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Subject: Our most-played new game of the year rss

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Zoe M
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We’ve purchased many new games this year, but Mottainai has seen by far the most plays. It’s at 29 already, far ahead of our second-place Roll for the Galaxy at 16, and this despite being one of our most recent acquisitions.

Of course, Mottainai has a very short playtime, varying from about 15 minutes to half an hour. So it makes sense that it gets played more. On the other hand, this is also a huge selling point for me. We have plenty of games that take about an hour, but we seem to have a constant shortage of games that can be played quickly and still have depth. This is one place where Mottainai really shines: I don’t know a single other game that has so much depth in such a short playtime. An average weight of 2.9 in a 15-30 minute playtime is pretty much unprecedented, as far as I know.

The depth does mean that Mottainai has a steeper learning curve than you might expect in a short game. I felt like I really had no idea what I was doing for our first few games, and there are some finicky rules that it took me a much longer time to grasp (hello, backorders). The game is not very intuitive at all. But I was willing to persevere because Carl Chudyk is pretty much my favourite designer. Innovation is probably one of my most-loved and most-played games of all time, so I was willing to put in the effort to learn this one as well.

Mottainai is actually a re-implementation of another Chudyk game, Glory to Rome. I’ve enjoyed some of my plays of Glory to Rome, but it’s not one of my favourites or one of my most-played games, largely for one key reason: I play mostly two-player games, but Glory to Rome is best with three or four. Mottainai, on the other hand, is best with two. That right there is a major difference, and probably enough reason to own both if you regularly game with groups of both sizes.

That said, I do think Mottainai is the better game overall. It’s more satisfying because you get to do more in a shorter period of time. Glory to Rome takes about an hour, and a significant fraction of that time is just spent building up to the main event, since you can’t acquire clientele or put materials into your vault unless you have enough influence first. Mottainai gets right into the meat of the game, allowing you to acquire helpers or sell goods immediately and worry about covering them later. I find this much more satisfying because I like actually doing stuff rather than waiting around to do stuff later, and the change also means that you’re much less likely to feel that you’ve gotten stuck. Another big advantage of the faster-paced Mottainai is that there’s not really much concern about a runaway leader; if someone does get an insurmountable lead, the game will probably end very soon after. This also compensates a bit for the “Chudyk effect”, the fact that Chudyk’s games are known for being wild and swingy. Wild and swingy isn’t that much fun in a longer game with a slow build-up, but it works pretty well in a shorter game that you can easily play three times in a row.

There are certain circumstances where the wild swinginess is too much even for me, though. My two most memorable games haven’t been games where I achieved a great victory; instead, they were games where my opponent played a card (Puppet) that let him steal my whole hand and left me essentially unable to do anything for the few turns I had left. That card can come up unexpectedly just when you’re about to execute a great move, and it’s really thoroughly unfun.

The fact that those plays were the most memorable may be indicative of another potential negative for this game: it has pretty much no theme or narrative. There is a basic premise behind it—you’re running a monastery, producing works to display in the gallery or sell in the gift shop—but that premise really doesn’t come through in the gameplay at all. I mentioned earlier that the rules are very unintuitive, and I think that’s largely because of the disconnect between the theme and the gameplay. Your helpers are twice as effective if you display a matching work in the wing of the monastery where they’re located, and the products that you’ve sold to visitors only have any point value if you have a corresponding work displayed in your gift shop, and there are a bunch of random cards on the “floor" that may turn into either helpers or craft materials, and it doesn’t really much much sense overall. It works as a game, but not so much as a story.

So this game doesn’t surpass Innovation for me, but I’d choose it over Glory to Rome, and I’m certainly glad to have it in my collection. It fills an important niche (short and deep), and it’s the kind of game that you can play over and over. I saw the publisher say once that he doesn’t make games that you can master quickly, but instead produces games that you can play a hundred times. I can easily see that happening here. Mottainai isn’t really a game to learn casually in one evening, but it’s a game that rewards repeated play. I still feel like I have more to learn after 29 plays.

As an added bonus, the game is cheap and portable, and there’s a print-'n'-play available if you don’t want to spend any money at all. So if you’ve enjoyed other games by Chudyk, you should definitely give this one a try.
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Daniel B-G
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I'm completely with you. This probably my most played game this year, rivalling only LotR LCG, and that's only because I play it solo. I sold my copy of GtR after getting this because it just works better and is less broken whilst still doing the things I love (my wife also loves this and hated GtR)
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[maˈtiːas]
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Kudos to you for incorporated bullet points Highlighting the essence like this is quite slick.
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Zoe M
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Yup, it's actually our second most-played game of the year overall, behind only Star Realms at 49.

I'm glad you like the incorporated bullets. It's my first time trying this sort of review format, and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I was looking for a way to highlight the key points without completely breaking up the flow of the review, so this seems to serve the purpose.
 
