#691 – Macaron [Preview]

Base price: $20.
1 – 5 players.
Play time: 20 – 30 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 3

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Macaron was provided by Sunrise Tornado Game Studio. 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. 

Yeah so that whole thing I said a few weeks ago about slowing down Kickstarters? Here we are with another week of Kickstarters. What can I say? A lot of games look really interesting. Plus, there are a few folks that I always try to check out the latest release from, and Sunrise Tornado is definitely one of them. I’m always amused by how Ta-Te thematically alternates between very cute cat games and very detailed art games, so we’re back on the art side with Macaron! Let’s check it out and see how it plays.

In Macaron, it’s King Louis’s birthday, and you’re in charge of the cookies. You’d like to prepare boxes fit for a king, and you need everyone’s cooperation to do it. However, there’s a bit of sabotage afoot; someone keeps putting macarons in that the king is allergic to, and naturally he doesn’t take too kindly to that whole business. This trick-taking game is going to come down to managing those allergens, so will you be able to get all the ingredients together for a sweet victory? Or will you just end up serving up a disaster?

Contents

Setup

Setup changes a bit based on how many players you have. Generally, you’re going to want to place the group boards somewhere on the table:

In a three-player game, you’ll use the two-flavor C board, and in a four+-player game, you’ll use the D board. Then, you can place the score board on the standard or advanced side:

You’ll want to add the Macaron cards next and make a draw deck:

  • 2 players: Use almond / pistachio / strawberry / blueberry / green tea.
  • 3 players: Also use Earl Gray.
  • 4+ players: Also use Chocolate.

Each player should take their score token, box token, and bet token and place them on the respective zero spaces:

Set the Royal, Allergen, and Start Player tokens aside, as well:

Unless you’re playing with 4+ players, don’t use the Voting Tokens:

And you’re ready to start a round! Deal each player 13 cards, and I’ll explain round setup during Gameplay.

Gameplay

In order to win Macaron, you want to earn the most points. You can earn points by winning tricks and filling gift boxes, but make sure you don’t take any macarons that are allergens! The first player to reach the scoring threshold agreed upon at the start of the game (10 / 20 / 30 points) ends the game, and the player with the most points at the end of that round wins!

To start a round, every player will look at their hand and select cards they’d rather not have:

  • 2 players: Discard one or two cards and draw the same amount from the draw deck.
  • 3+ players: Choose two cards and pass them face-down to the player on your left. In the next round, pass them to the player on your right, and continue alternating each round for the rest of the game.

Now, choose a start player and decide the Royal and Allergen cards. Note that a Royal Group suit may also be the Allergen suit.

  • 2 players: The other player chooses one group to be the Royal Group, and places the Royal marker there. The start player chooses the Allergen suit and places the Allergen marker on that suit.
  • 3 players: The player to the left of the start player chooses one group to be the Royal Group, and the player to the right of the start player chooses one suit to be the Allergen suit.
  • 4+ players: Players vote! Set a “3” aside and shuffle the remaining voting tokens, giving each player an equal number. If a player receives the star, they’re the start player! They take the set aside “3” and then voting occurs. Each player may place their voting token above or below a macaron flavor, but each flavor may only have three voting tokens, tops. If you place your token above, it counts as positive votes. If you place it below, it counts as negative votes. The group with the highest votes becomes the Royal Group, and the flavor with the fewest votes becomes the Allergen.

Finally, players bet! Look at your cards and look at the Royal / Allergen markers, and decide how many gift boxes (not tricks, and that’s an important distinction) you think you can win. Place a betting token by that number’s row. If you’re right, you’ll gain points! If you’re wrong, you’ll lose a point.

Now, the round starts! You’ll follow the patterns set by most trick-taking games. Each round, the start player will play a card of their choice. The suit of that card is known as the led suit. All other players must play a card of the same suit, if they can. If not, they may play any other suit. Once all players have played a card, the trick resolves:

  • If the led suit was not a royal:
    • The highest value royal card played wins the trick. If no royal was played, the highest value card of the led suit wins the trick. If there’s a tie in royal card values, the first one played wins.
  • If the led suit was a royal:
    • The highest value card of the led suit wins the trick. The other royal suit cannot win the trick.

