Posted by: gschloesser | August 6, 2011

Mermaid Rain

Designed by:  Hitoshi Yasuda and Keiji Kariya
Released by:  Group SNE
3 – 6 Players, 1 1/2 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

Awhile back, Ben Baldanza wrote a very positive review of this Japanese game for Counter magazine.  I was certainly interested in obtaining the game, but due to the high import costs, the price was prohibitive.  I figured I would content myself with playing the game at Gulf Games or the Gathering.  However, I really didn’t place a high priority on organizing a game. 

Ken Rice is the only gamer I “know” who lives in Japan.  He was scheduled to attend his first Gathering of Friends in April, and he passed along word that he would be able to bring copies of the game for those who desired a copy.  The price?  Ridiculously low.  So, I immediately contacted Ken and reserved a copy. 

I didn’t have chance to play the game at the Gathering, but did play it at Gulf Games in July.  I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and subsequently played it several more times.  I find the game quite good, and it reminds me somewhat of Elfenland.

First, the theme / premise must be mentioned.  Players are mermaids exploring the oceans and collecting treasures.  Movement is determined by playing cards, which depict dolphins, turtles or seagulls.  A penalty must be paid to the sea witch before final scores are tallied.  I personally don’t have a problem with the theme, but a few of my Westbank Gamers crew found it, well, silly and unmanly.  Hmmm … 

The nicely laminated board depicts numerous islands scattered about the ocean.  Each island depicts a symbol – turtle, dolphin, or seagull – which is the type of card a player must play in order to move onto it.  The islands will also house several treasures, which come in five different varieties – sea shells, coral, crystals, pearls and dragon scales.  Some of these treasures are placed face-up, while others are face-down.  Players will scurry about the ocean collecting these treasures. 

Players each begin the game with seven cards and one “stop” card.  This stop card is also a player aid card, but since the text is in Japanese, it is virtually useless for most non-Japanese gamers.  The cards will be used not only for movement purposes, but also to form “poker” hands in order to determine the order of movement and the awarding of various perks.  It is this card play that gives the game a unique feel and earns it points for originality.

Each round, players will play two cards face-down, then simultaneously reveal them.  Then, each player plays one more face-down card.  This can be a movement card, or the stop card.  If a player chooses to play his “stop” card, he will play no further cards during this phase.  All other players continue to play one more card until all players have played their stop cards.   This could take several rounds. 

Once all players have completed their card play, the various “hands” are examined to determine who played the best set of cards.  The rankings are similar to those used in poker, although not exactly.  Hands can consist of a pair, three of a kind, 3 different colors, 2 pair, full house, etc.  The highest ranked hand is five of a kind.  Each player will receive a bonus based on his hand, which can consist of victory points or the ability to draw a treasure tile or ocean tile.  The “five of a kind” hand allows the player to transport his pawn to any location on the board. 

Players will subsequently move their pawn based on the strength of their hand.  In addition, the player who played the highest ranked hand gets the prince card.  This is important, as any ties in the ranking of hands is broken in favor of players seated closest to the player holding the prince in a clockwise fashion.  However, a major consideration when playing cards to form your hand is that the cards played during this phase are discarded, and a player must move his pawn with the cards remaining in his hand.  So, the more cards used to form your “poker” hand, the fewer cards you will have to move your mermaid.  This forces each player to make tough decisions each and every turn. 

After all hands are played and the order of play determined, each player chooses one of the six ocean tiles that have been revealed.  The ocean tiles come in a variety of shapes, and each one depicts a symbol indicating the type of card which must be played in order to move onto that tile.  Some of the tiles will remain on the board throughout the game, while others will be removed at the end of the turn.  

Each player then takes his turn by placing the tile he selected, then moving his mermaid across tiles to the islands.  As mentioned earlier, in order to move onto a tile or island, the player must play a card that has the same symbol as that depicted on the tile or island.  A player may always play any two cards as a “wild” card and move his piece onto an adjacent tile or island.  

When a player moves his mermaid onto an island, he may take one of the treasures found there.  He may first peek at any face-down treasures before deciding which one to take.  When the player takes a treasure, it maintains its face-up or face-down status.  This is important as players will never know exactly how many treasures of each type their opponents possess.  

An important note is that a player may only take one treasure from an island on a turn.  This prevent a player from simply hopping back and forth from a tile to an island, scooping all of the available treasures from that island. 

After all players have moved and collected any treasures they can gather, any temporary ocean tiles are removed.  Each player must then discard down to two cards, after which they are dealt seven new cards.  So, the most cards a player can ever have in his hand at the beginning of a turn is nine cards.  Often, it is wise to conserve a card or two, especially if the tiles and islands don’t closely match the cards you possess during a turn. 

Five rounds are played in the manner described above.  At this point, each player must surrender one of each type of treasure to the sea witch … and who wants to defy her?  For each type of treasure a player does not possess, he loses five points.  After the sea witch is satisfied, players then score points for their remaining treasures. 

Each type of treasure is examined, with players scoring points as followed: 

Most treasures of a type:  12 points
Second:                            6 points
Third:                                4 points
Fourth:                             2 points
Fifth or Sixth:                0 points 

If a player possesses a monopoly in a particular type of treasure, he earns a bonus of three additional points. 

These points are added to the points players earned during the course of the game.  The player who has accumulated the most points is victorious and wins the favor of the handsome prince.  

The movement mechanism, along with the playing of the ocean tiles to help facilitate this movement, is reminiscent of Alan Moon’s Elfenland.  Added to this is the clever “meld making” phase, wherein players assemble “poker” hands in order to not only determine the important turn order, but also earn bonus perks, such as victory points or additional treasure or ocean tiles.  Players must balance these “melds” with the need to conserve enough cards to move about the ocean and gather treasures.  This presents the players with tough choices each and every turn.  

All of these mechanisms blend together extremely well, yielding a game that is enjoyable, challenging and original.  Sure, the theme may be off-putting to some, but do yourself a favor and get past it.  The game underneath the “cutesy” theme is quite good.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Interesting card management game. You use cards to decide on turn order and then use what is left to move. Go hard to be early and you can’t move as far, save cards and you may not be able to use them. I wish the board and tiles were bigger. Good game. 7/10


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: