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Subject: Not exactly a gamer's game, but definitely still worth a look rss

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Picture courtesy of W. Eric Martin


First, I should disclose possible bias. I’m quite an omnivore, but mainly an old-school Eurogamer; notable favourites are Tigris & Euphrates, Blue Moon City, Municpium, and Agricola. I’m also fond of good abstract games, such as Go, Trax, Kamisado, and all the games in the Gipf series. Thus, I tolerate, and appreciate, a high degree of abstraction. Second, I love games where you play under time pressure, e.g. blitz Chess and Galaxy Trucker. Thus, I appreciate one of the essential mechanisms in this game.

To summarise this review in a few, short lines: Mondo is a light, fast, and fun game. The gameplay is somewhat unusual, but the rules are simple. What makes it stand out among other games is that it’s played under time pressure. Mondo is a family game, but that doesn’t mean that experienced gamers can’t enjoy it.


FRAMEWORK

Setting: Build a wild island with tiles under time pressure.

Components: You get four player boards, a big bunch of tiles, and a timer. The boards are of quite thin cardboard, but of good enough quality to last many years if treated and stored properly. The land tiles are of reasonable quality, but not of as good quality as e.g. Carcassonne tiles. They are likely to show wear eventually, but since they are double-sided, this is of little importance. The modifier and assignment tiles are sturdier and of better quality, which is a good thing as they will be shuffled frequently. There have been complaints about the timer, but although it’s not exactly of tip-top quality, it does what it’s supposed to do; it’s easy to replace with an ordinary egg clock anyway. All of the components are language independent.

Aesthetics: The artwork of the game has clear iconography and harmonic colour schemes, but it’s not strikingly beautiful or original in any way. I’d say it’s a thirteen-on-the-dozen example of classic family game aesthetics. If aesthetic considerations are important for you, you might get a bit disappointed by this game.



Picture courtesy of Henk Rolleman


Theme: Although there is a theme, Mondo is a quite abstract game; I’d say that it’s not farfetched to compare it to Carcassonne in this respect. In essence, you have a god perspective and build an island populated with animals, so it’s not a thematic game with rules that try to emulate reality.

Scalability: Since this is a game of solitaire puzzling in many respects, it works perfectly well with anything from one to four players. However, I think it’s more entertaining with more players, as the number of tiles is the same regardless of the number of players, and the competition for the tiles, especially the unique ones, becomes more intense.

Set-up: The game can be set up in less than a minute. Give each player a board, shuffle two small stacks of modifier respective assignment tiles, and put all tiles in a heap in the middle of the table.

Time: The game is played in three rounds. With the basic rules, every round is seven minutes long, with the expert rules only five minutes long; add a short scoring process after each round to this. If you play the game with the basic rules and inexperienced gamers, expect it to take around 30 minutes. If you play the game with the expert rules and experienced players, it should take less than 20 minutes. In other words, this is a fast game and can be used as a filler.


PLAYING

Rules: The rules are well written with good illustrations. They are of similar complexity, or simplicity if you like, as the rules for staple Eurogames like Carcassonne and Settlers, so unless you are very inexperienced, you can read through and grasp the rules in less than ten minutes. They can be taught in a couple of minutes, even to inexperienced players. Due to the time pressure, you can’t learn this game while playing; you need to know the rules in advance.

Gameplay: In essence, the game is about laying puzzles under time pressure. If you have played Galaxy Trucker, you will recognise the mechanisms; Mondo is basically a family version of this cult game. If you haven’t played Galaxy Trucker, think of Mondo as a real-time version of Carcassonne. Just like in Carcassonne, the game is about laying matching tiles and trying to build objects which score points; instead of cities and roads, you build forests, plains, deserts, and lakes, containing as many animals as possible. There are some noticeable differences, though:

• You place the tiles on your own, separate board. Thus, you can’t sabotage another player’s efforts by placing an inconvenient tile.

• On each board, there’s an outline of an island, or a peninsula if you want a slightly easier game, and the tiles not only have to match each other, but also the outline. In other words, you don’t have the same amount of freedom, and have to plan more carefully.

• The tiles are illustrated on both sides, and you are free to choose which side to use. The sides are not identical, so there’s quite much flipping going on during a game.

• You are allowed to place tiles so that the edges don’t agree with other tiles, but you will get a penalty point for every such disagreement, called a misconnection; sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it isn’t.

• When you feel that you are finished, you grab a bonus chip; the earlier you finish, the higher the score, but we are only talking about 1-4 points.

• If you play on advanced and expert level, you use scoring modifiers and additional tasks, which give you opportunities to earn more points. These objectives are rather simple, e.g. to have the largest landscape of some kind, have the highest number of landscapes, fill the board, or collect certain animals.

As mentioned earlier, you play three rounds, and you score after each round:

• Every complete landscape without misconnections earns you two points.

• You get one point for every tile with an animal.

• Every misconnection gives you one penalty point.

• Every empty square on your island, or peninsula, gives you one penalty point.

• On some tiles, there are volcanoes. Every active volcano gives you one penalty point.

• As a catch-up mechanism, the player who scored most points in the previous round gets one penalty point for every inactive volcano as well.

• When you finish your round, you hopefully have time to grab a bonus chip. You earn the number of points on the bonus chip: 1-4 points.

• The scoring modifiers give four points to the player(s) who fulfils the criteria the best, and four penalty points to the player(s) who fulfils the criteria the least well.