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Frock Lobster
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Very nice review. We've been enjoying Mottainai as well and I'm very glad to get it to the table as often as I can lately.

Dunyazad wrote:
Glory to Rome takes about an hour, and a significant fraction of that time is just spent building up to the main event, since you can’t acquire clientele or put materials into your vault unless you have enough influence first.
This isn't actually correct. You have two influence to start (they're printed on your player board), so you can acquire two clients and bank two materials at the start of the game if you like.
 
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Zoe M
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FrockLobster wrote:
Very nice review.


Thanks!

FrockLobster wrote:
Dunyazad wrote:
Glory to Rome takes about an hour, and a significant fraction of that time is just spent building up to the main event, since you can’t acquire clientele or put materials into your vault unless you have enough influence first.
This isn't actually correct. You have two influence to start (they're printed on your player board), so you can acquire two clients and bank two materials at the start of the game if you like.


Right, you have enough influence to do a non-zero amount at the beginning. But you're still hugely limited by influence throughout the game. Getting out a couple of cheap cards early on doesn't really eliminate that restriction; you'll almost certainly have to deal with the influence cap before accomplishing anything really powerful.
 
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sunday silence
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I cannot tell from this review how the game is played at all. Literallly there is no way to tell if it is a card game a board game, dice rolling, hand management, area control, whatever. Nothing. Well assuming I have no idea how Glory to Rome is played, which is true, Ive never played it.

Cant you give me an idea of how this game is played?
 
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sundaysilence wrote:
I cannot tell from this review how the game is played at all. Literallly there is no way to tell if it is a card game a board game, dice rolling, hand management, area control, whatever. Nothing. Well assuming I have no idea how Glory to Rome is played, which is true, Ive never played it.

Cant you give me an idea of how this game is played?

This is a card game.

Among the videos here, this one seem to be the "how to" one that people like best.
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Zoe M
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Right, my goal in writing a review is to present my opinion of the game, not to go over the rules.

You can see the basic information at the top of any game page. In this case, it's:

Card game
Card drafting
Hand management
Set collection
Variable phase order
Tableau building

I've found that just glancing at that overview generally gives me as much information about whether I'll like the game as a detailed rules breakdown, and in a fraction of the time.
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sunday silence
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I understand what your goal is but why is it every time this issue comes up the reviewer tgives the standard response:

describing how a game feels or works = rules description?

It's not and its frustrating for me; in this case because Mottaini is getting a lot of buzz recently and I just have no idea of how it works and I dont think there's any english language reviews that describe it.

Presumably one of the things that makes you like a game is not just the art or the size of the box or whatever, but what it is you FEEL during the game.

I am not asking for a rules description, just how does the game feel or how does it play? Do you feel like you're running out of choice? or you feel the game plays itself? Or that there's a kingmaker effect? Etc. There's lots of ways a game makes you feel that isnt a rules description and to me it should be one of the main things that draws me to a game. Hence I like to see that in a game review; in fact I feel its almost mandatory to tell me how the game feel or plays for me to have any idea of whether this game is worth getting.

To be fair, yes you mention a couple of things about how the game plays: it's can be swingy but that's OK cause the game is short; and there can be a runaway leader issue. But that's about it; and that doesnt really tell me how the game feels like to play. It has hand management I guess but that can be so many things and feel differently from Bohnanza to to Dominion to whatever...

To me just cause you can look at the intro page and see:

Hand Management

that's useful but that doesnt tell me how the game feels like to play. Is it tense? or is there a lot of chaos caused by several players making moves that mess you up? is the card play thoughtful or just winging it? that kind of stuff.
 
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Zoe M
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Quote:
I understand what your goal is but why is it every time this issue comes up the reviewer tgives the standard response:

describing how a game feels or works = rules description?

It's not and its frustrating for me; in this case because Mottaini is getting a lot of buzz recently and I just have no idea of how it works and I dont think there's any english language reviews that describe it.


Possibly because your own posts keep asking for "how it works", which is not the same thing as "how it feels".

No review is going to be tailored exactly to your specific questions. You want to know whether it plays itself? Take a guess based on my comments that it's deep and unintuitive. You want to know about kingmaking? Maybe don't ask the person who said that they play mostly with two. Is there a lot of chaos? Well, I said it's wild and swingy. Is that chaos caused by several players making moves that mess you up? Well, I specifically mentioned the time when my opponent unexpectedly stole my whole hand and left me unable to do anything for several turns. But you want to know about *several* opponents, not just one? Again, then I'm not the person to ask.

Basically, I answered half of your questions in the review already. Others are applicable to different player counts.

Mottainai is not a game with a cohesive theme and "feel". You aren't going to get a sense of how it plays just from a description of various characteristics. Instead of complaining that this review doesn't offer what you want, you might be better off just watching some playthrough videos.
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