Posted by: gschloesser | August 6, 2011

M

Design by:  Martin Schlegel
Published by:  Abacus Spiel
2 – 6 Players, 30 – 45 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

When I first saw mention of this abstract tile-laying game, it didn’t appear to be something which would be of interest to me.  However, the game began receiving favorable reactions from several gamers I know, so I began to grow interested.  While visiting my good buddy Mark Jackson in Nashville, I had the opportunity to play (courtesy of fellow visitor and buddy Craig Berg) and enjoyed the experience so much I immediately ordered a copy.

The game, which is designed by Martin Schlegel, is decidedly abstract, with no attempt being made to paste on a theme.  There is no board per sé, but one develops as players lay tiles to the table.  However, tiles are also removed during the course of the game, so the board is constantly changing in both size and shape. 

There are 90 tiles included, 18 in each of five colors.  Each of these tiles depicts either two or three characteristics:  color, value or shape.  The border on each tile also varies, but corresponds with the value of the tile, so all tiles of one value (either 0, 10, 20, 30 or 40) have the same border.  These tiles are the central element of the game.

The game begins with five tiles set onto the table in the shape of an ‘M’.  I can only surmise that this is how the game acquired its name.  Each player begins the game with four tiles and six wooden chips.  On a turn, a player must, if possible, lay a tile onto the table adjacent to one or more previously laid tiles.  However, several rules must be followed:

1) The newly laid tile must be played adjacent to at least one previously laid tile and must match at least one of the three characteristics of the tile or tiles to which it is adjacent.  Thus, if the newly laid tile is placed adjacent to two tiles, it must match at least one characteristic on both of those tiles.  Please note that the characteristic it matches can be different for each tile.  For instance, the tile can match the value of one of the previously laid tiles, while matching the color of the other adjacent tile.

2) The developing grid of tiles (or ‘board’) cannot be larger than 6 X 6.

If both of these conditions are met, then the tile can be played.  If a tile is successfully played adjacent to two or more tiles, the player gets to steal chips from the opponent to his right.  The number of chips stolen is one less than the number of tiles adjacent to the newly played tile.  So, if I place a tile which is adjacent to two other tiles, I steal one chip (2 – 1 = 1) from the player on my right.  These chips are worth 10 points at the end of the game.  If for some reason the player to my right is out of chips, then I steal a chip from the player to his right! 

The placement of a tile may trigger a ‘scoring’ round IF two conditions are met:

1)  The row or column to which I played the tile contains five or six tiles, without any ‘gaps’ between the tiles; AND

2)  The newly played tile matches two or more characteristics of an adjacent tile in the same row or column.

If these conditions are met, the player who placed the tile which triggered the scoring takes one of the tiles from that ‘scoring’ row or column and places it in front of him.  By taking a tile, however, the remaining tiles must still be connected to the rest of the ‘board’ either horizontally or vertically.  In other words, no tile or tiles can be isolated. 

After this player takes a tile, the player to his right must then take a tile, if possible.  This procedure continues until either only one tile remains in the scoring row, or until a player cannot legally take a tile. 

All tiles taken by a player during the course of the game are kept face-up in front of him, separated by color.  These tiles will score at the end of the game … but with a nasty twist.

Following the placement of a tile and the resolution of any resulting scoring, the player fills his hand of tiles to four by taking a tile from the face-down draw pile.  Play continues in this fashion until the final tile is drawn from the draw pile, after which play concludes following the next scoring round.

At the conclusion of the game, players score the tiles and chips they collected during the game.  Any tiles remaining in a player’s hand are discarded.   The scoring is reminiscent of the card game Mit List und Tucke:

1) Players must choose two colors of tiles to score.  They then add the values of these tiles together. 

2) Players then add the value of the other tiles together, and subtract this value from the above total. 

3) Players also receive ten points for each chip they collected.

The player with the highest value is victorious.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that you only want to collect tiles from two colors.  Of course, that would be the ideal world.  In reality, it is quite possible to trigger scoring rounds which will have the end result of forcing your opponents to take tiles which they do not want.  As mentioned, this is very similar to the deliciously evil Mit List und Tucke, which uses the same scoring mechanism. 

The temptation in the game is to immediately plop down a tile that will allow you to steal a chip or chips from your neighbor, or to trigger a scoring round so you can grab a tile.  Often, however, this is not the wisest choice.  Sometimes triggering a scoring round results in greater benefits to your opponents than yourself.  Further, you must constantly be vigilant in that you do not play tiles which allow your opponents to trigger beneficial scoring rounds or steal chips.  Sometimes this cannot be avoided, but more often you do have several choices on each round.

I find the game to contain a good mixture of puzzle solving, hand management and deductive skills, with some nice ‘slam’ potential thrown into the stew.  I do think, however, that most of this is not evident with just one playing.  It does take awhile to recognize all of the possibilities and tactics available, so it really shouldn’t be judged after just one playing. 

The game can be played with 2 – 6 players, but one does lose a bit of control as the number of players increases.  There are more tactical decisions to be made when playing with just 2 or 3 players.  With a full contingent of six players, the board has changed so much by the time your turn arrives again that advance planning is just about out of the question.  Still, even with a full load of six, I enjoy playing and find the game quite fun.

To be sure, the game is not to everyone’s tastes.  There is no hiding its abstract nature.  That alone is enough to turn some folks off.  However, for those who can get past this abstract skin, there’s a fine game lurking underneath.

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Responses

  1. The unfortunately-named M is one of the most accessible modern abstract games. The decisions are reasonably easy to evaluate yet their is plenty of room for strategic gameplay. M might do well if re-released with a proper theme or even some licensed characters. (7/10)

  2. Tile playing weirdness. The smart play is not easy to see. At least it wasn’t for me. 7/10


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