pursuit. It works quite well to boot. The variability of which character is the Ripper adds quite a bit of replay value so for anyone who can use another two-player vehicle, the game's afoot! By the way, A. Conan Doyle thought that the Ripper was probably an American who disguised himself as a woman to make his getaways. And although several detective novels have done it, Doyle would have hated the idea of mixing his characters into a story about real-life ones. Expanded, so far, by Mr. Jack: The Carriage and Mr. Jack Expansion.
Bruno Cathala & Ludovic Maublanc; Hurrican; 2006; 2
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7 [Buy it at Amazon]
Mr. Jack Extension
if no image probably out of print
This expansion kit for Mr. Jack adds five more characters and a fun way to determine which ones are used. Four of the characters from the original – Holmes, Lestrade, gaslight guy and sewer guy – are indispensable and always participate. All of the remaining characters are shuffled together and distributed. Players take turns adding one character each until a full complement has been reached. The butcher character scares a character and makes him move a few spaces away. The anarchist places a barricade on the board. Madame is similar to Miss Stealthy in that she's very fast – moving up to six – but never uses sewers. Inspector Abberline is sort of the butcher's opposite, preventing adjacent characters from moving more than one space. Most novel and fun (invented by outside contributor Steve MacKeogh) is Spring-heeled Man, who jumps over obstacles and even characters, the latter so that the amount of space on either side of the leapt over is the same. This character can make a wide variety of moves, often surprising ones. Overall the new characters work fine and add new considerations to play without changing its basic nature. Presentation maintains its same high level and the new materials can all be accommodated in the old box. Instructions are once again in seven languages. Get this if you've played Mr. Jack so often that it holds no more surprises for you, or you are simply in love with this system; the rest will survive happily without.
Ludovic Maublanc & Bruno Cathala; Hurrican; 2007; 2
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7 [Buy it at Amazon]
Mr. President
Early game by 3M depicts US presidential election. Ostensibly for four players, in reality it is just a two-player situation as there is no way for the vice-presidential players to win an indepedendent victory and nothing to give them any original activity. Essentially this is a card game and like Campaign Trail, would probably be better via e-mail so as to permit detailed analysis. Rather dated today, both in terms of its electoral vote totals and its play, these early 3M efforts are nevertheless the groundbreaking work which led to the German gaming renascence that we have seen in the 1990's.
Mü & Mehr (Mu and More): Calcory
I didn't think it was possible, but Doris and Frank have actually managed to created a version of the traditional game Memory (Concentration) which is fun and has strategy. Nicely done and worth a try if you have not yet done so.
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 1995; 2-5
Mü & Mehr (Mu and More): Last Panther, The
A redo of Hearts is both interesting and fun although you will find you don't play it much as the other games in the box are so much more engrossing. [6-player Games]
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 1995; 3-5
Mü & Mehr (Mu and More): Mü
Trick-taking card game of machiavellian bidding tactics and revolving partnerships. One of the best with plenty of possible approaches, though it never hurts to be dealt a handful of nines. Is really best at exactly five players. With four, the chief and his crony seem to win too often and the six player version can fall apart quite dramatically. If one has six players, try the Wimmüln game (see below) from the same box. Four players can resort to The Last Panther (above) more. [variant] [Two vs. Two Games] [6-player Games] [Frank & I discuss bidding]
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 2006; 2-6
[Buy it at Amazon]
Mü & Mehr (Mu and More): Safarü
A successful take-off on the traditional card game Cassino. Although not the most strategic of games, it is charming to collect the colorful animals, foil the plans of others and does not last overlong.
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 1995; 2-4
Mü & Mehr (Mu and More): Wimmüln
Trick-taking card game similar to Oh Hell in that players must predict the exact number of tricks they plan to take, accomplished using the ranks of two cards taken out of the hand. Quite challenging to play well and tricky as predictions may not be what they seem. [6-player Games]
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 1995; 3-6
Trick-taking card game with delightful illustrations on the topic of being bitten by a mosquito. Title means "mosquito bite", but is also a pun on the German word for trick. Bit random, especially as the number of players gets above four. As no player has any idea which suits will be doubled in value and which zeroed, is extremely difficult to plan anything. Luck of the draw also plays a large role as a high hand can be very difficult to play – leads of high cards often gather multiple mosquito bites. A rule permitting each player to dump two cards beforehand increases the randomness.