When you win a trick, you have the opportunity to potentially gain gift boxes.

  • If an Allergen was played and no 2 was played: The winner of the trick gains 0 gift boxes. Tough luck.
  • If a 2 was played: Even if an Allergen was played, you score normally.
  • If you won the trick with a 1: Gain three gift boxes.
  • Otherwise: Gain one gift box.

The round ends when any player has gained 8 gift boxes (or more) or once all 13 tricks have been played. Score by gaining points depending on how many gift boxes you gained and whether or not you made your bet.

If any player has met or exceeded the points required to end the game (10 / 20 / 30, depending on what you agreed on at the start of the game), then you’re done! The player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

A lot! A lot of the distinction happens around setup, not play. For lower player counts, you use fewer suits, so you’re still playing 13 tricks, total. Instead, different players choose things like the Royal suits or the allergens. In games with four or more players, you actually vote! You get voting tokens, the whole thing. At lower player counts, a bit of change happens around play, since you’re not using the entire deck. This means you can’t necessarily bank on your opponent having all the cards you don’t have, which may shift your strategy a bit. You’ve kind of got to do something like that to keep a two-player trick-taking game interesting, otherwise it can end up fairly rote. Thankfully, that’s not the case. I’ve enjoyed it at every player count I’ve gotten to try, so, no hard recommendations, here; it’s just a very interesting and different game each time. There’s even a team variant, though that’s not my personal cup of tea.

Strategy

  • Think a lot about what cards you have, yes, but also think about what cards your opponents might have. There will likely be some cards not included, so there’s no way you’ll ever have perfect information, but if you’re missing a lot of a certain card, barring a very strange deal, your opponents likely have more of that card. Having a good sense of what you can expect your opponents to play can inform your bets. Also, try to keep track of what cards have already been played so you know what you have to worry about.
  • An interesting problem is that given how many trump-suited cards are in the game, it may be worth playing your high cards of other suits earlier in the round so that you have a better chance that your opponents have those suit and are forced to play. General trick-taking logic suggests that exhausting a suit and then playing more cards of that suit is an easy way to win, but if trump cards aren’t exhausted you risk running players out of a suit and then having them either drop trump cards (or worse, allergens) into your tricks and messing up your trick control.
  • Also, having a lot of allergens lets you control who scores, yes, but it makes it hard for you to score. This is where you might bet low, but you’re not going to score a ton of points off of just having allergens unless you’re throwing 2s quite frequently (or one of your opponents is, for some reason).
  • That said, messing someone up by throwing a 2 into a trick they expect to win but not score gift boxes for is very satisfying. It’s a pretty cool thing to do if you want to try and get someone to miss their bet entirely, though I will also freely admit it’s kind of mean. But in a “I begrudgingly respect that” way, which is cool.
  • Don’t necessarily pass off all of your 1s, for the same reason. A 1 can really mess you up late in the round if you’re holding it and you accidentally win a trick with it, since it gives you three additional gift boxes. It can be very unexpected. That said, you can potentially use a 1 in trump to surprise your opponents and get a ton of gift boxes. If you have both trump 1s, you may be able to end the round prematurely and completely mess your opponents up, which is very funny. Try and do that, if you can.
  • Usually I try to empty my hand of at least one suit before the round starts, so I have a bit more control, if possible. You really want to be able to throw off in Macaron; it’s one of the safest ways to win a trick. As a result, try to get rid of suits quickly so that you’re down to a smaller number of potential cards that you can be forced to play.
  • Being able to go last in a trick is a huge advantage. You can effectively decide the trick, if you have enough of the right cards, given how many trump cards are available. Don’t want points to get scored? Throw in an allergen. Want to mess someone’s count up? Throw in a 2. Want to keep everything for yourself? Win it with a trump 1. Many more options than your standard trick-taking game.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • I love the art! It’s very soothing and pleasant, which is kind of funny given this is a fairly cerebral and intense trick-taking game. The theme I mostly get, but beyond adding the ability for there to be an allergen suit, it doesn’t really come through as much in the gameplay. I love how colorful this game is, though.
  • Having two different trump suits in a trick-taking game is interesting. I like this implementation of it a lot more than how Nokosu Dice does it, just because I find keeping track of the trump number and the trump color to be extremely confusing for new players. Just being able to say oh, all A / B / C cards are trump makes things a lot quicker to explain.
  • I really like the idea of the allergen, as well. It’s a sore loser play, but I think it makes the game really interesting? It essentially adds an element of sabotage to every trick.
  • Actually, just, mechanically, the whole thing is really up my alley. I like the way gift boxes translate to scoring and I like that you have to bid on the number of gift boxes you expect to get. I almost always love betting on the number of tricks you’re going to take. I think it’s interesting and adds a lot of cool strategy to the game, as you need to figure out why your opponents have bet the way that they’ve bet (and, more critically, if you need to modify your bet based on the bets of the players before you). Skull King addresses this somewhat by making it simultaneous, which I’m also a fan of.
  • It also has an even more complex variant! Love adding complexity with additional variants, especially because this doesn’t add too much complexity to the game itself. That’s always a worry with Kickstarter games, in my opinion; there’s a real tendency to overdo it, and thankfully that’s not the case, here.
  • Plays pretty quickly, depending on what scoring threshold you want to play to. I really like that it has scoring thresholds if you want to play longer games, but yeah, it’s a pretty quick game.

