Full disclosure: A preview copy of Matryoshka was provided by Letiman Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
This week’s almost all Kickstarter, so I’ll just get right to it. Letiman Games has started localizing family-friendly titles to the US, which is really exciting. I’m hoping that they’ll start looking at things from Mozi or Mandoo, since they’re both seemingly targeting similar game weight classes. Spring Rally seems right up their alley, for instance (and so does DIG IT UP). Anyways, we’ll see where that goes.
In Matryoshka, your stackable dolls are kind of a mess, so meet up with other collectors to try and sort it out. At the end of the day, you want a wonderful collection, so it makes sense to trade for what you want, right? Will you be able to build the collection of your dreams?
Not much to do in the way of setup. There are 10 sets of 7 cards:
Remove 2 sets for every player you’re using below 5:
- 4 players: Use 8 sets.
- 3 players: Use 6 sets.
Shuffle the remaining cards up and deal each player 6 cards:
You’re ready to start!
The game plays pretty similarly each round.. Each round is a series of turns, starting with the starting player. First, every player puts cards into their tableau simultaneously:
- Round 1: 2 cards
- Round 2: 4 cards
- Round 3: 6 cards
- Round 4: 8 cards
Generally, when you place cards into your tableau, do so such that each card is in a row and column. Rows should be the same color, columns should be the same number. It’ll make final scoring much easier.
Now, starting with the starting player, each player may attempt to make a public trade. A public trade is made by the current player offering a card for trade face-up in the center of the play area. Each other player must offer a card from their hand face-down as a potential trade. The current player may look at and consider each card, but must accept one offer, taking that card into their hand. The player whose offer was accepted takes the current player’s offered card into their hand, and the rejected players return their offered cards into their hands. This continues until every player has taken a turn.
At the end of the round, pull your tableau into your hand. Start player passes to the left, and start the round again.
After four rounds, create one final tableau. This one must contain 13 cards, meaning you’ll have one card left over at the end of the game. Now, score! You’ll score rows and columns separately. Rows score for consecutive cards of the same color; columns score for cards with the same number value.
- Column Scoring
- 2: 2 points
- 3: 4 points
- 4: 7 points
- 5: 10 points
- 6: 13 points
- 7: 16 points
- Row Scoring
- 2: 2 points
- 3: 4 points
- 4: 7 points
- 5: 11 points
- 6: 15 points
- 7: 19 points
Note that rows can count more than once, so 2-3 and 5-6-7 of the same color will earn you 6 points (2 + 4).
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Not many, honestly. You use more sets at higher player counts, so it’s possible to go a bit wider on column scoring (since there are more sets to get), but I’m not convinced that’s a particularly huge deal. It does mean that you have more opportunities to trade cards, but you might also get more cards you don’t want. Either way, it plays quickly enough that I don’t mind it at any player count.
- Don’t put cards other players need in your tableau. If you do, then they know you’re just being a jerk. Instead, keep those cards in your hand and never trade them if you want to be a jerk; this way, they’re not sure which player is being a jerk so they can’t risk unfavorable offers to any one player. Is it mean? Yes, absolutely. But is it effective? Also yes!
- Conveying what you want isn’t a terrible idea. You may get some players who refuse to give you cards of a certain type once you have “too many”, but plenty of others might not and know they can get something pretty good from you in exchange. It’s like real life: it can be a lot easier if you’re just upfront from the start about what you want.
- Be. Nice. It’ll serve you much better than being mean. You’re much more likely to get what you want if you offer another player what they want in return. If you’re being a spiteful jerk, players will start to ignore your cards on principle and you’ll have to rely on luck of the draw if you want to win. I know a few people who could really learn a lot from a game like this; even though it’s competitive, it’s very supportive.
- If you’re going to go for a column, go for fours. The nice thing about that is that if you get enough fours, you force other players to go for columns too, since you’re splitting the middle enough that it’s not lucrative to gain points from rows, as much. Again, it’s kind of a mean way to play, but, it is a competitive game; might be worth trying to win. Naturally, if you see someone going for this, try to block them; you shouldn’t be trading away a lot of fours, if you can avoid it. Trading ones or sevens is much wiser; if you end up getting more of that set, you can still have a pretty solid consecutive run.
- Showing what people already know or obscuring cards in your tableau are also pretty good moves. If you receive a card publicly from another player, add it to your tableau next round. Everyone saw it, so now you can just leave it as public information. Similarly, try to hide unknown information from other players, if you can. Some players may be less likely to trade you cards if they know you have almost a complete run in a color. If you show gaps, you may be able to trick them into offering you cards to close the smaller gap, unaware that you have the other cards you need.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Nice art! They’re very colorful; it’s very pleasant to look at. The cards are also pretty vibrant, so they look good on the table. I hear rumors about some pretty cool stuff happening with this game, art-wise, so I’ll be super interested to see how it all ends up…
- It’s vaguely cooperative. It’s a game about offering people good trades, so it’s actually generally pretty pleasant? It’s the kind of game I’d want to play as a warmup for Catan or another game with a heavy trading component so that players are reminded that trading can be mutually beneficial and should be taken up with that in mind from time to time.
- Pretty easy to set up. You just shuffle some cards and you’re ready to go! The only thing is removing cards for various player counts might take a bit, but that’s because the cards are a bit hard to differentiate.
- Pretty quick to play, too. Very much a game of just passing cards around and occasionally updating your tableau. Not super lengthy; great opener to an evening or a solid filler.
- Also portable! It’s just cards, so it’ll fit in a Quiver or something without much fuss, which I’m always pleased by.
- The bonus scoring rules are a bit confusing, when you add in the player reference cards. I get what the point of it is; you score the same for rows or columns, but you get a bonus for 5 / 6 / 7 consecutive cards of the same color. What ends up happening, though, is that players think you get that bonus on top of the indicated value on the player aid, essentially double-dipping on that bonus, which doesn’t work super well.
- I have perfect vision and some of these cards are really hard to tell apart. I think part of that is that the color-agnostic symbols in the top-center of the cards are really small, which makes it hard to figure out which symbol is which, at a glance. The other thing is that a few of the cards are similar / the same colors, with only the circles around the number to differentiate them. This is a slight issue because the rest of the border is the same, so it’s easy to quickly scan and get cards mixed up. If you’re offering a card you don’t mean to offer, the game can go south very quickly, which is a bummer. I’d recommend removing colors that are similar to other colors at lower player counts to alleviate this issue. I also think Letiman may address this, somewhat? We’ll see.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, Matryoshka is fun! I’d say it’s about the same weight as a lot of Oink Games I’ve played before; it’s not particularly heavy, and it doesn’t have that many pieces or mental overhead to the point that it would cause me issues. It’s a nice, light, fillerish-weight game with some great art, and there’s always room for those around here. The major thing I’ll say in its favor is that I don’t think I’ve ever played anything quite like it; it’s simple, straightforward, and all about trading, but there’s no negotiation. It’s essentially a single-bid auction game, but your cards aren’t consistently the same value. Sometimes you want to underbid, even, because you don’t want the card. Sometimes you’ll trade for a card you immediately put back up for trade so that you can get the card you actually want from another player. And that’s totally fine! That’s just how things work. If that kind of fast-paced card trading sounds up your alley, or you really enjoy nice art and stacking dolls, Matryoshka might be worth checking out! I’ve certainly liked it.