#019 Majolica (2018)
Designer: Yu Wang
Publisher: Blue Magpie Games
Player Count: 2-4
Time: 40-60 minutes
Google image search “majolica” and your eyes will dance across the screen and feast upon the gorgeous images of pottery and earthenware from different corners of the world. Majolica, the game, is a celebration of color. You are the owner and operator of a world renowned tile factory. Every morning you gather materials to fulfill your orders of the day. You have even learned to reuse tiles to fulfill your orders more efficiently. But are you more efficient than your competitors? Majolica is a gorgeous and strategic tile-laying programming game for your eyes and brain to feast upon.
In the Tile Factory
Inside the box minus the game boards.
Countless colorful Majolica tiles!
City Hall Tiles
Design Cards + Kaleidoscopic Cards
City Hall + Cascading Bloom Tiles
Four Identical Player Boards (each with four workshops).
On your turn…
…you’ll take only one of three possible actions: (A) gain multiple tiles—two to four, (B) gain one tile & one design card, or (C) gain one tile and rearrange design card on your player board.
Or course, you don’t have to choose a row or column. You can also choose one face-up outside tile from the main board:
B. Choose ONE face-up outside tile from the main board, flip it, and obtain the corresponding smaller tile. Place it into any one workshop on your player board. Surplus and requirement rules still apply. You may also obtain one of the face-up design cards from the market and place it on any empty slot above a workshop on your player board.
C. Choose ONE face-up outside tile from the main board, flip it, and obtain the corresponding smaller tile. Place it into any one workshop on your player board. Surplus and requirement rules still apply. You may also rearrange all the design cards on your player board. Tiles already on one design card stay with that card.
—End of Round—
If there are three or fewer face-up tiles on the main board, the round ends immediately. The 1st player token moves clockwise, the main board tiles are shuffled & reset, new design cards are drawn & revealed so there are 6 available, and play continues.
When one player scores 5 design cards, the game ends immediately. Players score points from completed design cards, every two tiles on uncompleted design cards score one point, and various bonus tiles and mission cards. The player with the highest score, wins Majolica!
Three Included Expansions
Cascading Bloom. Score an extra point if you can chain four combos across all four workshops. I like this because it encourages the most fun aspect of the game—chaining combos. I don’t like this because 1 VP hardly seems worth it. I would have liked to have seen it raised to 2 VP. We always play with this expansion. (Cardboard East House Variant Number One: Cascading Blooms are worth 2 VP.)
Kaleidoscopic Design Cards. This could have been an excellent promo expansion—more of what you already know but with a tiny twist. Having Design Cards with wild token requirements (therefore easier to score) adds interesting questions into the game. Do you choose to receiving multiple tiles this action? or snatch a Kaleidoscopic Design Card before your opponent does? We always play with this expansion.
Mission Cards. Draft personal mission cards (2 VP each) at the start of the game with the last player selecting first and the first player selecting last. This expansion fell flat with my game group. Sure they’re nice, but they don’t really add much to the game. We seldom play with this expansion. (Cardboard East House Variant Number Two: Personal Mission Cards are now milestones and any one player can claim them throughout the game.)
Don’t let those gorgeous Majolica tiles fool you. The main theme of Majolica isn’t the tiles. It’s “Form Over Function”. There were several design decisions in Majolica that I disagreed with, and virtually all of them revolve around the idea that Majolica was designed to be more beautiful than it was to be user-friendly and functional.
Main Board. I first played Majolica several months ago at the Moonlight Boardgame Festival. I sat across the table from John Zinser, CEO of AEG—publisher of Love Letter, Smash Up, Istanbul, Thunderstone. The first time we had to shuffle and reorganize the main board tiles at the end of round one, John immediately said, “This is already my least favorite part of this game.” And he’s not wrong. Re-setting the main board at the end of every round is mildly annoying—not very, but a little. Remember I used the word “mildly”. This isn’t a deal breaker—not by a long shot, but at least once during every game I’ve played of Majolica, I wished the main board were a Boggle container and I could just shake all the tiles into new randomized locations. Form over Function.
Design Cards. I’m not sure why the design cards are supposed to be three each on the left and right sides of the main board. Having them all in one location would simply easier to read and keep track of. It just seems like an odd design choice. Yes, I know this is extreme nitpicking I know, but it’s another example of Form over Function. (Cardboard East House Variant Number Three: Place all the Design Cards together near the main board for ease of play.)
