WBG Score: 7/10
Player Count 2-4
Published by: Studio H
Come with with me to a magical land where all the sorcery boutiques are selling off their magical items half price. It's Black Magic Friday and their are bargains to be had! The bad news... you are not the only one eyeing up some new Mandrakes. The good news... you can use your new magical items to cast spells on your rival shoppers to slow them down and become the most powerful sorcerer in the land. Or at least your table, for that game, amongst those that played.
How to Set Up
Lay out the ten shop tokens into a circle in any order. Note the three shops with a darker background and the one with the dimpled edge. Then lay one card face up by each shop, and face down for the three shops with the darker colour. Place the remaining cards into a face down stack in the middle of the shops. Next to the shop with the dimple, place the assistant standee. Then lay out the spell cards into their separate piles, numbered one to five. Place the Curse and Countdown marker nearby and you are ready to go.
How to Play
On each players turn you have the choice to do one of two things. You can either move the assistant one, two or three spaces clockwise, taking the cards in the space the assistant finishes in and then placing another card from the draw pile into each space the assistant passed through. Or use cards in your hand to cast a spell. This is done using one spell card and one to five ingredients cards. It is up to you how many ingredients you use, but they must all be the same colour and match the colour of the spell card.
If you use one ingredient then you can take the top card from the number one spell pile. This will get you one point at the end of the game, plus the points on the spell card (which varies from zero to three). And of course the power of the spell itself.
The powers allow you to get rid of bad cards, take extra turns, move the assistant an extra space if required when you are moving this, or get rid of cards at the end of the game. Getting rid of cards is important as each different colour of spell or ingredient card left in your hand at the end of the game will cause you to loose one point per colour.
The person with the most curse cards at the end of the game will lose two points from their overall score. Using the spell cards to get rid of unwanted curse cards could be the difference between winning and loosing. However, this does introduce a bit of take-that into the game. A game that is largely targeted at children. Younger players tend to react poorly to this mechanic, so I am always left unsure why it is included in games that are marketed at kids. But you can always take these cards out I suppose.
The art on the cards is bright and vibrant. It's nice how the art is not just repeated on each card too. There is a nice variety of the ingredients you can get. This does not affect the game at all, but adds a nice layer of polish to the game.
The colours are all easily distinguishable too, with different icons in the top corner for anyone who has colour blindness. A simple but effective touch.
The game plays very quickly. Turns take a matter of seconds. Moving on the assistant and taking the cards, or laying cards to claim a new spell. A total game can be played in under ten minutes quite easily. There are only 106 cards and once the deck is extinguished, the game has three final rounds before it ends. If players are regularly moving the assistant longer distances then you will find you will get through the deck a lot quicker than you think.
This does mean it is hard to implement any meaningful strategy into this game though. But the main thing you will want to decide is if you plan to try and complete lots of little spells, or fewer more powerful spells. There are only a few level four spells and just the one level five spell. So, if you are building up for these, you need to move fast to avoid disappointment. But if you don't get the cards you need, there is not much you can do. However, the white Mandrake cards are wild, and can be used either as any ingredient, or any spell card.
Overall. Mandragora is a fast, fun, family friendly game, that plays very quickly and offers some fun moments. My family has really enjoyed it and I can see this coming out a lot, not just because it is fun, but because it is so accessible.
Teaching this game is a cinch. Setting up and playing it is so quick. But it still delivers a level of satisfaction seen from higher weight games. It is a lot of fun to cast spells in such a simple way. Collect colour sets, play those sets, get the power. There is a constant sense of satisfaction from completing lots of mini tasks. No real high, no massive build to a huge task being completed. But lots of little buzzes, and I think that is the perfect vibe to go for with a game like this.