• If you manage to fulfil an additional task and grab the tile before anyone else, you can earn additional points, sometimes substantial amounts: 3-9 points. If you have grabbed a tile too early and don’t manage to fulfil the task, you get the same amount of penalty points, i.e. 3-9 penalty points.

The scoring may seem fiddly, but it isn’t really. The iconography of the game is very pedagogic, so you never really have to consult the rules.



Picture courtesy of Marius Roth


Balance: As far as I can tell, the game has no balance issues. Since all players play simultaneously, there’s no starting player, and none of the scoring modifiers or additional tasks are overpowered. It’s also possible to win by using different strategies. There is no obvious runaway leader problem, partially thanks to the above mentioned catch-up mechanism, although this mechanism is rather weak.


PLAY VALUE

Fun: Mondo is surprisingly fun! The time pressure makes the game fast-paced and intense. It’s a very light game, but still stimulating, as you have to think fast. Seven minutes on basic level and even five minutes on expert level may sound very generous, especially if you have played Galaxy Trucker, but believe me, time will run out quickly.

It’s more fun to play with expert rules, in my opinion. The higher time pressure makes the game more intense, and the scoring modifiers and additional tasks force the players to be more on edge and watch the other players’ strategies.

Luck: How much luck there is in this game depends on how you look at it. You search for tiles in a big heap simultaneously with other players, and you might find a good tile by chance or search for a particular tile in vain. However, it’s possible to play in ways that don’t require that you find a particular tile, so the luck factor can be neutralised, or at least reduced.

Depth: Mondo is no doubt a light game. The time pressure makes complex calculations virtually impossible; out of necessity, strategies need to be improvised, decisions to be made fast. This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a dumb or silly game. Just like blitz Chess, it rewards quick thinking and clever improvisation, which hardly can be said to be shallow qualities.

For an experienced gamer, there’s no reason not to use the advanced and expert rules. To say that they make the game deep is an exaggeration, but they certainly add more decisions and more strategy to the game.



Picture courtesy of Joakim Schön


Interaction: As mentioned earlier, Mondo is solitaire puzzling in many respects, but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely without interaction. All players look through the heap of tiles in the middle of the board simultaneously, so the atmosphere around the table can become quite competitive and humorous. If you want to get a good score, you’ll have to watch which scoring modifiers and additional tasks the other players focus on, as well as which unique tiles they are looking for or already have taken.

Replayability: The time pressure makes it difficult, almost impossible, to break the code of the game without playing it several times; to become good at it will likely take at least a dozen games.

Every game will be slightly different, partly because you’ll build your island with different tiles in every game, partly because different combinations of scoring modifiers and additional tasks will come into play in each game. If played frequently, Mondo will probably last dozens of games; if played infrequently, it could potentially last a lifetime.


RECOMMENDATIONS

First, let’s make one thing clear: Mondo is not a so-called gamers’ game. If you‘re the kind of gamer who likes games with plastic miniatures and complicated rules, this is probably not your kind of game; there are no cool components and the theme is thin. If you are the kind of gamer who likes games with wooden pieces and complex calculations, this is probably not your kind of game either; the game is quite light in strategy and requires much improvised thinking.

Hardcore Eurogamers and Yanktrashers will probably not like Mondo, but that doesn’t mean that other gamers won’t. If you are an omnivore gamer like yours truly, chances are that you will enjoy the unusual gameplay, especially the real-time aspect; it’s a fast, intense, and entertaining game, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear laughter around the table. If you are a fan of abstract games, you might enjoy Mondo too, as learning the game involves figuring out rules of thumb and recognising typical patterns; if you like playing abstract games under time pressure, e.g. blitz Chess, it increases the chances you’ll like this game.

However, there’s no denying that Mondo is a light family game, and thus best suited for family gamers. You can play this game with your children or your grandparents, on a weekday evening or at a family reunion. It’s a game that anyone can play, save for the very youngest and the very oldest. Thus, it can potentially also serve as a so-called gateway game: a step up from conventional board games, but not too complex or demanding. No one’s likely to complain that the game is too difficult or too geeky; someone might complain that it’s somewhat stressful or slightly childish, though.

Finally, a comparison with Galaxy Trucker may be in place. If you are an experienced gamer, you’ll probably prefer Galaxy Trucker, because of its science fiction theme and humorous gameplay. Mondo does have some advantages over Galaxy Trucker, though. First, the set-up is markedly faster; you can start playing Mondo in a minute. Second, Mondo focuses on the fun part, i.e. the puzzling under time pressure; you don’t have to go through the occasionally somewhat tedious second phase in Galaxy Trucker, i.e. the space travel. Third, some gamers don’t like to see their creations get bombarded with asteroids and laser bolts and fall apart, and this is absent in Mondo too. Fourth, the rules are simpler in Mondo, and thus more non-gamer and family friendly. Fifth, the theme is more accessible for non-gamers and children; science fiction is not for everyone. Sixth, Mondo is considerably cheaper; it’s half the price of Galaxy Trucker, if you’re lucky even less than that. Personally, I prefer Galaxy Trucker, but I certainly don’t mind a game of Mondo. The quick set-up and fast gameplay makes it easier to bring to the table.

Should you buy it? If you are a family gamer, the answer is definitely yes. If you are an omnivore gamer and want a light game which offers unusual and fun gameplay for a reasonable price, the answer is probably yes. Otherwise, the answer is probably no.

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Russell
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Great review. Keep meaning to get this, but I don't think it'll see alot of play until the kids are older.
It seems to bo a really good example of a well designed game that fits its niche perfectly.
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