Müll + Money (Industrial Waste)
Game of industrial competition for up to four is a race to develop the best corporation rather than the usual one of earning the most money. The difference is that in addition to improving earnings, the corporate entities attempt to minimize labor, raw material requirements and waste. At the core is turnly drafting of three-card packets which come in an at-first bewildering variety of types. Each card confers a benefit, some of which also permit mild attacks on opponents. One card is an industrial spill which has the potential to affect everyone, but one has a good chance of seeing it coming. Drafting is a popular mechanism, probably because it implies the player doesn't have to pay for what one gets or worry about how much to bid against an opponent. All that's necessary is to rate the value of each of the choices for oneself, rate their values for any opponents yet to choose, calculate the averages and choose. Thus, the game moves along on greased wheels, the companies progressing from left to right along a blank board reminiscent of those real life corporate line charts. Besides the risk management of how much garbage one is willing to tolerate, there are multiple strategies to pursue. Do you want to make a lot of money or try to make a lot of progress on the track? In how many areas will you try to innovate? It does seem that innovation (the minimizations mentioned above) is the most rewarding policy, although not a perfect strategy by any means. The drafting mechanism somewhat falls down thematically as why couldn't a corporation simply take whatever action it wants rather than being dependent on what cards it can draft? Changing that rule alone would probably give too much flexibility, but might cause one to think of other limitations beyond money such as built-in prerequisites and one could see that these same operands could be used to create a game featuring more detailed planning and less influence of luck. But this one gets by, for at least several plays anyway, just on elegance. Aesthetically, the cards are industrial yet clean, an interesting mix. The communication design could have used more work. One would like to see the 5 million Euro cost placed on the player boards where they occur, for example. Internationalizing the cards was attempted by replacing text with icons, but they are not really explanatory and must instead be memorized. It would have been nice for endgame play if victory point totals were a little easier to see at a glance, although hidden funds will always add uncertainty. Overall, should be enjoyable to those wanting a game with some interesting twists and bits of planning which is not overly demanding. "Waste + Money" is an interesting title, implying a sort of equation as well as importing an English word, perhaps a commentary on American business practices? [Holiday List 2002]
Very simple and short card game is almost purely a matter of bluff. Poker players who enjoy trying to tell when someone is lying might enjoy this one. Not the same as The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen published by Hogshead and later by Krimsus.
Mundus Novus
"New World" is a card game re-working of one of the main ideas of
Mare Nostrum. There is no map or combat; what's preserved is the joint group trading system in which all players simultaneously choose a number of cards to trade and then one-by-one players draft from one another. The next player to draft is the one who was last drafted from. At the end the first player to draft gives a card to the last one. This system is enhanced a little by also making available a few random unowned cards. Players who draft one of these replace it with a card from any other player. A curious side effect of this rule is that it's now sometimes possible to pull one's own card back in hand. There is no longer any map to provide cards so now each player is simply dealt five to start the round, receiving more from each ship card purchased and being able to keep cards between rounds depending on warehouse cards held. Buying cards is a matter of collecting sets; five cards are always on offer and the number from which one can choose depends on the size and rank of the set (ranks are 1-9 with higher ranked cards being less common). Other cards are things like named leaders which give advantages that break the usual rules and some like the shipyard which cleverly depend on what cards (e.g. the number of ships) that others hold. Another common type of card simply grants points, the collection of which appearing to be the main way to win, although there can be a sudden, surprise win if someone manages to collect one card of every rank plus an Incan gold card all in one round. There are also a half dozen random events which can trip players up in unexpected ways. The trading system works well as it's tricky to decide whether to go for high or low value or even pursue the third option of not collecting a set, but a one-of-each which can be used to buy points straight out. A combination of both approaches is also possible. Great praise must be heaped on artist Vincent Dutrait, who has really outdone himself with great card art here, even if some of the iconography is a bit murky (probably not his fault anyway). There is trouble in the new world too, though. For example the three purchasing schedules are complicated enough that they should have been printed on player aide cards, though putting them on the back of the rules booklet was a good start. One way to partly address this is to lay out in points the amounts one earns for each level. Another issue is that even without the special promotional cards, this seems to take too long for the situation, a five-player game running over an hour and a half. But the hardest to take, even to believe, is that these experienced inventors don't get the need for balance between cards in a deck. Incan Gold cards, which are used as wild cards, are way too powerful to only be received by luck of the draw from the deck. Plus, they make decisionmaking less interesting; when using ships the extra cards are all dealt out face up and players draft them starting with the lowest-valued ship. There's no reason to ever not take a gold card when it appears. Maybe all this came about from a desire to increase the possibility of the sudden, surprise game ending. But it could have been achieved without unbalancing things for those who happen to never draw these cards by letting gold still be used for this purpose, yet not letting it be used in sets smaller than that, or weakening them in some other way. Since the cards are so very nice, it's tempting to try a variant that either removes or weakens these cards, but at this point that is still unknown territory where one should venture with great care.
