Why do you keep touching me?
Another Essen discovery, Mutant Meeples is one of those games that spills over into the "Puzzle" category. It's a game, that's undeniable, as there is an element of competition in getting the best solution in the shortest time, but it's built around a puzzle.
If everyone stood around a scrambled Rubix cube, bidding on how quickly they could solve it, would it be a game? I'll leave that question to the philosophers while we look at the mechanics of Mutant Meeples.
Mutant Meeples focuses on the antics of 8 meeples who have each been given a "super power", though personally I don't consider being able to stop short of a wall without crashing into it particularly super. I can't think of a way that could solve a crime. Though I digress.
Each meeple can move in a straight line until it hits a wall (of which there are plenty on the board, see below). In addition to this, each of the 8 have a unique special ability, which I will go through shortly. Very shortly. Now.
Shortstop: As mentioned, the meeple with the slightly dubious ability of being able to stop one square short of a wall.
MC Edge: He 'wraps' around the board and can come out the other side, just like Pacman. DO YOU SEE WHAT THEY HAVE DONE WITH THE NAME?! DO YOU SEE?
Forrest Jump: Forrest can jump over 2 spaces, even if there is a building in the way. I take it the name is a pun on Forrest Gump, which is ok. It's no MC Edge though, still chuckling about that.
Ozzy Mosis: Ozzy can pass through a wall. It's pretty neat.
Skewt: Can go diagonally. I would have been happier if they had called him Oblique.
Sidestep: Can go one space orthagonally. It's like a sidestep. Very literal.
Blue Beamer: The Blue Beamer can teleport to some blue squares on the board. This guy is the useful one you always forget to use.
Carbon: Carbon is a special case - he can use any of the other meeples powers, though only one a turn.
So how does a turn play out? The players draw two co-ordinate tokens, giving a grid reference for the board. A 'crime' has been committed on this space, and it's up to the players to figure out a series of moves to get one of the meeples to that space. You can use up to three of the meeples, and each meeple can move up to 10 times (including using their super power once). A meeple cannot be moved on two separate occasions on a turn (i.e. you can't move Ozzy Mosis, then Carbon, then Ozzy again).
If you successfully reach the 'crime scene' square, you can no longer use the meeple involved . This is a nice little touch as it means the job gets harder and harder for the players who are winning, a classic technique for balancing the play. You need to 'collect' 6 of the meeples to win the game, but by the end, you only have three you can use; getting to the crime scene is by now a tricky prospect, giving your opponents the chance to catch up.
The board is pretty standard - a foldable, double-sided board with walls scattered across it. The fact that the walls are drawn on means that there is no variation from game to game, but this is alleviated in two ways. Firstly, as the meeples move, they are kept in their finishing positions for the beginning of the next turn, so each turn is a new set-up. Also, the board is double-sided, with one side being the "easy" configuration (more walls) and one side being the "hard" configuration (very few walls). It's a lot harder, and you now definitively need to use all three meeples to get to almost every crime scene.
Another neat aspect that is not exactly a mechanic of the game, but a useful addition, is that each meeple has a cardboard disc to stand on. When a meeple is moved across the board, the cardboard disc stays where the meeple started. It's a useful device for remembering where the meeples started from, and when a player realises his best laid plans are rubbish (and they will), it's easy to reset the board to the beginning of the current turn. When a crime scene is successfully navigated, the cardboard discs move to their new locations under the meeple's feet, and a new turn can begin. It works well.
Bidding and Scoring
The way the game handles the scoring process is interesting, and a little bit flawed. Once you have decided you know how the meeples can reach the crime scene, you first move a token of each meeple onto your scoreboard. Once you've done that, you add up the total number of moves you are going to require to get to the crime scene. If you move Sidestep twice, then Forrest Jump three times, then Carbon once, you will have a total of 6.
You then call out your number, grab the tile from the pile of numbered tiles, and turn over the timer. The other players have 30 seconds to find a solution that is better than your 6 moves. If they can't, you play your solution.
It lends a fun competitiveness to the game, but the problem is, it's near impossible to have the pile of numbers equidistant from every player. Our game group has largely given up with the number tokens. We just place the meeples on our scoreboard, then announce our number. It works fine.
It also seems to me that 30 seconds is a little short. If you have great galumphing man-fingers, it can take 25 of those seconds to arrange the tokens on your scoreboard, so you really need to be right on the cusp of a solution to gazump anybody. A minute seems a better total, though I suppose this was play-tested and was thought to slow down the game too much.
Personal Opinion: Mutant Meeples is satisfying to win. Unlike almost any other a game I have, winning imbues a feeling of superiority, like you just got into the highest percentile of an IQ test. But is it really all that fun? Not... particularly. It's a little dry. They have tried to jazz up the game with this mutant super-power theme, and it sort of works, but at the end of the day it feels like you are solving a nicely themed Sudoku. Which could be just your bag. But it's not really mine.
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Test for Lupus
Direct link to review of Mutant Meeples