Minestrone is a game that might avoid the attention of the adult game geek as it is clearly aimed at the younger market. But we should not overlook these junior gems. For a simple game it has smooth play that requires real strategy. More importantly, it fulfills the important need of being a genuine game that can be used to introduce youngsters to gaming.
The small box contains 108 standard sized cards in five colours numbered from 4 to 7 and illustrated in bold, humorous, and easy to understand caricatures of various vegetable ingredients that could be used to make a Minestrone soup.
Rules are included for the major European languages. The cards are of standard thickness and can stand the kind of casual heavy treatment that younger players inflict on them.
From a hand of five cards drawn from the common shuffled deck each player attempts to make a soup by grouping cards of the same colour face up in front of themselves.
No more than 3 soups may be attempted at one time. If unable to play because you do not have any cards of the same colour as the soups you are already making you must discard all of the already started soups. This is a punishing rule, but a necessary one. It is the first element of strategy in the game.
A soup is complete when the required number of cards of the same colour are grouped. For example, yellow cards have the number 7 printed on them. It takes 7 yellow cards to make a yellow soup.
Once one player makes a soup of that colour, the other players must discard any soups of the same colour that they are trying to make. This is the second element of strategy required in the game: the decision on which colour to build based on what the other players are building, and how far they have progressed.
Play continues until the draw deck is exhausted and no more soups can be made. Reshuffling the discards into the draw deck is necessary several times until there are no cards left to choose and no further sets can be made.
Players then score based on the value of the soups they have made.
A game takes 10 minutes, at most.
Minestrone is a very simple set collection and trick taking game. The choices available to the players are limited, but clear. There is no chance of ambiguity in the play or of rules misinterpretation.
With the penalties of having to discard your entire collection if you cannot play or when someone else takes the trick from under you, the game balances itself out. It is almost certain that all players will win at least one trick, and so the strategy of choosing which to go for becomes engaging.
It works well for four players though may collapse with six or only two.
A simple variation – one that I recommend for junior players – is to simply count the number of soups completed (tricks taken). This makes scoring a simple counting exercise.
For older players, or as an ‘advanced option’ once the juniors have grasped the mechanism, full scoring can occur.
This game is an excellent introduction to games for younger players. From the ages of 7 and onwards the ideas of set collection and trick taking become fully grasped. The small number of cards to hold in-hand makes this suitable for smaller hands. This is in striking comparison to other games whose mechanism is suitable for pre-ten year olds but ask those children the impossible: to hold ten or more cards in their hands.
Conversely, this game has little to recommend itself to adult game geeks, even as a filler. The layers of strategy are too thin.
As a purchase, therefore, Minestrone is very much worth picking up at reduced prices if you have younger players that you wish to educate.