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Subject: Maori--A Sea of Choices rss

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Gerrit Dirkmaat
United States
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I purchased Maori from TimeWellSpent games mainly on a lark. I was already picking up another game and saw that it was listed, read a brief description, liked the price, and gave it a try.

For several weeks I never really got a chance to play it, though I read the rules several times. But finally my wife and I gave it a two-player try because we had some friends coming over later that night.

Maori is an incredibly simple game of tile taking and tile placing. It plays quickly and there are enough tiles that the game can be played dozens of times with a different result every time. The tiles up for grabs are all part of a face-up, 4 tiles by 4 tiles, matrix which serves as the "board" area for the players. These first available tiles are randomly set out. Each player has their own mapboard onto which they place the tiles that they have acquired.

The players have a communal "explorer ship" which starts at the top of the matrix and is moved around the outer border of the tiles by each player in turn, like a moon orbiting a planet. Each tile is one space for the boat to travel. To start with each player can only move the ship up to two spaces, but if they collect tiles that give them more boats on their mapboard, they can increase their ability to move the explorer ship. A player can take the tile directly beneath the ship once they have moved it without any cost...the strategy of the game really comes into play as the players can either move the explorer ship an extra space or select a tile one or two or three tiles beneath the ship, if they choose to spend the necessary shells (money) to get the tile they really want. Players start with five shells to help expedite their tile collection, but can get shells throughout by taking and placing tiles from the matrix that have shells printed on them.

The goal is to make complete islands out of the island shapes available in the matrix. This sounds easier than it is, because one of the features of most of the islands is palm trees. The players want to get palm trees as they are the primary mode of scoring in the game, but the palm trees can always only be upright when the player places that tile on their mapboard. Thus, this is not as simple as it may sound at first to build an island with right hand, left hand, and middle pieces. There are islands that must be built vertically as well as some that must be built horizontally. Some islands have huts on them to give a bonus to the palm trees, others have leis, and they quickly become the most sought after tiles in the game as a complete lei will give 10 victory points to the owner at the end (the winning player generally has a range of 35-50 points). The matrix is ever-changing, because as each tile is collected by a player, a new tile is drawn and takes its place in the 4X4 setup.

The changing nature of the matrix from which to acquire your island tiles is one of the interesting and problematic features of the game. Because you never know what tile is going to come up next, it is difficult to plan for yourself, let alone to stop your competitors from getting the tile they need. The quickly changing options make the game very engaging for all players involved, but it has to be said the turnover lessens the ability to strategize, and your rivals might get a piece you have been long-waiting for simply because you happened to draw that very tile on your turn to replace the one you just placed. There are moments of frustration to be sure.

That said, the game is certainly not bereft of long-term strategies that will at the very least better position someone to win the game. For instance, one of my friends immediately sets out to get every boat icon from the matrix that he can, this gives him the ability to move the explorer ship more than just the standard two spaces and thus gives him better access eventually to the better tiles that might be further away when his turn comes around. My wife on the other hand quickly begins collecting the pieces with huts on them because they double the point total of the palm trees for every island upon which they reside. Everyone makes a B-line for a lei when it comes up, but my wife won the last 4 player game we played even though she was the only one that didn’t get a 10 point bonus for a complete lei.

As a two player game, it is not as good. Because the lei tiles are so sparse, the two player game quickly devolves into a "wait for the lei and chase it" game. It is still fun, but the scores are much more widely divergent in a two player than a four player game.

One of the aspects of the game that I wish had been changed is the way in which the boats and shells are scored at the end. As the game stands, when the game ends (whenever someone fills their board) whoever has the most boats on their board gets to add as many points to their total as they have boats....but this ONLY applies to the person with the most...thus if Mark has 6 and I have 5, he gets 6 points, and I get nothing at all, a crushing blow to my chances of winning. This is the same with the shells, whomever has the most at the end of the game gets as many points as he has shells, everyone else gets Enron stock, nothing. I think the game would be even more competitive if the person with the most boats only got a bonus and all players got to count their boats, or at the very least if the 2nd place player got to receive something for their efforts.

But this is only minor quibbling. While I would have liked to see these changes, I have enjoyed it each time I played it. The game lasts only 30 minutes or so (depending on whether or not you have one of those guys in your group who just sits there and stares at his options for ten minutes and then makes the obvious move he should have made before he sat and thought) and has a high replay value. It is so easy to learn mechanically that it is definitely an entry level game to train new gamers on the greatness of games that don't end in -opoly or -isk.

I know some have complained on this thread that the title really should be something else, and there is something to be said for that, but the game is fun to play, even if it is mis-named. It may not be a deep enough strategy game to be the sole game during a long gamenight, but it will be an excellent warm-up, euro-games introduction. It is a great game to play as you await for others to arrive as well. I enjoy it and plan on giving it as a gift to my not-so-gamerly-inclined friends, because this game is quick, easy to learn, engaging, and fun.

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Tom P
United Kingdom
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bigbadgoo wrote:

As a two player game, it is not as good. Because the lei tiles are so sparse, the two player game quickly devolves into a "wait for the lei and chase it" game. It is still fun, but the scores are much more widely divergent in a two player than a four player game.

Nice review, although I have to disagree with the 2p assessment

In my view Maori is far more tactical as a 2p game because you know exactly what your opponent can or can't pick up after your turn - so it's far easier to plan your moves accordingly. With 4, you never know what will happen in the intervening moves but with two you know, for example, that the other player has 3 ships and 4 shells so his available options will be x, y, z etc. You also know from his board what he is likely to want so the possibility for messing up his turn is quite high, especially at the end of the game. And if you play cleverly there are always ways of minimising the risk of letting him have that perfect tile that you draw after your turn - you just need to think a bit about where you finish.

Regarding the shells and ships - I just see this as an incentive to make sure you are in the lead. So if someone is racing away with the ships, it's probably wise to stock up on shells so you get those points yourself.

Play with the advanced rules with two. I agree it's not a deep long-term strategy game (it doesn't try to be) but I do think it is a very tactical game when played right
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