Publisher: S.P. Hansen Games
Game Designer: Scott P Hansen
Artwork: Public Domain
Ages: 12 & up
Playing Time: 15-30 minutes
Game Mechanics: Card Drafting, Hand Management, Pattern Building
Contents: 50 tarot size cards, 9 favor tokens, 2 rules cards
Suggested Retail Price: $15-18
Parental Advisory: Safe for children over 12
We Can Dance If We Want To…
Mahola is the new card drafting game from S.P. Hansen Games that launches on Kickstarter this Tuesday where 3-4 players compete for the highest scoring Native American dance (Mahola), win three tokens and the favor of the Great Spirit. Yea, Moe the guy whose dancing skills are as graceful as an angry honey badger on dull ice skates is recommending a dance game, mark it down.
Thankfully Mahola takes no real dancing skills to play, otherwise this review likely would be coming to you from a hospital bed but alas I am sans broken appendages and can share with you my opinion of this very unique and entertaining 15-30 minute filler game.
What Does 15 Wampum Get You?
The prototype copy I received was very close to a full production copy, save for the thinner box and one minor but important change that has since been made to the card faces. Each of the tarot size cards handles all of the information well without feeling bulky in the hand, thanks to the clever placement of that iconography.
Each card is beautifully back dropped by some really amazing Native American art that draws you right into the theme and once all together on the tableau, paints a dazzling display when your dance is complete.
Mahola is a Native American word for dance and you will compete against 3-4 other players to create the highest scoring dance, represented by the five card tableau you create. The winner of each round wins a favor token and the first to three tokens wins the game, it generally plays in about 15-20 minutes but can run up to around 30 the first couple of times. The more familiar everyone becomes with the iconography on the cards, the faster the game plays.
To begin, each player is dealt a character card face down which will remain secret to everyone else until the end of the round scoring phase. Player’s receive five dance cards and the remainder are set in the middle as the draw deck, now the dancing begins!
The dances are created by playing one card from your hand into your tableau face down with two other cards you select getting passed to players on your left and right. Once all cards are down, they are revealed simultaneously, the exchanged cards are collected and then everyone draws a new card from the dance deck, bringing their hand back to five cards.
This process repeats until all five cards of your dance are placed in the tableau with the only restriction being that each new card placed must be to the left or right of the cards already there. Cards cannot be placed in between but to either end of the tableau, so each placement is an important decision. Once the dances are completed, it’s on to the scoring phase where the character cards are revealed and special abilities applied to complete the scoring.
Dances are scored by first matching the color of the number at the top left of the card to the color of your character card. If they match, you receive the points displayed and if they do not match you subtract that many points. If your characters spirit animal matches the animal on the card, that cancels the loss of points and it is scored as a zero. Character powers will also alter the scoring, as you can see above that the Shaman changes the red card to a black and scores those extra five points rather than losing them!
Extra points are scored by matching secondary dance icons to cards on either side as well as adjacent dances; this is where a little bit of mental gymnastics comes in during your tableau building. You’ll need to find the right patterns and best scoring matches on three different levels, adding just a touch of spatial awareness to the mix which is a lot of fun.
When I first played the prototype I noticed that the matching could take a bit longer than it should but could be sped up by adding color coded bars to the cards. The bars would make the matching much easier at a glance rather than having to read each of the dance names on them. Scott agreed with the suggestion and shared with me mockups of exactly what I described that very same night, committing to the change right away. It’s great to see that level of responsiveness from a designer!
The Judges Say
I found Mahola to be quite a fun little card game with a weightier feel to it than you’d guess at first glance from a filler game. There is some detailed thought to planning out your tableau since you need to pay attention to multiple areas to maximize scoring.
Having to discard a card to players on either side of you at the end of your turns, offers another angle of strategy, do you screw your neighbor or maybe pass them something that can help you, say if you have the Chief character for example.
At first things will go slow as people work through the combinations in their head but after a couple of rounds reading your cards becomes second nature and the game speeds right along. The variable player powers continually change up your strategies throughout the game, since they are dealt anew each round and poses a fun new challenge each time.
Mahola plays very smoothly, has gorgeous art, a unique theme done in a very respectful manner and the addition of authentic wampum for scoring is a nice touch. The secondary pattern matching levels really adds to the game’s scoring challenge, increasing replayability because each round is a new puzzle to assemble on the fly.
If you love card drafting or matching games, this is one to definitely check out on Kickstarter when it launches tomorrow. You can’t go wrong at a $15 price point for a beautiful and challenging game suitable for all level of gamers.
Company Website: http://www.possewwj.com/home.html
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/SPHansenGames
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