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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Meuterer: Mutiny on The High Seas

Many gamers have heard of the game Verrater (Traitor), the board game masquerading as a card game. Verrater is a very interesting, devious and affordable game that I can recommend to gamers who like a bit of thought to go along with their treachery. The author, Marcel-André Casasola Merkle, produced a thematically similar, yet more accessible game in the nautically themed Meuterer (Mutineer).

While Meuterer is only produced in German, there is little text used on the cards themselves, and there are many excellent player aids available on Boardgamegeek to make learning, and playing the game possible. There are quite a few rules translations available, and I can assert that the game is easy enough to teach to new players. In fact, it is most certainly harder to learn the game from the rules as written than it is to learn to play from an experienced Meuterer.

At its core, Meuterer is a game about trying to maximize the number of points you can earn, while minimizing the points earned by the competition. There are only a few ways to earn points. Goods cards can be sold at the appropriate islands, and the player or players who sell or tie for the most sold earn points. The Captain, or Mutineer, earns points for sailing the ship to the destination island of their choice, and the Ship's Boy, or First Mate earns points by supporting the Mutineer or Captain in successfully taking or keeping control of the ship.

There are some very neat systems at play. The Captain, after looking at his hand of five goods cards, must decide how many of his points he is willing to offer for the support of a First Mate. He must then indicate, using the captain cards, if he is willing to offer 0,1,2 or 3 points. The Captain is also the only player who does not get to take advantage of the role cards, as his role is already decided, he is the captain, at least until there is a successful mutiny.

Each player, starting with the captain, is able to either play one goods card, or to drop out of playing goods cards and to select one of the available role cards. The roles are:

The First Mate, who supports the Captain in a mutiny with one sword, and who earns 1 point plus the Captain's offered bonus if there is no Mutiny or if it is put down.

The Ship's Boy, who supports the Mutiny, and who earns two points in a successful Mutiny.

The Mutineer, who earns points for sailing to the island if the mutiny is successful.

The Merchant, who takes no part in either side of the Mutiny, but who always scores the most points for sales if they are at least tied for most sales.

The Loading Master, who also takes no part in the mutiny, but who gets an extra three cards to be able to construct a better hand for the next sale.

The neat thing with these roles is that they are all available to any player except the Captain, but to choose a role early, you have to drop out of the goods offering process. If you really want the Mutineer, you have to offer few Goods cards, which means that you might not score many points for sales. If you take the Merchant and someone plays an extra Goods card over your total, you have just lost the benefit. If you are holding two sword cards and you see that the Mutineer is available when you pick up the roles, do you Mutiny or support the Captain?

After a round of Goods card play, rounds continue until all players have dropped out by selecting a role. When the Captain drops out, the number of cards remaining in his hand indicate how far the ship will sail. Once the Mutineer is revealed, the same condition applies to him.

And this is what makes an interesting game, in my opinion. You always have a choice of how to proceed, and you never quite know what is going to happen until all the roles are revealed and the swords are played.

If you know someone who has a copy of Meuterer, you owe it to yourself to find a few friends and to give it a try.

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