Mehs

  • I also think betting should be mandatory, but I’m a jerk. We actually had a house rule that you had to bet the exact number of gift boxes that you were going to bet, just for fun, but of course that was mostly just to try and see how well you could thread the needle. I like betting on the number of tricks you think you’ll take, even if I wish it were a more challenging part of the game.
  • The degrees of variance in setup between various player counts make the game hard to fully memorize. There’s just a lot happening around which suits are in play, how different things are chosen, and the entire voting system. They’re interesting, but there’s a lot to it, so you often have to consult the rules every time because there are a fair number of major game setup differences between each potential player count.

Cons

  • I kind of wish the penalty for missing a bet were higher, or at least higher if you got more than you thought you would. My major problem with this is that in the standard game you’re almost always incentivized to try and take as many tricks as possible, especially in a two-player game (since you can just avoid betting if you’re worried you’ll go over).
  • Given the variety of cards, suits, and effects, it can be rather difficult to keep track of what’s already been played. Normally, I would say this isn’t a big problem, but with trick-taking games, being able to keep track of what cards remain in each suit is kind of a big part of the strategy, so this occasionally throws me off, a bit.

Overall: 8.5 / 10

Overall, I’m a big fan of Macaron! I think it has a few similarities to Nokosu Dice, in that they both very fundamentally violate a few laws and paradigms of trick-taking games, sometimes for the better and sometimes maybe a bit less so. I think Nokosu Dice using dice to mix public and private information is incredible, for instance, and I think Macaron essentially adding an anti-trump is on brand for 2020 and also very strategically interesting. It forces you to think a fair bit about which tricks you want to clear before you feel safe going for a big run of tricks to earn your gift boxes, which I like. I do wish there were ways to streamline setup, but I think part of that just comes down to the designer wanting to make an interesting trick-taking experience for multiple player counts, which I’m definitely in favor of. I think it suffers a bit at two, but that’s hardly surprising for a trick-taking game; I just wish the betting system better accommodated the two-player game since if one player isn’t getting gift boxes, the other player tends to be. I love trick-taking, as a genre, and there are lots of good entries. Macaron does a lot of things I like, which is excellent, and it does it while having a very beautiful presentation, which I appreciate even more. If you’ve got art, you’ve got solid gameplay, and you’ve got a genre I like, well, that’s definitely a winning recipe for me, so if you’re looking for another trick-taking game to try, I’d recommend looking at Macaron and seeing if it’s your kind of game! It certainly is mine.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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