MMMM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Bruno Cathala & Serge Laget; Asmodee-2011; 2-6; 60
Deduction game similar to Clue, but here one traverses the world to find a lost heir. The board changes so fast that planning is almost impossible and moves are very tactical. Becomes frustratingly long as well. Play with at most three to try to lessen these phenomena.
Small press game by Christiane Knepel is professionally-realized and thematically reminiscent of Bakschisch as players try to advance their "artists" as far as possible at a sultan's court (perhaps more likely an emir). Here, however, the mechanism is not an auction, but a form of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Luck is introduced in the form of the order in which the players draw artists from their supply. Special powers granted to losers in status conflicts add considerable interest and variation. Strategically, despite all the possibilities for clever tactical play, victory often goes to the player who manages to get the most tokens into play, indicating that it may be best to mostly simply enter new artists, leaving activation of conflicts to others.
Card game with very elegant mechanics and some attention to the theme from the famous Dumas novel of the musketeers fighting the cardinal's guards. Features extremely good mechanics and runs very well, but as is unfortunately so often the case, games which are good at the mechanics end are often too chaotic to sustain interest. Here, although there is some strategy, the luck of the draw plays a large role and anyone who can get high cards more often than the opponents will triumph. The few hands required by the game are not really enough to ameliorate this. But worse, because all plays are of the simultaneous and hidden variety, it's pretty much impossible for the players to ever work together to stop a leader who can pretty much be sure of coasting to victory simply by choosing his high cards as victory point cards each turn. In addition, only really seems to play at all with four.
Alan Moon game about dogsled racing in the Great White North. Sleds move via a great deal of dice rolling, reminiscent of Elfenwizards. Absorbing, but needs a variant to disallow a player stopping play via avalanches, otherwise can fail to terminate.
Alan R. Moon
My Word (Diabolo, Express)
Reiner Knizia timed word game. Cards containing one or more letters are slowly turned up. Anyone able to use them, in any order, to form a word receives the cards, the collection of which is the goal. Apart from "QU," it's curious how the letter combinations were chosen, but coming from the Knizia team, no doubt they were thoroughly tested. While there is nothing amiss here, this is definitely one for performance artists who can think very quickly on their feet. My own performance tends to be fraught with problems as proper nouns – which are illegal – keep crowding my brain. Thus in this category I prefer Boggle which affords a longer process and more strategy (quality vs. quantity).
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low
The third title from Ystari is a multi-player, majority control affair. In 1899 players excavate archaeological treasures and compete to put on the best museum show. My conjecture is that the inventor is a big fan of El Grande or at least of its main mechanism. If you are not, you can probably go on to the next review right now. Otherwise you'll be interested to learn that here the board is kept fresh by forming it from hardback cards that are changed out every turn. These same cards are claimed at the end of each round to provide either points or re-usable special advantages for the two players having more cubes than the others. Placement is simple, being either a matter of putting on a new piece or expanding out twice, orthogonally, from an existing one, the main tactic being to block others. A very similar placement game transpires on the smaller board that represents the museum, where players try to stake out the rooms matching their cards as their final scores depend on multiplication of cards and room values. Cube placement is really a form of auction and that is the game's essential skill, particularly the realization that players are striving for different local goals. Not overspending to win something which will be yours cheaply anyway is a key skill. Saving cubes for the late rounds can also be very handy. Thematically, the modelling of the dig sites is not bad; it can represent digging trenches. But what must the competition at the museum represent? I would like to have more detail on that game! In my imagination we must be something like ninjas who break into the museum in the middle of the night and set up armed camps in our favorite rooms. Woe betide anyone who strays too close as they may get shot up! If there's collateral damage to priceless works of art, that's just too bad. Anyway, it's all rather far away from the reality that most expeditions were nationally financed and in fact designed to provide material to fill up different national museums. It's a bit unusual too that there's no attempt at depicting the artifacts being found, but that's okay by me; real archaeology should be about acquiring knowledge, not a Schliemann-esque treasure hunt as it is in too many other games. Providing a placement game atop another placement game is fairly innovative, but requires players who like this mechanism quite a lot, i.e. fans of auctions, logistics and territoriality. [Ancient Egypt games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
