I pride myself on being able to tell how much I'll enjoy / not enjoy a game by simply reading the rules. But occasionally I'm wrong - dead wrong - and Mimic: Safari Version (Funmaker Games, 2006 - Doug Cook) is one of those times. It looked like a bland card game, and the rules seemed a bit obtuse and dull when I went over it. I had also read on the internet that the game was not intuitive and difficult to grasp. I gave the game a play, thinking that I probably wouldn't be too fond of it.
And I was surprised to find an excellent two or three player game - a game that rewards clever tactical play. Luck is evident - especially in the draw of the cards; but when playing the advanced game, I felt like the better player invariably won. It's a game that had me asking for more, as I used different tricks to outsmart and outplay my opponent. It's a nice three-player game, but an excellent two-player game, and makes for a deep, logical experience. Beautiful cards and tremendous gameplay make this one of the "sleeper" hits of the year - a nice job by an independent publisher.
A red "start" card is placed in the middle of the table - the center of an imaginary 7 x 7 grid of cards that will form the board. Forty-five Mimic cards are shuffled and form a deck: split into three colors (red, green, and blue) and five animals (lion, ostrich, elephant, giraffe, and zebra) for fifteen combinations. Four of these cards are placed on all four sides of the start card, and all three colors must be represented. Each player is dealt five of the Mimic cards, and the remainder is placed in a draw pile, with three turned face up next to it. A pile of yellow "start" cards is placed next to the draw pile, and each player receives six score cubes (five in a three player game), as well as two red, one yellow, one green, and one blue "power" card. One player is chosen to go first, and the game begins.
On a player's turn, they simply play two Mimic cards on the table, and then draw to refill their hand, using either the face up card and/or the top cards from the draw deck. When playing Mimic cards, players must place them legally so that they are part of one or two "sets". A set consists of four cards - all of the same color, and only two types of animals (i.e. two blue lions and two blue giraffes). The cards can be in any order, but must start after a start card, and continue on in straight line. If the line hits an obstacle (the invisible perimeter of the grid, another start card, or a card with a cube on it), it can take a ninety degree turn in either direction. Cards can be played in any order - but must be legal. For example, if a green giraffe, then a green ostrich emanate from a start card, I can play a green giraffe or ostrich only as the third card, then the other as the fourth.
If a player plays the fourth card in a set, they immediately place one of their score cubes on it, and then place a start card (if still available) adjacent to a Mimic card already in the grid. Players also have the option to play one of their power cards per turn. Each has a different effect:
- The red allows a player to remove one Mimic card from the grid without a score cube on it.
- The yellow allows a player to remove a Mimic card and immediately place it somewhere else (legally as part of a set) in the grid.
- The green allows a player to play three Mimic cards this turn.
- The blue allows a player to place a scoring cube after only three cards, instead of four.
Gameplay continues until one player has placed all of their scoring cubes, at which point they win the game!
The advanced game is slightly different in that each player only receives one blue power card at the beginning. The rest are shuffled and placed in a pile, with the top three placed face up next to it. On a player's turn, they can forgo laying down their second Mimic card and instead draw one of the three face up power cards. Players cannot have two of the same card in front of them and can only have three at a time.
Some comments on the game:
1.) Components: The cards look very fantastic - mostly black with an African logo on the backside, and great artwork - the animals are reflected four times in the middle for a Kaleidoscope type pattern. The start cards have a compass on them, and the power cards clearly state what they do (along with cartoonish monkey artwork). The scoring cubes are basically black six-sided dice with no pips - and are chunky to move and use (although you'll certainly be tempted to roll them!). Everything fits snugly in a plastic insert in a small, cheerful looking box.
2.) Rules: The rules are exceptionally laid out in eleven pages, along with a good diagram that shows many different ways that a set can be started and run. I had absolutely no questions after going over the pages, because everything is clearly spelled out and highlighted, with examples. Teaching the rules is another matter, because the set completion - while rather simple once you get the hang of it - is something that really has to be seen to be understood. Players have to visualize the invisible grid, remember that the cards can only "bounce" off of three different things, and exactly what comprises a set. I found that after my first game these had already become second nature to me, but others took a bit longer to catch on.
3.) Sets: Making a set is easy - simply find two pairs of animals in the same color. Finishing a set is another matter - one has to constantly watch the cards in their hand and on the table to make sure that another player won't finish a set because they laid the foundational cards. At first, a few players mentioned that the game had too much luck; but I heartily disagree, and they even changed their minds after a complete game. Yes, there is some luck in the cards that come up; but since a player can choose which cards they take and can manipulate the growing grid on the board, strategy is much more important.
4.) Power cards: Knowing when to use your power cards is critical to winning the game. The most powerful one, of course, is the blue card - but using it early to complete a set of three is tempting - while having it near the end, when sets are harder to find, is better. The yellow power card, allowing you to not only offensively mess up a set which another player is obviously attempting to complete, can also be used to allow a player to snag an extra set that turn.
5.) Advanced vs. Basic: Because the power cards are that useful, I find that the advanced rules are really the only ones that I desire to play. They force a player to give up playing one of their Mimic cards to simply draw one of the power cards. But this will pay off in the long run, as the power cards live up to their name - they are quite powerful. I found that by playing power cards instead of the extra Mimic cards, I had more options and could really disrupt my opponent's plans while completing my own.
6.) Time: The game causes a lot of thought, because you are trying to complete a maximum number of sets quickly. My goal is to complete two sets a turn, or alternatively, set myself up for that in the future without helping my opponent. As the game progresses and all the start cards are thrown in the mix, there are a lot of options; and the game does have the tendency to cause players to slow down and check out every current set - how they can effect it with the cards in their hand and their power cards, and which cards they will draw for the future. Usually, this "analysis paralysis" can irritate me in games; but here I didn't mind, because I found the game so fascinating.
7.) Fun Factor: The game allows players to have a thoughtful, tactical game in which they attempt to maneuver cards in a grid to finish their sets first. It's not rambunctious, and those looking for a "laugh out loud" time will be disappointed by the rather quiet, slower gameplay. I personally found it very fulfilling, as it fills a need for a quiet, engrossing game. There are a few "aha!" moments, when you use a start card to block a set, or you are allowed to twist yours to completion - and I play the game for these.
The mechanics are unique, and Mimic is a game unlike many others that you've played. It allows players to place cards in a grid to strategically get rid of their cubes faster than the other player. With special cards that are few and balanced and options that grow then shrink, as the game play progresses, Mimic is a game with minimal luck which rewards clever play - something I'm fond of, and I look heartily forward to other games from Funmaker Games.
"Real men play board games"