City Hall. I’m not sure why in a 2/3/4 player game, there are 3/3/5 wild purple tiles and 3/4/5 one-point bonus tiles. I’m not confused by why the iconography on the City Hall Board is one opposite ends of City Hall instead of clearly all on the right—like every other board game out there. I’m not confused by this because it’s prettier for all the purple tiles to be in the center of the City Hall Board. This is extreme nitpicking, but it helps showcase Form over Function. Beauty seemed more important than user-friendliness and intuitiveness.
Momentum. There is a lack of momentum in the game. You build up your workshops to chain together, and then you have to start all over again. All games have repetition, but the best games have escalation and momentum to increase tension and alleviate the monotony of repetition. Majolica solves this with wild purple tiles obtained from City Hall. Having one wild tile that can never be pushed onto a Design Card or be destroyed by a workshop is a great solution to this problem; however, the purple tile only stays with you for one full cycle. After it’s used once in each of your four workshops, it’s removed from the game. We have a solution, and then we take it away. The rules as written even allow players to have two or three purple tiles in their workshops—crazy powerful.
I admit I didn’t like Majolica the first time I played it—nor the second. It wasn’t until the third and fourth time, where everything clicked and I began to thoroughly enjoy playing Majolica. I went into the game expecting a simple puzzle game. It looks similar to Azul, right? WRONG. Looks can be deceiving. Majolica may look like a simple puzzle and pattern game, but at its heart Majolica is a programming game where efficiency is everything. Unlike other programming games where players program 5 to 8 actions per turn, Majolica asks players to program their victory point tidal wave of combo chains over several turns.
Every game has a price of entry. Usually, it’s grinding your way through a rulebook. Majolica’s price of entry is its learning curve; it’s grinding through a learning game—or two. The basic gameplay is easy enough to pick up; however, there are optimal strategies of play that aren’t apparent or intuitive to new players. Knowing how to manipulate the turn order to end the round and get double turns is important. Knowing which order cards to fulfill in what order at which workshop is vital. When done correctly, the momentum of chaining your combos can turn out several completed order cards in succession; giving you enough time to close the game with a 7 point order card. When done incorrectly, the momentum plummets and the gears of your engine slowly and painfully grind out order cards. It took me a few games to really see how the game SHOULD be played. There is nothing wrong with games rewarding experienced players, but casual gamers beware. Majolica is an expensive glass of fine scotch whisky to savor and to explore; it’s a not for members of the Cult of the New who burn through games after a few plays.
Majolica is a quiet game. Your mind will be too busy with efficiently programming your workshops and keeping a close eye on your opponents to trash talk, jest, or even chat. This is the most defining part of the gameplay for me. It’s more Chess than Checkers. Majolica is for those quiet evenings where it’s you, friends, or loved ones, relaxing with a glass of wine, an intense game to focus on, and some Mozart filling the background. Now, before you get all calm and tranquil, Majolica can also be an explosive game.
One of Majolica’s many strengths lies in chaining combos. (Something that really doesn’t exist in Azul.) Choosing which tiles to place in which workshop is fun. Completing those order cards is fun. Sliding tiles from completed orders to the next workshop is fun. Scoring your first cascading bloom bonus tile is a point of pride. Hate drafting tiles from opponents to prevent them from scoring is hilarious. Deliberately ending a round in order to get a double turn is amazing. Seeing those combos chain across your workshops like a tidal wave of victory points is exhilarating! Quite frankly, it feels damn goooood.
Saving the obvious for last, Majolica is gorgeous. The tiles are gorgeous. The linen finished cards are gorgeous. The tiles may not be bakelite, but the white cardboard and glazed coloring on top, shimmer on your table. The cards didn’t have to be linen finished, but it’s so nice that they are. It’s one of the many little touches that make Majolica something special. If table presence is important to you, Majolica is in your wheelhouse and cracking out home run after home run. Understand that it is a slow burn. You’re not continuously igniting Nitrous Oxide and burning your tires and engine to victory. You’re meticulously selecting tiles to trigger and chain explosive combos. If you enjoy exploring games and deep diving into their strategies, Majolica is for you.
Gamer: Cardboard East recommends Majolica for gamers who love programming games and gamers who take their time to fully explore games in their collection. Majolica definitely has table presence in spades!
Family: Cardboard East recommends Majolica for gamers who want to introduce non-gamers to puzzle/programming games with deeper levels of strategy to explore and are patient enough to hold their hand. I’m hesitant to recommend this to casual or non-gamers as the hidden strategy might be too much for them. Drafting tiles can be vicious at times, but that’s the nature of the beast—a gorgeous seductive beast with beautiful components.
Party: Cardboard East does not recommend Majolica for the party environment due to its quiet nature; however it is simple enough for gamers to enjoy with a glass of their favorite booze.