Mystery Rummy #1: Jack the Ripper
Rummy game with nice graphics and layered on rules for special cards and correct prediction of one of six Ripper suspects. What makes this surpass ordinary ordinary interest is that in addition to the usual suspects, it is possible for the players themselves to have done it. Very appealing for two players; with more, the Ripper seems to escape too easily, to the exclusive benefit of the player lucky enough to draw the "Ripper Escapes" card. Rules are written confusingly. [summary] [Buy it at Amazon]
Mystery Rummy #2: Murders in the Rue Morgue
Second outing in the Mystery Rummy series (out of a projected seven) is set in literature's very first murder-mystery story, penned by Edgar Allan Poe. Occasionally confusing in its somewhat fiddly deck management, this one works better for more than two players. In particular, the four-player partnership version seems to be the most interesting as figuring out the best cards to pass to the partner can be maddening. Luck of the draw seems to be a larger issue in this version. Be careful to distinguish the two types of Dupin cards as they have different effects despite very similar artwork. Wyatt Earp by publisher Alea is also of this type. [Two vs. Two Games] [Holiday List 2002]
Mystery Rummy #3: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The third offering in this series continues in fine fashion with a two-player-only vehicle set in the world of the Stevenson novel, including characters such as Poole and Dr. Lanyon. In terms of number and complexity of rules, this is the simplest so far, there only being three types of special gavel cards, one of them, the Transformation, being a unique. Despite this simplicity, tactics remain interestingly complex. In all of the games of these series, ideally one doesn't display any melds until the turn of "going out", not just because it gives the opponent information, but also because he can get rid a lot of his cards as lay-offs (now thankfully named as such in the rules). But in this one there is this huge problem of the warring selves of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, only one of whom is in control at a time (what a nice working out of the storyline). So players need to weigh the desire to hold cards versus the possibility that if the side of their meld is not in control, they cannot play them. Which side is in control at the end has a large effect on the score as well. Fans of the series who need two-player games will want this one, which is also the best of the series for introducing to non-gamers. The new, smaller packaging is appreciated as well. Rumor has it that something on the Untouchables will be next in the series. [Holiday List 2003] [Buy it at Amazon]
Mystery Rummy #4: Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld
With the fourth in this series of Rummy card games, it's no mystery that US Games and Mike Fitzgerald have a decided hit on their hands. One of the best consequences is that the cards now arrive in a very nicely functional box. Cards continue to carry background text, this time about the Chicago underworld of the 1930's. The structure is a partnership based on Canasta plus the usual gavel cards that enable irregular card manipulations. For the first time an entry in this series fails to really hold interest. Not only do are literary topics far better than glorification of these ugly gangsters, basic Canasta is already quite enough fun in its own right. In addition it's somewhat irritating to find that the suit length varies from rank to rank, necessitating constant lookups. There are four types of special cards; one of the, the Raid, is extremely powerful and there only three; those lucky enough to draw them are likely to win the round. The partnership aspects are quite minimal. There is no card passing as in the second in the series; the instructions mention that players are supposed to guess what the partner is thinking, somehow. Thematically this doesn't have the same sort of connection as the earlier instances either. There is a shutout mechanism, but it's nearly impossible as collecting the entire set of eight Al Capone cards and then going out is very difficult, especially as the deck is traversed only once. The main tactic players need to realize is to hold out the last card of a series until it is safe since there are big bonuses for having the full set. The cards are sturdily made, but a little too stiff to shuffle easily. By now the artwork could be more memorable. It would also have been nice if the reverses of the overview cards could have summarized the gavel cards or at least shown how many there are of each type. Rabid fans of the series and completists will want this, but everyone else will likely prefer Canasta Caliente. Followed by Bonnie and Clyde. [Two vs. Two Games] [Holiday List 2003]
MLMM6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
Mike Fitzgerald & Nick Sauer; US Games; 2003; 2-4
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