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"It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy..."
"For the listener, who listens in the snow, and, nothing himself, beholds nothing that is not there and the nothing that is." -- Wallace Stevens
Originally posted to my blog here on BGG:
No, it's not a typo, MarraCash is just obviously a game about generating as much cash as possible. Yet it's the way you must generate this cash that makes the game so engaging, and so puzzling.
The setup is simple. In the market square, there are a variety of shops divided up into red, yellow, green, and blue. Around the outside of the square is a line of potential customers in the same four colors. As the game progresses, you and your fellow players will do two things: (1) auction off shops in the market square, and (2) move herds of customers through the market square streets. Whenever someone walks a customer past a shop of his matching color, that customer is compelled to enter the shop and spend money. What's more, the greater the number of customers in the shop, the more money new customers will spend (evidently, peer pressure is very high in the city).
And now here's the tricky part. First, it's not just the shop owner that makes money when new customers enter his shop. The person who moved the customers past the shop, and therefore initiated the sale, takes a cut of the profit -- right out of the pocket of the shop owner. Second, whenever a shop is auctioned off, the auctioneer takes a cut of the final sale price from the bank.
Given all of the above, you want to make sure you purchase the best shops -- preferably of a variety of colors and nearby the shops of your opponent so that no matter who is moving customers around the board, there is a good chance that you will make a profit. Second, you want to auction off the best shops (but maybe not too good) so that, if you don't buy it for cheap, you still get a sizable cut of the sale price. And finally, you want to move customers into your opponents' shops so that you can skim away a chunk of their profits and prevent them from cashing in big-time. But! -- you don't want to move too many of your opponent's customers into their stores lest you hand them the win. Better if you can manipulate them into sending customers your way so that you can pull in a larger chunk of the profit even if they do skim off the top.
In other words, the incentives are all over the place, and it's great! From a simple set of rules comes a complex web of competing influences. Balancing them all so that you pull in the most money is a challenge. My first game (and who am I kidding, my second and third) were a whirlwind of confusing yet intriguing string of decisions -- not only my own, but those of the other three players. Playing MarraCash is like trying to put together a mechanical watch without the manual. You might come up with something beautiful, but it will still be a mess. So try again!
For a game from 1996, the design is brilliant. However, I must say something about the components. Everything is functional if not dated -- maybe even a little gaudy. The production values are of their time. However, most disappointing is the lack of support for colorblind players. Let's just say that bright lighting will help if you play with people who have trouble differentiating colors.
Production values aside, though, the game is well worth tracking down.
I like the title!!!