I picked up a copy of Malta on line due to its low cost and interesting looking game design. The simple abstract beauty of it mixed with the random element looked like this game could be a light filler/ low intensity party game. I love a game with some strategy mixed with a strong random element.
The game is essentially a lot like Fluxx but with an ever changing board layout and pawns to use as player pieces. We love Fluxx and thought, this game is sure to be a winner!
OVERVIEW: Chaos on every card
Malta takes seconds to learn and seconds to set up. The object of the game is a simple one. Play cards to make your opponents lose.
You set up by creating a midsized playing area consisting of several dozen circular cards with random numbers and directional shapes printed upon them. You just lay the cards out in a 7 by 7 grid and make sure all are oriented with the numbers facing the same way. Then each player sets their starter pawn on a starting space of their choice in the designated area, draws four cards and the game begins! And ends minutes later…
All you do is draw X cards depending on the space you start on, play half of them rounded up, and then move if you can. If you run out of cards, you lose, if you are unable to move, you lose. It is that simple. And it is way too easy to accomplish this. I find you are lucky if you get to play more than 1 or 2 turns before you are eliminated.
COMPONENTS: Visually well done
The components were one of the aspects that sold me on this game. The cards were designed very well and have great visual pictures on them. The titles were creative and have a great sense of fun.
The circular board cards are a bit flimsy and we found them hard to pick up some times due to their thinness. My friend was clawing up the edges of one with his fingernails while trying to pick it up to move it. And you move the board pieces on this game very frequently, so we can see much ware and tare coming to the board cards if played with any level of regularity.
The only other pieces are the 6 plastic pawns that serve their purpose well.
So over all the game is very visually well done. A game that is visually designed well can make up for some flaws in game play due to the visual enjoyment of playing. But we found the flaws too much to get past.
GAME PLAY: Over on turn 2…
The second we started playing, we saw several flaws in the games play flow. On your turn you draw cards equal to the number of the space you are on, and at the games beginning that number is always 1.
Then you must play cards equal to half that are in your hand rounded up, so on turn one you have 5 cards and must play 3 of them. This was the first problem we found with the game. The cards add such an element of chaos to the game that playing only one or two on a turn is enough to turn the game upside down and potentially eliminate an opponent. But having to play three on turn one already puts you at a potentially huge disadvantage. There are enough cards that if all were in your hand together could in theory eliminate an opponent before they even get a turn, and that is not fun.
The problem is the deck is jam packed with several cards that are just plain bad for a player to draw. So if you are stuck with one or more in your hand, you are almost guaranteed to lose unless you lucked out in drawing a card that can swap your hands with an opponent.
The round up feature when playing cards makes for a very short and anticlimactic game. IF the bad cards were more few and far between this would not be so bad, but we often found ourselves just trying to play the lesser of 3 evils when our turns arose.
Since on turn one you draw up to 5 immediately and have to play 3 of them, you better hope your hand has none of these bad cards in it because odds are if you don’t play them this turn, you will have to play them next turn. So your fate is all but sealed from opening draw.
We played 4 games of this and almost everyone was out by the end of turn 2. One game went as far as 4 or 5 rounds and that was because we tried house ruling it with rounding down instead of rounding up. But without this rule modification the forced amount of cards that have to be played end up removing players instantly. We set up this decent sized playing area all filled with an array of randomly arranged spaces with a shifting maze of directions and we only traversed maybe a 10th of it. My first 2 games I was out on my 2nd turn. I would either have to deplete all the cards in my hand, or my opponent would move me to an inescapable section of the board and I would be unable to move and thus lose on the spot.
Cards in this game can do just about anything. They can move your playing piece or your opponents in a number of crazy ways.
You can draw and discard cards in a variety of creative ways as well.
You can even shift the cards on the field. This all sounds fun, but seems to only create confusion.
And there are several cards that bend the rules of the game like shifting order of play, literally switching your entire hand and playing position with an opponent, or even bringing a removed opponent back into the game. And the problem here is it is just too much chaos.
The element of strategy in this game is virtually nonexistent. Holding on to a good card is nearly pointless because most likely an opponent will make you discard it randomly, or swap your hand and take it from you, or you will have a card in your hand that forces you to give your cards away or discard them yourself.
I found so many turns of this game I would be looking at my hand of cards and not wanting to play any of them, because I will end up losing right there.
Conceptually this game seems awesome. But in play it just did not come together at all.
We really wanted to like this game; we were all excited when reading the instruction book and the second we started playing we saw so many flaws. Another issue is so many cards seem simple enough but when played; we kept having to ask questions and puzzle our way through. A game this simple in concept should not need an FAQ on every card but in many cases it does. Now this may just be because my friends and I are heavy gamers, and we can really analyze a card to death.
An example of one of these situations was:
A card returns you to your starting space. What if the starting space was moved? Do you go the physical card you started on? Or the grid location of where you began? And in the chaos we did not always remember where we started anyway, so there was a point where we had to puzzle over where to put our piece.
At several points in each game we had to stop and decide what was intended to happen on the cards and we spent more time discussing how the cards would work than actually playing.
PROS: If you like it light and crazy!
Great game for noncompetitive light gamers.
Visually very well done.
Good for a few quick laughs. I will admit when we weren’t groaning and puzzling over the game play we did laugh at some of the situations that arose.
CONS: Strategy is out the window.
Completely luck driven with a remote sense of strategy.
Cards create numerous situations of confusion.
Game ends too quickly. It is over before it begins.
CONCLUSION: Great idea, poor execution.
As said, we really wanted to enjoy this game. But game flow went horribly. I feel as though the game was not play tested very much before release because there were just too many situations that caused confusion.
I like a light filler game every now and then, but I would like the game to last 10 or 15 minutes. This game ended in fewer than 5 almost every time. When a game ends that quickly it leaves us feeling a bit unfulfilled.
If you are a group of noncompetitive light gamers, then you probably will get a bit of amusement from this game, but if you are looking for something with any depth I would look elsewhere.
I have to give this game 3 out of 10. It had a few amusing moments, but in play it was so anticlimactic.
I would play this game again in the right crowd. Probably with younger kids or when we have 5 minutes to kill. But the negative response received by my gaming group has me feeling this game will collect a lot of dust on my shelves. There are so many other light games that are more fun and entertaining than Malta. It was a great concept, but it fell short in execution.
It sounds like you may enjoy the similar but unrelated Wanderlust. Wanderlust is also played on a shifting arrow maze of tiles, but there are no cards. Wanderlust has very little player elimination, since the goal is set collection rather than to be the last man standing. And Wanderlust is a free print-n-play.