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Meuterer : A Pocket Full of Fun

A review by Martin Griffiths

Meuterer is a fantastic little game that doesn't get nearly enough GeekLove, and I think that must be down to two things: it's 'only' a card game; and there's no English edition. So I thought I'd dispense with those objections first.

1. It's not really a card game. It doesn't have suits, number values, tricks or trumps. And it could very easily have been turned into a medium-box board game. You'd just need a board with 12 islands marked, island tiles to randomly place on them, a ship piece (like the ones in Age of Empires) and some gold doubloons to keep score with. So just think yourself lucky that you're getting all the gameplay of a board game for the price and size of a deck of cards.

2. It's not really in German. Yes, there's some German text on the cards, but it's mostly unnecessary. It's easy enough to tell the five types of goods apart by the pictures, so you only have to remember what the six different roles are. Kapitan for Captain and Maat for Mate aren't particularly difficult, and Meuterer for Mutineer is even the name of the game. English rules can be downloaded and printed right here on the 'geek.

So with those caveats out of the way, what's the game all about? Your intrepid crew of four (it can be played with three, but four is much better) are aboard a merchant ship, sailing round a chain of islands attempting to score points through profiteering and power struggles. The clever interplay between the trading system and the fight for the captaincy is what makes this game great.

Power struggles: One player will start as captain. The captain is a powerful role because he gets to choose which island to visit next and score points for successfully sailing there. On the other hand, the Captain is the only player who doesn't get to secretly choose from one of five other roles. Three of these roles are concerned with power struggles on the ship. If a player chooses the Mutineer, then there will be a fight for the Captaincy. The Mate role offers support to the captain and the Cabin Boy to the mutineer. If a mutiny is successful, the Mutineer becomes Captain and the Cabin Boy is rewarded for helping; if it fails the Captain stays in charge and the Mate gets one point plus however many the Captain offered as an incentive at the start of the round.

Trading: Each of the twelve islands that the ship can visit likes one of the five different goods (two islands are wild). Each player has 5 goods cards in their hand at the start of a round, and they can choose how many of these they will play before refilling at the end of the round. This gives players the option of selling goods this round, saving them to sell on a different island, or just discarding them in the hope of drawing better ones. Only the player who can sell most goods on an island will score any points. Two of the roles allow the players to ignore the fight for control of the ship and concentrate on profiteering. The Merchant gives a player maximum points for trading even if he only tied for most goods sold; while the Loading Master gives a player a choice of cards to pick from when refilling his hand.

The clever part: So far, so good, but what really makes the game tick is the way these two systems interact. The twelve islands are set out in a circle, and how far the ship moves round is determined by the number of cards that the Captain didn't play this round. If there's a successful mutiny, then the same applies to the Mutineer. So the Captain has to maintain a balance of playing the cards he wants to play while setting a course for a desirable destination. And because the cards are played out one at a time round the table there are some interesting tactical decisions for the other players. You don't get to choose your role until you stop playing cards, so do you play one ruby then grab the Merchant role, hoping no one has two rubies to beat you? Or do you discard a corn that you won't be able to sell this time to give yourself time to see what the other players offer up? Also, some of the cards are not goods at all but conflict cards that are used in the resolution of mutinies.

The game ends after eight rounds -- usually about 45 minutes to an hour -- and points are totalled up. Unfortunately there's no way of keeping score included in the box, so you'll have to use pen and paper. Whoever has been most successful at selling goods and exploiting the political intrigues will win the day. There's also an option for advanced players to add in a pirate ship that can plunder all the goods played in a round. All in all, I can't think of another game that packs as much into such a tiny box and low price. I find it a far better role-selection game than the much better-known Citadels as long as you have exactly four players.

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