WBG Score: 7
Player Count: 1-5
You’ll like this if you like: Candy Crush!
Published by: Hobby World
Designed by: Nikita Sorokin
This is a review copy. See our review policy here
Mezen is a new abstract strategy game from first-time designer Nikita Sorokin. It incorporates the traditional Mezen art style into a simple tile-laying abstract game that will draw you in with its mysterious beauty. After being around for a while but without European and US distribution, this has now been fixed thanks to the good people at Arcane Wonders and Hobby World. But how does it play? Let's get it to the table and find out.
How To Set Up Mezen
Place the main board into the centre of the table. Give each player a set of tiles in their chosen style. Each set should be the same barring the shape of the tiles. Along with the tiles, each player should take their score marker, placed onto the starting place on the main board, and their 50/100 score token. Each player will then arrange their 25 tiles into a randomly assigned five-by-five grid. All tiles are double-sided, either white or black. Be sure to set up the tiles on their white start but do so as randomly as you can. Mixing up the five different animals without looking or choosing is difficult, but I try to talk and look away as I do this.
Next, take the deck of goal cards and choose 12 from it with a matching symbol on the bottom. Some cards have more than one symbol. That's fine. Just make sure all 12 you take have at least one matching symbol common to each card. Shuffle these 12 cards then deal ten out face down. Five above the board and five below. Place the other two back into the box. Then reveal the first two cards.
Finally, each player takes five amulet tokens from the supply, placing the remaining tokens into a central area. In a solo game, take just two amulet tokens and place one more onto the goal cards for round four, six, eight, and ten. You will get these when you start those rounds. Give the starting player token to the last person to spend time in a forest. You are now ready to begin.
How To Play Mezen
The first player will now announce one of the five different animal symbols. They will do this by looking at their board and determining which animals cluster together orthogonally the most, or in a way that suits them the most. This decision will be based on the current round's goal and also the next round’s goal that they need to start planning for.
The goal cards reward players with points based on the location of the tiles on their grid. Players will therefore, be looking to manipulate their grid each round to score as best they can. The goals vary from looking for specific tiles to be in certain locations, to certain tiles being surrounded by any tile other than the same ones. The light and dark side also matter, as do certain tiles being next to each other. The score for each goal is shown at the top of the card, and you will score this each time you meet that goal's requirements. So for example, for the third goal here on the top row, you will score two points for every fox that is surrounded by any card that is not a fox.
As such, if you have a fox next to another fox now, you may want to move tiles so that one of those foxes relocates. This mechanic is executed in a manner more reminiscent of Candy Crush than traditional board games.
Once the animal for this round has been declared, players can now move one group of this animal. A group consists of tiles that touch orthogonally, but you can connect two groups using your amulets if you wish. In this way, amulets can also be used to split groups. You do this by placing the amulet onto any tile of your choice, effectively changing that tile to another type and connecting or breaking a group according to your wishes.
Above we see three birds in a group. They are taken out and placed next to the board leaving spaces where these tiles were. You must fill these spaces by sliding down the tiles that were above them. Now, fill the spaces now at the top with the tiles you removed, but now flipped to show their other side.
When you flip a tile, it will display a different symbol. When you place the tile back into the grid, you will do so in an attempt to maximize your points for this round and the next. Looking at the two current face up goal cards, add your new tules into locations that will help you score as best you can for the next two rounds, but also potentilaly create new groups that will help you in these rounds.
Once all players have done this, the current round's goal card is scored. Players will move their markers on the main board based on how many points they have achieved this round. If a player chooses not to score a round, they can do so, and take two amulets from the supply, adding them to their collection instead. The current goal card is then flipped to the blank side, and the next face-down round's goal card is revealed. You should always have two face-up round cards, except for the final round when you will have just the final round's card.
After round five, you will score one additional point for all black tiles currently in your grid. After the final tenth round, you will do the same for all white tiles. You will also score one point for any unused amulet token and one point for any tile in any chosen group in your final grid. The player with the most points wins. In a solo game, you are scoring against a target as shown in the rule book.
Is It Fun? Mezen Board Game Review
I want to like this game more than I do. It looks stunning, and it's so easily taught and played. But there is just a little too much randomness in the game for me. When you choose which animal to group, you do so based on which other tiles you want to affect. However, you won't know which new tiles you will be given to do this because the reverse of each tile is random. There is no pattern. It's not like the reverse of a horse is always a fish. It could be anything. As such, there is a fair bit of luck in this game, which is not really welcome.
It would have been so easy for every specific tile to have a common and consistent reverse side. Similar to the game Shifting Stones where the reverse is consistent and also shown in the handy player aid. This way, you can plan for the round’s goals. In Mezen you must hope a little, and I don't quite understand this mechanical choice.
That said, there is a real charm and beauty to this game, and it is very relaxing to play. With the strategy somewhat removed from it, the game becomes a lot less stressful. I feel less in control, but then also worried less about making good decisions. The way that you can slide multiple rows different amounts can leave me in a brain-melting situation. But never knowing for sure what new tiles I will have to replace them with helps relax my brain and encourages me to worry less.
But there is some strategy. You get to decide which tiles to group, and being able to use the amulets to increase or reduce these groups is a crucial part of the game. Linking these three tiles like this in the above picture to affect the first three rows will make a huge difference to my grid once this is enacted. Deciding when to use your amulets and how best to do this is crucial to your success.
However, there still will be moments, either due to the luck of the tile you just flipped or the next round's goal you revealed, where you may score a lot more points than you had otherwise hoped. This can be fun for you, but potentially frustrating for others. As such, I have found that I enjoy this game a lot more in solo. When I am not worrying about other players getting lucky and the injustice of it not happening to me!
There is a question if this game is more style than substance. In terms of the art, I can see this. It is absolutely stunning. However, the components are just cardboard and potentially could have been better with nice acrylic tiles that were placed into a dual-layered board that holds them in place in the grid. That, along with consistent reverse sides, and I think there could have been a 9/10 abstract game here. Maybe that could be fixed for a later print run and a new version of the game? As it is, it is still good. Solid if not spectacular. But a game I can see myself bringing out on a lazy Sunday to relax too. A game I look forward to enjoying when I want my brain to switch off, and melt away into the Mezen art style, and dream wistfully of simpler times.